Chinchillas are clean, quiet and lively rodents, originally from the Andes Mountains in South America where they live in colonies in their native habitats. They have been kept as pets for a relatively short time and experts are still learning about how best to care for them. With plenty of gentle handling, chinchillas make wonderful and inquisitive pets that typically live for 10-20 years.
When it comes to chinchilla nutrition, feeding them proper and nutritionally balanced diet is essential for their well-being and longevity. They have specific dietary requirements that must be met to ensure their health and happiness.
What do Chinchillas eat?
Chinchillas are herbivorous animals, which means they only eat plant-based food. Like most other rodents, chinchillas have a complicated and sensitive digestive system.
Your chinchilla's specific nutritional needs will depend on their age, lifestyle and state of health and there are some key factors to consider when deciding how to feed your chinchillas.
- Chinchillas have very sensitive digestive systems and in the wild eat grasses, leaves, twigs, roots and stems. As pets, chinchillas need fibre-rich diets based on grasses and hays in order for their digestive systems to function properly. Like many other small mammals, the foundation of a chinchilla's diet is good-quality hay. Hay should always be available as it is key in aiding digestion.
- Chinchillas have continuously growing teeth, which need to be worn down and kept at the correct length. Regular chewing on hay helps them wear down their teeth naturally, preventing dental issues. Failing to feed them with the correct diet can result in serious dental disease.
- There are a number of nutritionally balanced diets, such as pellets, for chinchillas on the market. Pellets provide essential nutrients that may not be fully obtained from hay alone. However, they should not constitute more than a quarter of a chinchilla's daily food intake. Chinchilla food manufacturers have experts available to advise you on what you should buy for your chinchilla and how much and how many times per day to feed them, so contact them directly for further advice on specific products.
- Chinchillas also benefit from small amounts of fresh vegetables in their diets eg. fresh herb mixes, fibrous leafy greens (kale, radicchio), dandelion leaves. However, vegetables should be introduced gradually to prevent digestive upsets. Fruits should be considered occasional treats due to their high sugar content.
- Like rabbits and guinea pigs, chinchillas perform a digestive process called caecotrophy to extract as much goodness as possible from their food. Simply put – they eat their droppings (caecotrophs), allowing food to be reingested.
- Fresh, clean water must always be available, so make sure it's within reach for your chinchilla to drink with ease. We recommend purchasing a drinking bottle designed for chinchillas and ensuring the bottle is always clean. You should also make sure you check water levels frequently and change the water daily.
What should Chinchillas not eat?
- Chinchillas can suffer from obesity if fed incorrectly, leading to many other health problems. The usual culprits are too many treats or too much dry food containing excess sugar.
- There are a number of foods that are poisonous to chinchillas, so always double-check before you feed them. These foods include:
- Rhubarb leaves
- Other dangerous foods for chinchillas are bananas, sunflower seeds and peanuts. This list is not exhaustive, and it is best to avoid it if in doubt as to whether something is safe to feed your pet.
How can I tell if my Chinchilla is eating correctly?
- You will notice that your chinchilla tends to feed early in the morning or late in the evening.
- A sign of a healthy chinchilla is eating daily and passing plenty of dry droppings. Always keep an eye on how much your chinchilla eats and drinks. If you notice that your pet's habits change, contact your vet.
- It is not advisable to make any sudden changes to your chinchilla's diet as this may make them ill. You should always introduce new diets gradually.
- If you have any worries about your chinchilla's health, consult a vet. Regular veterinary check-ups can help ensure your chinchilla's nutritional needs are met and any potential health issues are addressed.