Providing proper nutrition is one of the most important aspects of keeping your chinchilla healthy. Chinchillas are herbivores and require a special diet that is rich in vitamins and high in fiber. In order to promote intestinal motility and minimize intestinal disease, a chinchilla’s diet contains hay and pellets, and maybe a few treats.
The most crucial aspect of a chinchilla’s diet is the unlimited access to grass hay. Timothy, brome, oat and wheat hay are the best options. Alfalfa hay is very rich in calcium and protein and should be avoided.
In addition to hay, chinchillas need commercial chinchilla pellets for additional nutrients. For chinchillas under 8 months of age, plain alfalfa pellets should be available at all times. Feed about 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh commercial chinchilla pellets per day. Grass hay should also be available at all times.
When selecting pellets, make sure they are fresh and specifically made for chinchillas. Check the mill date on the label and buy pellets less than 3 months old. Avoid buying in bulk to prevent pellets from aging. Pellet mixes with added nuts and grains should be avoided, due to the potential for obesity.
Chinchillas also enjoy fresh green leafy vegetables. Offer small amounts, such as alfalfa sprouts, basil, parsley, beet greens, broccoli leaves, Brussels sprouts, carrots and carrot tops, cilantro, collard greens, endive, green peppers, parley, romaine lettuce, kale, raspberry leaves, wheat grass, pea pods (peas excluded), squash, raddichio and dandelion leaves.
As with all animals, it is important to introduce any new food gradually to help avoid and prevent any gastrointestinal upset. If fruit is to be offered, it should be limited to no more than two tablespoons and restricted to the high fiber fruits like apples, pears, plums, melons, raspberries, papaya, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and pineapple. Avoid bananas and grapes due to their high sugar content.
Chewing and gnawing is a daily habit for chinchillas. Provide safe hard foods to keep their teeth healthy. Young, non-chemically treated branches of maple and birch trees, or pieces of bark from apple, peach and pear trees may be offered. Do not use branches from poisonous trees such as cherry, oleander, cedar, plum or redwood to name a few.
In general, fruits, grains, cereals, and breads should only be given in limited amounts, and excesses can lead to fatal diarrhea. Many chinchilla love raisins and these should only be offered as treats. Fresh water should be provided daily in a clean water bottle or a heavy porcelain crock. Change the water daily and wash and disinfect the bowl weekly.
Though you may not realize it, ingesting feces is a normal and important part of a chinchilla’s diet. Chinchillas produce cecotropes, also called night feces. This special feces is loaded with vitamins and other nutrients, which are ingested after the feces is eliminated from the anus. Cecotropes are different than their normal feces in that they look somewhat like small blackberries.