Chinchillas are adorable looking little creatures that boast amazingly soft fur. They also have rather sensitive digestive systems which can easily be upset if they are fed the wrong type of foods or a badly balanced diet. It is absolutely essential that chinchillas be fed a good quality and appropriate diet if they are to remain happy and healthy.
Chinchillas in the wild eat a high roughage diet and even as domestic pets they do not do well if fed rich, fatty foods because it can seriously impact their digestive systems which in turn can make them very ill. Chinchillas need to be fed specifically formulated pellets and these need to be supplemented with lots of good quality fresh hay, preferably grass hay.
It is also important to avoid changes in their diets too as this can also cause digestive problems. If you are going to introduce any new foodstuffs, they need to be introduced very slowly and the best way of doing this is to mix new things in with their existing food. Every day you should increase the amount of new food and decrease the older one, making sure your chinchilla is not experiencing a tummy upset as you do.
If you notice a change in their droppings, you should stop adding the new food to your pet's diet and discuss the problem with your vet. The other thing to bear in mind is that any treats you offer your pet should be limited so as to avoid giving them an upset stomach too.
There's a great choice of chinchilla food on the market so it can be a little confusing as to which would be the best to feed your pet. With this said, many experts recommend that chinchillas be fed specifically formulated pellets rather than any loose mixes as this avoids them being able to pick out the tasty bits and leaving the rest which ultimately goes to waste.
Chinchillas are very good at taking out the best bits and leaving the rest when it comes to mixes which in turn means they are not getting a well-balanced diet and there is a tremendous amount of waste because any food that's left over from the day before needs to be removed. The numbers you need to look out for in good quality pellet chinchilla food are as follows:
If you find it hard to source specifically formulated pellet food for chinchillas, many experts recommend that you give them a very high quality guinea pig or rabbit pellet food which contains similar levels of protein and fibre.
When it comes to quantities, the rule of thumb is to feed a chinchilla one or two tablespoons of pellets every day and to make sure any old food is removed so your pet always has access to fresh pellets. You should feed your pet one tablespoon in the morning and then another one in the evening and preferably you should feed your pet at the same times of the day so they get used to the routine. If there is one thing chinchillas love, it's having a routine!
Heavier ceramic dishes are by the best to use as feed bowls for chinchillas as there is less risk of them being knocked over and some people prefer to have bowls that attach to the side of the cage which prevents their pets from soiling their food which they will then refuse to eat.
There's a lot of debate on whether a chinchilla's diet should include corn with some people believing this causes digestive issues and bloating. However, many specifically formulated feeds for chinchillas do indeed, contain corn but as it is a starchy ingredient it could be a little harder for them to digest. The consensus of opinion is that it should be avoided. If however, the corn content in a specifically formulated chinchilla feed is minimal, this should not pose a problem.
Chinchillas must be fed good quality fresh hay on a daily basis which provides the correct amount of roughage needed for their digestive system to work as it should. Feeding hay also helps keep their teeth at the right length because chewing on hay wears them down and therefore in good condition.
You should always remove any old hay from the cage and never leave or feed any which has any signs of being mouldy. You can feed cubed hay to chinchillas but it's a good idea to feed loose hay as well. The hay to avoid feeding adult chinchillas is Alfalfa which is far too high in calcium, protein and oxalates and therefore harmful to their overall health.
The best type to feed chinchillas is Timothy hay which provides all the roughage they need to stay healthy and keep their digestive tracts working properly. You should never feed any damp hay to your pet or any that smells a little musty either.
To avoid stomach upsets, you should limit the amount of treats you offer your chinchilla. Treats like dried fruit and raisins are by far the favourites, but you should never give more than a few in any one day (1 teaspoon) and not every day, but rather when you are trying to bond with your pet so they get to know and trust you. Cutting raisins into tiny pieces makes one go a long way when taming a chinchilla.
The rule of thumb is not to feed more than 4 raisins to a chinchilla in any one week. Other special treats include rose hips which are full of vitamin C as well as other valuable nutrients, but again you should never give more than a couple in any one week. It is best to avoid giving any commercially manufactured treats to chinchillas as they tend to be far too high in sugar and fat.
Although you may not think it, one of the best treats you can offer a chinchilla is either a twig or a small branch which they adore chewing on. Apple wood is a very good and a safe choice to give them. However, there are other woods which are toxic to chinchillas and you have to be certain the wood has not been sprayed with pesticides. It is far safer to buy apple chew sticks from a reputable pet store than to pick some out of a garden.
Chinchillas need to do this because by doing so it helps keep their digesting system working properly. This is called coprophagy and lots of herbivorous animals do this including rabbits and chinchillas. So if you see your pet eating their own droppings, there's nothing to worry about, it is perfectly normal for them to do. If however, you think they are eating too many, you should discuss your worries with the vet.