Popcorn is a relatively healthy snack. But is it similarly suitable and good for chinchillas? Or could it cause digestive trouble like bloating?
Can chinchillas eat popcorn? They shouldn’t as it may cause digestive issues. When chinchillas eat unfamiliar foods, they can experience bloating and loose stools. It also doesn’t contain the right nutrients in the right amounts, as it has too much carbohydrates and not enough water or fiber. You should therefore only feed foods that are have a similar nutritional profile to hay, such as shredded wheat.
The guide below addresses exactly why popcorn is unsuitable with reference to official nutritional data. It also explains the effects that unfamiliar foods, especially processed human foods, will have on your chinchilla’s gut.
Can Chinchillas Eat Popcorn?
There are conflicting reports as to whether popcorn is suitable for chinchillas. On the one hand, nutritionally speaking, it’s not far away from being a suitable snack. But on the other hand, owners report that it’s not good for a chinchilla’s digestive system.
To begin with the obvious, popcorn is safe for your chinchilla to eat in that it won’t make your pet choke, and it won’t instantly poison your chinchilla either. Your chinchilla knows how to chew foods like popcorn, so feeding large chunks isn’t an issue.
But it’s the long-term digestive effects that popcorn may have that has experienced owners worried. When chinchillas eat any food they aren’t used to, especially in large quantities, it makes their stool softer. And in some cases, especially when a food contains lots of carbs that aren’t fiber, it can cause bloating.
It’s for these reasons that we don’t recommend feeding popcorn, and feeding other more suitable snacks instead.
Do Chinchillas Like Popcorn?
Chinchillas like popcorn, but if anything, that’s part of the problem.
Chins enjoy eating anything that’s new. Anything fatty, sweet or with a strong taste that they haven’t experienced before, they’ll gobble up. That includes popcorn.
This is an evolutionary adaptation chinchillas developed. When they encounter high-calorie foods in the wild, they eat as much as they can, just in case they can’t find enough food later on. They may store these calories as fat for use later on. They don’t often find high-calorie foods like nuts or seeds, though, so they won’t cause dramatic weight gain. While a captive chinchilla has constant access to food, it doesn’t recognize that it doesn’t need to eat lots of dense foods… But it will eat as much as it’s given.
In that sense, popcorn is like an unhealthy snack for your chinchilla. It’s not good for your chinchilla, but it will eat as much as it can anyway. It’s your job as the owner to recognize this, and to only feed your chinchilla suitable foods.
Nutrients in Popcorn
To fully explain what makes popcorn suitable or not, we have to understand its nutritional content. Below is a table with data from NutritionValue.org, a site that details the nutrients that different foods contain. These statistics relate specifically to air popped popcorn. Popcorn that’s popped with oil will have a higher fat content and a higher calorie content.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Requirements|
It should be immediately obvious that popcorn has too much of some things, and not enough of other things.
Carbohydrates, Protein & Fat in Popcorn
Chinchillas need a mixture of carbs, protein and fat. Only fad weight loss diets suggest you, or any animal, should cut one or more of these out. Popcorn isn’t too far away from offering what chinchillas need, but it’s far enough away that it can cause digestive issues.
To begin with, it has slightly too much fat. It will contain even more fat when cooked in oil (the stats above relate to air-popped popcorn). This is part of the reason why it contains so many calories, an issue we’ll come to in a moment.
At the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t have enough protein.
Water & Fiber in Popcorn
Popcorn has a reasonable amount of fiber. Many people mistakenly feed snacks like apples or carrots thinking they have high levels of fiber—well, popcorn has far more. It still doesn’t have quite enough for a chinchilla, which should ideally eat foods with between 20-30% fiber. But there’s at least something in there for your chinchilla’s gut, which loves fiber, to work with.
It’s a similar story with water. Pet chinchillas shouldn’t eat foods that are very high in water, because unlike their wild counterparts, they get their water from a water bottle. Adding in lots of water in food makes your chinchilla’s stool loose. And while your pet will thrive eating food with between 10-15g of water per 100g, having too little in its food is far better than having too much.
Vitamins & Minerals in Popcorn
It may surprise you to learn that popcorn has lots of vitamins and minerals. It has even more than many fruits and vegetables. Here’s a table, again with data from NutritionValue.org, which lists any micronutrients that popcorn contains significant amounts of:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
|Vitamin A||196 IU|
But it may also surprise you to learn that this is essentially irrelevant with regard to your chinchilla’s health. The fact that popcorn contains lots of vitamins and minerals isn’t relevant to whether it’s a good snack choice or not.
