A chinchilla is a great pet but can sometimes prove difficult to care for. It is an extremely sensitive creature and finding the right foods is not always easy. Nevertheless, a well-balanced diet is crucial to ensuring a happy and healthy lifestyle for your pet chinchilla. The quality of food is your utmost concern. But with so many options available on the market, how do you know what’s best for your pet?
This post breaks down the best food for chinchillas and factors to consider during your search.
The Basics of Chinchilla Diet
Chinchillas are herbivores and as such, only eat plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, hay, grass, and leaves. However, chinchillas only eat certain foods, and some should be avoided as they cause bad reactions. They need a high fiber intake each day. You should avoid anything with artificial preservatives as they have long term risks for your pet
That said, below is a list of safe and healthy foods for chinchillas.
Pellets are commercially prepared foods for chinchillas that often include the right amounts of fat, protein, and fiber. They are healthier than any food you mix personally and offer balanced nutrition. On the downside, pellets can be harmful if the manufacturer uses artificial preservatives or flavor. Feed your chinchilla in the morning and late in the evening since that’s when it is most active. A tablespoon of pellets each time will suffice. Like any other food, pellets have an expiration date. Be sure not to use pellets that are more than 6 months old since the manufacture date. That’s when they start to lose nutrients.
Loose feed mixture
Some pet foods come in a loose mixture, and it is important that you purchase those specially made for chinchillas. They should only be fed as treats and not regular meals. This is because chinchillas only eat the tasty parts of the mixture and leave the rest, hence insufficient nutrients. When choosing a loose feed mixture, go for one that is high fiber and little amounts of sugars or treats.
Made from dried grass, hay is an essential part of a chinchilla’s diet. Chewing high-quality grass for a long time wears down the teeth. This helps keep them at the correct length since chinchillas grow continuously throughout their life. It also helps keep dental problems at bay. Hay contains a lot of fiber, making it an excellent choice for promoting your pet’s digestive health.
It is important that you only use fresh hay. If you use hay in your chinchilla’s cage, be sure to change it at least once a day. This keeps your pet from becoming a picky eater. If you are allergic to hay, you can purchase specially made hay cubes from online or pet stores. They don’t contain dust, and they allow you to feed your pet without worrying about allergic reactions.
There are multiple types of hay to choose from including;
- Alfalfa hay: This is bright green and incredibly nutritious. Its sweet taste makes it a great treat for adult chinchillas. It is also good for sick, young, pregnant and nursing chinchillas.
- Oat hay: This is brownish and comes in oat heads. It should be used sparingly. Oat hay has low protein and high fiber content.
- Timothy hay: Green in color, this type of hay is available in three cuts depending on the feeding habits of your chinchilla. It is the most common type of hay and is high in fiber and low in protein.
- Orchard grass: This is leafy hay that contains a lot of fiber and little protein. The color of leaves varies from green to bluish-green depending on the degree of maturity.
Fruits and vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables are an essential part of your pet’s diet. They not only provide healthy nutrients but also improve water intake. You should remove them from your pet’s cage if they stop being fresh. Additionally, fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be fed to sick chinchillas. Fruits and vegetables that you can feed your chinchilla include carrots, kale, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, alfalfa, celery, apples, blueberries, grapes, sultanas and raisins. Because fruits have high amounts of sugar, you should only use them as treats. As for fresh greens, a teaspoon each day is enough.
These provide the nutrients that aren’t found in regular food. Consider adding salt blocks to your pet’s diet as a source of minerals. You can also add Vitamin C to your chinchilla’s water. Adding alfalfa hay to a grass hay diet is particularly beneficial for a pregnant, nursing or less a year old chinchilla. Ensure you talk to a vet before giving your chinchilla dietary supplements.
Clean, fresh water is an integral part of the diet, mainly because hay and grass have little moisture content. Water bottles specially designed for chinchillas are available online or at pet stores. Be sure you clean the bottle daily and refill it with fresh water. This prevents the buildup of algae, which causes distasteful water and growth of germs. Having a couple of bottles ensures that your pet always has water, even when you’re cleaning one.
