“What do chinchillas eat?” Have you ever wondered? If you’re bringing one of these little guys into your home, it’s an important question to consider. Chinchillas are exotic pets; they take a little extra care. But understanding chinchilla diets is the first step in creating a long and healthy life for your chin.
Let’s learn more about what chinchillas eat and how you can be the best parent ever to yours by giving them meals they love.
Understanding a Chinchilla’s Diet
Before we dive into answering the question “what do chinchillas eat?” it’s important to understand how chinchillas differ from other animals and pets. Chinchillas have a very specialized digestion system and are natural foragers; their diet at home should mimic their diet in the wild. But what exactly does this mean?
Chinchillas are native to South America and they are often found high in the Andes Mountains. This high elevation is one reason chins have that beautiful, soft, dense coat we know and love. It also explains why they’re used to eating grasses and hay. In this rugged terrain, chinchillas have had to adapt to find their food wherever they can get it, which is mostly on the forest floor. We see lots of pretty colored chinchilla food and fancy treats in the pet store, but these aren’t a chinchilla’s natural diet, so stay away. Far, far away.
What do Chinchillas Eat? Hay!
With their background, it’s not a surprise that chinchillas love lots of hay. Chinchillas are true herbivores, and they need lots of fiber to keep their complex digestive system running smoothly. Unlike dogs and cats, who eat a few protein-rich meals a day, chins are always eating fibrous meals. Eating all day and night? While they’re not sleeping? Sounds like the life.
To get this much fiber, chinchillas should be given unlimited amounts of hay to munch on. Not only is hay delicious and nutritious, but it can help prevent bloating, GI stasis, and keep your chin’s ever-growing teeth filed down. Hay also provides stimulation for your chinchilla. In the wild, chinchillas have to forage for their food, which provides mental exercise. And that’s a good thing.
Pelleted Food for Chinchillas
In addition to hay, a tablespoon or two of healthy pellets can be offered to supplement your chinchilla's diet (and to ensure your chinchilla is getting the proper balance of vitamins and minerals). Most chins won't overeat... need to stay figure-conscious with that unforgiving "poof" factor.
Be careful, though, when feeding your chin pelleted food. Too often, these pellets are over processed and contain nasty dyes, chemicals, fillers, additives, and other ingredients that are on the chinchilla diet no-no list. Many of these commercial pellets, too, have added sugar, which can cause your chin’s blood pressure to spike. Not to mention diabetes, obesity, and other serious health issues.
A quality pellet is low in fat (2-5%) and high in fiber (15-35%), without a ton of artificial colors or preservatives. Chinchillas have specific nutritional needs, so it isn't recommended to substitute a pellet meant for other rodents. Your chinchilla may try to convince you to offer a pellet mix, but nuts, corn, seeds, and other treat items mixed in with pellets is dangerous. No fruits, seeds or nuts for chins.
But not too many. Chinchillas have sensitive digestive systems that aren't designed for rich or fatty foods. If you choose to offer treats, generally a teaspoon a day is plenty. Many commercial treats are too high in sugar and/or fat for chinchillas, but they'll likely appreciate something closer to nature anyway. Dried plantain, rose hips, and assorted (safe) herbs are good choices.
Living on ledges and hiding in crevices from predators was a lot in the wild, so don't be surprised if your chinchilla has had enough adventure and is hesitant to try unfamiliar foods. Offer new foods and treats slowly, in small amounts. Even if she is enthusiastic about trying something new, too much at once can cause digestive upset.
What Not to Feed Your Chinchilla
We provided lots of options for what chinchillas eat, so now that’s talk about what chinchillas shouldn’t eat. Never feed your chinchilla:
Yogurt drops are often marketed as a treat for chinchillas, but they’re 100% dangerous. Yogurt can lead to a toxic rise in “bad” bacteria in their gut, plus they have a lot of sugar. Yuck. Stay away.
Bread, pasta, and other processed carbs can cause tummy issues, especially if they are high in sugar. Again, run away from this stuff.
Avocados may be healthy to humans, but they can be deadly for chinchillas. Other veggies on the no-no list include cabbage, corn, asparagus, rhubarb and rhubarb leaves, cauliflower, and spinach. And others. Do your research. And remember - never offer ANY seeds, nuts, or fruit.
Chocolate is a definite no-no, as it is for most animals. It can be poisonous and even fatal.
Meat is not good for your little herbivore’s diet. This might seem like common sense, but we just want to be extra sure your chinchilla is safe.
We hope this helped you better understand what chinchillas should and should not eat. With this information, you’ll be well on your way to being an educated chinchilla owner. As always, with any questions, reach out! We’re here to help. And we like to talk, too.