Most people think chinchillas and other rodents should eat greens like kale. But how true is that? Is kale good for chinchillas, or bad for their health?
Can chinchillas eat kale? They shouldn’t, as it can cause dangerous gas and bloating. The chinchilla’s digestive system isn’t used to kale, so it can cause fermentation in the gut. Since chinchillas struggle to pass gas, this gas accumulates to dangerous levels, and can rupture the stomach or gut lining. This won’t happen if the kale is fed in small amounts, but we still don’t recommend feeding any. Stick to approved treats like rose hips or shredded wheat instead.
The guide below looks at the specific nutritional content of kale to explain why it’s not suitable. And if you insist on feeding kale despite the effects it causes, we’ve also given guidelines on the maximum safe amounts you can feed (not a lot).
Can Chinchillas Eat Kale?
Chinchillas can physically eat kale. It won’t make them choke. There’s no need to chop it up finely as some guides suggest, as chinchillas know how to chew and break up food. And it won’t poison your pet, either. Rather, the problem with kale is its nutritional content.
Do Chinchillas Like Kale?
Chinchillas love kale—that’s part of the problem.
Chins enjoy eating any kind of new food, especially any food that has a strong taste, either bitter and ‘green’ or sweet and fatty. They don’t need it, but they like variety, as wild chinchillas enjoy eating a wide variety of grasses and roots. As such, your chinchilla would love eating kale if you offered any.
However, kale isn’t good for chinchillas. It doesn’t contain the right nutrients, but beyond that, it can be actively bad for your pet. In that sense, kale is a lot like the snacks that we eat, and should be thought of in that way.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Eat Kale?
Chinchillas can’t eat kale due to what it contains. To understand why it’s not only inadequate but actively bad for your pet, you have to look at its precise nutritional values.
Nutrients in Kale
The table below contains data from NutritionValue.org, a site with detailed nutritional information on most kinds of food. It shows the carbohydrate, fiber, sugar, protein and fat contents of kale.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Requirements|
It should be obvious from the table above alone that kale isn’t precisely right for your chin.
Carbohydrates, Protein & Fat in Kale
Kale contains the wrong mix of nutrients for your chinchilla. This isn’t a major issue if you’re only planning on feeding it as a snack, but it does rule out the idea that chins should eat a diet solely or mostly of greens.
Kale contains slightly less protein than chinchillas need at 2.9g per 100g. The proportion of fat to overall food intake is adequate at 1.5g per 100g. But it’s kale’s carbohydrate content that’s the big let-down, since it contains a fraction of what chins ideally need.
While diet plans might tell you so, there’s no need to cut carbs or any other nutrient from your chinchilla’s diet. Your chinchilla needs carbohydrates of both kinds (simple and complex) for energy. It eats hay all day because it needs the fibrous energy it provides, and kale has nowhere near enough to sustain your pet throughout its day. So, if you fed your chin nothing but kale, it would lose weight and eventually pass away. The same applies to most greens and vegetables.
This isn’t such a problem if you feed kale as a snack. There are many snacks, like nuts and seeds, which do contain lots of calories due to their fat and protein content. These can make chinchillas gain weight. Kale fed as a snack wouldn’t affect your chin’s weight because it would still get the calories it needs from hay.
Water & Fiber in Kale
Kale has lots of fiber in it, at least for a person. That’s one of the many reasons people eat it. However, chinchillas need lots more fiber than people do, and even kale doesn’t have enough. The reason for this is that kale contains lots of water. 89% of kale by weight is water, which is a lot for a food. That doesn’t leave much room for anything else, like fiber.
Besides that, wild chinchillas like to get their water from food, but pet chinchillas don’t need to. That’s why we give them water bottles. As such, there’s a real risk that your pet will ingest too much water as a result of eating kale. This could make your chinchilla’s stool loose, or even give it diarrhea. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of fiber. Fiber makes stools firmer, and a lack of fiber makes stools looser.
Vitamins & Minerals in Kale
The table below is from NutritionValue.org like the one above, but this one details the various micronutrients you can find in kale:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
|Vitamin A||4812 IU|
Kale has a lot of calcium in it, and that’s one of the reasons people like it so much. However, it doesn’t contain as much calcium as timothy hay, and nowhere near as much as alfalfa. So, despite what other guides say, this isn’t a major problem (if it were, it would cause bladder stones).
However, having a wide range of micronutrients isn’t necessarily a good thing. That’s because your chinchilla should get all the minerals and vitamins that it needs from its hay pellets and fresh hay. There’s no need for it to eat specific snacks high in this mineral or that vitamin, and there’s typically no need for chinchillas to have supplements for the same reason. As such, kale’s wide range of micronutrients isn’t a point either for or against it; it’s irrelevant. And even if your chinchilla were deficient in certain nutrients, it would be better to feed it a supplement rather than kale.
Is Kale Poisonous to Chinchillas?
Kale isn’t poisonous, strictly speaking. But it can be very bad for your pet.
There are several reasons why. The first is that, as described above, it can exacerbate or cause loose stools. This has knock-on issues, as the loose poop gets stuck in your chinchilla’s fur and causes matting.
But besides that, greens like kale can cause heavy bloating. In chinchillas, bloating is a very serious issue. Your pet has difficulty passing gas, so it will accumulate in its stomach and gut. This can continue until your pet’s belly is swollen and taut like a drum, and its intestine or stomach lining can even rupture, killing it.
There are a few reasons why this happens. The first is that foods like broccoli and kale cause gas on their own. But besides that, your pet isn’t used to eating greens like these; its digestive system is primed to deal with very high fiber foods that are low in water. When an animal eats foods it isn’t used to, gas is the result, as the foods ferment in the gastrointestinal tract, causing gas.
This is unlikely to happen if you feed your pet only a small amount of kale. But as there are snacks that don’t cause this issue, there’s no logical reason to feed kale instead.
How Much Kale Can Chinchillas Eat?
We recommend against feeding your chinchilla any kale because of the issues described above. As such, the ideal amount that you should feed to your pet is none.
If you are going to feed your chinchilla kale despite this, please at least limit the portion size that you offer. A small amount of kale the size of your pinky fingernail won’t give your chinchilla serious digestive issues. Feeding more than that may trigger them, though.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Kale?
It takes time for a chinchilla to deal with gas and bloating. As such, feeding your pet kale on a regular basis could cause excess bloating even if you limit portion sizes. Again, we don’t recommend feeding any kale, but if you are going to anyway, limit feeding to once per week.
Should Chinchillas Eat Kale?
We recommend that instead of feeding your pet kale, you feed it one of many other suitable snacks. These snacks are far better for chinchillas: they contain the right amounts of protein, fat, water and carbohydrate and won’t cause bloating. They’re also probably cheaper than kale, so are better for your wallet too. Consider feeding:
- Rose hips. These are the tiny fruits of the rose plant. You can buy dried-out rose hips that chinchillas enjoy. They have a unique, strong taste.
- Shredded wheat. Shredded wheat has roughly the right nutrients for chins (the kind without lots of added sugar, at least).
- Chamomile flowers. Chinchillas enjoy eating any kind of flower or flower petal. Again, dried out chamomile flowers are best as they’re low in water.
- Sweet hay. Sweet hay is like normal hay, but tastes sweeter, as it has a slightly higher sugar content.
These snacks are easy enough to find online or at pet stores.
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