Chinchillas are extremely sensitive.
Their stomachs and digestive systems can’t handle a lot of foods.
Many treats you probably consider healthy can actually cause serious issues for your little chinchilla.
That’s why it is imperative to know exactly what a chinchilla eats and what to never give them.
It is all part of learning about how to take care of a chinchilla properly.
Keep reading to learn exactly what your pet should be eating and what to avoid at all costs. Many of the foods to avoid will probably surprise you.
- 1 What Do Chinchillas Eat?
- 2 What A Chinchilla Should Eat Daily
- 2.1 Timothy Hay Is An Essential Part Of A Chinchilla’s Diet
- 2.2 Chinchilla Pellets Should Be Part Of The Daily Diet
- 2.3 Always Make Fresh Water Available
- 2.4 Treats Should Make Up A Small Portion Of The Diet
- 2.5 Consequences Of Being Careless With Your Chinchilla’s Diet
- 2.6 Always Continue Learning About A Safe Chinchilla Diet
- 2.7 Where To Find Safe Chinchilla Food
- 2.8 Can Degus And Chinchillas Eat The Same Food?
- 2.9 Can They Eat Fresh Grass?
- 3 What Chinchillas Should Be Eating: Final Thoughts
What Do Chinchillas Eat?
Chinchillas primarily eat timothy hay and chinchilla formulated pellets. Both provide the fiber they need in their diets.
Chinchillas also need carbohydrates and protein. Fats and sugars are less important and should make up a low percentage. Offer them only rarely.
The rest of this post will break down everything you need to know about a chinchilla’s diet, what they need to be eating, what they primarily enjoy eating, and how to avoid any issues.
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Understanding The Chinchilla Diet
As stated a moment ago, understanding what a chinchilla eats, and what it should be eating, is one of the most critical aspects of owning one.
Not knowing exactly what to feed your chin could cause health issues. And that is something we want to avoid at all costs.
Of course, any chinchilla owner will occasionally mix some fun and exciting treats in with the regular food we feed our chinchillas. Chinchilla treats will have a dedicated section in this post further below.
It is essential to understand chinchilla treats and to have a grasp of how a chinchilla’s digestive system works and what harm you could cause, if you offer the wrong food or treats.
Certain foods can wreak havoc on chinchillas’ bodies, causing constipation, blockages, or worse medical illnesses. Clearly, we want to avoid these dangers.
If I can help at least one other chinchilla owner avoid any mistakes and keep their chinchilla happy and healthy, then that’s my goal achieved with this article.
What A Chinchilla Should Eat Daily
Like I stated previously, the 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. The right combination of nutrients in chinchilla pellets looks like this:
- 25 – 35% carbohydrates
- 15 – 20% protein
- 30 – 35% fiber
- 4% or less sugar
- 3% or less fat
Chinchillas do not do very well with foods high in sugar or fat. This can be one of the most common misconceptions, and most significant mistakes new (or even experienced) chinchilla owners make.
Giving too many treats that are not nutrient balanced is very common 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 from 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, it’s highly likely it’s the stomach, intestines and digestive system impacted first and impacted heavily.
Additionally, chinchillas’ illnesses can worsen quickly if not tended to.
However, following this guide should help you avoid these issues.
Let’s move into the next phase where we discuss the specific foods that you should always include in your chinchilla’s diet, in order to give you a full understanding of what chinchillas eat.
Timothy Hay Is An Essential Part Of A Chinchilla’s Diet
Timothy hay is a very critical piece of your chinchilla’s diet. This is important to know before even setting off to purchase and adopt your first chinchilla.
I also recommend using timothy hay only. You could use orchard or Bermuda hay, but timothy hay is preferable and the only type I’ve used with my chinchilla.
Alfalfa hay is another conventional hay for small pets, but for chinchillas, it’s not the #1 pick. Alfalfa hay contains a high level of calcium. Far too much for one chinchilla to consume daily.
However, some owners prefer to create a blend, like one consisting of 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 it needs to be happy and healthy.
You can view my guide about the best chinchilla hay here.
Of course, we still have work to do concerning your chinchilla’s diet. Timothy hay is not the only food source that your chinchilla needs in its cage daily.
But before we get to that, you still have a few other options to consider while we are on the subject of hay.