Water aids in digestion and prevents bowel obstructions or toxicity due to bacteria. Distilled water with high levels of sodium causes dehydration and as such, is not safe for chinchillas. Dehydration will only lead to illness and reduced appetite.
Chinchillas are great at begging for treats, and if not careful, it’s easy to give them too much. It is important that you limit the number of treats so as not to harm your pet’s health. Treats should only be offered after the main meals have been taken. Too many treats lead to loss of appetite for regular food. Also, treats contain high amounts of nutrients that are not good for chinchillas.
Twigs and small branches are great treats for chinchillas, so long as they come from safe trees. Ensure you know trees that are safe for your chinchilla. You should also avoid trees that contain toxins or pesticides. Other treats that are good for your pet’s diet include hibiscus, dandelion leaves, and dried rose hips. Seeds, nuts and dried fruits are good, but they should be used in minimal amounts. They contain high amounts of sugar, and if intake isn’t controlled, your chinchilla will gain weight fast. High amounts of sugar also lead to digestive problems.
Other treats that are good for chinchillas include oat groats, hawthorn berries, jasmine, marigold, raspberry alfalfa, honeysuckle, purple globes clover, apple blossoms, and goji berries.
Chinchillas tend to eat their poop so don’t be alarmed when you see your pet doing the same. Even healthy chinchillas eat poop, and that’s okay because it contains a high amount of minerals nutrients. Young ones eat adult poop because it contains vital nutrients.
Foods to avoid
Avoid buying pellets that contain fillers like corn or soy, nuts, seeds, vegetables or vegetable products, and fruits. Below are the reasons why.
Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of sugar in dried and natural forms. Chinchillas don’t need the extra sugar, especially since it can result in illnesses like hypoglycemia, diabetes, and hyperglycemia. Even dried fruit contains sugar, just in more concentrated form. Fruits and vegetables contain plenty of moisture in their natural form, and since chinchillas have adapted to a dry diet, too much moisture can cause bloating. This prevents the passing of gasses and may eventually cause death due to buildup. Fruits and vegetables should only be fed as treats in minimal amounts, and only after your chinchilla has taken their meals for the day.
Nuts and seeds have a high-fat content, which exposes chinchillas to a higher risk of fatty liver disease. This is often referred to as a silent killer because it kills chinchillas long before realizing it was the cause of the problem.
Quality of Food: When and How Much to Feed
Chinchillas require a high amount of fiber, which mainly comes from the food they eat. As such, it’s important to only use high-quality foods. Anything with preservatives may last longer, but it will harm your pet’s health in the long term. Take time to go through the list of ingredients before making any purchases.
While delicious, treats are the equivalent of junk foods and should be fed in small amounts. Whole foods are a better and healthier option for your pet. Most manufacturers enrich their products with vitamins and minerals, thus ensuring a balanced diet for your pet.
The amount of food you give a chinchilla depends on the type. For instance, 2 teaspoons of pellets each day will keep your pet nourished. If you use hay, a constant supply in the cage will suffice. Just remember to replace it each 1-2 days to prevent it from going moldy. A constant supply of water is a must. As for treats, a teaspoon every 1-2 days is enough.
Our Top Recommendations
When it comes to chinchilla diet, the rules are pretty simple: high fiber content, minimal sugars, zero artificial flavors or sugars, and plenty of water. Hay is one of the best foods for chinchillas as it contains a lot of fiber and nutrients, and is available in multiple types. Pellets are also good, as long as they don’t contain sugary ingredients. A constant supply of water in the cage is a must.
Give them the right amounts of food in the morning and evening, and keep the treats to a minimum. If switching to a new diet, make it a gradual process to avoid possible digestive problems. Introduce new foods periodically and observe how your pet likes them. In case of a bad reaction, consult a vet to find out why.