Take a closer look at your pets' diet in 2019: Chinchillas

Chinchillas have very sensitive digestive systems and in the wild eat grasses, leaves, twigs, roots and stems. As pets, it’s essential that we feed them a diet that replicates what they would feed on naturally

Posted: 10 January 2019

Take a closer look at your pets' diet in 2019: Chinchillas

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The New Year is a time when we all tend to give our diets an overhaul – perhaps by cutting back on sweet and salty snacks and pledging to eat more fruit and veg. It’s also the ideal time to focus on our pets’ diet. We kick off 2019 with a series of blogs focused on understanding the unique nutritional requirements of all kinds of pets – starting with chinchillas. 

Wild chinchillas are herbivores, who munch away on grasses, leaves, twigs, roots and stems. As pets, to mimic this, it’s vital to feed a fibre-rich diet based on grasses and hays. This means providing a minimum of their body size in Feeding Hay  every day to enable their digestive systems to function properly. 

Constant access to high quality hay, such as Excel Feeding Hay with Dandelion and Marigold, will also help your chinchillas' dental health. Their teeth grow continuously throughout their life and need to be worn down and kept at the correct length and shape by chomping on plenty of fresh, tasty hay. 


Strange but true – how chinchillas get the nutrients they need

  • Chinchillas need to keep their digestive systems busy with a mix of two kinds of fibre moving through the gut at all times – these are known as digestible fibre and indigestible fibre. This is because they can’t get enough nutrition from fibre when it passes through their gut the first time, so they pass it through a second time.
  • Indigestible fibre is moved through their digestive system and excreted as separate, round, hard droppings. This type of fibre keeps the digestive system moving and their appetite stimulated.
  • Digestible fibre is moved up into an organ called the caecum – which is like a giant appendix. Good bacteria in the caecum ferment the fibre, making it easy to digest. This emerges in the form of clumps of sticky droppings called caecotrophs. 
  • Chinchillas then re-eat the caecotrophs directly from their bottom and the essential nutrients are then absorbed when the digestible fibre passes through for the second time. 
  • So, although it might seem rather strange to us humans, if your chinchillas are eating their sticky droppings, it’s a very good sign!

Nuggets packed full of good stuff

To ensure they are getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need to keep them in tip top health, feed your chinchillas an eggcup-full sized portion of tasty Excel Chinchilla Nuggets every day. This complementary food contains Vitamin C for healthy skin, coat and gums, Vitamin A to maintain healthy eyesight, and Vitamin E to maintain a healthy immune system. It’s also high in naturally beneficial fibre to maintain good digestive health. 

Steer clear of muesli-style foods. This is because chinchillas can be fussy eaters, picking out the unhealthy bits in muesli-style foods and leaving the rest. This selective feeding can lead to an imbalanced diet that’s lacking in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D and low in fibre, which can have very serious consequences. The unhealthy ingredients in muesli-style foods are high in sugar and starch, which are difficult for chinchillas to digest and can lead to obesity and serious health problems. Obese chinchillas often can’t reach the caecotrophs around their bottom that contain so many important nutrients. 


Did you know?

As crepuscular rodents, who are most active at dawn and dusk, chinchillas tend to feed early morning or late in the evening.


Tasty treats provide enrichment

Treats can be great to encourage your chinchillas to take food from your hand and will help keep things interesting for them. Try adding a handful of Excel Country Garden Herbs or Excel Mountain Meadow Herbs   to their feeding hay. Chinchillas prefer dead and dry leaves to fresh leaves, so these should prove a popular choice. Excel Gnaw Sticks provide great environmental enrichment, keeping these timid but inquisitive fibrevores busy and occupied, which is brilliant for their emotional health.

Chinchillas can eat very small amounts of fresh food but you need to be extremely careful. There are several foods that are poisonous to chinchillas, including asparagus, avocado, peas, cabbage, corn, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, rhubarb or rhubarb leaves.

Good wood guide

Your chinchillas will love some untreated softwood to gnaw on. Good wood choices are apple, dogwood, hawthorn, hazelnut, pear, poplar and quince. Before you give them any softwood branches to chew, bake them on a low heat for an hour and give them a good wash to make sure they are safe for your pets to nibble on.

Make feeding fun

Wild chinchillas would spend most of their waking hours searching for food. You can recreate this for your pets to keep them occupied and to encourage their natural behaviours by:

  • Scattering their daily pellets ration around their cage and exercise area instead of feeding from a bowl. This is also a really good way to feed your chinchillas if one is very protective of the food bowl and often stops others getting their fair share of the nosh.
  • Hide hay, pellets and greens in paper bags, cardboard tubes and boxes.
  • Try some special activity toys suitable for small animals, such as puzzle boards and feeding balls.

Water on tap

Fresh, clean water must always be available. There are drinking bottles designed for chinchillas available from good pet shops. The bottle should be clean and water changed daily. Also ensure that your chinchillas can reach and drink from the bottle with ease.

Happy and healthy?

It’s best not to make any sudden changes to your chinchillas’ diet as this may make them very ill. Always introduce new diets gradually. A sign of a healthy chinchilla is when he/she is eating every day and passing plenty of dry droppings. Always keep an eye on how much your chinchillas eat and drink. If you notice that your pet's eating/drinking habits change or the droppings get smaller or are no longer being produced, contact your vet straight away.


If you found this interesting, you may also like:

Why chinchillas like to chill out Find out more about these inquisitive and incredibly fluffy little animals, who can jump six feet in the air and sleep upside down…

Bonding with your small pets Hand-feeding is a great way to build a closer bond with small animals. It takes time to build trust, but when your little friend finally feels confident enough to take a treat from your hand, it’s a special moment.

How to get your pet in shape Over 60% of vets say obesity is the biggest health and welfare concern for UK pets. So, how can you tell if your pet is too portly and what can you do to help them get back in trim? Our in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes is on hand with some brilliant fat-busting tips, astonishing facts and useful on-line tools. 

 

Source: pfma.org.uk, pdsa.org.uk

 

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