Chipmunks are rewarding as pets, but they are certainly not for everyone. Before you buy a chipmunk you'll need to make sure you can handle them and their needs (which are very particular, this is why they are exotics). Remember that, while you might really want one, if you can't provide for them properly you would be doing a great injustice to the animal in buying them anyway.
A Chipmunk is considered an exotic pet - they need a cage that is very big, have a large, varied, diet, and need precise behavioral treatment. I suggest first checking this forum on responsible squirrel ownership. Owning one is much more than providing food, housing and love, you must be sure that a chipmunk will fit into your life. If not, find another kind of pet.
They are very playful but are not anything like a stuffed animal - which is what some people want in a pet; something to hug. Chipmunks love to run and explore, stopping just for quick touches. Unless extremely tame and well adjusted to you, which comes after years of ownership with them, they will not let you pick them up, and grasping them usually earns you a nip (this does not go for all chipmunks as they each have personalities but speaks generally towards the species overall). While they will enjoy human company they are not at all cuddly. Chipmunks are VERY independent creatures and should be both approached and treated as such.
Chipmunks are very needy, too. Many people compare them to toddlers - you'll always need to watch them when they're out, you'll have to baby-proof their bedroom (yes, your chipmunk needs a room all their own), they are destructive, they can misbehave, and your day-to-day life will change once they come into your life.
Time is always an important factor for anyone selecting a pet. A chipmunk, when first brought home with you as a baby, will need 1 hour per day of your time to bond with you, minimum. After they grow accustomed to you and well bonded, say at half a year old, they'll need at least 15 minutes a day normally. Bearing in mind that chipmunks are durinal - they are awake at dawn and go to bed just before the sun. If you work a 9-5 job then a chipmunk would probably not get to see you much - maybe a chinchilla or sugar glider (night animals) would be better fits instead.
The next factor one might think of is cost. This is important, as one would think such a little critter would be very cheap.NO. While a chipmunk's upkeep is generally small, the cost to buy and house them is greater. If spending $500-$1,000 on an animal makes you wary then you ought to buy a hamster.
Before buying a chipmunk you must buy a place to house them (which I will get into in the 'Housing' section) which costs around $200-$500 for a proper one. Once you have a home you need to outfit it with accessories aka toys (again, we will get to what this entails later!) which can run as high as your creativity, but $200 to start with is a good rough guesstimate. Next you will need food (See 'Diet' section), which we will budged at $50 to start with. Now, with a complete habitat you can buy the animal! On average chipmunks cost from $100-150 dollars, without adding in any shipping costs (about $200) or taking tameness into account (more tame, more expensive). Now add in the veterinarian costs, which vary. It does cost a high amount to begin to own a chipmunk, between buying, housing, toys, food and vet trips.
Bedding and litter is usually the biggest expense as far as upkeep goes. Toys are also very pricey and you must buy new ones to deter boredom. However, a single treebranch cutting is enough to last through the winter and is free. Many of a chipmunk's treats, acorns and dandelions for example, can also be found in your own backyward, providing you do not add pesticides to your lawn!
In short - if you cannot provide for them fully now and in the future it is cruel to still buy one. Consider with care!
Who should NOT own a chipmunk?
- Anyone unable to give them all the needs necessary for the long, happy life of the animal
- People without the space or time
- Those interested in cuddly-type pets
- People who regularly work when the chipmunk is active
- Those who do not have at least $600 to begin with, and an extra $150 every year. I spend about a thousand dollars per year.
- Anyone who has no extra room that could be devoted solely to the animal and no room for a very large cage
- Children or College Dorm students
Why DO chipmunks make good pets?
- Diurnal: Up during the day, asleep at night
- Can become very tame and playful - a joy to have
- Not much scent (unlike ferrets, gliders, etc who have strong musk glands)
- Groom themselves (do not require special baths, like Chinchillas), relatively clean animals
- Health; they are very healthy animals and have few known diseases
- Litter trainable, or at least use just one corner of their habitat
- Longevity compared to other rodents of similar sizes (5-8 years)
Why DON'T chipmunks make good pets?
