What to feed your chinchilla!
There are three basic things that comprise a good chinchilla diet: pellets, hay and treats. Pellets and hay do make up most of the diet, but treats are still important to a healthy, happy chinnie! Supplements may also be a good idea to ensure that your chin gets enough vitamins and minerals.
| Pellets | Hay | Switching to New Foods | Treats | Supplements | Other Sources |
Chinchilla pellets are mostly crushed up alfalfa with other things mixed in for vitamin and minerals as well as taste. The most important thing to consider when purchasing chinchilla (or rabbit) pellets is freshness. As soon as the food is milled it begins to lose precious vitamins, so please make sure that whatever food you choose will be used up before it is 3 to 4 months old.
We use Mazuri brand chinchilla pellets that we order several bags at a time. So far it seems to be adequate for adult chinchillas, however we still have to mix in Calf Manna for pregnant and lactating females and kits. We do not recommend the brands from Petsmart and Petco. Not only are the pellets they carry sometimes insufficient nutritionally, but the food will sit on the shelf for many months without any indication when it was milled. Also, some of it has too many treats in it that cause the chins to pick through it and not eat the actual pellets. Many breeders forego using designated "chinchilla" pellets altogether and use rabbit pellets. This is just fine as long as the pellets have all the necessary vitamins they need. And, of course, the food must be fresh.
An adult chinchilla will consume a couple tablespoons of pellets a day. We fill the pellet bowl twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Some of our chins like to throw their pellets everywhere! So it is best to make sure that they have pellets all the time. However, in the instance of newly weaned babies (especially boys!!), the young chinnie may decide that he wants to eat all the pellets he can and give him self sticky stools from consuming too much food. When this happens it is best to limit the amount of pellets given. It is necessary to keep the food bowls clean and that all contaminated (by urine or droppings) food be thrown out and replaced with fresh food.
Chinworld and Lonestar Chinchilla are good places to buy pellets on the internet. You can also try your local feed stores, but normally the pellets sold at feed stores come in 25 lb or more bags. You won't be able to use that much food if you only have a few chinchillas. So it may be best for you to buy in very small quantities from Chinworld or Lonestar.
Hay - Loose Timothy and Alfalfa
Hay is very important for proper digestion in chins due to its high fiber content. A chinchilla should be given the best, freshest hay available to you. We feed timothy hay everyday. A handful per animal is a good quanitity to give provided that the chin eats it all. Loose hay can get very messy if you feed too much at a time. Alfalfa hay cubes are a good option if you do not want to keep loose hay in the cage all the time. A few cubes will last for a couple of days and give your chin something to chew on until you feed her some timothy hay.
What we do is keep alfalfa hay cubes in the cage at all times and give loose timothy in the evening when we feed the pellets. This cuts down on the hay mess and makes the chins think that the timothy is a treat and not something that they have to eat. Uneaten timothy or wet hay should be removed from the cage as soon as possible. We clean up whatever timothy hay is left on the bottoms of the cages in the morning and restock the hay cubes for the rest of the day.
American Pet Diner, Chinworld and Lonestar Chinchilla all have good timothy hay and hay cubes. You can also buy it from Petsmart, Walmart or other petstores. We don't like to buy hay from these stores because it can sit too long and not be as fresh as the chins like. Feedstores are a great place to buy good hay at its freshest. The only problem is getting them to sell you smaller amounts of hay, timothy can come in huge 115 lb bales and hay cubes come in 50 lb bags!
Switching to New Pellets and Hay
If for some reason it is necessary to switch over to a new brand of pellets or a different source for hay, it is important to remember to take it very slow. Switching a chinchilla over to something new very quickly can result in severe diarrhea that can kill. We've successfully switched dozens of chinchillas over without any problems, the trick to it is patience.
Start with the food that the chin is accustomed to and slowly add more and more of the new food everyday. We use a quart mason jar that is at first completely full of the old feed and fill it up with new food each time we feed the chinchilla. After it is filled, we shake the jar to evenly mix up the old and the new feeds. It takes about three weeks to completely switch over a chinchilla. There is one problem though; some chinchillas will like the new food so much that they will only eat it and leave the old in the dish. In these cases it may take a little longer to switch. Normally there will be no problems at all, it is best to just watch which food is being eaten and that the stools of the chinchilla aren't getting mushy or sticky.