I briefly mentioned giving your chinchilla the occasional treat, but also warned that many common treats are not vey good for these animals. Hay cubes are a great treat.
We’ll talk about hay cubes here, along with other types of hay. As mentioned, Timothy hay is best, but some people are allergic to Timothy Hay, so they need to use something else.
Hay cubes should be an item you always have on standby. Inside of my chinchilla’s cage, “Chili,” my female chinchilla has the following items available:
- 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 toys (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 all of her hay. Or she throws out the hay she doesn’t want.
This is incredibly annoying but also shows her intelligence. And 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 tooth hygiene. This helps avoid 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 its diet.
Alternative Hay Options
Here’s a look at other healthy hay options you can give your chinchilla.
Alfalfa hay is the hay we touched on previously. The main 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 in a blend.
It shouldn’t be the only type of hay. 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 in 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 is entirely different. It’s more of a 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 as a substitute for timothy hay. It’s a leafy option that isn’t overly loaded with too many nutrients and is considered chinchilla safe.
This will not be offered as primary hay but is usually mixed in with standard blends of Timothy Hay. It is another healthy option for your chinchilla, if used as a blend and not a direct substitute.
Chinchilla Pellets Should Be Part Of The Daily Diet
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 used to purchase my pellets by the “gallon zip lock bags” from the breeder from whom I initially purchased my chinchilla.
In most circumstances, you can likely arrange this with your breeder, and breeders typically are very well educated in the best practices and diets for chinchillas.
You can also purchase quality pellets designed for chinchillas on marketplaces such as Amazon or even pet vendors. That’s where I get mine these days.
You can also view my post about the best chinchilla pellets for help in choosing the best ones on Amazon.
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
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.
You just need some proper education and research to take place before adoption. And always continue learning as a chinchilla owner.
When you begin straying away from quality chinchilla pellets, you run into issues.
The reason is that off-brand pellets, or those formulated for other pets, are going to be riddled with other ingredients that are not desirable for chinchillas.
These ingredients could even hurt your chinchilla’s digestive system and bellies. Some of the ingredients you should be looking to avoid include the following.
- Seeds, like pumpkin or sunflower seeds
- 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 it will love, but you may ultimately be hurting it.
Always Make Fresh Water Available
Freshwater is the last of the 3 items that your chinchilla needs every day. Your chinchilla should always have a water bottle that’s full.
Monitor this and stay on top of it.
Simply providing fresh water is not enough. You also need to keep the water bottle clean. In addition, you need to visually inspect 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 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 fairly full. 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.
Use Purified Water If Possible
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.
I feel safer knowing chemicals aren’t present and feel better knowing bacteria is less likely.
Like I stated before, when chinchillas do fall ill, they 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 to which your chinchilla always needs to have access.
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.
This is because it’s probably the information you have been led down the wrong path about. There is a good chance you have been giving your chinchilla treats that are not necessarily safe.
Let’s dive into the details.
Treats Should Make Up A Small Portion Of The Diet
Now is when the fun begins for your chinchilla.
Well, sometimes. Sometimes we are misguided and accidentally provide our chinchillas with treats they shouldn’t be having. Additionally, sometimes we provide them with treats in too high of quantities.
This is what we are aiming to avoid .
It’s ideal to give your chinchilla treats in moderation and to make sure you are only offering your chinchilla treats that have no chance of causing illness or discomfort.
While it’s always great to offer our pets treats, it’s vital to understand that chinchillas can only have a select few treats that are 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 in fats.
Chinchillas can get gas build-ups and have digestive tract issues or even blockages from consuming the wrong treats or eating too many treats in general.
List Of Chinchilla Safe Treats
A list of treats that are acceptable, as long as they are only provided in moderation, includes the following.
- Variations of hay
- Herbs (but only some herbs)
- Shredded Wheaties
- Bee pollen
- Goji berries
It is common for chinchilla owners to feed their chinchillas other treats that can cause potential health concerns in your chinchillas. Some common ones to avoid include.
- Fruits in general
- Vegetables in general
Avoid these treats. 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.
Can chinchillas eat grapes or other similar fruits? They can, but only in tiny amounts. And it is better to just avoid feeding these fruits altogether. Their high sugar and water content just does not go over well with a chinchilla’s sensitive digestive system.
