Pet chinchillas are becoming increasingly popular as exotic pets. The result is that many new and potential owners are looking for information on how to care for their new furry friends. There is no doubt that a pet's diet is one of the most important aspects of their care, especially for chinchillas.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about your chinchilla’s diet, including the basic components of a balanced diet, chinchilla-safe treats, and foods to avoid to make sure you have a happy and healthy chinchilla for their whole life.
Good and Bad Food for Chinchillas
|Good Food||Bad Food|
|Timothy hay||Fruits (high in sugar)|
|Chinchilla pellets||Nuts and seeds|
|Alfalfa hay (in moderation)||Lettuce|
|Oat hay||Human treats (e.g., chocolate, candy, chips)|
|Orchard grass hay||High-fat or high-sugar foods|
|Occasional treats (e.g., plain cereals, oats, rose hips)||Processed foods and dairy|
The Basic (and Best) Chinchilla Diet
In order to gain a deeper understanding of the basics of the best chinchilla diet, it is essential to examine the nutrition of wild chinchillas in South America. Although a pet chinchilla won’t have the natural diet of a wild chinchilla, this can clue you into the basics of a chinchilla's dietary requirements.
In the Andes, chinchillas are typically found eating grass, seeds, bird eggs, tree bark, and twigs - which are often the easiest things found in the mountains. You may notice that save for some items, their diet is incredibly vegetation heavy, which is incredibly similar to their domestic counterparts.
In view of the fact that pet chinchillas wouldn't be able to access (or digest) the same kinds of food like bird eggs as wild chinchillas, they need to supplement their hay diet with chinchilla food pellets designed for them to get the same nutrients.
In chinchillas' diets, hay is undoubtedly one of the most important components. In addition to providing them with an adequate amount of fiber, hay helps to maintain their dental health by working to wear down the surface of the teeth.
It is important for your chinchilla to have constant access to hay. The amount of hay that you should be putting in the hay bowl of your chinchilla is generally between one and two handfuls and change it out every day.
Among all of the types of hay that can be fed to your chinchilla, Timothy hay is the one that is best to use. It gives the best amount of fiber possible and is often the most readily available option at pet stores and online chinchilla supply stores.
You may want to consider other suitable options such as oat hay and orchard grass if you or a member of your family is allergic to timothy hay. This is because these hays contain less dust than timothy hay, and still provide the high fiber and low calcium content chinchillas require.
Pellets are also a vital part of a chinchilla's diet, and they play an important role in their health. The reason for this is the fact that chinchilla foods are able to provide the vital nutrients and vitamins needed by chinchillas that hay cannot provide.
There are a number of factors that can determine how many pellets an adult chinchilla needs to consume on a daily basis, including both their age and weight. But typically you should be feeding your chinchilla 1-2 tablespoons of pellets a day.
The key to choosing a quality pellet food for your chinchillas is to choose a food that is high quality, not filled with coloring or fillers such as corn or soy, and is specifically formulated to meet the needs of your chinchillas. Most recommendations include finding a pellet that is 16% crude fiber, has a low-fat content, and does not contain excess sugar.
It is not recommended to feed loose food blends instead of pellet chinchilla food because loose food blends give your chinchilla the opportunity to choose the items they do not want to eat and can prevent your chinchilla from getting the nutrients they need.
The two most recommended chinchilla pellets are Oxbow and Mazuri chinchilla food, as these brands specifically formulate their pellets to meet the nutritional needs of chinchillas and are free from any harmful or unnecessary ingredients.
It’s important once you choose a brand of chinchilla pellets to stick with that brand, as switching up the food that your chinchilla has become accustomed to can be dangerous, and even deadly if not done in the correct manner.
The average adult chinchilla will need about 2 ounces of water a day, however, it is important that they have constant access to clean water available for them at all times.
We recommend having two bottles of fresh water in your chinchilla's cage at any given time. We recommend bottles with a sipper tube over water bowls for a couple of reasons, the biggest two being hygiene and the health of your chinchilla.
Using chinchilla water bottles is much more sanitary than using chinchilla water bowls, since nothing from your chinchilla's cage, such as poop, pee, and remnants of chinchilla toys can get into the water. Bottles ensure that your chinchilla is only getting clean drinking water.
The other reason bottles are a much better choice is because of your chinchilla's fur, it is much more likely for your chinchilla to get wet if they are drinking from a bowl, and this can cause mold and mildew to build up around your chinchilla's mouth, which can be the cause of many illnesses.
The reason we recommend an additional water source is to ensure your chinchilla can still have access to water in case one of the bottles malfunctions and your chinchilla cannot drink from it.
Treats and Supplements
Now that we have the basics of a balanced chinchilla diet, it’s important to talk about chinchilla treats. It is VITAL that you do not give a chinchilla under 6 months of age any treats, as this can mess with their delicate digestive system and potentially cause bloat.