Switching over to new hay is a little easier. Start will feeding only the old hay and every few days add about 25% of the new hay. Chinchillas love to try new hays, if you give them too much new hay at one time they may eat too much and get bloated. Chinchillas tend to get bloated when they eat too much of anything! It is best to limit the amounts of the new hay until the chinchilla can control himself around it! Again, you just need to watch your chinchilla to make sure that he is eating healthy amounts. A handful of loose hay and a hay cube is usually plenty for one chinchilla per day.
Treats can be a very important part of bonding with a chinchilla. It can help the chin to learn to trust his owner and associate humans with good things. The most popular treat is raisins. Chinchillas LOVE sweets and will eat as many as you will supply, but you must not give them too much. Too many treats can lead to diarrhea, obesity, liver damage and kidney failure. Treats should be limited to ONE A DAY, no more. Feeding too many treats can also make very picky eaters out of chinchillas, sometimes it is almost impossible to get a treats-spoiled chin back on a healthy diet. Don't buy the chinchilla pellets that have the treats mixed in, it isn't a good idea because the chinchilla will eat the tasty treats and leave the good (assuming that the pellets are any good at all!) pellets in the dish or throw them out all over the floor of his cage!
Our chinchillas relish their treats! We don't feed them every day, maybe every other day we will give out an almond, apple chunk or raisin. Fresh fruit is an excellent treat, just a pea-sized amount though. Fresh blueberries, bananas, apples, carrots, melon, or grapes are good in small amounts. Every chinchilla has different tastes, so it may take a while to figure out what your chinchilla likes for a treat. Dried fruits such as raisins, pears, apples or cranberries are good, but again only in pea-size amount. Raw nuts such as almonds, pecans and sunflower seeds are well-liked, but should be kept to a minimum because chinchillas do not metabolize large amounts of fat well. Almonds seem to be one of the better nuts for them, they are a little lower in fat and harder to help wear down teeth. Only feed raw nuts! We stay away from peanuts, cashews and brazil nuts. The chins don't seem to like them and they are pretty high in fat.
SUMMARY: ONLY ONE TREAT A DAY!!
There seems to be a lot to buy in the petshop in terms of vitamins and supplements. Most chinchillas need very little besides their food, hay and occaisional treat. We feed a 500 mg chewable vitamin C once a week to each chinchilla once he or she is weaned. Also, we will give a very small amount of Petromalt weekly to each chin to prevent intestinal hairballs and to keep them from getting constipated. Occaisonally we will also set out a small amount of mixed grains and seeds to give the chinchillas some variety in their diet.
Vitamin C will help in keeping back teeth straight and in the general health of a chinchilla. It's a vitamin that you cannot guarantee will last long enough in the food and hay, so we think it is best to supply it at least once a week to ensure that the chins are getting enough. The chewable vitamins are good because the chinchillas think they are treats! They come in orange flavor, cherry flavor and are always sweet! Ours enjoy the orange flavor the best. I think that it is so important that I give chewable vitamin C out with every chinchilla that is sold. We haven't had any tooth problems (back tooth-spurs) since we started a weekly routine of giving out the chewables. I don't suggest using the kind of vitamins that go directly in the drinking water, they just foul the water and the vitamin C degrades very quickly because the water bottles are clear or translucent - light destroys all sorts of vitamins.
Petromalt is a good for chinchillas with constipation that usually is indicated by small stools. We give it once a week to prevent intestinal blockages. The chinchillas love it since it is like a sweet, sticky treat. Once a week is plenty unless a chin has severe constipation, in that case once a day is fine.
Oats, dried seeds, and other grains are great to give to a chinchilla that doesn't eat much more than pellets and hay. These types of supplements can be a great source of calcium and other minerals. Once a week to every two weeks seems to be a good frequency for feeding it. It is important to remember that giving too much of it can interfere with a chinchilla eating enough of his regular food and hay. A tablespoon is a good weekly dosage. We feed rolled oats most often. The oats and grains can help with diarrhea. Plain shredded wheat is another popular supplement, but only one every few days.
Other Sources of information:
CA Chins: http://www.cachins.org/ has information about food, hay and supplements. They have a very good book on chinchillas called The Joy of Chinchillas, which may be purchased at ChinWorld. The CA Chins site has just been updated and it is very, very nice. A visit would be well worth the time!
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Last Update: 11-27-02
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