A trendy pet for some, a very special challenge for others: the chipmunk. And basically it’s both. If you decide to have a chipmunk as a pet, you should be aware that the animals are hardly or not at all tame. In the best case, they let themselves be fed by hand and regard humans as climbing trees. But just watching them go about their daily business, enjoying their life energy and cute appearance is reason enough to take a closer look at the pet chipmunk.
Interesting facts about chipmunks
The small rodents are direct relatives of our native squirrels, but also
they are genetically close to the prairie dog. Characteristic of the chipmunk are
the dark and light stripes on the back contrasting with the otherwise golden-brown coat color. They are not only eponymous, but are primarily used for camouflage in forested areas of the northern hemisphere, where the different chipmunk species have their home.
- Subfamily: ground squirrels;
- Family: squirrels;
- Order: Rodents (Latin: Rodentia);
- a total of 25 different species are known;
- Also known as chipmunks or chipmunks;
- Asian chipmunks, also Burunduk, are native to Eurasia (specifically northern Europe to Korea, northern China and Hokkaido);
- Chipmunks are native to the eastern half of North America;
- the remaining 23 species live in the western half of North America;
- the five dark dorsal stripes are typical, with light stripes in between;
- 20 – 25 cm head-tail length with a weight of about 50 – 120g;
- Life expectancy: approx. 3 years in the wild, approx. 7 – 10 years in captivity;
- Chipmunks are diurnal, living mostly near the ground, hibernating and creating underground
- tunnel systems (strictly divided for supplies, nests, waste and droppings);
- They are loners, each claiming their own territory within a colony (up to 1 hectare per animal);
- Their diet consists of grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and insects.
Criticism of chipmunk domestication
In the wild, individual animals have a comparatively huge territory at their disposal (measured by their body size) that they need to such an extent to find and hoard sufficient supplies for the long winter months. In principle, this necessity does not apply to housing.
Nevertheless, the animals have an excessive urge to move. They are described as busy, curious, active and last but not least as shy but also ready to attack intruders. Their territorial behavior is very strong. If they feel threatened, they bite and scratch. In short, they don’t necessarily have the ideal qualities to be a pet.
At least since the chipmunk films and cartoons, however, they have enjoyed great popularity as animals in general. Having such a cute little rodent at home seems to be motivation enough for some enthusiasts to deal with the complex keeping conditions.
Critics are convinced that chipmunks cannot be kept in a species-appropriate manner, especially since they are hardly domesticated. Breeders and savvy connoisseurs disagree, but concede that chipmunk keeping is not appropriate for beginners and children.
At least there is no ban on keeping them in this country. However, for the benefit of the animals and the common togetherness, the husbandry should meet the needs of the animals as extensively as possible.
Why a chipmunk?
The animals have only been domesticated for a few years, so there is no comparison to guinea pigs or rabbits. And a large part of their wildness is still preserved in them, which makes them less suitable as pets, let alone as livestock. Nevertheless, they take the hearts of young and old by storm because of their lively nature and cute appearance.
In addition, they are mostly active during the day, very agile and busy – in short, a real pleasure to observe and marvel at. Chipmunks are the diurnal equivalent of hamsters.
They have similar requirements, are extremely sensitive, and usually not exactly robust. Since they can only be cared for in an approximately species-appropriate manner when kept individually, many owners hope for a trusting nature.
The rodents tend to be very curious but also very shy. It can take weeks, if not months, of patience and dedication to hand-feed an animal. Some become trusting enough to climb up humans and be carried around. However, the smallest careless movement or clearing your throat too loud is enough for the squirrels to disappear again in no time. In a flash, they retreat to the nearest possible hiding place – not always without danger human environment.
Therefore, for young children and completely inexperienced pet owners, chipmunks should not be considered. On the other hand, they are a good alternative for allergy sufferers.
Keeping chipmunks as pets always requires a lot of mindfulness, patience, and understanding. In return, they offer exciting behavior that never gets boring and just have that certain something. If you decide to have a chipmunk as a pet, you should only know in advance exactly what you are getting yourself into…
Husbandry of chipmunks
Because of their enormous urge to move, a combination of a large cage and regular free-roaming in secured rooms is always recommended for chipmunks. On the one hand they have their own territory and sanctuary, on the other hand there are many opportunities to go on a discovery tour and to satisfy their curiosity.
The chipmunk cage
Since the animals are still kept quite rarely, species-specific cages are also available
rarely found. In terms of body size and urge to move, they resemble chipmunks
but for example the chinchillas.
Ideally, an aviary with a large indoor and outdoor area is available. As a rule of thumb, you can calculate around 4 to 5 square meters of floor space with a height of 2 meters. per animal.
Some pet owners build their own individual enclosure, others adapt bird aviaries, chinchilla cages, even chicken or ferret coops.
Escape-proof (and above all burglar-proof outdoors) walls are important. These can be closed on two sides, for example, and otherwise sealed with wire mesh. Bars are not recommended because of the risk of the tiny animals getting stuck and injuring themselves. Glass panelling, on the other hand, could adversely affect the cage climate because heat and moisture build up. The cage should therefore be breathable, offer shade, not stand in a draft or be directly exposed to the dry air from the heating.
Furthermore, all kinds of natural materials are needed for playing, caring for, occupying oneself and feeling comfortable as appropriate as possible. This includes branches, ropes, lots of hiding places, little houses and climbing opportunities, spread over different levels.
On top of that, a sand bath is important so that the squirrels can devote themselves extensively to grooming. Chinchila sand has proven itself very well.
