Contrary to what some people may tell you, the Chinchilla Diet is not some new fad diet that half the country is practicing. You certainly will not find it on the internet and it has nothing to do with wearing chinchilla fur in an attempt to lose weight. Just how do these rumors get started in the first place?
It is, however, what keeps your new pet healthy, happy and super-energetic.
You may be surprised. To start with, chinchillas have a very sensitive digestive system. So this makes it vital ensure that your pet receives a diet that is first and foremost appropriate for his small, digestive system.
If your pet were living in the wild at this very moment, chances are good that he'd be eating a diet mostly of vegetation that contains a lot of roughage. The truth of the matter is that their systems are not designed for rich or fatty foods. And if that's what they're eating right now their digestive systems may become easily upset.
So, you'll want to provide your chinchilla with some of the pellets made especially for this animal, but to ensure the longetivity of your pet, you'll want to supplement this food with plenty of fresh grass hay.
Your chinchilla may also exhibit digestive problems if you go about changing his diet too often. If you feel the need -- or really do need to change his diet -- then do it gradually. You need to make the change slowly enough that he really doesn't notice it.
If you find that you absolutely must change his diet, here's a secret used by many professional breeders. Begin by mixing only a very small amount of the new food you're introducing to your pet. It may even be such a minute amount that he really doesn't even realizing he's getting any type of new food with his favorite eat-'em-up diet.
With each feeding, you'll slowly, incrementally increase the amount of new food with the older, more welcome diet. Don't be concerned about the length of time this process may take. If you keep this up, you'll have the change made.
And more importantly, you'll have successfully changed his diet without causing him any dietary distress.
But just because Your Chilly loves treats doesn't mean that you can give him all that he wants. Just because your son or daughter loves chocolate doesn't mean that you allow them to eat an unlimited supply of it.
And so it is with your chinchilla. Treats are fine. But treats are called just that because they aren't being fed to your pet all the time.
Many chinchilla owners ask me what I feed my own pets: pellets for these furry guys or loose food. My own chinchilla pets receive mostly pelleted food. Loose mixes are then used only for supplemental reasons.
Oh, it's not that I don't think that the loose food isn't nutritionally balanced, because it is. But your pet is only receiving the perfect balance of nutrients if he is eating all of the mix. If he picks and chooses the loose mix, he isn't receiving total nutrition.
Now, my chinchillas aren't the only guys that are "picky" if you will. All chinchillas are "wired" this way. They pick and choose exactly what they lack and leave the rest behind. (Don't we all do this now?)
Now that's a good question. Most chinchillas eat one to two tablespoons of pellets a day. For the most part, chinchillas aren't prone to over eating, but still it's a good idea to put the pellets out for him daily.
Pouring a week's worth of pellets out at one time only contributes to the food growing staler faster than you really thought. Let's look at it from your perspective. You wouldn't want to eat food that has been sitting out for a week or more. You'd rather grab fresh food when you're hungry. So would your friend Chilly the Chinchilla!
Specifically, you'll want to feed your chinchilla about one
There are pellets out there and then there are pellets. You walk into a pet store and you may find a clerk saying, "This is just like chinchilla pellets. Your pet won't know the difference."
Don't be fooled. Please don't listen to him. If the pellets are specifically formulated for chinchillas, don't buy them ... no matter what that pet store clerk tries to tell you. If they can't sell you pellets for chinchillas, then go someplace out.
Just so you know, here's what goes into a good nutritional pellet that will be gentle on your chinchilla's digestive system.
The ideal chinchilla pellet is composed of 16 to 20 percent protein, 2 to 5 percent fat and then between 15 to 35 percent fiber. Many chinchilla experts say that there is an alternative should you not be able to find chinchilla pellets. You may substitute a strong rabbit or guinea pig pellet food that has similar characteristics.
Who would have ever believed it? Certainly not I before I became a chinchilla parent. My Chilli likes to eat hay. And when you bring your chinchilla home to meet the family not only will he like to eat hay -- but he needs to eat it.
Pellets, of course, provide your chinchilla with all the nutrients he needs, but the pellets fail to give him the fiber so essential to good health.
When you purchase Chilli's hay ensure that it's nothing less than high quality. You've probably never noticed, but you really can find hay in most pet stores.
