Chipmunks look cute – but they are not domesticated and therefore not pets but wild animals! We expressly advise against the acquisition of these animals!
Nevertheless, this guide contains important basic information, which should be observed if a chipmunk has already been purchased. However, this does not replace the reading of technical literature.
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What you should know about Chipmunks
Chipmunks belong to the squirrel family and thus to the rodents; their closest relatives are, for example, squirrels and prairie dogs. From nose to tail tip, the small rodents measure 20 to 25 cm; the bushy tail alone accounts for 8 to 11 cm of this.
With 50 to 120 g, the squirrels are true flyweights. The five dark stripes adorning a squirrel’s back are probably familiar. The fur between the stripes is light. In nature, the rest of the squirrel is white, beige or reddish brown. Through selective breeding, nowadays, there are also cinnamon and white animals.
Initially, the animals come from the Asian region, from where they have spread from Mongolia to Finland. Eastern chipmunks are found in the United States east of the Great Plains, north of Maine, and south of parts of Florida. They are often seen in forests and woodlots foraging in leaf litter, as well as in suburban gardens and city parks.
This is where they sleep, gather food and seek shelter from enemies. But, unlike in the movies, chipmunks are distinctly solitary creatures and defend their territory vehemently against all intruders.
Can you keep Chipmunks as a Pet?
Chipmunks are becoming increasingly popular. However, these cute rodents are not suitable as pets for everyone because, despite all their cuteness, the little fluffy balls are, unfortunately, not cuddly animals.
At least since the “Chipmunks” movies, more and more people would like to have agile squirrels at home. As with any animal, the acquisition wants to be well thought out beforehand. Chipmunks are, in contrast to guinea pigs and Co., small exotics and need, therefore also, special husbandry conditions. They can be kept as pets, but there are some things to consider.
Criticism of the domestication of chipmunks
In the wild, individual animals have a comparatively huge territory at their disposal (measured by their body size), but they need it to such an extent to find and hoard sufficient supplies for the long winter months. In principle, this need is eliminated in apartment housing.
Nevertheless, the animals have an excessive urge to move. They are described as busy, curious, active and last but not least, shy but also ready to attack intruders. Their territorial behavior is very pronounced. If they feel threatened, they bite and scratch. In short, they do not necessarily have the ideal conditions for a pet.
However, at the latest, since the chipmunk movies and cartoons, they have enjoyed great popularity as animals in general. Having such a cute little rodent at home seems to be motivation enough for some lovers to deal with the elaborate keeping conditions.
Critics are convinced that a species-appropriate attitude for chipmunks is not possible, especially since they are hardly domesticated. Breeders and savvy connoisseurs disagree but concede that chipmunk husbandry is not suitable for beginners and children.
At least there is no ban on keeping them in this country. For the good of the animals and the common coexistence, however, the attitude should meet the needs of the animals as extensively as possible.
That is why you should not keep chipmunks as pets
The animals have only been domesticated for a few years, so there is no comparison to guinea pigs or rabbits. And also, a large part of wildness is still preserved in them, which makes them little suitable as a pet, let alone as a farm animals.
Nevertheless, because of their lively nature and cute appearance, they conquer the hearts of young and old by storm. In addition, they are mainly active during the day, very agile and busy – in short, a real joy to watch and marvel at. Chipmunks are the daytime counterpart of hamsters.
They have similar requirements, are extremely sensitive and usually not very robust. Since they can be cared for only in single keeping approximately species-fairly, many owners hope for a being trusting to them.
The rodents tend to be very curious but also very shy. It can take weeks, if not months, of patience and dedication before an animal will let you feed it by hand. Some become trusting enough to climb up on humans and let themselves be carried around.
However, the slightest careless movement or clearing of the throat too loudly is enough for the squirrels to disappear in an instant. In a flash, they retreat to the next possible hiding place – not always without danger in human surroundings.
They are not suitable as cuddly animals and playmates, as they rarely become hand-tame and do not seek closeness to humans on their own. Those who want to get their own little “chipmunks” gang at home will be disappointed: Due to the natural life structure of rodents, keeping them individually is not animal cruelty but the rule. If you want to keep two animals together, you need a huge cage that can be separated in case of doubt.
For small children and completely inexperienced pet owners, chipmunks should, therefore, not be considered as a pet. Keeping chipmunks as pets always requires a lot of care, patience and understanding.
Those who decide to keep a chipmunk as a pet should only know in advance exactly what he is getting into.
All about keeping chipmunks
Chipmunks are solitary animals. In nature, the animals live in colonies, but each animal claims its own territory, which it defends against conspecifics. Since there are no escape possibilities in captivity, keeping them as pairs can lead to territorial fights and, thus, too dangerous biting, which can result in death.