This leads us to our next section where I will break down fruits and vegetables just a bit more.
But first, I want to quickly mention salt licks, since some owners will tell you chinchillas need them. They do not, and they can actually be quite harmful. Read “Do Chinchillas Need A Salt Lick?” for more on that.
Fruits And Vegetables For Your Chinchilla
Fruits and vegetables are probably the most common mistaken treats that owners provide their chinchillas.
You see, when the food your chinchilla consumes is too high in specific nutrients, fats, protein, or even fiber, your pet may experience stomach problems or digestive problems.
You must remember that chinchillas’ stomachs are fragile and very small. Too much of one nutrient can really throw your chin 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.
Can chinchillas eat bananas at all? Can chinchillas eat strawberries or other fruits that are good for humans? They can, but only in very small quantities. And it is better to just avoid them altogether.
Basically, you should avoid all foods that are not listed as safe in the previous section above.
Even if you have been doing it for quite some time, you should attempt to replace treats like fruits and vegetables with a safe alternative, to avoid potential issues in the future.
Your chinchilla will thank you for it and it will ultimately will lead to it living a longer, healthier life without complications that could end up costing you a decent-sized vet bill.
This is my take on the situation and highly advise you to jump on board.
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.
Consequences Of Being Careless With Your Chinchilla’s Diet
For the most part, we have already touched on what happens when you deviate from the 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 it potentially could even kill your chinchilla.
I hate to be the one delivering bad news, but it’s true.
While chinchillas make wonderful pets that are easy to care for, 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.
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 may be soft if it has 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 off with your chinchilla, it’s essential to see a vet as quickly as possible. Trust me, remaining proactive will ultimately save you time and money, and keep your chinchilla safe and healthy.
Always Continue Learning About A Safe Chinchilla Diet
Continue to do everything you can as a chinchilla owner to provide a safe and loving environment.
Chinchillas 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.
Plenty of 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.
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 upfront.
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 its diet and which items to avoid.
Again, take a breath.
Things will get easier, and you will be a rock star 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 are building a bond, playing with your chinchilla and taking funny videos and pictures.
That’s what it’s all about.
Where To Find Safe Chinchilla Food
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 at first, and Amazon after reading reviews and being diligent. 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.
Can Degus And Chinchillas Eat The Same Food?
For some reason, I often get asked “Can degus eat chinchilla food?” The answer is that degus can eat chinchilla pellets, as long as they pellets do not contain molasses or some other ingredient that contains a lot of sugar. And Timothy hay is great for degus.
Can They Eat Fresh Grass?
Can chinchillas eat fresh grass, or should they only get hay? They can certainly eat fresh grass and do so in the wild. But hay is preferable, because it lasts longer and because you never know what pollutants may be on fresh grass.
What Chinchillas Should Be Eating: Final Thoughts
Understanding what a chinchilla eats, and what it should be eating, is highly important. But it is only one part of the process of raising a chinchilla in the best fashion possible.
At the end of the day, your chinchilla needs your love, attention, and for you to be well educated on the best practices.
That’s it. Nothing fancy to it.
Posts like this one online can be fantastic resources to find the information you need to offer your chinchilla the best and healthiest diet possible.
Do your homework upfront and avoid the temptation to place too many un-needed fruits, vegetables, and other foods into your chinchilla’s system and everything will turn out fantastic.
Chili and I wish you the best of luck with your new chinchilla and the journey you have ahead of you. I am incredibly interested in all of you sharing your thoughts on this topic as well.
Share your thoughts about what your chinchilla eats and what you would consider the ideal chinchilla diet
Did I leave anything out or forget to mention any key points?
Do you have any other recommendations you can share with the readers about a chinchilla’s diet?
Be sure to share your methods, stories, and concerns in the comments below.
As always, Chili and I appreciate you stopping by and reading today and we will see you again next time.
Liana Quass says
Hi, I would like to know what Herbs would be safe for my Chinchillas?
Josh Martin says
This is a popular debate.
Some chinchilla owners state that feeding your chinchilla certain herbs in moderation is okay.
However, I have avoided this since adopting my chinchilla and for the most part, I just stick to the basics such as Timothy Hay and Pellets and the occasional treat.
Sarah S says
How much of the oats do you give your chinchilla daily?