Usually packed in plastic bags the most common type of hay is timothy grass. If, for some reason, you can find that, you can always substitute alfalfa (if your chinchilla will eat it).
Be wary, though, of other kinds of hay. You certainly don't want to choose hay that is dusty. Your chinchilla's respiratory system may not be able to handle it.
This is especially true of the hay if it happens to be stale or if it should smell moldy to you. Don't even give it to your furry friend.
Sometimes a few "unwanted" plants get bundled in with the hay. These are plants -- like thistle and a few potentially poisonous ones -- which could harm him.
Now, check out the size of Chilli. Got a good idea of how big he really is? Do I need remind you to buy his hay in small quantities? When you do this, his food is less likely to go stale. You know how you hate to eat stale cereal? This is the closest analogy I can compare it to. So, I'm sure you don't want to intentionally put your chinchilla through this.
Hay! Now that's a good question. Your chinchilla, ideally, requires about a handful of hay daily. But it doesn't appear that anyone has ever systematically measured this.
And while, yes, it's very important that a chinchilla has a fresh supply of hay, you can easily just top off his hay rack as necessary.
Do your best to keep he hay off the floor so it won't get mixed in with the bedding.
Do your children think the alfalfa cube is a new video game? Why am I not surprised? The alfalfa cube is actually a good alternative to hay in your chinchilla's diet.
There's just one small stumbling block. Not every chinchilla is willing to taste them. This is especially true if their only source prior to this has been hay.
For some chinchillas it appears that the dense nature of the cube bothers them. You may want to break the cubes up a bit. Perhaps Chilli will eat this way.
It probably would be wise not to stock up on these cubes until you're sure your chinchilla eats this. Expect your Chilli to eat approximately one cube of alfalfa a day. Make sure he gets enough hay or alfalfa on a daily basis. It's extremely important that he keeps his fiber intake up. If your chinchilla feels as if he's not receiving enough fiber, the consequences could be less than pleasant. He may even pull out his own fur and eat it in an attempt to gain this nutrient in his diet.
You can also buy a hay mix for your little guy. Of course, as I said earlier you need to be careful on the type of mix. But this is a great method of getting the furry friend a mixture of nutrients. Some of the most common combinations include oat, timothy and alfalfa.
Chilli would be delighted to eat his vegetables, especially if they are offered to him fresh. Believe it or not, you'll only want to give him, though, small amounts of this type of food. Large quantities will only upset his digestive system.
Avoid offering him members of the cabbage family though. Foods like broccoli and Brussels sprouts can give Chilli gas.
But, don't worry. There are still many veggies your chinchilla can eat - and will love. These include the red-leaved forms of lettuce as well as the tops of carrots, and parsley and chard.
Try to buy only organic vegetables for Chilli. Otherwise you risk exposing him to unnecessary pesticides. And his delicate body may react to this. Remember it would take far less an amount of pesticide to affect his tiny body than it would to bother ours.
Technically, your chinchilla really doesn't require greens as apart of his rudimentary diet. That's why you don't need to feed him an abundance of these foods. If you get too enthusiastic in giving him vegetables, he may experience ... why, yes ... digestive distress.
Be sure, though, that any veggies you do offer him is fresh. Your chinchilla can obtain maximum nutrients out of these! And that's make sense, since it's the best way for us to eat these foods as well.
Can you? that would be ideal. Of course, it's only ideal if you don't use pesticides on your garden to keep the bugs out. You can even use something as small and as simple as a windowsill garden to grow these green treats for your friend.
Not only does this ensure it's a constant fresh supply of organic food, most families find it's great fun as well. And if you've never cooked with fresh herbs before, you may be trying it on your own meals as well. It really is a delight!
Surprisingly, chinchillas have an affinity for several types of herbs. Who knew? Providing these fresh to him throughout the year would be an enormous treat -- for both him and you! so what type of herbs are his favorites.
Let's start with the mint plant. This herb comes in several varieties, but it appears chinchillas don't really care about that aspect of it. And it's easy to grow. A tough, hardy plant, you'll discover it popping up between rocks and even through your pavement.
Basil is another herb your chinchilla appreciates that you can easily grow. It needs relative warm weather to be truly a happy plant. And it tends not to do very well outdoors. It would much rather grow inside. And just like the mint plant, there are various strains of basil from which to choose.