Solitary confinement is not an alternative, as it deprives the animal of any opportunity to interact with conspecifics and is thus an unnatural form of husbandry.
Keeping chipmunks in a species-appropriate manner is hardly possible. In the wild, chipmunks live in territories of up to one hectare per animal. The animals love to move and climb and need a lot of space in captivity. Only a walk-in aviary outdoors with indoor and outdoor space is justifiable here. An aviary with a floor space of four to five square meters and a height of two meters should be available for one animal.
The aviary should have plenty of thick branches for climbing, perching boards, hiding places, a bowl of chinchilla sand, and employment opportunities. In nature, chipmunks dig nest burrows in the ground, so the animals should always have burrowing opportunities, such as flower boxes with fertilizer-free soil. Inside, the animals need a roosting box with a hinged lid, a hole to slip into and a board to enter, nesting material such as hay and straw, and other hiding places for food supplies.
Nail possibilities for the wear of the teeth must always be available for it untreated branches of trees are suitable.
The right cage for chipmunks
Since the small rodents are such bundles of energy, the motto for the cage is “the bigger, the better.” If you lock them in a small cage, they sometimes develop behavioral problems. It should be at least 2 m high and 1 m wide and deep.
The height is especially important since squirrels often work their way up to airy heights in nature and even inhabit tree hollows. Two cage walls should be closed, two open. The best way to achieve this is to use wire mesh, which should have a mesh size of max. 15 mm to minimize the risk of injury. The closed walls provide protection from drafts and offer additional security.
First, of course, it is important to equip the cage with basic accessories. This includes the right bedding, several houses, suitable nesting material, and food and drinking vessels. In addition, the squirrel needs a toilet (which greatly simplifies cleaning), a salt lick and a digging box.
As already mentioned, chipmunks move a lot and love to climb for their lives. Therefore, in addition to the basic equipment, you should fill the cage with all kinds of climbing opportunities. Branches, boards, hammocks, ropes and tubes. The possibilities are numerous. By the way, a running wheel is absolutely nothing for squirrels. So that the constantly regrowing teeth can be gnawed off, one must pay attention additionally to enough wear possibilities.
It is also important for chipmunks to have a lot of free-runs area
To fully utilize the rodents, you should allow them to run free in a quiet room. It is important to check the room for all sources of danger beforehand. All holes must be plugged in because the little rodents seem to squeeze through every little crack. By the way: Bathrooms and kitchens are completely unsuitable because of the many sources of danger.
Before you can release the squirrel into its free run, it should already be completely settled in its cage. This is important so that it sees the cage as its territory and retreat and thus returns here after the free run. This acclimatization takes about 4 to 8 weeks and should be observed in any case. If you shorten this time, the squirrel will see the whole free-run area as his territory and will try to defend it aggressively against all intruders.
Important with the whole free run topic is patience! The squirrel decides for itself when it is ready to leave the cage. So if the cage door is open and the squirrel refuses to leave, you must not shoo or lift it out. However, you can try to lure it out with nuts in front of the aviary or a conditioned call.
It also helps if the squirrel is already tame to some degree. This is especially helped by the rodent’s favorite food, which should only be fed from the hand. This time period also varies depending on the squirrel, and it can take days or months until the squirrel picks the nut out of your hand.
Also important here is – patience!
Provide sufficient activity opportunities
To keep the animals busy, you can provide a fun activity with a few simple steps. Egg cartons and toilet paper rolls make great hiding places for treats. Here, the squirrel has to do something before it can get to the tasty nuts.
Also, self-built dens are gladly accepted. In addition, chipmunks need an “earth bath” for their happiness. A suitable shallow container is filled with peat or coconut fiber substrate – suitable for small animals. Some chipmunks also like chinchilla sand. These earth baths are important for fur care and are gladly used by chipmunks. Some even set up their sleeping place for hibernation here.
The right diet for chipmunks
Chipmunks have a very varied diet in nature, which should be imitated when keeping them. In addition to grains and nuts, seeds, vegetables and animal foods are high on the list. Care must be taken to cover the squirrel’s nutritional needs, as both over- and under-supply can result in hair loss.
By the way, high-fat foods like nuts and sunflower seeds don’t bother the squirrels much. They consume enough energy through their busy daily lives. Important: Chipmunks are prone to diabetes – sugar-rich food or treats should, therefore, only be offered in small quantities.
Chipmunks are really interesting animals, and due to their daytime activity also good to observe. However, you have to accept that they only see humans as food givers and will never build a friendship.
So they are not cuddly animals or seek physical contact on their own. In addition, they require quite a bit of space and have more complex food and facility requirements than rabbits or guinea pigs. Only if you can meet these demands and do enough research – a chipmunk as a pet should be considered.