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Chinchillas - Nutritional Requirements

Chinchillas are herbivorous animals (this means they only eat plant-based food) and, like most other rodents, they have a complicated and sensitive digestive system. You will notice that they tend to feed early morning or late in the evening.  Although individual needs will depend on your pet’s age, lifestyle and state of health, here are the most important factors you should consider when caring for chinchillas:

  • Chinchillas have very sensitive digestive systems and in the wild eat grasses, leaves, twigs, roots and stems. As pets, chinchillas need fibre rich diets based on grasses and hays in order for their digestive systems to function properly.
  • Supplementary hay should also be available to your chinchilla at all times to aid digestion.
  • Chinchillas' teeth grow continuously throughout their life and need to be worn down and kept at the correct length and shape by eating grass and hay. Failure to feed them with the right diet can result in serious dental disease.
  • It is not advisable to make any sudden changes to your chinchilla's diet as this may make them very ill. Always introduce new diets gradually.
  • Fresh, clean water must always be available. There are drinking bottles designed for chinchillas on the market and you just need to make sure you check water levels frequently. The bottle should be clean and water changed daily.  You should also ensure that your chinchilla can reach and drink from the bottle with ease.
  • A sign of a healthy chinchilla is when he/she is eating every day and passing plenty of dry droppings. Always keep an eye on how much your chinchilla eats and drinks. If you notice that your pet's eating/drinking habits change or the droppings get smaller or are no longer being produced, contact your vet straight away as your pet may be seriously ill.
  • Like rabbits and guinea pigs, chinchillas perform a digestive process called caecotrophy to extract as much goodness as possible from their food.  Simply put – they eat their droppings (caecotrophs), allowing the food to be reingested!
  • Chinchillas can suffer from obesity if fed incorrectly, which can lead to many other health problems. The usual cuprits are too many treats or too much dry food containing excess sugar.
  • There are a number of foods that are poisonous to chinchillas so always double check before you feed them.  DO NOT FEED your chinchilla with the following: asparagus, avocado, peas, cabbage, corn, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, rhubarb and rhubarb leaves. Other dangerous foods are banana, sunflower seeds and peanuts. This list is not exhaustive, and if in doubt as to whether something is safe to feed it is best to avoid.
  • There are a number of nutritionally balanced diets for chinchillas on the market. Manufacturers have experts available to provide you with advice on what you should buy for your chinchilla and how much and how many times per day to feed them, so contact them direct for further advice on specific products. A list of PFMA members who produce pet food for small furries can be found here.