That’s because chinchillas should get all the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet of hay and hay pellets. Hay contains every single micronutrient they need to live to a ripe old age, and stay in good health.
And if your chinchilla does experience a deficiency, there are better ways to fix that than with popcorn. Take calcium deficiency, for example. If your chin isn’t getting enough calcium, you can fix that by feeding it some fresh alfalfa hay or alfalfa pellets. Or, you can talk to a vet and they can prescribe a liquid supplement. Both of these options are better than feeding popcorn.
Is Popcorn Poisonous to Chinchillas?
Popcorn isn’t poisonous per se, unlike something like cyanide. But it can cause health issues which you need to be aware of.
The main problem is that of digestive trouble. Popcorn may cause digestive issues in a few different ways. It may cause bloating, which in chinchillas is a far more serious issue than it is for us. Bloating in chinchillas occurs when the chinchilla’s gut has to digest something it isn’t used to, like popcorn. Chins are used to breaking down foods that are fibrous in a special sac in the intestine called the cecum. But if your chin has to digest foods that aren’t fibrous, they will be broken down too quickly, and will ferment. This causes lots of gas. And since your chinchilla struggles to pass gas, it will get bloated.
This might sound funny, but it’s not. So much gas can build up that your chinchilla’s stomach lining or gut lining can rupture. This causes internal bleeding and infection, which can kill your chinchilla. This is unlikely to happen if you feed your chin a tiny amount of popcorn, but the more you feed, the more likely it becomes.
The second health issue that you have to be aware of is weight gain.
Calories in Popcorn
Besides the health effects popcorn might cause, one thing we know for sure: it contains too many calories for your pet.
Chinchillas need, and get, around 200 calories per 100g of hay or pellets. That’s enough to keep your pet at roughly the same weight throughout its life, which is a good thing.
You might therefore assume it’s a good thing to give your chinchilla occasional, or more-than-occasional, high-calorie snacks. They could help your chinchilla save time in its day, since it doesn’t need to be eating constantly any more.
Unfortunately, your chinchilla is hardwired to eat, eat, and eat some more. It won’t eat less just because it’s had some sunflower seeds or popcorn. It will continue to eat as much hay as it ate before, meaning it will gradually gain weight (or gain weight quickly, if you give it large and continual snacks).
This is especially the case if you pop the popcorn in oil. Oil is highly calorific, since fat contains more calories per gram than either protein or carbohydrates. But even if it’s not cooked in oil, regularly feeding your chinchilla popcorn will make it gain weight. Like people, chinchillas can develop obesity and diabetes if they continually eat more calories than they need.
How Much Popcorn Can Chinchillas Eat?
We would recommend that you don’t feed your chinchilla any popcorn. As a general rule, you should avoid feeding your chinchilla any kind of highly processed human food. There are exceptions to this rule, but popcorn isn’t one of them.
If you want to feed your chinchilla popcorn despite that, at least limit the portion size you offer. A small chunk of popcorn the size of your pinky fingernail won’t be good for your pet, but also likely won’t cause significant health effects.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Popcorn?
Since we don’t recommend popcorn as a suitable snack, we would recommend against feeding it at any frequency. But again, if you’re going to do so anyway, at least limit the frequency with which you feed it: once per week in small portion sizes shouldn’t cause serious health issues.
Should Chinchillas Eat Popcorn?
There’s no logical justification for feeding your chinchilla popcorn. Not only are there the potential issues described above, but there are snacks which a) your chinchilla will enjoy as much, and which b) don’t cause any of these issues. They include:
- Shredded wheat. Yes, the cereal! This has lots of fiber, little water, and won’t cause digestive issues. Pick the entirely plain kind: no added sugar, no added corn syrup, no added anything. Just plain shredded wheat.
- Rose hips. Rose hips are the fruits of the rose plant. They can be dried out to make a unique-tasting, nutritionally suitable snack for your pet.
- Botanical hay. Botanical hay is regular hay that has herbs added to it. The hay provides the nutrients while the herbs provide an interesting flavor.
Your chinchilla will enjoy these snacks just as much as it would enjoy eating popcorn. And if you don’t like the sound of any of these snacks, don’t worry: your chinchilla will both survive and thrive if it gets no snacks at all. While chinchillas enjoy variety, they don’t need it, as their hay and pellets should supply them with everything they need.
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