The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Chinchillas are one of the softest, cutest animals that you can take in as a pet for your home. One of the biggest things that you have to keep in mind, however, is that you will need to step forward and do a fair amount of research on them before you make the final purchase, as they are exotic animals and it can be hard to find the reliable information you need to make your chinchilla’s life easier.
Naturally, one area that you are going to want to pay attention to is going to be the diet of the chinchilla. Your home is obviously not going to be the chinchilla’s typical habitat, so you are going to need to do what you can to provide an environment for the chinchilla that replicates it, from sand baths to the food that it would typically eat.
The best place to start with this will be learning what chinchillas would usually eat in the wild. Even if you cannot recreate the exact same diet that they would have in the wild and on their own, knowing what their bodies were designed to digest and process will help you have a good idea of what you should be feeding your chinchillas.
From there, you will want to focus on what a chinchilla’s standard appetite is. To get a better sense of what treats and human foods your chinchilla can enjoy, you should know what your chinchilla should already be eating, as their domestic diets can be a fair bit different than what they would normally eat out in the wild.
Understanding the Chinchilla’s Diet
Chinchillas are large rodents that are native to the Andes Mountains in South America, and as such, their diets follow both the typical plants of this mountain range and what a standard rodent’s diet is. As rodents, their standard diet tends to follow a more opportunistic model, with chinchillas eating plants, seeds, fruits, and insects that it can get its paws on.
Due to their opportunistic nature in the wild, most chinchillas will eat any leaves, seeds, fruits, and nonpoisonous insects that it can come across, and because they are endangered animals, it can be hard to get a sense of exactly which plants and insects it eats.
For the most part, one can assume that it isn’t entirely specific and it follows the idea of being opportunistic, that is, being whatever the chinchilla is passing by when it becomes hungry.
The chinchilla’s diet is a bit of a different story when it comes to what it eats domestically. As domesticated pets, chinchillas have many, many more options as to what they can eat, ranging from fruits and vegetables that they wouldn’t normally find in their home habitats to commercial pellets designed to pack all the nutrients they need into a form that they can eat easily.
For the most part, it is recommended that the majority of the chinchilla’s diet be a commercial pellet mix (specially made for chinchillas) without much variation, as some chinchillas will only eat the treats out of the mix and not the nutritious pellets.
Other foods they can eat should either be supplementation or treats, as they need to get the majority of their nutrients from the pellet feed.
Some people supplement their chinchillas’ diets with hay, as hay is a great way to ensure that your chinchilla is getting the right amount of fiber in its food and it also helps their teeth stay in good condition.
When supplementing hay, it should be offered to them at the start of the day and any soiled or unused hay should be cleared out, letting the chinchilla graze on its hay at its own pace.
Now that you have a good sense of what chinchillas eat in the wild and that they are opportunistic creatures, you have a better sense of what they can eat at home in the sense that they can eat many things.
At the same time, you have to be very, very mindful of what you are feeding your chinchilla, as they have a tendency to favor their treats far more than their standard foods and their digestive systems are sensitive.
Understanding a Chinchilla’s Need for a Steady Diet of Pellets
Interestingly enough, it is typically recommended that you give your chinchilla no more than a teaspoon’s worth of treats per day, which is a considerably small amount of treats that you could feed your chinchilla. Human foods would fall under treats, as chinchillas need to eat their pellets and little else.
This is because chinchillas not only have a sensitive digestive system, but they can also have problems with sudden changes. For example, even if a chinchilla would enjoy eating a fair amount of fruit in the same way that it would in the wild, its diet as a domesticated pet is accustomed to pellets, and this sudden change can make it ill.
Most treats that chinchillas can eat may have nutrients that they need, but many of them also have nutrients that your chinchilla should not have that much of. Take fruits as an example.
All fruits, including dried fruits, have large amounts of natural sugars in them, and chinchillas do not handle this amount of sugar very well, which leads to them becoming ill, which is something that nobody wants to have happen.
Both fruits and vegetables, which are arguably human foods, contain high amounts of moisture in them. Chinchillas originate from an incredibly dry climate, so they have evolved to have an equally dry diet.
By introducing high amounts of moisture to your chinchilla’s little body through fruits or vegetables like this, your chinchilla can get very bloated, very quickly, which is a huge hazard for chinchillas.
A chinchilla’s digestive system doesn’t have a way for it to relieve itself of that gas (such as how humans burp or fart), which means that a build-up of gas can become fatal for a chinchilla if there is no intervention, as it stops the digestive system from working as it should.
Even nuts and seeds, which could also be considered human foods, are problematic for chinchillas. Both nuts and seeds tend to carry high amounts of fat, relative to a chinchilla’s dietary needs.
This means that having nuts or seeds as teats can lead to a high build-up of fat in the body, which not only poses problems such as obesity, but also puts your chinchilla at risk for fatty liver disease. This is a disease that is notorious for being a silent killer of chinchillas as there is virtually no sign of illness before the chinchilla’s inevitable passing.
That isn’t to say that chinchillas can’t have treats. It’s just that most of the human foods that you would think of offering to a chinchilla will disrupt its sensitive digestive system, meaning that they do far more harm than good to share your food with your chinchilla, no matter how curious it might look when you walk by it.
Human Foods Safe for Chinchillas
As long as you keep to the moderation of only feeding your chinchilla no more than a teaspoon of treats a day, there are actually a few types of human food that your chinchilla can eat, depending on what your definition of “human food” is.
If your idea of “human food” is “meals prepared by humans, for humans,” then no, your chinchilla cannot have those kinds of foods as they often make use of fruits or vegetables that are not safe for your chinchilla to eat. This also applies to many other foods that are made commercially “for humans.”
On the other hand, if your idea of “human food” is “foods humans can eat,” then there are certainly some foods that your chinchilla can enjoy alongside you, with most of them being fruits not too dissimilar to what they would eat in the wild.
Despite what was said above, chinchillas can have very, very small amounts of fruit and certain vegetables. You just have to be mindful of how often you feed them to your chinchilla and how your chinchilla reacts to being fed.
As long as you do everything in moderation, there’s a good chance your chinchilla will simply enjoy its treats that it can share with you.
For example, chinchillas can eat approximately three to four raisins a week. While grapes are still high in natural sugars, by turning them into raisins, you can drastically reduce the amount of water in them, making them a bit safer for your little rodent friend. For comparison, grapes are approximately 80% water, while raisins are a mere 15% water.
Chinchillas can also eat certain breakfast cereals, as long as that breakfast cereal is made with only natural ingredients and very, very few ingredients besides that. Again, this should only be fed in significant moderation to your chinchilla to ensure that it is still safe for them and that it doesn’t cause a chemical reaction in their body.
Chinchillas can enjoy certain breakfast cereals at about one to three pieces per week.