Meat is a dense and nutritious food, but not all animals eat it. Wild chinchillas don’t eat meat, but could it be good for pet chinchillas?
Can chinchillas eat meat? They will, although it will cause gas and bloating which can severely affect your chinchilla’s health. It is nutritionally inadequate: it contains no fiber, which chinchillas need lots of, and too much fat. All kinds of meat are unsuitable including cooked and raw, chicken, beef, pork and fish. We recommend feeding safe snacks like rose hips and shredded wheat instead.
The guide below first looks at whether chinchillas physically can and do eat meat, before detailing the nutrients in meat and why they’re unsuitable. It will then cover what effect meat would have on your chinchilla’s body and why, before making recommendations on how much meat is safe for your chinchilla to ingest.
Can Chinchillas Eat Meat?
The jury is out on whether wild chinchillas eat ‘meat’. While it’s thought that they may supplement their diet with insects occasionally, evidence of this has not yet been found (see linked guide). And what’s clear is that chinchillas a) don’t hunt, and b) don’t scavenge, so they don’t eat any other kind of meat either.
As is the case when an animal is a herbivore or a carnivore, it can’t switch its diet to anything it wants. Your chinchilla’s gut is perfectly designed to extract as much nutrition from fibrous foods like grasses/hay as it can, which is why chinchillas eat their cecotropes. By feeding your chinchilla a food with no fiber in it, you don’t meet its nutritional needs.
So, even if your chinchilla will physically eat meat that you give it, that doesn’t mean it should, or that it can digest it.
Do Chinchillas Like Meat?
Chinchillas like to eat anything new. While they don’t need variety, they enjoy it, and that includes meat. What your pet won’t enjoy are the health effects like gas, bloating and nutritional deficiencies that it will experience if it’s fed meat regularly.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Eat Meat?
To understand why meat isn’t appropriate, you have to look at its nutritional values.
The core problem with meat is that it doesn’t contain fiber. It has exactly none, unless it’s a kind of processed meat that has something fibrous added to it. This is a major issue because a large proportion of the chinchilla’s diet should be fiber. Hay, for example, has around 10-30% fiber (depending on the variety and how dry it is).
Nutrients in Meat
Here is a table that contains data from NutritionValue.org. The data applies to raw ground beef, uncooked, without oil or anything else added. While not all meat has the precise same nutritional values, the broad outline is the same.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Requirements|
Straight away, there should be several things that you notice. The following sections break these issues down.
Carbohydrates, Sugar, Fiber
Unlike what many diets lead you to believe, carbohydrates and sugar aren’t the enemy. Your chinchilla needs certain amounts of each to meet its needs. While pure sugar is less important, your chinchilla does need carbs, in the shape of fiber.
Your chinchilla’s gut is all but tailor-made to follow a high-fiber diet. There are two ways in which this is the case:
- Your chinchilla has just the right gut bacteria to digest the fiber in hay. Different kinds of gut bacteria digest different kinds of fiber, or sugar, protein or fat.
- Your chinchilla eats ‘cecotropes’. These are soft poops that your chinchilla produces at night, which it then eats. As disgusting as that might sound, this allows the chinchilla to digest the food again, so it can absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from it. Lots of animals, including rabbits, do this too.
If your chinchilla’s diet doesn’t have any fiber in it, this digestive system is upset. The gut bacteria that specialize in digesting the fiber in hay can’t suddenly switch to digesting so much fat and animal proteins (which we’ll come to in a moment). When this happens, the food ferments and causes gas, which can cause bloating.
Sugars are simple carbohydrates while fibers are complex carbohydrates. While your chinchilla shouldn’t have too much sugar, it is useful as a quick source of energy, and there are small amounts in fresh or dried grasses (i.e. hay). Meat lacks these.
Fat & Protein in Meat
The fat and protein content in meat isn’t too far from what chinchillas need, but this certainly doesn’t make it an appropriate choice.
Where meat is suitable is in its protein content. Chinchillas need between 16-21% protein in their diets, and meat provides precisely that. But chinchillas can get all the protein they need from hay and hay pellets, so there’s no need to supplement their diet with supposedly ‘high-protein’ meats.
Where meat is certainly inappropriate is in its fat content. Chinchillas have adapted to a low-fat diet, as fat sources they can eat are scarce. Chinchillas only need 2-4% fat, while meat provides 13%, which is far too much. This would be more of an issue if meat contained lots of sugars, as then it would be very high in calories. Since it isn’t, this high fat content wouldn’t make your chinchilla gain weight. But the fact that meat is very dense would.
