What Do Chinchillas Eat? Diet, Food, Treats & More

If you’re thinking about getting a pet chinchilla, one of the most important things for you to consider is diet. To allow your pet to live a long and happy life, you need to make sure he or she is getting the right nutrients to not only survive but thrive. Chinchillas are unique animals with extremely sensitive digestive systems which need special care to avoid health problems.

A Healthy Chinchilla Diet

Did you know that chinchillas are primarily herbivores? Their diet in the wild would be primarily made up of seeds, roots, and leaves although they have been observed eating insects and small bird eggs. In captivity, chinchillas do best with a completely herbivorous diet. A chinchilla’s owner needs to focus on providing adequate nutrition to help their chinchilla thrive and live a long, healthy life.

Chinchillas can be fed pellets, but that alone is not enough for a healthy diet. They should also be offered unlimited amounts of hay on a daily basis. Pellets should be chinchilla-quality. High-quality chinchilla pellets should include a carefully balanced nutritional ratio: 16-20% protein, 2-5% fat, and 15-35% fiber. Their diets should also include healthy servings of vitamins A, D, and E.

Try to avoid food mixes: chinchillas are prone to picking out what they like most from a mix, and that could be a dangerous habit! If they’re not eating the entire mix, they will miss out on necessary nutrition. Most chinchillas should be fed approximately two tablespoons of pellets per day: one tablespoon in the morning and one tablespoon at night, times when they would naturally feed. Make sure to put it in a small dish to keep it from getting soiled or spilled!

Avoid substituting chinchilla-quality pellets for pellets made for other animals, such as guinea pigs or rabbits. These foods will typically not include the necessary nutritional values for the care of a sensitive chinchilla, and worse, it could cause health problems such as liver damage.

Chinchilla Diet No Rabbit Pellets
Chinchilla and rabbit pellets may look similar, but they have different ingredients and nutritional value. Photo credit: Andreas Rühle

A controversial topic for chinchilla diets is corn: some owners choose to feed pellets that include corn in the ingredients while others feel it causes bloating or digestive issues. It is generally recommended that owners avoid pellets or treats that have corn listed in the first few ingredients. Most pellets will include corn, so it’s almost impossible to avoid it all together, but higher quality foods will contain smaller amounts.

In the wild, chinchillas’ diets would include a large amount of roughage, a material found in vegetables that assist with digestion. Therefore, in addition to pellets, you should be offering your chinchilla hay for their overall health and to help mimic the diet that chinchillas would feed off of in their natural environment. It also helps keep their teeth healthy!

Chinchillas should be offered loose hay rather than hay in cubed form. Different types of hay contain different amounts of protein, and a hay mixture is likely to be your best bet to provide the highest quality food for your pet. Seek out a hay mixture that includes orchard grass, blue grass, timothy grass, and alfalfa. It is best to have hay available at all times for your chinchilla. Make sure to store it in a dry place, though, to avoid mold.

Hay makes up a large part of a chinchilla’s diet. Photo credit: Andrea

Of course, don’t forget water: your chinchilla should always have fresh water available. Choose a suitable water bottle with a metal spout to give them constant access to fresh water. Avoid feeding your chinchilla distilled water, as trace minerals required for good health are absent in distilled water. You should also monitor your chin’s water intake as a sudden increase or decrease could signal health problems.

What Do Chins Eat Besides Hay and Pellets

Many chinchilla owners enjoy feeding their pets treats, but an excess of treats can cause a variety of digestive issues, teeth disease, and obesity. So, how can you ensure that you’re feeding the right treats to your pet to advance your chinchilla’s health, not damage it?

Many pet stores carry nutritious natural treats, which oftentimes are an excellent form of treat to share with your pet; be careful, however, because there are also a number of treats offered in pet stores that are marketed for chinchillas but do not contain the correct ratio of vitamins and nutritional sources and may be high in sugar and fat, which can do severe damage to a chinchilla’s digestive system. Be particularly careful to examine the labels to ensure that there is not an excess of sugar or ingredients such as honey in the treats.

Other natural foods that can be used as treats include mountain ash berries, fruit tree twigs, dried rose hips, dried herbs, and marshmallow root. Chinchillas often enjoy raisins or dried fruits, but should not be offered more than 3-4 raisins a week as these are extremely high in sugar. Try cutting the raisins into multiple pieces to make the treats last longer!

When choosing a treat, avoid grains, treats with high amounts of vitamins and minerals, fruits, oats, and treat sticks. These ingredients can wreak havoc on your pet’s system, putting them at risk for serious illness.

Can Chinchillas Eat Carrots?

Carrots should not be a staple part of your chinchilla’s diet, but they are not toxic to your pet. Stick with feeding carrots like you would feed other “extras,” or treats: extremely sparingly. Any extra foods that throw off the careful nutritional ratios could be damaging to your chin.

You might also want to check out this video of a chin eating a piece of carrot:

Can Chinchillas Eat Apples?

Can chinchillas eat apples? Yes!
Chinchillas should be given apples only sparingly

Apples are also permissible, but keep in mind that an excess of sugar can lead to obesity and fatty liver issues for your chinchilla. Only feed them small amounts of fruit as a treat.

Safe and Unsafe Foods for Chinchillas

Given their sensitive digestive system, a number of foods are toxic to chinchillas and can make them extremely ill. If you’re looking for a creative food to treat your chinchilla with, try carrot, celery, potato, pumpkin, or squash. However, avoid the following foods!

Anything containing animal ingredients—Chinchillas are herbivores, meaning they only consume proteins from plants. Their systems are not designed to eat meat or other animal products.

  • Chocolate – contains theobromine which is toxic to chinchillas
  • Nuts and seeds – it is a common misconception that because chinchillas are herbivores and rodents, it is safe for them to be fed nuts and seeds. However, the high amount of fat, proteins, and oils damages their digestive system. Protein intake of over 20% per day can put your chinchilla at risk for liver damage.
  • Tree bark – not only are a number of different types of wood toxic to chinchillas, but trees are often sprayed with pesticides which can be deadly to your pet.
  • Vegetables – although vegetables seem like they would be healthy for a herbivore, they can cause your chinchilla to bloat. You should avoid the following toxic vegetables in particular: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, peas, rhubarb, and spinach.

With a healthy diet, your pet chinchilla will live a long and happy life. A responsible chinchilla owner should carefully research the different do’s and don’ts of chinchilla care before acquiring their new pet, which will ensure that your pet will be carefully taken care of for the rest of his or her life.

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