By Dr. Robin Rysavy
Chapter Manager, Missouri House Rabbit Society, Kansas City MO
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 comes to begging and believe me, they are masters at it! While they definitely deserve a treat, it’s hard to know what are safe treats for chinchillas. We’ve got some recommendations for you.
The Chinchilla Diet
Chinchillas are herbivores. 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 are good quality grass hay (Timothy hay), pellets explicitly formulated 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. However, remember that their digestive systems are extremely sensitive and cannot handle the fats, sweets, and oils 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 bloating, leading to death.
As an example, I’d like to share Zyphr’s story. Zyphr was an eight-year-old chinchilla 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 exotic veterinarian immediately. Under anesthesia, my vet removed six spurs on his molars, 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. His poor diet, including non-healthy chinchilla treats led to molar spurs. 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.
Treats to Avoid
- Most chinchilla treats sold in pet stores. These treats are high in sugar, fats, and oils and also contain preservatives.
- Citrus fruit (lemons, grapefruit, oranges, etc.). Citrus has high acid levels, and chinchillas may have problems tolerating high acid-foods.
- Fruits with high water content (watermelon). These fruits can give chins diarrhea.
- Corn. Do not feed corn to your chin as it is toxic. In addition to being prone to mold and fungus in the manufacturing and storing process, it also causes fatal bloat.
- Chocolate. Unfortunately, due to the high fat and sugar in chocolate, it is dangerous for most animals. Chocolate causes damage to the digestive and nervous systems.
- Dairy. Any food containing dairy animal ingredients such as milk, cheese, ice cream, etc., is dangerous for a chinchilla. Dairy can cause a fatal upset in their digestive system.
- Nuts and seeds. Seeds and nuts are incredibly high in fat, protein, and oils, leading to a calcium deficiency and possibly liver damage.
- Vitamin and mineral “supplements” for chinchillas. If you are feeding an excellent 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 exotic veterinarian.
Safe and Healthy Treats
Humans *should* eat dessert in moderation. The same advice goes for your adorable chin. Here’s a list of healthy chinchilla treats you can give in moderation.
- Dried rose hips. One of the best treats for a chinchilla and can be offered daily. They are high in fiber and vitamin C.
- Dried Herbs (dandelion roots or leaves, rosemary, hibiscus, parsley, strawberry, and blackberry leaves). These herbs can be offered several times a week in small amounts (1 teaspoon).
- Dried fruit (apple, banana, and papaya). It’s safe to give your chin a raisin-size amount 2-3 times per week. They are high in sugar, however, so give sparingly.
- Raisins and dried cranberries. If you ask your chinchilla what their fave treats are, dried cranberries and raisins are at the top of their list. However, they 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 fruit (apple, strawberry, or pear). Too much fresh fruit can cause bloat, so offer a raisin-size amount sparingly to your chin.
Now you’ve got a list of healthy chinchilla treats so you can safely reward your chin for being your best friend. We hope you enjoyed our recommendations, but we’d love to know if we left anything off our list. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on our socials.
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