You cannot disagree with the visual beauty of a chipmunk - they are adorable! Just the imagine of a chipmunk sitting snugly on a person's shoulder is enough to make anyone think they want a cute little chipmunk and will do whatever it takes. But there is a lot more to it than that.Chipmunks, like most pets, have their own personalities. Depending on the animal's personality, you could have an easy or difficult time. Some animals will bite, though chipmunks bite only with reason. You may get someone like Michy, who was very, very, tolerant and would not bite, EVER. Or maybe a chipmunk with the outgoing personality of Luci who, when very upset, will make sure that you know her feelings one way or another (rather like a demanding princess). They can be tricky little devils who always seem to do something naughty when your back is turned. You need to be aware of this going in - Know that even if you have preconceived notions you must be ready to leave them all behind and accept your animal as they are if things don't turn out as you planned.
Chipmunks are NOT like hamsters, rats, or other animals. They require attention every day, and require loads more as young animals to imprint the bonding/taming experience. You need to be aware of their flaws - the destruction some can cause, the constant attention they'll want from you, and the fact that they may not ever want to stop and be touched - maybe they'll only want to climb you like a giant tree. Maybe they will not even tolerate your presence at all - would you accept them as they are?
A note on children & chipmunks...
Some people are surprised that children and chipmunks shouldn't be mixed. That's not to say kids should be barred from them; Children can be fine with chipmunks when they are explained how to behave, and also sit down in the room with the chipmunk (I would NEVER leave a child alone with a chipmunk!). The reason is for their health, both the chipmunk and the child, and not because we don't want kids to enjoy them!
Children should not own a chipmunk because, as you can see, they are very complex. They are exotics for a reason! Their care is difficult when you are first learning it, and much of it involves knowing things that children would fail to grasp (ex: phosphorous/calcium ratios and absorption - most children do not understand their own diet, so how can they cope with one this complex?). A chipmunk is too complicated for a child to own. As for interactions, a child fails to realize their own strength, sometimes lacks coordination, and they all too often do things they shouldn't. This means that they might grab at the chipmunk - a delicate animal in a sense that a fall wouldn't hurt them, but a fist would. A broken bone could result from a grab, or the loss of a tail. Also, there are accidental moments, like where a chipmunk gets stepped on because they run so fast and can so easily change direction that the child fails to see them. These are all dangers to the life of the chipmunk. A chipmunk that is grabbed by a child can also react by biting, a danger to the child. When bitten children tend to act out in anger without thinking, so never leave the two together unattended. If you are a parent reading this for goodness sake do NOT allow your child to entertain notions of buying a chipmunk!
I am in High/Middle school.. the above doesn't apply to me, so can I get one?
Again, no. A chipmunk is not an appropriate pet for anyone under 18 in my own opinion. The problem is young adults have just as many issues as children would have - many are still children themselves and would have similar problems, or worse. After the early stages of joy wear off, they stop caring for a chipmunk properly; The devotion and care necessary is higher than your average hamster/gerbil. The fiscal costs are very high - I do not know any teen with an extra thousand dollars lying around or an extra room to devote solely to a pet. Time is also a problem - when you're at school until near evening you basically miss out on the animal's entire day for five days of the week! That is just not fair to ignore an animal that needs so much socialization. Furthermore, at that age you do not have the comfort of being able to plan for the future that far ahead (a chipmunk can live 5-8 years). If someone buys a chipmunk and then decides they are going to a dormatory college or are moving out into an apartment that doesn't allow pets, then where does that leave the animal? Pushed into a too small cage to 'fit'? Left alone with parents who hardly want to care for the animal? It isn't fair to the animal to buy such a high maintence animal at that age.
Do they smell like ferrets do?
Although I think it only from reading, not experience, I don't think ferrets are anything like chipmunks at all. Ferrets have strong scent glands, so strong that even removing them surgically still doesn't always work. There is no 'fresh chipmunk scent', really no scent of any sort unless you fail to clean their cage often enough & they have a pile of poo in there! They are avid groomers so their fur is always very clean as well.