Chipmunk - Things You Should Know

Chipmunks are members of the squirrel family and while there are many different species inhabiting North America and Asia, most of those bought in British pet shops are Siberian chipmunks (Latin name: Tamias sibricus). A few years ago almost all the chipmunks available were imported from Japan and Korea, but now most animals are captive-bred. 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, most are still kept as wild - ie free-range in an aviary-type enclosure. This means that although you can handle them with care, they are not cuddly and can bite extremely hard!

What type of housing is suitable?

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 may develop stereotyped behaviour 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. They need plenty of branches to climb. These should be non-toxic woods (eg fruit tree branches) as they will get gnawed. 'Aviaries' should have double doors to reduce risk of escapes when people enter the enclosures to clean, etc.

Inside enclosures should also provide scope for natural behaviours, ie digging, climbing, hiding. They are only really suitable for hand-reared animals as close proximity to people may be stressful to parent-reared chipmunks. Cages should be robust to avoid escapes.

Do be careful not to let chipmunks escape from the enclosure, as they can move extremely fast and it is illegal to release any non-indigenous species into the countryside.

What should I feed my chipmunk?

In the wild chipmunks forage for a wide range of different foodstuffs including fruits, nuts and green vegetables. 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. If kept indoors a good-quality Vitamin D3/calcium supplement needs to be provided to help make up for the lack of ultra-violet light.

When do chipmunks breed?

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 (pregnancy) period is about 30 days and the young leave the nest at about seven weeks old. The female should not be disturbed during gestation and when the young are in the nest.

Are there any particular health problems I should be aware of?

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 usually outlive males.

Used and/or modified with permission under license. ©Lifelearn, The Penguin House, Castle Riggs, Dunfermline FY11 8SG

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