By Dr. Robin Rysavy, Chapter Manager, Missouri House Rabbit Society, Kansas City
Chinchillas are adorable. They are playful, cute, entertaining, and full of energy - and they love to beg for treats. They are hard to resist when it come to begging, and believe me, they are masters at it!
Chinchillas are herbivores, and, therefore, their natural diet in the wild includes mostly roots, grass, and plants, but not fats and sugars. If you have a pet chinchilla, the most important things you can provide for him are a good quality grass hay (Timothy hay), pellets formulated specifically for chinchillas, and fresh water every day.
Usually, however, people who have chinchillas don’t just give them hay, water, and pellets. Chinchillas love to beg for treats, and most really enjoy sweets. Remember, however, that their digestive systems are extremely sensitive and cannot handle the fats, sweets, and oils that are in some foods. Also, most commercial chinchilla “treats” sold in stores should be avoided. Seed stick treats and “yogurt” drops and grains are very high in fats and sugars. Too many of these treats can cause health issues such as diarrhea, seizures, gastrointestinal impactions, tooth decay, malocclusion, pancreatitis, liver disease, and also bloating, which can lead to death.
Here are a few chinchilla treats that, if given in moderation, should be okay:
• Dried rose hips are one of the best treats for a chinchilla and can be offered daily. They are high in fiber and vitamin C.
• Herbs such as dried dandelion roots or leaves, rosemary, hibiscus, parsley, strawberry, and blackberry leaves can be offered several times a week in small amounts (1 teaspoon).
• Dried fruit such as apple, banana, and papaya, can be given in very tiny amounts (bites the size of a raisin) 2-‐3 times per week. They are high in sugar, however, so give sparingly. Raisins and dried cranberries are a chinchilla favorite but should not be given more than once or twice a week. Raisins are very high in sugar (70% sugar), and a chinchilla’s daily diet should be made up of no more than 4% sugar.
• Fresh fruits such as a small piece of apple (the size of a raisin), strawberry, or pear can be given sparingly. Too much fresh fruit can cause bloat.
Here are a few foods that should be avoided:
• Most chinchilla treats sold in pet stores are high in sugar, fats, and oils and also contain preservatives.
• Fruits such as lemons, grapefruit, oranges, etc. that are high in acid should be avoided since chinchillas may have problems with high acidity.
• Fruits with high water content such as watermelon can give chins diarrhea.
• Corn is toxic for chinchillas. In addition to being prone to mold and fungus in the manufacturing and storing process, it also causes fatal bloat.
• Chocolate is high in fat and sugar, and it is dangerous for most animals as it causes damage to the digestive and nervous systems.
• Any food containing animal ingredients such as milk, cheese, ice cream, etc. is dangerous for a chinchilla, and can cause a fatal upset in their digestive system.
• Nuts and seeds are extremely high in fat, protein, and oils, which can lead to a calcium deficiency and possibly liver damage.
Many pet stores sell vitamin and mineral “supplements” for chinchillas. If you are feeding a good pelleted food made for chinchillas, these supplements shouldn’t be necessary. Adding additional supplements to the diet should only be given under the supervision of an exotics veterinarian.
poor little Zyhyr had bloat from eating the wrong diet and treats
Zyphr was an eight-‐year-‐old chinchilla who had been surrendered to an area animal shelter. I happened to see him when I went to visit the shelter and was immediately concerned because he didn’t look well. He was lethargic, didn’t appear to be eating or drinking, had evidence of teeth issues, and very few cecals (poops) in his house. The shelter told me he would be available for release in a few days. I returned to get Zyphr and took him to my exotics veterinarian immediately. My vet removed six spurs on his molars (under anesthesia), which were cutting into his cheeks and tongue. We hoped he would resume eating once the spurs were removed, but sadly, he did not.
Upon examining the food and treats that his former human caretakers sent with him, we realized he most likely was suffering from bloat. He had been fed a diet of seed stick treats, yogurt drops, and other “junk food” sold for chinchillas in pet stores, and the molar spurs prevented him from eating hay, which is essential to keep the digestive system healthy. He passed away in my arms the following day.
Please be careful if you have a chinchilla for a pet. As they get older, they may develop molar spurs. If these are not removed, they will cut into their cheeks and tongue and cause them to stop eating. Sometimes the teeth will become abscessed and need to be removed. It is always best to be aware of these things and have your pet checked at least yearly by a good exotics veterinarian. And ALWAYS feed your chinchilla a healthy diet!
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