Description and History
A chipmunk resembles a common tree squirrel, but is only about 5 to 6 inches in length, not including its bushy tail. It is a rusty brown animal with a varying number of darker and lighter stripes on its back, with an off white underbelly. At one time, chipmunks were placed into two genera: Eutamias (for the chipmunks of western North America and Eurasia) and Tamias (for those of western North America). However, recent evidence indicates that all the different species and sub species are so closely related as to make their separation into these two different genera unwarranted. Chipmunks have been put into the same category as ground squirrels, but, although terrestrial, they also forage in trees. This places them somewhere between true ground squirrels, and tree squirrels.
What is the difference between the American and Siberian chipmunks?
Generally two types of chipmunks are available as pets: the North American chipmunk and the Siberian chipmunk. The North American chipmunk is sometimes called the Eastern or Western It is a robust and agile animal that still retains most of its chipmunk wild instincts. In some areas, these animals are trapped and kept as pets and breeders. A wild-caught animal is very shy and fearful. Although they cannot be considered true pets, their offspring, if removed from their parents at an early age, can be tamed. The Siberian chipmunk is a slightly smaller and finer boned animal than the North American chipmunk. It has been extensively bred in England, and therefore is closer to being a truly domesticated animal. There are two color varieties: the ruby-eyed white, and the cinnamon (sometimes called golden). Some people think the ruby-eyed whites actually have black eyes, but on close inspection under a good light, this is not so. The white chipmunks are quite stunning to look at. Although creamy white, they still retain the typical stripes, which have been diluted to an almond color. The cinnamon color variety has more red and yellow in their coats than the normal standard, but is similarly marked, with black eyes.
What kind of pet does a chipmunk make?
Chipmunks have many positive pet qualities Unlike many nocturnal rodents that are kept as pets, they are diurnal--active during the daytime, which makes them fun to watch . You "pick up" your pet by offering him your flat palm that has a treat waiting for him. Chipmunks do not like to be picked up by being grabbed by the tail. Outside the cage, they will jump on the highest point of their owner's body, such as a shoulder or head, but won't stay there for long. If you walk by a tall piece of furniture, the chipmunk will want to jump off you to investigate this newest "tree". Their intense curiosity drives them to explore all new things. Thus, it is best if you restrict their out-of-cage time to only one room. Chipmunks are less trusting with people they do not know. They can be friendly to strangers that are quiet and move slowly, but they are never as bold with strangers as they are with their owners.
What do I look for in choosing a chipmunk?
Try to obtain the youngest animal you can. At six weeks of age, a chipmunk is fully weaned and eating on his own. This is the ideal age to bring him home. Look for an animal that has all the obvious signs of good health: shiny eyes, glowing coats, and animals that are active and curious. If you have your choice of a number of different animals, choose the one that approaches your hand first. The boldest animals are also the easiest to bond with.
How do they bond to you?
Chipmunks lose their fear of humans if handled frequently before they are weaned, but it is unwise to separate them from their mother at this time. You can still have a very tame and friendly pet after it has been weaned. The trick is to have a treat in your hand when you approach the chipmunk's cage. At first, hold a sunflower seed or peanut through the cage bars. Your chipmunk will approach cautiously,then take the treat from your fingers. Cautiously,then take the treat from your fingers. Pretty soon he will anticipate your presence with food, and will wait for you to open his cage door. The next step is for him to jump on your open palm to get his treat. At this point, you can take him out of his cage. Chipmunks are so small and fast that they can easily get lost in a large room. To chipmunk proof the room, close the doors and windows (stuffing a towel under the door space), conceal all exposed electrical wires (to prevent electrocution if they are chewed) and bar access to small places that your chipmunk can be hard to retrieve from (like behind or under a refrigerator or dishwasher). With patience, your chipmunk will become a trusting and responsive pet.
Never house a chipmunk in an aquarium. They require a large cage, with minimum dimensions of 36" x 24" x 24" and mesh size no larger than 1" x 1/2". A cage any smaller than that will stress your pet. They need to be able to climb on the walls of their cage. Your chipmunk's furniture should include a nest box. A chipmunk without a nest box will make every attempt to burrow under his bedding or shed anything that he can in order to feel secure. If you have more than one chipmunk, each animal must have his own nest box; don't expect them to share. Parakeet nest boxes are ideal for this purpose. Your chipmunk also needs climbing branches, pieces of bark to hide under, cardboard tubes to chew, a 9-inch exercise wheel (very important!), parrot toys that include rawhide and chew blocks, and a hamster or guinea pig water bottle.
Chipmunks will eat a variety of foods. They enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, rodent lab blocks, monkey biscuits, berries, flower buds (particularly marigolds and dandelions), mealworms, peanuts, and small pieces of romaine lettuce and other greens. Be sure to wash all fresh produce to remove insecticide residue. Parrot mineral blocks (honey and peanut butter flavored), cuttlebones and lava stones will help the chipmunk grind down their teeth, which is important for good health. The chipmunk does not store fat in its body, but will store extra food in his nest box and bury food in his bedding. Be careful that hidden fresh fruits and vegetables, do not go rancid. Moldy food can kill. To avoid this problem, give your chipmunk as much fresh food as they will eat in one day.
Are they clean animals?
A chipmunk is one of the cleanest pets you can have. It does not have a detectable body odor. It leaves its droppings in one corner of its cage, which can easily be removed, making it unnecessary to do a complete bedding change each week.
Do they need a companion?
The American chipmunk is less social than the Siberian chipmunk. Although both can be kept singly, they do appreciate having a cage companion. Pairs of the opposite sex seem to be the most compatible, but may have to be separated if the male comes into season and the female is not ready for his amorous intentions. However, some male/female pairs can be left together year round. You need to stay aware of how well your animals are getting along with each other at various times throughout the year. Same sex pairs can be compatible too, if the animals have been raised together. Adults of the same sex will not get along if they are strangers. If they are of the opposite sex they can be introduced, usually without problems, in neutral territory. Make sure you provide enough hiding places for them to retreat from each other if they desire.
Are they prone to any health problems?
A chipmunk is usually a remarkably healthy animal, if it receives a proper diet and is allowed enough exercise. They can get diarrhea if given too many fruits (especially citrus) and vegetables. Some genetic problems have occurred in the white Siberian chipmunk as a result of inbreeding. These problems include partial and complete blindness, epilepsy and other central nervous system problems, hearing problems, cleft palate, and other facial deformities. Cross breeding whites with standard color chipmunks will strengthen blood lines and produce healthier offspring.
How will they get along with other animals?
It is always wise to proceed with caution when introducing your chipmunk to the family dog or cat. Because chipmunks have been chosen by Mother Nature to be prey animals, they are quick to frighten and flee. Such actions can elicit a predatory chase response in your dog or cat. Supervision is recommended.
Who should own a chipmunk?
Prospective owners of chipmunks should be people who like animals that are active during the daytime, and those who are committed to feeding their pet fresh fruits and vegetable at least three times a week, keeping their pet away from extreme heat and cold, and providing their pet with daily social stimulation. Chipmunks are not recommended for young children because these animals can become easily frightened by childrens' quick movements and high excitement levels. Preteens and teenagers are old enough to understand the correct way to handle and interact with this special kind of pet.
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