When we purchased our first chinchillas we were advised to feed them rabbit pellets. You will not find a website that condones this. Everybody advises that you buy special chinchilla pellets. But then we couldn’t find any! So we started doing some research. Of course chinchilla pellets are the best feed but in South Africa it is very expensive and not readily available. We will therefore not spend time on what you can find on hundreds of other websites but will rather advise on what works well for us. Our chinchillas are in excellent condition and the kits are born healthy and strong. Over the past year we lost 2 kits out of almost 30 and they were part of big litters where the other babies survived.
We, amongst quite a few other chinchilla owners recently suffered losses that could only be attributed to the food we fed. We were just lucky because we only fed the food once a week as a treat with the normal food mixture we’ve bee feeding the past 5 years. Since we make our own treats we decided to spoil them a bit with Versele Laga Chinchilla Nature. We were only feeding it for a short while when the problems started. I elaborated on this under Chin Chatter and will not do so again. To understand the whole situation and make up your own mind it is advisable to read it. The bottom line is we will never trust it again. Since the fiasco with Versele-Laga we have a huge demand for the food we mix and quite a few chinchillas that was in very poor condition is now as healthy as can be.
For the past 5 years me mixed our own food consisting of good quality Lucerne pellets and Super Rodent Eco Bitez which we purchase from Dalvencor in Pretoria-North. The Eco Bitez pellets was formulated by a Pet Dietician and contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals required. We also add a few other healthy ingredients. We market it under the brand name Mini Magic and our chinchillas will never be exposed to other food again. I’m not marketing our food, the choice still stay yours. I know in the USA and Europe there are very good brands of food. Chinchillas will eat about 35 grams of food per day but we give double this amount per day and throw out the old food every day. Our rabbits get the old food and they adore it.
1 kg Rolled Oats
500g Red Wheat Bran
500g Rolled Wheat
500g Rolled Barley
500g Wheat Germ
250g Flax Seed
125g Shelled unsalted Raw Sunflower Seeds
Mix all dry ingredients together. Mix 1 tablespoon of crude molasses with 375ml hot water to dissolve the molasses. Mix everything together to form a dough. Spray a shallow oven pan with spray and cook. Roll the dough very flat ( 3-4mm) on the pan. Cut into squares of about 15x15mm. Put in oven at 100 ̊C and bake until dry. It must not discolor, just dry out. When dry, the squares will break where it was cut. It can now be kept in a cookie jar and the rest in the freezer. These ingredients can also be given as a dry supplement but they waste a lot of it.
Together with their pellet food we also give fresh Lucerne(Alfalfa), Eragrostis, Teff or Oat hay every day. This is very important for their digestive systems. If you only have a few chinchillas you can purchase hay in small amounts from most pet shops. Make sure that it is fresh and there is no mould on it. We have found cases where chinchillas contracted ringworm from old hay bought in petshops. We will never buy hay from a petshop. We buy fresh bales of hay from the Co-op at a fraction of the cost but finish it within 2 weeks. It is not advisable to store the hay for too long. An added bonus of buying Eragrostis hay in bales is that it also makes excellent and inexpensive bedding.
Although chinchillas do not drink a lot of water they must have constant access to fresh water. We use stainless steel bowls for food and water. A drinking bottle can be used but we prefer the bowls because things can go wrong with the bottles and it’s easier to keep the bowls clean. We use two sets of bowls per cage and every day the old bowls are replaced with clean ones. We then wash the dirty ones in the dishwasher.
The dietry needs of a chinchilla
I did the research on this for a newsletter that I wrote a while ago and feel it is fitting to add it here.
Proper feeding of a chinchilla consists of 3 elements; fresh water daily, fresh hay daily and fresh good quality pellets daily. Neither of these are negotiable but options do exist for pellets and hay. Without writing a handbook on what a mammal needs for it’s body to function properly I’ll try to keep it short. There are 6 kinds of foodstuffs that the body consumes and uses to replace tissue waste: Proteins, carbohydrates, fats, mineral salts, vitamins an water.
The body converts protein into amino acids which serve chiefly for tissue building and replacement. Excess protein produces an oversupply of amino acids and the body must dispose of these. When it becomes too much for the body to handle the kidneys and liver are overtaxed and begin to degenerate. The usual end-result of feeding too much protein is inflammation of the liver, kidneys or digestive tract. This damage is usually permanent and will greatly shorten the chinchilla’s life. Too little protein will on the other hand cause retarded growth, inadequate milk supply, excessive fat and sterility, to mention only a few.
Carbohydrates are converted by digestion into glucose and serve mainly as fuel for the body. This is what provides the energy to function. What is not used is stored in the body as fat which is used when no food is available. Too much carbohydrates can cause obesity and constipation. This also puts an extra burden on the liver. Too little will cause weight loss because the animal must deplete it’s fat reserves and eventually its protein reserves for energy.
