It’s up to you!!!
Without dispute chinchillas should be fed a simple diet of good-quality chinchilla pellets and hay as their staple diet – and that is pretty much it.
This may seem bland, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the chinchilla’s wild cousins have adapted to live on relatively low-nutrient forage, and our own domestic chinchilla’s digestion is unchanged from their wild counterparts.
However, that said, I am now going to be slightly contradictory and go on to say that some breeders (especially American) also give their chinchillas what is known as a “herd-supplement.”
This was once (and perhaps still is) considered to be a very out-dated approach to feeding chinchillas, as it hales back to the days before chinchilla pellets were manufactured and breeders had to make up their own food for the chinchillas.
Pellets have to cater for chins in ALL life stages – including pregnancy, lactating and growing, as well as non-breeding adults. Therefore the protein levels tend to set for the “average” chinchilla.
Currently, there is no demand for a separate type of pellet for young and breeding chins – and another type for maintaining non-breeding adult chins. This is where an additional supplement may come in useful.
Supplements tend to be cereal-based (oats, wheat, barley, etc.) with added wheatgerm (high in vitamin E, folic acid, EFA’s and proteins) and bran. To this mix, edible dried herbs can be added. These are a good source of phytonutrients. A tiny amount of golden linseed will provide essential fatty acids, but only a tiny amount is needed. An addition of a balanced multivitamin and mineral supplement is recommended, as cereals tend to be high in phosphorus and low in calcium.
Rolled oats are the safest of all cereal grains to feed – being relatively high in (soluble) fiber and low in digestible energy – they are not normally associated with over-fermentation in the hind-gut – UNLESS there is some degree of gut-stasis involved anyway! Oat hulls or groats are not recommended though!!!
** Hay/forage should always be fed – to promote peristalsis and limit any possibility of gastric stasis. **
A supplement has several uses ………..
- It helps to condition breeding, growing or unwell chinchillas.
- It is relished by chinchillas and is regarded as a “treat” by them; this allows a breeder to quickly spot if one chinchilla is off its food, and can then investigate the cause.
- I f well balanced, it is a useful source of extra nutrients.
- It can tempt the appetite if the chinchilla has been unwell.
However, it also has drawbacks …………
- It may encourage obesity if fed excessively.
- It is expensive to feed if you have large numbers of chinchillas.
- It is an added and unnecessary chore for larger breeders.
- Has a very short shelf life (especially wheat germ).
The main limiting factor of most cereals is that they tend to be deficient in a couple of the essential amino acids, especially lysine. They are also rather high in phosphorus with is often present as a phytate, which can bind to calcium molecules, preventing their absorption. A diet that is too high in phosphorus is not recommended, and the ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be around 2:1 respectively.
The “Kline Diet” (a top-selling American chinchilla diet) was developed and endorsed by a chinchilla rancher called Alice Kline (now sadly deceased). She swore by a diet of pellets, hay and a balanced cereal-based supplement, and her chinchillas thrived on it. Nowadays, the Kline Diet is still advocated and recommended by Amercian pet-owners and breeders alike, but it is not currently available to the UK.
Limiting & Moderation
Even if a supplement is fed as an additional ration – it is still important to make sure that a chinchilla always eats all its staple diet (hay and pellets), and does not gorge itself on “extras”. So the quantity and frequency of supplemental feeding will need to be monitored and adjusted, if necessary.
It is also very wise not to feed the supplement in the same bowl or feed-hopper as the staple diet, as the chinchillas will throw out all their pellets in an effort to get to the supplement, which often leaves them with nothing left to eat.
Some breeders feed a “treat” mix a couple of times a week anyway, a supplement mix is just taking this principle a step forward – with the aim of providing extra nutrition to those chins that need it.
Although some breeders swear by feeding an additional ration, others feel that it is unnecessary at the least and even dangerous at the worst, due to a chinchillas delicate digestion, which is not suited to a continuous rich diet.
However, I believe that it is very much up to the individual owner or breeder if they feel that a supplement has enough significant benefits to be worthy of the extra effort, time and money to feed it.
Salt in the Chinchillas Diet
Pro’s & Con’s
Salt is an essential mineral. As it is added to chinchilla pellets, additional salt is rarely required. Here are some generic facts and figures ……
Most mammals bodies only contain about 0.2% sodium – it is essential for life and is a highly controlled mineral (by the body). Half of the sodium is contained in the soft tissues (muscles, organs etc.) – the other half in the bones. Sodium (and it’s derivatives) are major minerals in the blood and helps to regulate blood pH. Sodium also plays a main role in transmitting nerve impulses and the maintenance of normal heart action. It also helps the small intestine absorb amino acids (protein building blocks) and monosaccharides (simple sugars/carbs).
The other nutrient in salt – chloride – is also essential for life. Chloride is the primary element in blood. Chloride is also an essential part of the hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach – which is required to digest most foods.
People assume that if the sodium requirement is met, the chloride requirement will be met also – however, certain studies indicate this may not always be so!!
Dietary sodium chloride can also cause increased calciuresis (calcium excretion) and this leads to subsequent loss of bone density (over time), and related calcium deficiency problems (cramping, tetany ** etc.). This is because the body must excrete calcium along with sodium. (Please remember that calcium/phosphorus/magnesium imbalances cause excessive calcium excretion too – so does a diet too high in protein and so does an imbalanced dietary acid-base).
My conclusion is ……..
Dietary sodium chloride intake should not exceed (this is purely my opinion based on my own readings – as I do not have access to a laboratory!!) ……..
0.3g of sodium per kilo of DM food
0.3g of chloride per kilo of DM food
(DM = dry matter)
Check your pellets to see how much sodium chloride they have added to them!! I am sure you will find that there is no need to give chinchillas additional salt.
Although wild chinchillas would have access to mineral deposits, I would imagine that they would not consume mineral salts in dangerous quantities, and it must be borne in mind that their natural food would not have salt added to it anyway!!
I hope this has provided some “food for thought” – please excuse the pun!
** Tetany is basically muscular seizure/uncoordination.