Water in Meat
A surprising amount of water is found in meat: around 67g per 100g. This level changes if the meat is cooked, but nevertheless remains high. Chins need much less water than this. They have adapted to an environment and a diet that’s low in water. Wild chins live in the Andes Mountains, which are rocky and arid, so are used to eating foods that don’t have much water in them.
If they do ingest too much water, chinchillas can experience diarrhea. This is made worse because meat has no fiber in it whatsoever, meaning the stool is softer. This would only be a problem if you fed your chinchilla meat regularly, but since there are foods for both the diet and for snacks that don’t do this, it’s best to feed these instead.
Vitamins and Minerals in Meat
Meat does contain vitamins and minerals, in quite large amounts. But that isn’t necessarily a ‘tick’ in its favor.
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
The issue here is that your chinchilla should get all the vitamins and minerals it needs from its regular diet of hay. Your chin doesn’t need supplementation or a varied diet to meet these needs; fresh timothy hay and hay pellets are sufficient. This is contrary to what we’re taught about our own diets, but different animals have different needs.
Furthermore, not all animals need the same vitamins. Take vitamin C, for example. Chinchillas can produce their own vitamin C inside their bodies, so they don’t need to get any from their food. And certain animals need more of particular micronutrients than others do. Long story short, your chinchilla isn’t lacking in nutrients just from eating hay, so even if meat has lots of minerals and vitamins it won’t be good for your pet.
Is Meat Poisonous to Chinchillas?
Meat isn’t poisonous to chinchillas. Your pet won’t keel over and die the moment it eats any. However, it could have unintended health effects.
The issue is that your chinchilla is used to digesting hay. It has gut bacteria and uses enzymes that specialize in digesting high-fiber foods. When the chinchilla’s gut has to digest things it isn’t used to, it struggles. The foods ferment in the gut, creating gas. Since chinchillas struggle to pass gas, this causes dangerous levels of bloating, to the point where your chinchilla’s stomach or intestine lining could rupture.
What Meats Can Chinchillas Eat?
The statistics above relate specifically to raw ground beef, and that’s far from the only meat. So what about beef, chicken, pork or other meats? Are any of them more, or even less suitable? If so, why?
- Can Chinchillas Eat Chicken? No. While chicken is a lean meat, that doesn’t make it nutritionally suitable as it still doesn’t contain fiber.
- Can Chinchillas Eat Beef? No cut of beef is suitable for chinchillas. While some are more fatty or more tough than others, that doesn’t make a difference.
- Can Chinchillas Eat Pork? The same applies to pork. No kind of pork product from sausages to bacon is suitable for chins.
- Can Chinchillas Eat Fish? Fish is another lean ‘meat’, but again, is nutritionally unsuitable. Chinchillas never encounter fish in the wild so it stands to reason that they wouldn’t be used to eating them.
- Can Chinchillas Eat Processed Meat? Processed meat is especially bad. Not only is it nutritionally unsuitable, but it has worse health effects than regular meat (e.g. bowel cancer). While these issues have not been demonstrated in our pets, they are likely to occur in chinchillas as they do in people.
- Can Chinchillas Eat Raw Meat? Raw meat from animals that are hunted doesn’t contain bacteria. It’s only if the meat is left to sit, exposed to the air, that bacteria and bugs access it. Raw packaged meat likely has germs in it that will make your chinchilla sick.
- Can Chinchillas Eat Cooked Meat? Cooking meat goes some way to changing the nutritional makeup of meat, but not in a good way. It’s typically cooked in oil, which only adds fat—not fiber like chinchillas need. If meat is cooked without anything added, it’s still not good for your pet.
The issue is that all meats have broadly the same nutritional profile: no fiber or carbohydrates, reasonable levels of protein, and high levels of fat.
How Much Meat Can Chinchillas Eat?
We would recommend against feeding your chinchilla any meat. The problem with meat is that a chinchilla’s guts simply are not outfitted to eat it, as is clear from what’s described above.
If you are going to feed your chinchilla meat despite this, keep the portion size very small. A piece the size of your pinky fingernail would be more than enough.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Meat?
Again, we recommend against feeding your chinchilla meat entirely, so the ideal frequency is ‘never’! If you plan on feeding it anyway, you can avoid most of the ill effects above by only feeding it very occasionally: once a week at the most.
Should Chinchillas Eat Meat?
The short answer is ‘no’.
The longer answer is that meat causes digestive issues and doesn’t meet your chinchilla’s nutritional needs. As such, we recommend entirely against feeding your chinchilla any meat. That applies to cooked meat, raw meat, processed meat, dried meat, insects—any kind of meat.
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