Mineral salts build tissue and replace the constant loss of mineral salts from the body. They play an important role in the chemistry of metabolism. Mineral deficiencies cause conditions like skeletal weakness (calcium), anemia (iron) and defective gastric function. Vitamins are essential for proper metabolism and the construction of vital organs. Vitamin deficiencies can be responsible for fits, skin inflammation and sore eyes.
Enough biology. Basically a chinchilla needs a good balance of the above in the right proportions to be healthy. The right amount of each is set out in the table below. These are averages and can differ a bit, but not much. You will also notice that the only mineral specifically mentioned is calcium. The vitamins required are contained in the normal food and does not need a special mention.
For pregnant and lactating females I received the information from the product manager of Mazuri Chinchilla pellets in the USA and the values for Protein should be about 20% and that you must ensure enough calcium and phosphorus in a 2:1 ratio. Sounds complicated but by feeding Lucerne (alfalfa) and the supplemental treats we recommend in Chinchilla Diet it will be enough. Too much calcium can be HARMFUL and in a well balanced diet there is enough calcium. When a female is pregnant she will eat more food and therefore get more calcium. If the diet is right there is no need to supplement calcium.
Lucerne have different values depending on when it is cut and other factors but a good average is the following:
You will see that lucerne compares well to what a chinchilla needs as a complete diet. It is however not enough and good pellets should also be fed. I also found out why rabbit pellets are not a suitable feed for chinchillas. Rabbit pellets manufactured for feeding rabbits for commercial purposes is extremely detrimental to the health of chinchillas. Although the basic ingredients are roughly the same rabbit pellets does not contain enough protein and carbohydrates and too much fiber. It is also possible that some mills add growth hormones and antibiotics especially formulated for rabbits that is harmful to chinchillas. The chinchillas will look fine and give lots of babies but their lifespan will be shortened considerably by the additives in rabbit pellets. It will affect their livers and the damage will gradually escalate until the chinchilla dies of liver failure. That is why feeding normal rabbit pellets is not a good idea. Chinchillas fed on rabbit pellets containing all the rubbish start smelling after a while and they are not supposed to smell. You also see it in the condition of their fur..
The golden rule is to remember to feed hay freely. Lucerne (alfalfa), teff, eragrostis and oats hay is freely available in South Africa. There are quite a few other types of hay that is also suitable and is available in other countries. A good rule of thumb is that if the hay is suitable for horses and cattle it is suitable for chinchillas. It must just be dry and fresh. Remember that the supplements are expensive so it is probably better and less expensive to feed a good balanced diet. With a good diet supplements are not necessary and that is why we only give it as a treat.
It is also of utmost importance to remember that any change in a chinchilla’s diet must be implemented gradually, preferably over a 2 week period. They must get used to the new food and because their digestive systems are so sensitive it takes time. When introducing new food keep the old food in the bowl and everyday add a little bit of the new food, gradually increasing the ratio until you only feed the new food. Chinchillas are hind gut fermenters, which means they have bigger colons and the digestion of food takes place lower in the digestive track. It takes time for the bacteria in this area to also get used to the new food.
Treats are a good way to form a special bond with your chinchilla. There are chinchilla foods on the market that already contains treats. I will never feed this. We have 2 kids and a good example of explaining what a chinchilla will do with this food is like placing a plate of veggies and a bowl of ice cream in front of a child. Don’t tell them what to eat and they will definatly leave the veggies and go for the ice cream. Chinchillas are just like kids. Just because all the good stuff is also in the bowl along with the treats does not mean they will eat it. We prefer to feed treats by hand. It shows the chinchilla you love it but also allows you to feed treats in moderation. A chinchilla will definatly eat itself to death on treats.
We give 1 raisin or cranberry per chinchilla on Sundays. Sundays is dessert day in our family. During the week we give a small piece of apple or carrot every second or third day. The apple is about the size of my thumbnail and the carrot is one thin wheel. We do not give any other treats because our supplementary feed already contains stuff they love. Other treats can be a peanut in the shell, All Bran flakes and stuff like that. Bread and nuts are not suitable treats. Nuts are too fatty and bread contains yeast and stuff. Dried whole wheat bread in moderation is OK but there are better treats and we do not give bread. Don’t ever give it stuff that your kids like, it’s usually unhealthy. We are rather too conservative with our treats because chinchillas wrote the book on begging. Dr Phil also says tough love is the best.
There are more and more brands of chinchilla pellets becoming available. We will not discuss any one in particular because they do not pay us to advertise their products. It is also not the purpose of this website to promote any specific product but to inform you and share our knowledge so that you can make your own decision. I’ve said before that nobody will ever know everything. We do however strongly believe in sharing what we know and inviting other chinchilla owners to share what they know to ensure a better quality of life for all chinchillas. Just remember what a chinchilla needs to be healthy and read what it says on the packet of pellets you buy. We’ve bought all the different brands we could find to compare them and what became obvious was that the “established brands” will all recommend that you feed the pellets as a supplement to hay. However, we still believe our food is best as other people will believe their food is best. In the end it’s the health of your chinchilla that matters most.