Understanding our pets is always a top priority. Especially in the beginning when most of the natural learning curve hasn’t taken place yet. Especially when it comes to our pets’ diets. Chinchillas are no different. In fact, I’d argue that it’s more critical to know a chinchilla’s diet and proper foods than most other pets due to their small bodies and sensitivity to certain foods. This topic leads me to one of the most frequently asked questions that exist when it comes to chinchilla care. What do chinchillas eat? After owning my own chinchilla for a while now and a vast amount of additional research, here is what I can tell you.
So, what do chinchillas eat? Chinchillas have strict diets. Chinchillas need fiber to be present in their diets. Chinchillas also need carbohydrates and protein in their diets. Fats and sugars need to be at low percentages. Chinchilla’s diets will primarily consist of timothy hay, chinchilla pellets, and water.
I know what you are thinking. Clearly, all of us that own chinchillas are mixing in some other fun and exciting treats and foods to feed our chinchillas. While this may be 100% true, it’s essential to understand not to do this until you have a grasp of how a chinchilla’s digestive system works and what harm you could cause.
Certain foods can wreak havoc on your chinchillas’ bodies causing constipation, blockages or worse medical illnesses. Clearly, we want to avoid these dangers.
Luckily, that’s what this entire post is about. Listen, I’ve made plenty of mistakes with my chinchilla and fortunately always learned quickly before causing any harm. Now it’s my turn to relay this information and help all of you as much as possible.
However, If I can help at least one other chinchilla owner to avoid any of the same mistakes I have made and keep their chinchilla happy and healthy, then that’s my goal, and I hope this post takes us to that level.
Let’s start diving into the details on everything you need to know about a chinchilla’s diet. Here’s what chinchillas eat and should be eating daily.
What Should Your Chinchillas Diet Consist of For Optimal Health?
Like I stated previously, the first and most important thing to understand about chinchillas is they do have very sensitive stomachs and digestive tracks. This makes having a blend of the proper foods vital to your chinchilla’s health and happiness.
For starters, chinchillas need a nice blend of a few primary food and nutrient groups. It’s been stated by experts that the right combination of nutrients found within chinchilla pellets would look like the following.
- 25-35% Carbohydrates
- 15-20% Protein
- 30-35% Fiber
- 4% or Less Sugar
- 3% Or Less Fat Content
Chinchillas do not do very well with foods high in sugar content or fat content. This can be one of the most common misconceptions, and most significant mistakes new or even experienced chinchillas’ owners make.
Giving too many treats that are not nutrient balanced is very common amongst chinchilla owners and can cause significant pain and stomach related health concerns for your chinchilla. Chinchillas often present symptoms and end up with what is known as Ileus.
This is different compared to other rodents and speaks volumes about how sensitive a chinchilla can be to certain foods. Ileus is also referred to as Gastrointestinal Stasis. With the size and nature of a chinchilla, when illnesses present themselves in chinchillas, it’s highly likely it’s the stomach, intestines and digestive system impacted first and impacted heavily.
Additionally, chinchilla’s illnesses can worsen quickly if not tended to. However, following this guide we are laying out here today should help to avoid these issues as much as possible. Let’s move into the next phase where we discuss the specific food groups that should always be included in your chinchillas’ diet.
Timothy Hay Is the Most Essential Item in Your Chinchillas Diet
Timothy hay is a very critical piece of your chinchilla’s diet. This is important to know before even setting off to purchase your first chinchilla. It’s also crucial that you are leaning towards TIMOTHY Hay only. You can also use orchard or Bermuda hay is necessary, but so far, I’ve only used timothy hay with my chinchilla.
Alfalfa hay is another conventional hay for small pets, but for chinchillas, it’s not a good idea. Alfalfa hay will contain a high level of calcium and by itself would be too much calcium for one chinchilla to consume daily. However, some individuals prefer to create a blend such as 50% timothy, 50% alfalfa hay.
This is also perfectly fine and won’t hurt your chinchilla. However, there is also no real point behind doing this. Regular timothy hay will get the job done and provide your chinchilla with the nutrients they need to be happy and healthy. Of course, we still have work to do concerning your chinchillas’ diet.
Timothy hay is not the only food source and necessity that your chinchilla will need in their cage daily. However, you still have a few other options to consider while we are on the subject of hay.
Don’t Ignore Hay Cubes and Other Varieties of Chinchilla Hay as Alternatives
While remaining on the topic of hay as a dietary requirement for your chinchilla, I wanted to touch on another alternative you can use on the subject. Additionally, I wanted to point out that individuals could have allergies to Timothy Hay so often turn to some of these alternatives. Here’s a breakdown.
