Pet Chipmunks: Is It A Good Idea?

Written by Katelynn Sobus
Published: March 29, 2022
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Chipmunks are very high-maintenance pets, and the ethics of keeping them are questionable. Pet chipmunks need plenty of running and burrowing space, so you must buy them a large enclosure, not a tiny pet store cage.

This article will discuss everything about pet chipmunks, including their needs, the legality of owning them, and whether it’s ethical.

Do Chipmunks Make Good Pets?

Trapping Chipmunks cage
Chipmunks should not be kept as pets because they are wild animals.

Emmily/Shutterstock.com

Chipmunks don’t make good pets. Although some people might enjoy keeping chipmunks, it takes a lot of space, dedication, and hard work. It’s also not ethical to keep pet chipmunks, as it comes with very few benefits to the animals themselves.

The following are some reasons you might not want to keep a pet chipmunk.

They Require a Lot of Space and Enrichment

Chipmunks need a large enclosure at least six feet wide and six feet deep. Keep in mind that this is the bare minimum; you should purchase the largest cage you can afford. They’re very active animals that live in burrows, which means their cage needs to have a deep bottom. They’ll also need a large nesting box to sleep and store food and plenty of enrichment items like wood, plants, and toys.

You may need to house your chipmunk outdoors due to the cage size, which will expose it to disease, weather, and predators. While you can argue that a wild chipmunk would see even more threats, it’s our job to keep our pets as protected as possible. This means spending money on vaccines, weatherproofing the enclosure, and keeping predators like coyotes, hawks, and even stray cats at bay.

They Benefit from Free-Roaming

Although we talked about cage sizes above, chipmunks are very active animals that benefit from as much free-roam as you can give them. The problem with this is that they’re tiny, and they dig—leaving them with plenty of ways to evade your attempts at chipmunk-proofing your home.

Unsupervised free-roam is next to impossible due to this, and you have to be very sure they can’t hurt themselves or escape. It takes a lot of chipmunk-proofing and time since you must supervise them carefully.

Chipmunks are Prey Animals

If you’ve had pet rodents in the past, you may know that prey animals behave much differently from predator species. However, many people are unprepared for this reality.

If you’re used to cats and dogs, chipmunks’ behavior may surprise you. They won’t interact with humans in the same way and can be scared very easily. All of their instincts tell them to run and hide from large predator species, like humans! It takes a lot of work to tame a chipmunk to accept human handling. At first, it might feel like your chipmunk dislikes you, and you might feel discouraged.

Chipmunks are the kind of animals that are fun to watch, but they don’t usually want to be picked up or cuddled. If you adopt a chipmunk, you should respect this.

They’re Active During the Day

close up of an eastern chipmunk
Chipmunks are diurnal animals, which means they are most active during the day.

iStock.com/rodmacpherson

Chipmunks sleep around 15 hours a day. They’re diurnal animals, which means they are most active during the day. This may work for some people, but for others, you’ll miss out on their most active times while you’re at school, work, or out running errands.

They’re not Domesticated

Chipmunks are wild animals, not domesticated animals. Some people get confused about this—how can a pet be wild? To understand, we first have to know what wild, domesticated, feral, and tame all mean.

Wild animals can live outside on their own without human help. Domesticated animals have been bred selectively, are different from their wild counterparts, and typically cannot survive without human aid. Examples of wild animals include deer and foxes. Domesticated animals include cats, dogs, and ferrets.

Chipmunks are considered wild animals because they can live on their own outdoors and haven’t been bred by humans for very long—certainly not long enough to alter their DNA significantly.

Wild and domesticated animals can both be tame or feral. Tame animals don’t fear, avoid, or act aggressively toward people. Feral animals are fearful of people, avoid them, and sometimes respond aggressively to human interaction.

Let’s use the example of feral cats: they’re still domesticated animals and aren’t considered wild. Even feral colonies rely on humans for survival and live incredibly short lifespans compared to housecats (which are usually tame).

Chipmunks, on the other hand, are wild animals that can be tamed, thus won’t fear people. They still keep their unpredictability and aren’t suited to live in human homes. Millions of years of wild breeding have made them suited to outdoor life.

Many people give their exotic pets up to sanctuaries when they find out what keeping them is actually like. Wild animals are nothing like domesticated species. Sadly, this is the best-case scenario. Many sanctuaries fill up and turn animals away. Or, the owners simply won’t give up their pets despite being unable to care for them. These animals end up confined to small cages or euthanized, all because a human wanted a cool pet without doing their research first.

Science Knows Little About Pet Chipmunks

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we know little about keeping pet chipmunks. We haven’t kept them for very long compared to pets like cats and dogs. There are very few studies on pet chipmunks, their health, or their care. This means that even someone going in with the best intentions and giving their chipmunks the best care science can currently offer might make huge, unavoidable mistakes that jeopardize their pets’ wellbeing.

You’re unlikely to find a veterinarian who treats chipmunks regularly. An exotic pet veterinarian will have experience with rodents, but likely not with chipmunks in particular. In some ways, a veterinarian must make educated guesses about chipmunks’ care—and may not have definite answers when it comes to diagnosis or treatment plans in some cases.

It is advised not to adopt a pet you cannot vet and care for properly. It is considered a deal-breaker regarding whether or not keeping chipmunks is ethical.

However, you can argue that they benefit from an increased lifespan. Wild chipmunks live around two years on average, while captive chipmunks typically live 4-5 years and up to 10 years.

Can I have a Chipmunk as a Pet?

ground squirrel vs chipmunk
Your local laws may prohibit you from keeping a chipmunk as a pet.

iStock.com/flySnow

There is a good chance that the laws in your area prohibit chipmunks as pets. Pet chipmunks are illegal in many U.S. states and the United Kingdom. Some U.S. states allow you to keep chipmunks either with or without a permit.

It’s essential to look into your local laws before adopting chipmunks. Otherwise, you may face fines or even jail time, and animal control can take your chipmunks away.

That last bit can be the most challenging part for both you and the chipmunk, as you may grow attached and be heartbroken if you have to part ways!

Will a Chipmunk Bite You?

Chipmunks can and will bite humans, although tamed and trained chipmunks are much less likely. Chipmunks are as non-aggressive and unlikely to bite if not provoked. They’d rather run and hide than fight a human!

You’re much more likely to be bit if you’re handling a chipmunk against its will than if you give them the space and respect they deserve. This is another reason why it’s best to leave chipmunks in the wild.

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