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All About Chinchilla Food

What should you feed a chinchilla and how should you switch your pet to a new food?

Marty Hull
Posted: June 6, 2014, 7:30 p.m. EDT

chinchilla by chew toys
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Pine blocks and hard, chinchilla-safe treats help keep a chinchilla's constantly growing teeth in check.

Q: I adopted a chinchilla a few weeks ago. I am aware that they need lots of care and need special things to make sure they live a happy and healthy life. I did research before I decided to bring 11-month-old Jujubee home (my female chinchilla). So I'm pretty good on my basics. The food the previous people were feeding her was awful. It was all treats with very few hay pellets in it. I know when switching food they must be weaned off the old food slowly. Now this is my question: I've been reading that some people say alfalfa is bad for chinchillas and some say timothy pellets are no good as well. I feed her fresh timothy hay every day and give her apple orchard sticks as treats. I don't give her actual treats, as from my research I think a good staple pellet and fresh timothy hay is perfect for a healthy life. But should the staple pellet be alfalfa meal pellets or timothy hay meal pellets? I'm thinking that since she has the timothy hay that she should be getting some alfalfa. Please help, as I want to change her from this horrible food as soon as possible. I want to have her with me as many healthy years as I can.

A: There are various schools of thought on what is the best diet for chinchillas. Most people agree that a proper diet for chinchillas includes the following fresh items: 1. Loose timothy hay, 2. Good-quality chinchilla pellets (usually made with alfalfa and containing approximately 20 percent crude protein) and 3. A source of vitamin C.

If you are changing the diet, it is wise to do so slowly to give the chinchilla’s digestive system time to adjust to the new feed. Along with timothy and pellets, you can also offer some fresh, loose alfalfa hay. Some chinchillas can gain too much weight or have digestive issues from high alfalfa intake, so monitor your chinchilla carefully.
Chinchillas are very routine-oriented. If you feed your chinchilla a treat at the same time each day, you may notice the chin will become more excited as that time approaches and will anxiously wait by the cage door for the treat to arrive. Eating the same diet day after day may seem rather dull, but chins do best on a plain diet low in sugar or high-fat treats. If a raisin is used as a treat, give no more than half a raisin per day.

Fats and oils: Chinchillas are unable to digest a diet high in fats and oils. Foods high in fats and/or oils, such as sunflower seeds, can cause liver damage and may significantly shorten the life of the chinchilla. Rabbit food blends are fine for rabbits, but should not be fed to chinchillas. As treats, we offer a daily pinch of whole oat groats and/or whole sprouting barley in the food dish. We also give our chins a little bit of plain shredded wheat (no frosting) or a small piece (1 centimeter square) of dried, whole wheat bread as a treat. Pesticide-free, dried apple branches and pine blocks are also enjoyable for them and aid in teeth maintenance.

To give your chinchilla the best chances of being healthy and staying healthy, it is worthwhile finding out the component foods in everything you feed to your pet. All foods should be fresh, free of pesticides, preservatives, mildews or molds. The better the quality of food you feed your chinchilla, the healthier your chinchilla will be.

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And check out:
Chinchilla Diet Plan, click here>>
See all of Marty Hull's chinchilla Q&A, click here>>
See Marty Hull's author bio, click here>>
See health questions and answers about chinchillas, click here>>

Posted: June 6, 2014, 7:30 p.m. EDT

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