The cute appearance and behavior of chipmunks tempt all animal lovers to keep them as pets. However, before doing so, you need to be aware of a few important things. Here we discuss, if chipmunks are ideal as pets, and also provide guidelines for pet chipmunk care.
Chipmunks are adorable and considered as one of the most innocent-looking harmless creatures. It is but natural to have a desire to cuddle or pet them. But hang on, chipmunks are wild creatures and unless tamed from their birth will not allow you to touch them and may even bite if you try to. This certainly does not mean they cannot be kept as pets but as an owner you need to devote time, space, and be patient. Chipmunks are known to be needy, destructive, and stubborn (not the qualities that you look for in a pet). Apart from this, owning and maintaining a chipmunk can be a little expensive (approximate initial cost about $600, and every year about $150).
However, if you are ready to commit, chipmunks as pets do have their advantages. Just like us humans, chipmunks are diurnal, they sleep at night and are active during the day. So you don’t have to worry about getting up in the middle of the night to attend to your pet, as is the case with dogs or cats. They don’t need to be groomed or bathed and do not emit any odor, unlike ferrets, gliders and canines. Chipmunks don’t need to be litter trained and are fairly hardy creatures with very few diseases. In short, you need to be aware of the dos and don’ts of chipmunk care, and of course, put in the time and effort.
It may seem obvious that for a small animal, chipmunks would require a small cage, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Unlike hamsters, these active animals need all the room they can get. Chipmunks are very playful, and do not like to be confined in a small space for long periods. They are hyperactive, curious animals who love to run, jump and explore.
A chipmunk cage should be spacious enough that will allow them to exercise, play, and rest at ease. The ideal size of a cage would be 6 ft. x 6 ft. x 4 ft., it is not recommended to put a single adult chipmunk in an enclosure which has a height of less than 4 feet. The bigger the cage, the better.
Chipmunks, by nature, are burrowing animals and will dig the floor to store food and other stuff. To prevent them from damaging the cage floor, place a bale of moss peat with small holes cut in the plastic. This will satisfy a chipmunk’s urge to burrow and dig tunnels.
Another option is to cover the cage floor with wood shavings or shredded paper. Now, cleaning such a cage can be quite a task. To make this chore easier, you can add a pull-out pan at the bottom of the cage wherein you clean out all the mess that gets collected in the pan and doesn’t damage the floor.
Don’t place the cage in the middle of the room. At least one side of the cage should be against a wall, so that the chipmunks do not feel overtly exposed, and feel sheltered and secure.
Now, it is time to fill the cage. A wooden nest box is a must. If you have more than two chipmunks, then you will need a separate box for each adult. The nest box can be around 6-inch x 8-inch x 6-inch in dimension with an entrance hole of around 2.5-inch diameter, half-way up one side. Fill the box with shredded paper, hay, or dried leaves.
Letting the Chipmunk Out
Don’t want to keep your pet chipmunk in its cage all the time, it’ll get bored. But before you open the cage door, make sure the room which houses the cage is ‘chipmunk-proof, i.e., the room should have plenty of open space, with minimum furniture. Basically, cover all the places where a chipmunk could hide; they are curious animals and will quickly go exploring, making it difficult for you to catch them.
Don’t keep valuables in the room, chipmunks are hyperactive, and tend to get destructive. Remove all electrical wires, etc. They might chew on it.
Keep empty pipes, shelves or logs in the cage for your chipmunk’s amusement. Tree branches, and rocks are a great way to make your chipmunk feel at home. You may also use tubes or other toys which will alleviate their boredom and at the same time provide adequate exercise. Anything that you feel might entertain and amuse your chipmunk, can be added, just be sure to clean the stuff before installing it. If you are planning to build an outdoor enclosure, you can consider using aviary cages. Be sure to cover the ground, so that the chipmunks don’t dig, and escape.
An adult chipmunk should have about 28 grams of food a day. Basic diet should contain cereals with addition of vegetables, like turnip and carrots, nuts, fruits in small quantities, and a limited amount of animal protein in the form of meat pieces and eggs. Peanuts and sunflower seeds should also be fed in limited quantities. They seem to enjoy a change in diet, so it shouldn’t be very difficult to feed them. You may add some twigs for them to chew on.
There is no ‘perfect diet’ for a chipmunk. Each chipmunk will have its own food preference, so make sure you observe your pet when it eats. Make sure you have a food dish, a ceramic one is best, as they cannot tip it over. In addition, there needs to be a constant water source in the form of a dish or bottle. You can buy a rodent drip bottle, which is available in pet stores. It is important to keep the bottle/dish filled, and to keep the dish clean at all times. Another interesting fact about chipmunks is that they tend to store food in their cheeks and then later hide it somewhere safe. Don’t panic and assume something is wrong when chipmunks do this, as it is a natural process, and they do this out of instinct.
Other Essential Things to Consider
Chipmunks are relatively clean animals. They do not require special baths, as they groom themselves. But you need to keep their cages clean, and wash and scrub their housing once every fortnight.
Chipmunks do not liked to be picked up or handled. Unlike cats or dogs, they prefer to cling or hang on you, rather than being handled or petted. While they enjoy human company, they are not at all cuddly. They will not let you pick them up, unless they are extremely tame and familiar with human contact/touch.
To make your pet chipmunk more friendly, start handling him from day one assuming that you get a baby. The more it gets used to you, the more friendly it will be, but you will have to be very patient. Once it perceives you to be safe, and not a threat, it will happily come and sit on your shoulder for a quick pat on its back.
Where to Buy
Most pet stores sell chipmunks, but it is best to get one through a private breeder. Pet stores usually have chipmunks that are caught in the wild, whereas, breeders have hand-tamed animals. Breeders also provide complete, detailed information on pet chipmunk care. Your pet should be active, energetic, and should have a shiny coat. It should also be about six to eight weeks old so that it gets used to you and your lifestyle. You can also choose to get a chipmunk from animal rescuers.
~ In total, there are twenty-five species of chipmunks and all but one (the Siberian chipmunk) are found only in North America.
~ In the wild, chipmunks live for about 3 years, but in captivity, they are known to live for 7-8 years.
~ When there is excess food, chipmunks transport food by storing it in pouches in their cheeks. Chipmunks can carry around eight to nine nuts at a time!
~ The difference between chipmunks and squirrels is that chipmunks have stripes on their faces, whereas squirrels have stripes on their back. Squirrels are also bigger than chipmunks.
~ “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Chip ‘n Dale” are popular animated movies and cartoons, which depict human fascination and appreciation about these mischievous creatures.
Last but not the least, as with any pet, I strongly advise you to ascertain whether it is legal to have chipmunks as pets in your area or state. You may require appropriate licensing from local or state authorities. Chipmunks can be highly amusing and entertaining animals to have around, but only if you have the time to care for them. With a chipmunk as pet, you are less likely to be a hands-on owner and more likely to end up as a friendly climbing frame.