Chinchilla hay is one of the most crucial aspects of your pet’s diet, and a product that he (or she) simply can’t live without.
And with something as important as this, it’s natural that the responsible chinchilla owner wants to know as much about the product as they possibly can. Because it’s not just about feeding dried grass, oh no… Hay is a complex and interesting subject – not to mention that it represents a large proportion of the nutritional costs that you spend on your pet every day of its life.
So undoubtedly you want to ensure you receive the very best value for money that you spend on chinchilla hay. And to do this, it’s necessary to know a little bit about it.
Why do we Feed a Chinchilla Hay?
The reason we feed a chinchilla hay is twofold.
Chinchilla Hay – Reason #1: The Essential Fiber Provider
Chinchillas originate from the barren slopes of the Andes Mountain range in South America. As you can imagine, food here is sparse and somewhat difficult to come by, so the chinchilla has adapted over the years to be able to survive and thrive in this barren landscape.
One of the major components of the wild chinchilla diet is tough and fibrous stalks and grasses. It’s these that provide the bulk of the fiber that the animal needs to ensure a healthy digestive system.
The role of fiber in his diet, amongst other things, is to draw water into the gut, so ensuring that the matter within remains soft and pliable. This allows it to smoothly move through the digestive system with the waste eventually being passed out as droppings.
Without this essential fiber, the gut movement of a chinchilla can slow down or even stop completely; a dangerous condition known as gastrointestinal stasis – or GI stasis. This condition can prove fatal in a very short amount of time.
And our pet chinchillas have the exact same need for fiber in their diet. And we give this in the form of hay.
Chinchilla hay mimics the natural fiber components of the wild chinchilla diet. The tough, stalky stems of good quality hay provide him with the essential daily fiber he needs in order to keep the crucial motility in his gut for good digestive health.
Chinchilla Hay – Reason #2: The Daily Dental Workout
Over the centuries that chinchillas lived in the wild, they evolved to cope with the difficulties of living in this tough landscape. One of the problems was that their diet consisted of a great deal of tough substances. Naturally the chinchilla had to chew on these to allow him to swallow and digest, and this had an eroding effect on the teeth.
To counteract this, a chinchilla needed to have teeth that constantly renewed. Hence they have open rooted teeth that grow throughout his lifetime. This means that he always has the tools necessary to be able to grind up his food.
Of course, our domesticated chinchillas don’t have to scrabble around to find food as we provide it to them on a daily basis. And even though the chinchilla you own might well be tens, if not hundreds of generations removed from their ancestors that ran wild in the mountains, in terms of evolution this is but mere seconds. Certainly not anywhere near long enough for him to have evolved to domesticity to any extent whatsoever.
So, even though there’s no need for him to chew on the tough foods that his wild ancestors did, his teeth still continue to grow on a daily basis. And by feeding good quality hay, this helps to keep his teeth ground down and prevent a condition known as malocclusion.
Malocclusion is where the teeth grow to an extent that they become sharp, causing damage to the inside of the cheeks and the tongue. In severe cases the teeth can overgrow to such an extent that the chinchilla is unable to chew, and therefore is unable to eat. The same as with GI stasis, malocclusion can prove fatal if untreated.
History of Hay
Hay has been produced by man as fodder for animals for hundreds of years. Traditionally it was used for feeding animals such as cattle when there was a lack of fresh pastureland for them to graze. However, over the years it’s become used for other animals, such as chinchillas and other small pets, as man came to domesticate them.
Making hay is a step by step process, and a skill that farmers have passed down over the generations. The actual methods used have altered quite dramatically over time, but in general the process takes the form of the following:
In general, the growing season is late spring and summer. The exact point to cut the hay is determined by the farmer and is dependent on many different issues. These include the grasses flowering, moisture content and, to a very great extent, the weather forecast. This is because the next step is for the hay to remain exposed to the elements to dry. If rain falls during this time then the quality of the finished product is compromised.
After the hay is dried it needs to be prepared for storage. In years gone by this meant many hours of back breaking work putting the hay into haystacks, then tying it into bundles and transporting – usually by horse and cart – to barns for storage.
Of course, today we now have machinery that makes this process far easier. The hay is also slightly compressed when created into bales, meaning more can be stored in a smaller area.
How and where the hay is stored is also of vital importance, because at first it will continue to dry out to a certain extent. The wrong storage, or doing this too early, can cause the hay to deteriorate rapidly, rending it virtually unusable in some cases.
Different Types of Chinchilla Hay
In general, chinchilla hay comes under two different categories:
- Legume Hay
- Grass Hay
Although in basic terms they are both dried grass, there is some quite substantial differences between the two. What type you feed your chinchilla depends on various different conditions. These are covered in the following section: “What Type of Hay does my Chinchilla Need?”
But for now, let’s take a look at the differences between the two types of hay:
Legume hay is produced from grasses such as alfalfa. Indeed, you might even see it simply called “alfalfa,” rather than a legume hay. The main difference between a legume hay and a grass hay is that it’s higher in protein and energy (calories). There are some other nutritional differences as well, such as a difference in phosphorus, calcium and vitamin ratios.