Hay Cubes- Hay cubes should be an item you always have on standby. Inside of my chinchilla’s cage, “Chili,” my female chinchilla still has the following items afforded to her.
- 2 Hay Feeders Full of Fresh Hay
- 2 Full Water Bottles of Fresh Purified Water
- 3-5 Hay Cubes Scattered on Multiple Levels of The Cage
- Chinchilla Safe Chewing (Wood Sticks)
- Plenty of Shelves
Now, I don’t suffer from any allergies from timothy hay. Keeping this in mind, it’s easy to understand why I use a 100% blend of timothy hay in the hay feeders. However, I like to keep hay cubes always available as well. My chinchilla goes through moods.
Sometimes she eats all her pellets; first, other days she goes through hay or throws out the hay she doesn’t want. This is incredibly annoying but also shows her intelligence that she wants nice fresh hay. Nothing over a day or two old.
Other days, my chinchilla will chew away at her hay cubes. I like to give her the option each day. Not only does it seem to make her happy and keep her well fed but it also promotes chewing and good teeth hygiene which helps avoid other teeth/dental issues including teeth grinding or overgrown teeth.
Now, we still need to touch on actual hay alternatives if need be in case you do suffer from allergies or prefer to give your chinchilla a blend of different hays in their diet. Here’s a look at other options you can elect to use for your chinchilla.
Alternative Hay Options as Opposed to Using Timothy Hay for Your Chinchilla
Alfalfa Hay-Alfalfa hay is the hay we touched on previously. The common problem with alfalfa hay is the fact it’s rich in calcium and other nutrients. Alfalfa hay should be used as a supplement to timothy hay or a blend. It shouldn’t be a 100% mix; otherwise, your chinchilla will be taking in too many nutrients.
Alfalfa hay is easy to notice. It’s a brighter green color and has a much sweeter odor to it. Again, be sure you mix alfalfa hay and don’t use it at a 100% blend.
Orchard Grass Hay- Orchard grass is another option that’s very high in protein. This is another example of hay you can blend with Timothy Hay, but it shouldn’t be a complete substitute.
Oat Hay- Oat hay is entirely different. It’s more of yellow color and has oat heads. This can be used as a treat but should never be used as a primary food source for your chinchilla.
Blue Grass Hay– This can be used at a higher percentage substitute to timothy hay. It’s a leafy option that isn’t overly loaded with too many nutrients and is considered chinchilla safe.
Botanical Hay- This will not be offered as a primary hay but is usually mixed in with standard blends of Timothy Hay. Another healthy option for your chinchilla if used as a blend and not a direct substitute.
Chinchilla Pellets Should Be Offered to Your Chinchilla Everyday
Pellets should be offered to your chinchilla each day as well. Here’s where individual chinchilla owners typically get this step of the process wrong. You need to be using quality chinchilla pellets designed for chinchillas.
I purchase my pellets by the “gallon zip lock bags” from my breeder I initially purchased my chinchilla from. In most circumstances, you can likely arrange this with your breeder and breeders typically are very well educated at best practices and diets for chinchillas.
You can also purchase quality pellets designed for chinchillas on marketplaces such as Amazon or even pet vendors. The important thing to keep in mind is that they should be designed for chinchillas. Not other rodents and not multiple rodents.
Use Pellets from Your Breeder If You Trust Them and They Use Chinchilla Pellets (Not Other Rodents)
In my opinion, all information relayed from a chinchilla breeder is better than the information you will likely get from a pet store. It’s not a bash against pet stores by any means. Chinchillas are just more delicate with their diets and have special needs that pet store employees likely are not familiar with.
Breathe easy, however, chinchillas are very easy to care for. You just need some proper education and research to take place before adoption and always continue learning as a chinchilla owner, and you will be a fantastic chinchilla owner that your chinchillas love and trust.
When you begin straying away from quality chinchilla pellets, you run into issues. The reason being is that off-brand or pellets formulated for other pets is going to be riddled with other ingredients that are not desirable for chinchillas. These ingredients can hurt your chinchilla’s digestive system and bellies.
Some of these ingredients you should be looking to avoid include the following.
- Vegetable Products
Pellets should be a darkish green color. If they are not, they likely have ingredients that are not good for your chinchilla.
The same goes for everyday chinchilla treats. In most circumstances, you may think you are rewarding your chinchilla with something they will love, but you may ultimately be hurting them.
Always Have Fresh Water Available for Your Chinchilla at All Times
Freshwater is your last top 3 item that your chinchilla still needs to be provided to them every day. Your chinchilla should always have a water bottle that’s full. This should be monitored and kept up with. Additionally, offering fresh water is not enough. You also need to be keeping your chinchilla’s water bottle clean.