Got thyme? If so, you'll probably have a happy chinchilla. This plant is considered a "creeper." No it doesn't mean you look at it and it creeps you out. It means it doesn't grow tall. It lies low along the dirt and grows out.
Oregano is also a good choice for your little pal. And yes, it really is an easy plant to grow.
But here's an herb you probably never thought to offer your friend. Heck, you probably don't even view it as an herb. You might think of it as a weed.
It's the dandelion. Yes, that very same dandelion that gardeners and householders nationwide try to eliminate. And yes some parts are edible. But they are really only edible if you know -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- that they are pesticide free. (You know it always comes back to that!)
That means you probably don't want to go to your neighbor's after his lawn care guy has just treated his yard to pick dandelions.
Dandelion leaves are at their most abundant in the early spring and early summer. There's a second growth during the initial stages of fall as well. But even at that, with a little effort, you can find leaves the entire year long.
Dandelions (and this should come as no surprise) are easy to cultivate in the winter months. Just dig up several of the long whitish roots of these plants before the cold snap occurs.
Chop these roots into lengths of one to two inches. Then set these pieces vertically into pots, with one end just protruding above the surface of the soil. This is where you'll eventually find the leaves growing.
Keep the pots in a spot throughout the winter months. Actually, it will only take a few weeks for you to notice you actually have a crop of leaves for Chilli to chew. Cool! Isn't it?
Boy, how I wish I could tell you that a chinchilla is the type of animal who is by nature, self regulating when it comes to eating. I wish I could you that when you give your friend a treat and she's not hungry, she's not going to eat it.
Yes, I would love to tell you that. But, if I did I would be lying. That means -- especially when it regards treats -- you have to be the responsible adult in the household (don't you just hate that?). Treats are a wonderful way to help your pet learn socialization skills, as we've already seen.
And just one trip to your neighborhood pet store tells you that all animals love treats (or we as humans love to give treats to all of our pets!). Just like our "junk food", treats for pets are plentiful not only in the pet store but at your local grocery store and other stores as well.
Should you decide to use these types of treats -- the store bought variety -- be sure you follow the instructions on the package. You can easily satisfy Chilli's "sweet tooth" as is were without that midnight drive to the pet store.
He's quite content if you can give him some "people food." And one of his favorites is the raisin. Yep, the raisin. Your friend will love these. Guaranteed.
But you really do need to be careful about how many you give him. When it concerns raisins, you don't want to give any more than one a day. And you only want to offer these to Chilli every other day. If your chinchilla is still a kit -- or a baby -- then you only want to give him a raisin twice a week.
You've seen them sold as bird food. But chinchillas love them too. They're the black sunflower seeds. Keep in mind that this treat is just that a treat. It's not the staple of your chin's diet. So limits are best set early. The high oil content of this seed can easily contribute to an eventual weight problem if your friend eats too many of these.
Every so often you may want to offer Chilli a piece of apple or a grape. He'll love both of these too.
If you're trying to figure out how to limit your chinchilla's treat rationally, I've discovered a really cool rule of thumb. Never give Chilli more than what amounts to one teaspoon of "treat" per day!
Technically, water might not be considered a part of your chinchilla's diet. However, without it, he would die -- just like we would. So it would be nice to get some guidelines on this.
Every chinchilla requires a constant access to water. No exceptions. Part of the reason for thisis because such a large portion of his diet is derived from the commercially made pellets. While nutritionally dense, they don't supply much moisture.
For the most part, you can give your chinchilla ordinary tap water without any worries or concerns. Of course, I know some chinchilla parents who insist on filtering the water to remove as much chlorine as possible.
It's best to give Chilli water at room temperature. Anything colder than this may upset his system. If for some reason you prefer to provide your chinchilla with bottled water, keep in mind that in many cases, depending on the brand, it's not very different from your own tap water.
That wraps up the diet needs of your chinchilla. They're fairly simple and straightforward. And I'm confident you're well on your way to being a very responsible -- and loving -- parent of a happy and healthy chinchilla!
In the next chapter, we're going to discuss a little bit about his health. Usually very healthy animals, chinchillas sometimes need medical care. It's best to know what to do ahead of time, rather than waste valuable time after he's showing symptoms of an illness.