When you look at a legume hay, as opposed to a grass hay, one of the most noticeable things is that you can see the dried flowers of the alfalfa plant. It’s also quite soft to the touch, compared to grass hay. The color can also be a little different, perhaps being of a darker green color than that of grass hay.
Grass hay is, as the name suggests, made from grass! There are many different grasses that can be used; however by far the most common used is timothy hay for chinchillas.
Good quality timothy hay has long, sturdy and fibrous stalks; perfect for giving chinchilla teeth that workout they need when chewing. Lower in energy and protein than legume hay, timothy hay is generally the type that you’ll see sold as in most pet stores and other outlets.
What Type of Hay does my Chinchilla Need?
Chinchilla nutritional needs change throughout their lives, and this directly influences their hay and food requirements.
Times of Increased Energy Needs
The following can be times when your pet might require extra calories in his or her diet, in which case you’d be likely to feed alfalfa hay.
- During those all-important growth months. Chinchilla kits, exactly the same as human babies, use an incredible number of calories during growth. Alfalfa hay should be fed during this time.
- Pregnant and nursing mothers. Once again, this time of a chinchilla’s life is a time of massive increased energy need. Not only for the mother, but for the new life growing inside her and to produce the necessary milk to feed her young once they’re born.
- Sick, rehabilitating or recovering chinchillas. Illness or injury gives an animal a much increased need for energy. The extra protein and calories contained in alfalfa hay will help his body during this vital recovery period.
- Geriatric chinchillas. In the same manner as some humans, sometimes older chinchillas have an issue with keeping weight on. They might also have a reduced appetite during the winter of their years, so feeding alfalfa hay with higher energy can help to counteract these issues.
- High energy chinchillas. Every chin has his or her own personality, and that extends into how much energy they expend on a daily basis. Some never seem to stop bouncing around; others are far more comfortable spending extra hours snoozing. For those that are hyper, and therefore burning up more calories, it might be necessary to feed alfalfa hay at certain points throughout the week or even on a daily basis.
However, in most cases, timothy hay will make up the bulk of your chinchilla’s hay needs, and this is certainly the easiest type to get hold of.
What to Look for in a Good Timothy Grass Chinchilla Hay
Good timothy grass chinchilla hay, once seen, is unmistakable. Unfortunately, a lot of hay that’s sold as suitable for chinchillas is sub-standard, and it can be a challenge to manage to find a top quality and reliable source for your pet.
Good quality timothy grass chinchilla hay versus poor quality
|Good Quality Timothy Hay||Poor Quality Timothy Hay|
|Green in color||Brown or yellow in color|
|Smells sweet & fragrant||Little or no smell|
|No sign of dust or mold||Dusty and/or mold spots (black or white specks)|
|Pliable fibrous stalks||Stalks break or crumble to the touch|
|Contains only hay||Contains foreign matter such as stones, dirt, earth and other plants|
Probably one of the most drastic differences between a good quality chinchilla hay and that of poor quality is the enthusiasm of your chinnies when it comes to eating it. Good quality chinchilla hay not only provides your pet with great nutrition, but it tastes fabulous as well! And it’s certainly noticeable when it comes to how much he eats and how much he wastes. So even if buying a top quality chinchilla hay comes at a slightly higher price, you actually save money in the long run, because less is wasted.
Where to Find Top Quality Chinchilla Hay
Finding a reliable supplier of top quality chinchilla hay often proves to be one of the biggest challenges facing any pet owner. Sure, pet stores have hay for chinchillas packed sky high on their shelves, but sadly this is usually of questionable quality.
There are many reasons for this, but the following is probably the most influential:
- Hay is a fragile product. After all, it’s produced by the wonder of Mother Nature, so naturally it needs to be handled with care to keep it in the condition she intended. But mass production tends to not take this into account. Every time hay is handled, packaged, transported and stacked it undergoes stresses that damage it to a greater or lesser extent. Very often this means that the hay that ends up in your chinchilla’s cage is far, far removed from the product that was cut from the field.
The problem is finding a supplier of chinchilla hay who is producing it specifically with chinnies and other small animals in mind. Some people might be lucky enough to live in a region or area where they can purchase hay from farms or the like, but most of us aren’t that fortunate.
Small Pet Select now offers an online ordering service to purchase hay that’s been selected, produced, packaged and shipped specifically for chinchillas and other small pets. With quality, service and ease at the top of our customer satisfaction process, at last chinchilla owners throughout the nation can get their hands on hay that’s not only as Mother Nature intended, but that your pets will absolutely love eating.
Summary of Chinchilla Hay
As you can see, there’s a whole lot more to hay than first meets the eye. And the reasons we feed a chinchilla hay is also something we as responsible owners need to be fully aware of.
Hopefully this paper on chinchilla hay has given you a more detailed insight into the most important aspects of the subject. Small Pet Select is dedicated in providing chinchilla owners throughout the world with the best information possible, and, of course, ensuring that we all get as much joy out of owning our pets as possible.
Till next time, love those chinnies….