In addition, you need to be visually inspecting the water bottle for any clogs or issues releasing water. You can do this during scheduled cage cleanings. You see, chinchillas have very dense fur and are prone to overheating easily when temperatures are too high.
When this happens, it’s important your chinchilla has easy access to a water bottle at all times to cool down.
While your chinchillas’ water and the room temperature don’t’ directly relate to a chinchilla’s diet, it’s too important not to mention. Keep your chinchilla’s water bottle clean, inspect it and make sure it remains at high levels. On my chinchilla’s cage, I always have two full water bottles.
You just never know when something may come up, so it’s essential to be prepared to care for your chinchilla properly.
Avoid Well Water and Tap Water If Possible, For Your Chinchilla, Go with Purified Water
I’m protective and have OCD about a few things with my chinchilla. As far as water, I prefer to just spend the $1.00 for a jug of purified water from the store to fill my chinchilla’s water bottles with. I feel safer knowing chemicals aren’t present and feel better knowing bacteria is less likely.
Like I stated before, chinchillas when they do fall ill, typically get worse quickly without immediate care, so I prefer to play things safe.
I would avoid well-water, but if you feel good about your tap water, you don’t necessarily have to use my approach. However, if you have easy access and the budget, I would stick to jugged purified water to play things safe and keep your chinchilla happy and healthy.
So, we have now moved through the most critical 3 items that your chinchilla always needs to be offered. Now we need to move into the things we like to give our chinchilla for joy and for fun. This is known as the chinchilla treats section.
Many chinchilla owners don’t understand what their chinchillas should have and what they shouldn’t’ have.
This area of information in this post is likely the most valuable because it’s probably the information you have been led down the wrong path about and have perhaps been giving your chinchilla treats that are not necessarily safe or the best idea to be providing to your chinchilla.
Let’s dive into the details.
Chinchilla Treats. Moderation is Key and Only Offer Chinchilla Safe Treats. Avoid the Sugary Items
Now is when the fun begins for your chinchilla. Well, sometimes. Sometimes we are misguided and accidentally provide our chinchilla with treats they shouldn’t be having. Additionally, sometimes we provide our chinchilla with treats in too high of quantities.
This is what we are aiming to avoid and get better at.
It’s ideal to give your chinchilla treats in moderation and to make sure we are only offering our chinchilla treats that have no chances of causing illness or discomfort within our chinchillas small furry, incredibly soft bodies. Let’s dive into those details.
While it’s always great to offer our chinchillas treats or pets in general, it’s vital to understand that chinchillas can only have a select few treats that would be considered safe for them. Part of this is due to sugar content, and part is due to treats being too heavy in other nutrients or fats.
Chinchillas can get gas build-ups and have digestive track issues or even blockages for consuming the wrong treats or eating too many treats in general. A list of treats that would be considered acceptable if they are only provided in moderation could include the following variations.
- Rose- Hips
- Variations of Hay
- Herbs (Select Herbs/ Not all Herbs)
- Shredded Wheaties
Outside of the list we just discussed, you also have chinchilla owners that are often trying to feed their chinchillas a variation of other treats that can cause potential health concerns in your chinchillas such as the following list.
- Fruits in General
- Vegetables in General
These treats should be avoided for your chinchilla, and although they seem like healthy alternatives, they are not. This is a big misconception about what to give and what not to give your chinchilla for treats. This leads us into our next section where I will break down fruits and vegetables just a bit more.
A Brief Discussion on Fruits and Vegetables for Your Chinchillas
Fruits and vegetables are probably the most common mistaken treats that individuals provide their chinchillas that they shouldn’t be. You see, when the food your chinchilla intakes are too high in specific nutrients, fat’s, protein or even fiber, your chinchilla may experience stomach problems or digestive problems.
You must remember that chinchilla’s stomachs are fragile and very small. Too much of one nutrient can really throw your chinchilla off balance. While fruits and vegetables are essential for our own health and we realize they are healthy, it doesn’t work the same for our chinchillas.
Outside the list back one section in this post, you should be avoiding all other food groups or options to give your chinchilla as a treat. Even if you have been doing it for quite some time, you should attempt to replace these treats and fruits and vegetables with a safe alternative to avoid potential issues in the future.
Your chinchilla will thank you for it and ultimately will lead to your chinchilla living a longer, healthier life without complications costing you a decent sized bill for needing to make a visit to your local chinchilla vet. This is my take on the situation and highly advise you to jump onboard.
