Chinchillas enjoy greens and veggies, but they aren’t always a health choice. So what about spinach? Is it nutritionally adequate, or might it cause bloating?
Can chinchillas eat spinach? While it’s not as harmful as other veggies, it still contains too much water for your pet. This could cause soft stools/diarrhea if your chinchilla eats too much spinach. Due to the high levels of water (around 90%), spinach contains little of anything else, so in large quantities would cause nutritional deficiencies too. We recommend feeding other more suitable snacks like rose hips or shredded wheat instead.
The guide below looks at the precise nutritional values of spinach to explain why it’s so unsuitable. We’ll compare what’s in spinach to what we know about the chinchilla’s nutritional requirements to come to some shocking conclusions—spinach is known as a nutritious food, but it only contains fractions of the macronutrients and micronutrients that chinchillas need to thrive.
Can Chinchillas Eat Spinach?
Chinchillas can physically eat spinach. It’s not poisonous to them, and it won’t make them choke. Chins eat leaves like spinach in the wild, and although that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re suitable, they at least won’t instantly kill your pet.
Do Chinchillas Like Spinach?
Chins enjoy anything unusual, anything they don’t normally get. That applies to sweet things, savory foods, and even to toys and things they like to gnaw on. In short, yes: your chinchilla would enjoy eating spinach. But the problem isn’t that your chinchilla wouldn’t enjoy spinach, it’s that spinach isn’t the best option for them.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Eat Spinach?
There are several issues with spinach that make it nutritionally inadequate. To figure out exactly why, rather than rely on anecdotal evidence, let’s look at the actual nutritional values of spinach and compare them to what chinchillas really need.
Nutrients in Spinach
The table below details the nutrients that raw spinach contains. It uses data from NutritionValue.org. We’ve also included the chinchilla’s average requirements; while some studies disagree on the precise amounts, the rough ratios (e.g. of fiber to overall carbohydrate and protein to fat) are accurate.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Requirements|
It should be immediately obvious why spinach is nutritionally inadequate for your pet. But beyond that, it can even cause instant health issues that preclude the possibility of it even being a snack.
Spinach Water Content
The key problem with spinach is that it contains lots of water. Chinchillas need abour 10-15g of water per 100g of food, while spinach contains 91.4g per 100g.
If you were to feed your chinchilla nothing but spinach and similar greens, this would cause two problems. The first is that because of their high water content, they contain little of anything else. Greens like these are low in carbs, protein and fat because most of their weight is water. That means your chinchilla can’t meet its nutritional needs with these foods, which leads to deficiencies. Your chin would lose lots of weight and not get the minerals and vitamins it needs.
The second effect is that high-water foods cause diarrhea. Water doesn’t go straight from the stomach to the bladder. It’s absorbed through the lining of the colon into the bloodstream. In the blood, excess water passes through the kidneys and is excreted. If there is too much water for the colon to absorb, the stool that comes out is sticky, even wet. This is a major problem because it can then get stuck in your chinchilla’s fur.
Both of these problems are relevant to feeding spinach as a core part of your pet’s diet. They’re less relevant if you plan on feeding it as a snack.
Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat & Fiber in Spinach
As stated above, because spinach is mostly water, it contains little of anything else. It has about one tenth of the carbohydrates, one tenth of the fat and one tenth of the protein that chins need. Your chinchilla needs these things to fuel its body, to provide it with energy for movement, to maintain body temperature, and to maintain weight.
Perhaps the most important thing spinach lacks is fiber. It contains a reasonable amount of fiber in the context of a human diet, but chinchillas need far more fiber than we do. It should form around one third of your chinchilla’s diet, and hay—which is very fibrous—is perfect. But spinach contains less than one tenth of the fiber that chinchillas need.
This is a problem for two reasons. A lack of fiber makes stool softer, which makes the effects of the excess water even worse. But beyond that, a chinchilla’s digestive system is set up perfectly to deal with lots of fiber. Chinchillas make a special kind of poop called cecotropes which they eat and digest again. This allows them to break down the fiber into simple sugars so they get the maximum amount of energy from their food. Feeding low fiber foods means that instead of healthy cecotropes, the chinchilla produces softer food that’s more digested than normal cecotropes.
Vitamins & Minerals in Spinach
Spinach is famous for its vitamin and mineral content. It contains many different micronutrients, and in large amounts per weight. Here’s a table, again with data from NutritionValue.org, that details what it contains:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
|Vitamin A||9377 IU|
This may seem like a tick in spinach’s favor, but it’s not. That’s because chinchillas should get all of their vitamins and minerals from hay, and hay pellets. Your chinchilla will thrive on a diet of hay alone, provided you pick a reputable brand that has consistent high quality. As such, all of these extra minerals and vitamins would be of no use.
What’s worse is that spinach contains lots of calcium. Like all mammals, chins need some calcium to maintain healthy bones and teeth. But if they get excess calcium, it can form crystals in their bladders (bladder stones). These are exceptionally painful, even life threatening. And while calcium is the worst for this, other excess minerals can contribute too. So not only should these vitamins and minerals be useless, they might be actively bad.
Is Spinach Poisonous to Chinchillas?
Spinach isn’t poisonous. It also isn’t highly likely to cause bloat, a dangerous condition in chinchillas.
Bloat is an issue that occurs when chins eat foods that contain lots of easily fermentable starches (simple sugars). Because of the nature of the chinchilla’s digestive system, these starches have ample opportunity to break down long before they’re pooped out. This means they create lots of gas that the chinchilla struggles to pass. The gas can get so bad that it ruptures the chinchilla’s stomach or gut lining.
This isn’t likely to be a problem your chin experiences if it eats spinach. That’s because it doesn’t contain much sugar per 100g—it doesn’t contain much of anything except water! As such, it probably won’t cause this issue.
How Much Spinach Can Chinchillas Eat?
The short answer is ‘none’. We recommend against feeding any amount of spinach for the reasons outlined above. If you are going to feed your chinchilla spinach anyway, or for some reason you have no choice, you should at least limit the serving size you provide. This will minimize the negative effects that spinach can have.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Spinach?
We would recommend against ever feeding chinchillas spinach, so the ideal frequency is ‘never’! However, it’s definitely not as harmful as other kinds of greens or veggies, so you won’t cause your pet any significant health issues by feeding it once a week.
Should Chinchillas Eat Spinach?
We don’t believe there’s any reason to feed your chinchilla anything other than hay. Hay contains all the vitamins and minerals that a chinchilla needs, and pet chins don’t need to get their water from food. That’s why owners provide them with water bottles.
As such, we recommend feeding unlimited fresh timothy hay, and 1-2 tablespoons of hay pellets per day. If you want to feed your chinchilla snacks, pick something that’s more nutritionally suitable such as rose hips, flower petals or shredded wheat.
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