Chinchillas are rodents, and rodents eat cheese, right? As it turns out, cheese might be one of the worst things you could feed a chinchilla.
Can chinchillas eat cheese? They shouldn’t as they’re lactose intolerant, so cheese can cause bloating and diarrhea. Your chinchilla’s gut doesn’t contain the right bacteria to digest cheese, so it ferments, causing gas. As chinchillas struggle to pass gas it can build up and rupture your pet’s stomach or gut. Even if it didn’t, cheese is too high in fat and calories so will make your chinchilla overweight. We recommend healthy treats like rose hips or sweet hay instead.
The guide below first looks at the precise nutritional content of cheese to figure out why it isn’t suitable for chinchillas. It will then look at the potential side-effects of cheese and various cheese products like low fat and lactose-free. And while we don’t recommend feeding any, we’ve also suggested guidelines on how much to feed if you’re going to do so anyway (and it’s not a lot!)
Can Chinchillas Eat Cheese?
Chinchillas have no trouble physically eating cheese. It won’t make your pet choke, and it isn’t instantly poisonous. But there are several problems with cheese that make it unsuitable:
- Chinchillas can’t or struggle to digest lactose
- Cheese is very high in calories, which is especially bad as it’s so dense
- The carbohydrate, fat, protein and fiber levels in cheese are unsuitable for your chinchilla’s diet
As such, we recommend against feeding your chinchilla any cheese.
Do Chinchillas Like Cheese?
Chinchillas enjoy any kind of food that isn’t like normal hay. While they will be happy and thrive even if they never have treats, snacks do get your pet excited, and cheese is no different. On top of that, cheese is high in fat and calories, so is enormously appetizing (for reasons we’ll get to later).
What your chinchilla won’t enjoy are the after-effects of eating cheese. Bloating and diarrhea can both be very painful for your pet, and the calories in cheese (roughly twice what your chinchilla needs per 100g) will eventually make your pet gain weight.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Eat Cheese?
Rodent or not, chinchillas can’t eat cheese because of its unsuitable nutritional content, high-calorie density and potential to cause bloating and diarrhea. To understand why cheese is so unsuitable, we first have to look at the specific levels of each nutrient in cheese, and compare them to what chinchillas really need.
Nutrients in Cheese
The table below uses data from NutritionValue.org, and details the nutrients you’ll find in regular cheddar cheese. While there are many varieties of cheese, they are all generally high in calories and contain lots of fat and protein, so the table below applies to all kinds.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Requirements|
As is clear, the core issue is that cheese is very high in calories compared to a chinchilla’s normal food. It’s roughly twice the calories per weight, so if you feed your chinchilla cheese regularly, it will get fatter.
Cheese & Weight Gain
You can figure out how cheese will affect your chinchilla’s weight by using basic math. Chinchillas eat 5% of their body weight per day, so if your chinchilla weighs 500g (roughly average), it will eat 25g of hay. Timothy hay contains between 45-50 calories per 25g, so that’s about your chinchilla’s daily calorific needs. That means a tiny 12-13g slice of cheese would give your pet all the calories it needs in a day. That’s about the weight of two quarters.
This problem is made worse because cheese is much easier for your chinchilla to eat than hay. Eating ten grams of hay takes your pet a lot of effort. It has to cut the hay into small chunks with its incisors, before grinding it down slowly with its molars. And because hay is so light, your chinchilla has to eat a lot of stalks of hay to eat ten whole grams. But cheese can be eaten much more easily because:
- It’s a soft texture so your chinchilla hardly has to chew it
- It’s a far denser food than hay; ten grams is a small chunk of cheese, while ten grams of hay is a physically large amount (to your chinchilla at least); in any case a lot larger than ten grams of cheese
- Your chinchilla will enjoy having something new to snack on
On top of all that, your chinchilla is hard-wired to eat as much cheese as it possibly can. That’s not specific to cheese, but to any fatty, high-calorie food. That’s because these foods are rarely found in the wild, so animals that encounter them have to make the most of them and eat as much as possible in one go.
What this means is that your chinchilla will eat lots of cheese if given the chance. In this sense, cheese is to a chinchilla what unhealthy snack foods are to people—and, in fact, what cheese is to people as it’s an unhealthy food for us too!
Carbohydrates, Fat, Protein & Fiber in Cheese
Besides the issue of weight gain, cheese doesn’t offer the right amount of each nutrient. Here’s a list that breaks this issue down:
- Cheese has nowhere near enough carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are like basic energy. Hay gives your chinchilla just about enough energy to get through the day, which is why your pet sleeps so often (and no, that’s not a bad thing—the same applies to wild chinchillas too).
- Cheese has far too much fat. The high calorie density of cheese is due to its fat content. Chinchillas hardly need any fat because they get precious little of it in the wild.
- Cheese has no fiber whatsoever, while chinchillas need more even than we do. Fiber makes stool firm, and your chinchilla’s digestive system is set up perfectly to break down even tough fibers. To be blunt, low-fiber foods shoot right through your pet’s gut.
- Cheese has too much water. Even though it’s not a watery food like cucumber or celery, cheese still contains far too much water for your pet. This combines with low fiber content to make your chinchilla’s stool soft, even runny.
As for the sugar and protein content of cheese, this isn’t too far from what a chinchilla needs. But considering the list above, and the issues of weight gain, bloating and diarrhea, this is hardly benefit enough.
Vitamins and Minerals in Cheese
Cheese isn’t regarded as any kind of health food, but it contains a surprising variety of minerals and vitamins.