A feeding station and a drinking bowl with fresh water every day are of course essential. But also the offers for digging, digging and rooting should be sufficiently and variably available. For example in the form of large flower boxes filled with fertilizer-free soil. Ultimately, the animals need space for their nest, for feeding chambers and for waste and excrement.
In fact, chipmunks are very clean animals and attach great importance to the precise division of their territory. Existing tunnel systems and squares should therefore not be modified by humans. Only the legacies have to be removed regularly.
The animals also need nesting material such as hay, straw, grass and linen scraps. Different types of wood are important for teeth and claws. These must be untreated and should be chosen based on natural occurrences in northern regions.
Tunnel systems made from clean pipes or cardboard rolls, as well as hammocks and ladders are also welcome features. All you have to do is pay attention to rough, non-slip surfaces and materials free of colorants and pollutants. After all, nothing is safe from these little incisors.
So that only the cage is recognized as territory, the chipmunk should stay there for a while after acquisition. If the free run starts too early, the entire room is declared territory, vehemently defended and used for digging, hiding food and relieving it. After about 3 to 4 weeks, however, the boundaries should be clearly defined. The animal had time to settle in and get used to the new environment, smells and sounds.
Make freewheeling safe and varied
Once the territory has been marked out, the new roommate can now also explore the immediate surroundings explore. The room should be prepared accordingly. This includes special
Security measures such as:
- Lay cables through a cable duct so that they are not chewed;
- Secure sockets, for example with child safety devices;
- Seal medication, washing, cleaning and hygiene items;
- Safely store food, especially sweets and alcohol;
- Cover flower pots with stones, otherwise they are also used for digging;
- Remove poisonous plants;
- Keep windows and doors closed;
- do not light candles as long as the animals roam free.
In addition, freewheeling should only be granted under supervision. Happen too fast
Accidents, or the frightened animals get stuck under the heater, possibly in narrow crevices. Getting them out of such predicament is anything but easy. Biting and scratching can be expected as a defense reaction. The tiny bodies are also extremely delicate and fragile. Therefore, safety always comes first.
If you also want to offer your darling a small, safe adventure every now and then, you can set up a special climbing course, hide treats and provide compatible materials for playing, for claw and tooth care and for mental exercise. This can be cardboard rolls and boxes, nut shells (also coconut), branches, hammocks, stretched ropes and more.
Gathering food is also a popular activity for chipmunks. In They can transport and hoard an astonishingly large amount with their jaws finally in various hiding places in their territory, i.e. in the cage. Another reason which is why it should first be acclimated to. Otherwise, the food supplies will end up scattered across the room and could sooner or later lead to unpleasant odours.
Diet and feeding behavior of chipmunks
Many chipmunks actually become tame, i.e. they take the food out of their hands. Unfortunately, that’s where the affection usually ends. If necessary, they can be trained with particularly tasty food so that they can climb on your arm, meander through a course or at least come out of their hiding places if necessary so that their state of health can be checked.
The food is therefore an important lure. However, tricks should not be expected from the squirrels. If you like, you are of course welcome to try your luck.
The diet basically consists of fruits, nuts and seeds. Smaller insects are also part of the menu, as well as grains. Prepared food for chipmunks is now available in high-quality pet shops and can be delivered to your home if you wish. So nobody has to read the farm meadow by hand or trawl through the forest for their little darlings.
However, hoarding supplies is not just a pastime for chipmunks – it is primarily a matter of survival. In the northern regions where the animals originate from, the winter months are long and cold. Accordingly, they must be well prepared to keep their hibernation.
Many domesticated animal species that would also hibernate in the wild have shed this habit in keeping pets. Chipmunks are not (yet) one of them. In the outdoor enclosure, the temperatures drop significantly, the days are getting shorter – winter rest sets in instinctively. In the residential area, on the other hand, heating is usually used. In the chipmunk’s room, however, this should be avoided if possible. However, due to housing-related necessity and the lack of a sufficiently deep tunnel, it is mandatory to set the heating to protect against freezing. Temperatures can be quite low, but they shouldn’t drop below zero degrees Celsius.
Feeding during the winter months can be discontinued. The supplies of the animals should actually be enough, especially since they slow down their rhythm anyway, sleep a lot and stay in their nests. However, fresh water must be available daily. Fresh food only when needed.
The animals need the hibernation to regenerate their strength and stay vital. If you keep the squirrels in a warm room all year round, you risk a shortened lifespan, heart disease and the like.
What care do chipmunks need?
In principle, the animals do not require any further care allowance. Bathing extensively in the sand from time to time, sharpening their claws on wood and sharpening their teeth on food and chewing toys is usually enough.
Chipmunks wouldn’t let themselves be scratched or even brushed anyway. As the owner, however, you are obliged to carry out a regular health check. It is sufficient to identify unusual abnormalities in good time through observation and empirical values. For example, whether the eyes are inflamed, the food is refused because of a toothache, or there are injuries. Underweight and overweight, apathy and rashes can also be easily recognized visually.
To rule out parasites, faecal samples can be submitted to verified laboratory facilities for thorough testing.
Who can help with problems or questions?
Going to the vet is likely to be a pretty stressful act for chipmunks and owners alike. Just the capture, up to the transport, and finally the investigation on site borders on an impertinence for everyone involved. Precisely because chipmunks are rarely tame, preventive vaccination, castration or even life-saving measures are often not necessary for them.
However, if you are unsure about a problem or need urgent advice, you could contact helpful breeders or the local zoo. Chipmunks are often kept there, too, and the animal keepers have gained a lot of experience in dealing with small rodents.
Over time, however, every owner becomes a chipmunk expert and knows how to correctly assess and judge their animal. Then the attitude from the point of view of the critics is perhaps still not species-appropriate, but at least loving and caring.