Additionally, avoid recommendations from pet store clerks who aren’t 100% clear about what is safe for chinchillas. They are not chinchilla experts and just because a treat bag has a picture of a chinchilla on it, does not make it safe.
Do your homework and research to avoid issues in the future. You will be just fine and so will your beloved chinchilla.
The Consequences of Being Careless with Your Chinchillas Diet
For the most part, we have already touched on what happens when you deviate from the original foods that your chinchilla needs to be consuming to remain healthy. When you do stray from the recommendations you run the risk of your chinchilla getting blockages, digestive issues and potentially could even kill your chinchilla.
I hate to be the one delivering bad news, but it’s true. While chinchillas make wonderful pets, this doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have requirements and guidelines that need to be followed for a healthy and balanced diet.
However, when you do follow the recommendations, your chinchilla will thrive and bring you joy for 15-20 years. If you feel like you may have potentially given your chinchilla something she or he shouldn’t have had, always consider making a call to your vet and scheduling a checkup.
Again, it’s always better safe than sorry in these situations.
Realize and Be Proactive About Seeing A Vet If Your Chinchilla Seems A Bit “Off”
Like we just stated, you need to be proactive about your protecting your chinchilla. Especially if you notice something is off. Indicators could include a lack of poop production, sleeping differently or acting more lethargic. It’s also possible your chinchilla’s poop maybe soft if they have an internal issue.
While it may not be a direct cause of the diet you have provided to your chinchilla, it still needs attention as soon as possible. When you notice anything if off with your chinchilla, it’s essential to see a vet as quickly as possible.
Trust me, remaining proactive will ultimately save you time, money and keep your chinchilla safe and healthy.
Always Continue Learning and Growing as An Ethical Chinchilla Parent
Continue to do everything you can as a chinchilla owner to provide a safe and loving environment. Chinchilla’s are one of the best pets you can own, and with proper homework, you can become an expert in no time about what to do and what not to do with chinchilla care.
Trust me, I was clueless in the beginning as well, but enough time spent reading books, searching google and speaking to other chinchilla owners in communities has made a world of difference for my chinchilla and me.
If you take this approach, you will continue to grow and build a lifetime bond with your chinchilla.
Take A Breath, You Will Learn This as You Go, Chinchilla Parenting is As Easy As 1,2,3.
Now that we are nearing the end of this post, I wanted to take the time to calm you down briefly. The diet recommendations provided in this post are what you need to make sure your chinchilla is well balanced and healthy. I also realize I may have scared you about foods you can offer.
I may have even scared you about how hard raising a chinchilla may be. I wanted to take the time to let you know that it’s not. It’s a walk in the park if you do your homework and research up front. This post may have been intimidating, but after only a week of owning a chinchilla, you can easily understand all the right things to do with a chinchilla’s diet and the items to avoid.
Again, take a breath. Things will get easier, and you will be a Rockstar chinchilla owner in a short amount of time. That’s when things really begin to get exciting. After you know, the ins and outs and all that’s left is building a bond, playing with your chinchilla and taking funny videos and pictures.
That’s what it’s all about!
Where Should You Always Be Looking for Chinchilla Safe Diet Items Such as Food and Treats?
This is entirely up to you. The most important thing is that you trust the source providing your chinchilla’s diet and the information that comes with that. For me, this was my breeder. I wasn’t comfortable purchasing items or asking questions to others outside of my breeder.
That was of course until I met and began talking to fantastic chinchilla owners within online communities. That’s also what Planet Chinchilla is all about and why I write this blog for you. While I always hope that I’m a trusted resource for chinchilla owners, I understand that may not be the case.
For you, it’s important just to trust the information and that it’s coming from someone who truly understands chinchillas and what they need to remain happy and healthy. Again, my breeder was a great resource, and likely yours would be the same. All I would do is avoid pet store employees.
Likely, unless they own a chinchilla, they have no clue about the best practices or what diet makes the most sense for your chinchilla. Plain and simple.
The Final Word, Chinchillas Require Love and A Carefully Planned and Delicate Diet, You Got This!
At the end of the day, your chinchilla needs your love, attention and for you to be well educated on best practices. That’s it. Nothing fancy to it. Post like these online can be fantastic resources to find the information you need to offer your chinchilla the best and healthiest diets possible.
Do your homework up front and avoid the temptation to place too many un-needed fruits, vegetables, and other food into your chinchilla’s system and everything will turn out fantastic. However, I am incredibly interested in all of you sharing your thoughts on this topic as well.
What’re your thoughts on the ideal chinchilla diet? Did I leave anything out or forget to mention any key points? Be sure to share your methods, stories, and comments below. As always, thank you for stopping by. I appreciate you and will see you next time.