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
One issue here is cheese’s high level of calcium. Calcium is one mineral that chinchillas need a controlled intake of; both deficiencies and excesses can cause health problems. Your chinchilla likely gets close to its calcium needs through its hay, especially if the pellets you feed it contain alfalfa (which is high in calcium). As such, feeding cheese on top of an appopriate diet could cause excess calcium and resulting bladder stones. If your chin has low calcium, a far better way to increase its intake is though a cuttle bone.
While having an excess of the other vitamins and minerals here isn’t as likely or as dangerous, the large quantity of them in cheese is at best useless. Your chinchilla can get everything it needs from hay and hay pellets, so supplementation of the diet with micronutrient-dense snacks is pointless.
Can Chinchillas Eat Cheese Puffs?
Cheese puffs aren’t suitable either, but not for the precise same reasons.
Most kinds of cheese puff do have real cheese (or at least real whey powder) in them. They therefore contain lactose just like real cheese, although not as much. They would therefore cause similar problems to regular cheese, albeit not as bad. Instead, the main problems with cheese puffs are:
- They’re high in fats, sugars and salts so will make your chinchilla gain weight
- They’re low in micronutrients, so fed in large enough quantities could cause deficiency
- Your chinchilla’s gut isn’t used to maize or wheat that cheese puffs are typically made from
So overall, they’re even worse for chinchillas than they are for us!
Can Chinchillas Eat Low-Fat Cheese?
Cheese with some or most of the fat removed would be better than regular cheese. It’s far lower in calories, and has closer to a chinchilla’s actual fat requirements. But despite that, we still wouldn’t recommend it.
That’s because low-fat cheese still contains lactose, and it’s lactose that your chinchilla struggles to digest the most. It’s lactose that can cause soft stool and bloating, which are the two most severe side effects of your chinchilla eating cheese.
Can Chinchillas Eat Lactose-Free Cheese?
Lactose-free cheese would be better again than low-fat cheese. Lactose-free cheese can be made from things like coconut oil, almonds and soy.
Again though, lactose-free cheese still has drawbacks, so you shouldn’t feed it. Just because the cheese doesn’t have lactose in it, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy: it’s still high in fat, and your chinchilla’s gut still isn’t used to it. It may therefore still have some bloating effect, and would make your chinchilla gain weight if fed as a regular snack.
Is Cheese Poisonous to Chinchillas?
Adult chinchillas are lactose intolerant. So, while cheese isn’t ‘poisonous’ per se, it’s not good for your chinchilla’s gut.
This might come as a surprise, as lactose intolerance seems like a very ‘human’ condition. But people are actually the only animal that continues drinking milk and eating dairy products after childhood. As such, people who eat dairy have the same gut bacteria they had when they were younger—the gut bacteria that can digest lactose. The same can’t be said for your chinchilla, as once chinchillas wean, they never drink milk or eat dairy again.
As such, eating cheese causes the same gut problems in chinchillas as it does in people who are lactose intolerant. Your chinchilla’s gut can’t fully break down the cheese, so rather than being digested, the cheese ferments. This produces lots of gas, and can also cause diarrhea.
The problem is that chinchillas can’t pass gas easily. This gas therefore builds up until there’s far too much of it, causing your chinchilla significant discomfort in a way that’s similar to IBS. But beyond that, so much gas can accumulate that it can rupture your chinchilla’s gut lining or stomach lining. While this won’t happen if you give your chinchilla a tiny sliver of cheese, it does mean you should feed other snacks instead.
How Come Rats Can Eat Cheese But Not Chinchillas?
Rats are scavengers that use people as their primary food source. They therefore continue to eat dairy products throughout their lives, at least in parts of the world where dairy is common. These rats can therefore eat dairy with no problem, just as we can eat dairy if we never fully wean from it.
Chinchillas aren’t scavengers. They live in a desolate part of the world called the Andes Mountains, high up where there aren’t any people. They feed on wild plants and don’t ever eat dairy, apart from drinking milk when they’re still kits. If you were to hypothetically feed your chinchilla cheese from a young age, it wouldn’t ever fully wean, so would avoid the IBS/lactose intolerance-style problems of diarrhea and gas. But cheese is highly unsuitable anyway, so there’s no reason to do this.
How Much Cheese Can Chinchillas Eat?
We would recommend against feeding your chinchilla any cheese, even the smallest amount. While a tiny chunk likely won’t cause terrible diarrhea and gas, it’s better not to take that risk or to cause discomfort to your pet.
If you want to feed your chinchilla cheese, to do so without making it gain weight, you would have to feed a tiny portion. Something the size of a raisin wouldn’t be too bad, although even that would still make your chin gain weight if you fed it regularly.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Cheese?
Again, we recommend against ever feeding your chinchilla cheese, so the ideal frequency is ‘never’! Chopping and changing your chinchilla’s diet is a bad idea even if you’re switching between things you know to be suitable, as new foods cause stomach upsets.
If you’re going to feed your pet cheese anyway, at least control how often you do so. Once a week should be the absolute maximum. Even this will make your pet gain weight gradually, as your chinchilla will still eat its hay throughout the week and even the day you feed it its snack.
Should Chinchillas Eat Cheese?
The short answer is ‘no’.
The longer answer is that cheese can cause bloating and diarrhea as it isn’t digested quickly or efficiently in your pet’s gut. Any that is digested is far too calorie-dense for your chinchilla to handle, so will make it gain weight. We therefore recommend you only feed known suitable snacks like rose hips, sweet hay, dandelion and so on.