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THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT KEEPING CHIPMUNKS

Introduction

Chipmunks are members of the squirrel family. Being a diurnal rodent the chipmunk is active during the day and a well designed enclosure can make an interesting and enjoyable feature both for chipmunks and the humans keeping them!

A wild creature!

Although chipmunks can be tamed and become friendly, they are still wild. This means that although you can handle them with care, they are not cuddly and can bite extremely hard! To cope best with living in captivity chipmunks need an environment which mimic, as closely as possible, their wild habitat.

Housing for your chipmunk

In the wild chipmunks are mostly solitary, living in earth burrows or tree holes. They spend much of their time foraging for food over a wide area. If kept in a small cage they will develop stereotyped behavior patterns which are as disturbing to watch as they must be for the rodents performing them. Chipmunks need as large an enclosure as you can provide, either outdoors with nestboxes for rest in dry and draught-free conditions or indoors, again with hideaways. They need plenty of branches to climb and opportunity to dig burrows, since this is a major activity in the wild.

Do be careful not to let chipmunks escape from the enclosure, as they can move extremely fast. In some countries it is illegal to release any non-indigenous species into the countryside. If your animals are inside, ensure that they are well away from television sets as the high pitch background noise, which is above our hearing threshold, can cause stress and even death to chipmunks.

Feeding

In the wild chipmunks forage for a wide range of different foodstuffs from fruits, nuts and green vegetables to carrion. Food in captivity should be as wide ranging as possible in an attempt to mirror this natural variety. Giving nuts in their shells will encourage the wearing down of teeth and provide a good activity to prevent boredom. Providing hard wood to chew also helps in both these areas.

Breeding

Breeding chipmunks is not difficult and during the two breeding seasons, around March to April and September to October, females may have litters of up to eight young. The gestation period is about 30 days and the young leave the nest at about seven weeks old. While the female should not be disturbed during gestation and when the young are in the nest she should be provided with plenty of food and water.

Health Problems

As the teeth of chipmunks, like those of other rodents and rabbits, grow continually, overgrowth is a common problem. As mentioned, this can be prevented by giving nuts in their shells and plenty of hard wood to chew on.

Pneumonia can be a problem if animals are kept in a draughty outside enclosure. Ensure that nest boxes and rest areas are draught free and dry.

Stress can be a problem if chipmunks are kept in close confinement. They are essentially solitary, so housing them without an opportunity to maintain their own 'personal space' will cause problems, especially if one particularly aggressive male is dominating the group. Chipmunks can live up to 8 or 9 years, although 3 to 5 is more usual. Females outlive males.

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