Lavender has a great reputation as a helpful herb. But would either its raw form, or lavender essential oil, be good for chinchillas? And if so, or if not, why?
Can chinchillas eat lavender? It’s possible that they can, although there’s no reason to feed it. Some owners report feeding it and have found that it’s not poisonous, despite it having a very strong and unpleasant taste when eaten in large quantities. But certain compounds in lavender like linalool and limonene, which are especially concentrated in the essential oil, may be bad for chinchillas. There’s no need to experiment with your chinchilla’s diet, so we recommend feeding known suitable snacks like shredded wheat, botanical hay or rose hips instead.
The guide below addresses what’s known about lavender as a culinary herb, why it might be suitable or unsuitable for chinchillas, and whether lavender derivatives like essential oil would be suitable too.
Can Chinchillas Eat Lavender?
There’s mixed anecdotal evidence regarding the use of lavender as a snack for chinchillas. Some people say that they have fed it in the past with no ill effects, while some guides say that it may be poisonous in some way.
The first thing to note is that feeding lavender isn’t some kind of instant death sentence. Your chinchilla won’t choke on it, as it knows to chew its food. It doesn’t contain cyanide or some other well-known poison that will make your chinchilla keel over and perish.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy, either. There are lots of foods chinchillas can eat which will cause dramatic weight gain, for example, or gradual bloating (which is more serious for chinchillas than it is for us). While lavender doesn’t seem to have either of these effects, there may be some that haven’t yet been documented.
Do Chinchillas Like Lavender?
Chinchillas like eating any food that’s new. They enjoy strong tastes, whether those tastes are sharp and sweet, bitter, or smooth and fatty. They’re trained, in a sense, to seek out variety as this is what they have to do in the wild.
Lavender has a famously strong scent and taste. Your chinchilla will therefore likely be interested in eating it. Chins enjoy any kind of variety, so will enjoy the new and unusual taste of lavender too.
That doesn’t mean it’s suitable, though. Chinchillas, like people, can make poor dietary choices. So, for example, your pet stuff its face with sunflower seeds if they were offered, even though they would quickly make it gain weight. It’s your job as the owner to make good decisions regarding your chinchilla’s diet—and not your chinchilla’s.
Is Lavender Poisonous to Chinchillas?
Fresh lavender won’t prove instantly poisonous to your pet. Lavender is, in fact, used in dishes in various cultures around the world. Like many things, a little lavender isn’t bad for you, while a lot of lavender can be.
The same applies to pets. But in addition, certain chemical compounds that aren’t bad for people, are bad for pets. Limonene and linalool are poisonous to certain pets like dogs and cats, and may be poisonous to rodents as well. Studies have been done on other rodents, but not on chinchillas, and there’s a possibility that chins would have a more serious reaction than other pets.
At best, lavender won’t cause these effects straight away. But the effects could build up over time through continuous feeding.
Nutrients in Lavender
The precise nutritional content of lavender isn’t something that has been studied extensively. That’s because while it is used in food in some cultures, its use isn’t widespread; and when it is used, hardly any is needed to provide the distinctive lavender taste.
What we do know is that lavender doesn’t contain fat or protein. It’s mostly fiber, which is a good thing, as chinchillas need lots of the stuff.
Carbohydrate, Fat & Protein
Lavender contains no fat and no protein. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
First, the positives: this is good as it means that lavender is low in calories. Carbohydrates contain calories like fat and protein do, but the difference is that fat and protein contain more calories per gram. This means that one tablespoon of pure sugar would have fewer calories than one tablespoon of pure fat. As such, your chinchilla won’t gain weight by eating lavender as a snack.
However, this is also a bad thing. Chinchillas enjoy eating a mixture of carbs, fat and protein. While you may not think so to look at it, regular grass contains fat and protein; and since hay is dried grass, it contains a greater proportion of fat and protein by weight because most of the water has gone. This provides your pet with the ideal energy balance. Lavender wouldn’t do that.
What is good about lavender is that it’s high in fiber. Roughly half of the carbohydrates in lavender are fiber, which is good.
Vitamins & Minerals in Lavender
Unfortunately, since lavender isn’t a common foodstuff—and since there’s so much pseudoscience surrounding it—the precise vitamins and minerals you’ll find in lavender aren’t clear. It’s likely that it has some vitamins and minerals, although whether it has lots or hardly any of each isn’t known.
But that’s not a major barrier to our understanding of whether it’s suitable for chinchillas. Chinchillas should get all the micronutrients they need from their diet of hay and hay pellets. This means they don’t typically require supplements or snacks known to be replete with certain vitamins or minerals. It therefore doesn’t matter if we don’t know what vitamins and minerals lavender contains, as it’s a moot point.
Can Chinchillas Eat Lavender Oil?
The only kind of lavender you should even consider feeding to your pet is pure, ‘raw’ French lavender. That means you shouldn’t feed your pet any kind of lavender oil, cleaning products, or derivatives.
While essential oils are rightly called oils—they get the name because they’re viscous and don’t mix well with water—that doesn’t mean that they’re the same thing as the oils you eat in foods. Essential oils should never be ingested, either by you or your pet. That’s because they’re highly concentrated, so can cause intense irritation to the skin and to the insides, even if the unprocessed version of whatever the oil is made from wouldn’t do the same.
The compounds that make lavender an irritant—such as limonene and linalool—are found in greater concentrations in lavender essential oil. That’s why it will cause these effects while regular lavender won’t.
How Much Lavender Can Chinchillas Eat?
We don’t recommend feeding your chinchilla large amounts of lavender. That’s because its use hasn’t been documented widely, and the chemical compounds mentioned above may be bad for your pet. Some owners report that they have offered it as a snack without side effects or ill health, but it’s a bad idea to take anecdotal evidence as fact; lavender may have a health effect on chinchillas that hasn’t yet been noted.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Lavender?
Due to the reasons described above, we don’t recommend feeding lavender at any frequency. If for whatever reason you’re going to feed it to your pet anyway, at least limit the frequency with which you do feed it. This would a) stop any potential side effects from being too serious, and b) not put your chinchilla off the rest of its food, which snacks often do.
Should Chinchillas Eat Lavender?
We recommend against any kind of new and experimental foods for chinchillas. There are foods, both core dietary foods and snacks, which we know are good for chinchillas; these are like the grasses and plant roots that chins eat in the wild. Early owners knew that these foods would probably be OK for their chins, and they were right. Our pets thrive on these foods to this day.
There are likely many foods that aren’t commonly given to chinchillas which would actually be fine for them. It’s possible that lavender is one of them. But to figure out which are fine and which aren’t, you would be performing an experiment of sorts on your pet, and it’s possible that it could become sick if you do so. It’s for this reason that we suggest you stick to known suitable foods.
If you are intent on giving your chinchilla snacks, don’t despair. There are plenty of options available for you to choose from, including:
- Rose hips. These are the fruits of the rose plant. They can be dried out and make a fibrous, strong-tasting treat for chins.
- Shredded wheat. Some cereals are suitable for chinchillas, like Shredded Wheat and plain Cheerios. So long as the cereal doesn’t have added sugar or any unusual ingredients, it should be fine.
- Sweet hay. There are some kinds of hay that have a distinctive sweet taste, which is something that chinchillas enjoy. You can also get hay that’s mixed with herbs for a more savory taste (botanical hay).
These treats have long been fed to chinchillas, and in sensible quantities, don’t cause any kinds of health issues. We therefore suggest you stick with these, and others like them, instead.
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