When chinchillas are six months old or older, they can be given treats in moderation, but it is extremely important to know which treats are safe for chinchillas. We typically recommend no more than 1-2 treats per week be given.
Chinchilla-safe treats include items like dehydrated goji berries, apple sticks, dehydrated dandelion greens, some plain cereals like Cheerios, and rolled oats. These are healthy treats when given in moderation that are low in sugar and water content. Generally, fruits and vegetables are unsafe for chinchillas to have in any form.
There is typically no need for chinchillas to take supplements, such as vitamins or folic acid, when it comes to their diets. This is because their pellets and hay do make up all of the nutrients that they require day-to-day.
However, if your veterinarian finds a deficiency of one of these key nutrients, they may recommend you give your chinchilla a supplement. This should only be done with their express permission and guidance to ensure your chinchilla's health.
Foods to Avoid
As a pet chinchilla owner, there are many dangerous foods that you should avoid feeding them at all costs, because these products can be toxic, and even deadly to them.
Fruit And Vegetables
In spite of the fact that dried or fresh fruit may seem like a healthy item for your chinchilla, most fruit has a high sugar content, which can lead to problems with their gastrointestinal tract, such as bloat or stasis.
There are some owners who see the benefit of giving their chinchilla a little apple for extra fiber, but it is generally not recommended to do so because of the moisture and sugar.
In a similar manner, vegetables are unable to provide enough nutrients for your chinchilla to benefit from feeding them. In some sources of information, carrots and sweet potatoes may be okay in small amounts, but we cannot in good faith recommend those foods because of their nutritional composition being high in sugar.
Nuts And Seeds
Another treat that may seem like a healthy choice but can be dangerous is nuts and seeds. Items such as sunflower seeds contain high amounts of fat and can lead to issues such as obesity and liver disease.
In spite of the fact that many exotic animals require leafy greens like lettuce or kale in their diet, the water content of these foods is too high for chinchillas to consume them. The best diet for a chinchilla is one that is low in moisture and high in fiber.
In general, it is not a good idea for pets to be given food that is meant for humans to eat. A chinchilla cannot eat things like candy, chocolate, and chips because they contain high levels of sugar, sodium, and fat, which isn't healthy for such a small animal.
Monitoring Your Chinchilla's Health
When taking care of chinchillas, monitoring their eating habits and weight are two of the most important aspects that are sometimes overlooked. A chinchilla's eating habits are often the first clue as to whether it's sick since they tend to conceal the rest of their symptoms.
Chinchillas with healthy bowel movements, clear and shiny eyes, and shiny coats are considered healthy. In order for chinchillas to remain healthy, they should be kept at a weight of between 450 to 680 grams, or around a pound to a pound and a half.
There are a number of signs that can indicate that a chinchilla is sick, such as losing weight, losing appetite, being lethargic; experiencing diarrhea; and significantly changing its normal behavior.
When they first get a chinchilla, many owners worry that they will overeat and make themselves sick. This is a myth that is most untrue as chinchillas typically know when to stop eating and not gorge themselves.
There is the exception when you adopt from a rescue and may be taking care of a previously neglected or malnourished chinchilla, in this case, a chinchilla may often see food as scarce. But keeping a close eye on their eating habits is key.
Quality Cage: A Healthy and Happy Chinchilla
With this knowledge beneath your belt, you will not only be able to keep a chinchilla's diet as healthy as possible but also make an informed decision as to what their food and treats should be.
We have a lot more information to share about the care and keeping of chinchillas, so be sure to check out some of our other blogs as well, such as how to keep chinchillas with other pets in your home.
What is a chinchilla's Favourite food?
Typically, a chinchilla's favorite food is their regular diet of timothy hay and pellets. As well as being tasty, these are also healthy for your chinchilla, so you can be sure they are getting the best possible food.
What should chinchillas not eat?
Sugary and fatty foods, as well as foods that are high in moisture, are not recommended for chinchillas to eat. These can cause a myriad of health issues including bloat, diabetes, liver disease, and even G.I. statis.
What is a chinchilla's favorite fruit?
You should not let your chinchilla eat fruit normally, but dehydrated goji berries are one of the few options that you can choose for your chinchilla to be able to enjoy as an occasional treat.
Can chinchillas eat fresh carrots?
The majority of the time, chinchillas cannot eat root vegetables, including carrots. Carrots are specifically bad due to their high sugar content.
Have Questions About Chinchilla Diet?
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Author Bio: Morgan Mulac
Morgan Mulac has been working as a freelance writer for five years and has developed a passion for exotic pets. Dedicated to learning about exotic animals from all over the world, she seeks ways to share her knowledge with new owners about how to better care for their animals. If Morgan is not researching or writing about exotic pets, you can find her enjoying a cup of coffee and planning her next adventure. https://morganmulac.com/