This is one of the most important questions a chinchilla owner needs to ask. What exactly do chinchillas eat?
They are rodents, so do they follow the same dietary patterns as mice or squirrels?
Don’t stress if you don’t know the answers. Chinchillas actually follow a simple diet. They mostly consume hay and water. But in this post, we are going to take a deep dive into the chinchilla diet. By the end, we hope you have a better understanding of their diet. And although it may seem simple, in order to keep your chinchilla healthy you need to feed it the proper diet.
What do Chinchillas Eat?: The Basics
Before we dive too deep, let’s look at the basics of a chinchilla diet.
Chinchillas are herbivores, meaning their diet consists mostly of plants. In general, a pet chinchilla’s diet should consist of hay, water, and chinchilla food pellets. Occasionally, you can offer your chinchilla a treat (but we will cover that later).
What do Chinchillas Eat in the Wild?
Wild chinchillas obviously don’t have access to food pellets. So what do they eat?
Most wild chinchillas consume twigs, hay, leaves, and grass.
Chinchillas are crepuscular creatures, meaning they are awake during twilight hours. And since they are awake during the morning and night, they also feed during these hours.
What Can Pet Chinchillas Eat?
Pet chinchillas could have more variety in their diets. But that doesn’t mean they should.
Chinchillas have a sensitive digestive system. So, their diet should mostly consist of fiber and protein. Limit their foods to chinchilla food pellets and hay. They should also have a readily available supply of water.
Occasionally, you can offer your chinchilla a treat. Acceptable treats include:
But, these treats need to be limited. If chinchillas are given too many fruits or vegetables, they might develop digestive issues.
Chinchilla food pellets are an important part of a pet chinchilla’s diet. When selecting a chinchilla food pellet, you need to make sure it is a healthy option. The nutritional content should follow these guidelines:
- Fat: 2-5%
- Protein: 16-20%
- Fiber: 15-35%
It is important to only offer pelleted foods. Otherwise, your chinchilla can eat around the items they don’t like. And this would result in an unbalanced diet.
Some pellets include fillers made from corn, nuts, fruit, or seeds. These ingredients are difficult for chinchillas to digest. And if they consume too many, they might experience stomach issues. So make sure to avoid pellets with these ingredients.
As we mentioned earlier, chinchillas are crepuscular. So you should feed them according to this schedule. Offer one tablespoon-sized scoop of pellets in the morning and one at night. Additionally, your chinchilla should have a readily available supply of hay and water.
What Type of Hay Should Chinchillas Eat?
There are actually a few different varieties of hay, so it is important to buy the right type for your pet.
Some of the popular varieties include:
- Timothy Hay
- Orchard Grass
- Blue Grass
Timothy hay is the most common and best option for chinchillas. It is a bright green hay. It includes the essential nutrients they need. Alfalfa hay is mostly used for growing chinchillas, but it should only be used as a treat for adult chinchillas. Oat hay should be used sparingly, if at all.
If you happen to be allergic to hay, consider buying hay cubes or cookies. These still offer the essential nutrients for your chinchilla without causing you to experience an allergic reaction.
What Foods Should Chinchillas Avoid?
As we mentioned earlier, chinchilla diets should consist of hay, food pellets, and water. They need a diet high in fiber and protein.
You should limit their consumption of high-fat and high-moisture foods. These foods can cause digestive problems or illnesses. Also, be aware of foods that might damage your chinchilla’s teeth.
Never feed your chinchilla:
- Sunflower seeds
- Certain leafy greens (cabbage, spinach, lettuce)
If chinchillas are not fed properly, they can develop diet-related illnesses.
Chinchilla’s have large front teeth. These teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. The food chinchillas eat helps to grind down their teeth. So, if they are not given the proper food, their teeth won’t grind down. This could lead to serious diseases. Also, large teeth are very uncomfortable and can pierce the inside of their mouths.
Other diet-related illnesses chinchillas face include:
- Obesity– If chinchillas are overfed, they can develop obesity. Chinchillas should be offered unlimited quantities of hay. But make sure you don’t overfeed them with alfalfa, treats, or food pellets.
- Diarrhea– Chinchillas can experience diarrhea as a side effect of overfeeding of carbohydrates or fresh greens.
- Fatty Liver Disease– Chinchillas can develop Fatty Liver Disease if they consume too much fat. This disease is very deadly for chinchillas. So, it is important to limit their consumption of high-fat foods.
- Gagging/Choking– Sadly, chinchillas can’t vomit. So if hard food gets lodged in their throats, they might experience gagging or choking. This can cause difficulty breathing or death.
What About Water?
Water is an essential part of a chinchilla’s diet.
In the wild, chinchillas get water from the plants they consume. But pet chinchillas mostly eat hay and pellets, so they don’t get water from their food.
Your chinchilla needs a readily available supply of water. Water helps your chinchilla digest their food. And this is especially important since chinchillas consume a high-fiber diet. Without water, they might develop bowel obstructions.
Also, your chinchilla’s water should be changed daily. Avoid using bottled water, as these often have a high sodium content (which could dehydrate your chinchilla).
Place a water bottle with a sipper in your chinchilla’s cage. This should be cleaned daily, so you might want to have two bottles available. Bacteria can quickly build-up in the bottles.
Normal, healthy chinchillas should drink an entire medium-sized water bottle every day. If they drink more or less, you might need to speak with your vet.
What About Feces?
Yes, it seems gross, but chinchillas eat their feces.
You might feel the urge to stop your chinchilla from eating their feces. After all, it is pretty disgusting.
But this is actually not disgusting for chinchillas. In fact, it is a very natural and healthy process.
Just like rabbits, chinchillas participate in a process called coprophagy. Chinchillas eat their food, digest it, and excrete it. Then, they eat their feces and digest the nutrients again.
Especially in the wild, chinchillas consume a lot of plants. And it is difficult for them to digest these plants. So coprophagy allows them to extract more nutrients during the second digestion.
So, now we know a lot more about chinchilla diets.
Pet chinchillas should follow a simple diet of food pellets, hay, and water. But, make sure you only offer healthy varieties of pellets and hay. Avoid high-fat foods.
You can offer your chinchilla a treat but do so sparingly. Again, avoid high-fat and high-moisture foods, These can lead to digestive issues.
Also, remember that your chinchilla needs to chew. This will keep their teeth at a normal and healthy size.
What foods do you offer your pet chinchilla? Share your story below!