Chinchillas love nuts and seeds, and they contain lots of vitamins and minerals. But they’re full of fat, too—so are they a good snack choice for your pet?
Can chinchillas eat sunflower seeds? They can, and enjoy the fibrous outer shell and tasty kernel inside. But they are so high in fat that they will make your chinchilla gain weight over time. They aren’t poisonous, and won’t cause bloating or stasis, so aren’t as bad as other snacks. We nevertheless recommend feeding other snacks like rose hips, shredded wheat or botanical hay as these don’t cause weight gain or any other health issue. However, they may be useful if your chinchilla is severely underweight and needs to gain that weight back.
The guide below first looks at why chinchillas enjoy sunflower seeds and other fatty foods so much. We’ll also look in detail at the nutritional content of sunflower seeds to learn why they’re so unsuitable.
Can Chinchillas Eat Sunflower Seeds?
Chinchillas can eat sunflower seeds. They know not to swallow them without grinding them up, so they’re no more likely to make your pet choke than any other food. And as we’ll see in a moment, they aren’t poisonous. But that doesn’t mean you should feed them to your pet.
Do Chinchillas Like Sunflower Seeds?
Chinchillas love sunflower seeds. They love any kind of sweet, fatty, interesting new food. They’re hard-wired to crave variety, especially if they find a new kind of food that’s high in calories.
This is a throwback to living in the wild. Your chin spends most of its waking hours eating hay, and it would do similar but with live grasses in the wild. As such, when it finds a food that’s nutritionally very dense, it has to make the most of it. It will therefore eat as many seeds or nuts as it can, as it doesn’t know when it will find any more. It’s the same in-built instinct that we have which keeps us eating unhealthy snacks.
Chinchillas also enjoy sunflower seeds because of their ‘packaging’, so to speak. They enjoy having to bite and dig at the shell to get the kernel out.
You can therefore think of sunflower seeds in the same way as you might think of chips or sugary sodas: tasty, enjoyable to have, but ultimately bad for your pet.
Are Sunflower Seeds Poisonous to Chinchillas?
Sunflower seeds don’t contain any kind of cyanide or poison that will kill your chinchilla. They aren’t like the seeds in apples, for example, which can be poisonous if enough are ingested.
This applies to all parts of the sunflower seed, too: the outer shell and the inner kernel. The only reason you can’t eat the outer shell of a sunflower seed is that it’s so tough and fibrous. Your chinchilla’s teeth are easily strong enough to break through it, and as it gnaws on the outside of the shell, it will no doubt ingest some (as happens whenever it gnaws on something). But swallowing tiny amounts of the shell, even all of it, isn’t poisonous.
Rather, it’s the nutritional content of the seeds that is bad for your pet.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Eat Sunflower Seeds?
To understand precisely why they’re unsuitable, we have to look at the exact nutrients in sunflower seeds. Below is a table with data from NutritionValue.org, a website that has data on almost any food you can imagine. The table lists what sunflower seeds contain, with reference figures for what chinchillas really need.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Requirements|
It should be immediately obvious in which ways sunflower seeds are unsuitable. The section below explores why these differences between what sunflower seeds provide, and what chinchillas need, are important.
Carbohydrate, Protein & Fat in Sunflower Seeds
To begin with the positive, sunflower seeds have roughly the right amount of protein for a chinchilla. Mazuri chinchilla pellets, for example, have 20% protein by weight. Oxbow Essentials pellets contain a minimum of 18%. This means that the 21% protein content of sunflower seeds isn’t a major problem.
The sugar content of seeds and nuts generally also isn’t a problem. Simple sugars aren’t to be avoided—they give your chinchilla the instant energy it needs to go through its day. Sunflower seeds have a less-than-problematic amount, which is good.
What is a problem is the fat content of sunflower seeds. Chinchillas need hardly any fat to reflect the true nature of their wild diet. Wild chins spend most of their waking hours eating low-grass and plant roots, and their digestive systems are set up perfectly to digest them. Too much fat means too many calories.
Calories in Sunflower Seeds
The fat and protein content of sunflower seeds are what make them so calorific. 584 calories per 100g of sunflower seeds is an awful lot, and is far more than a chinchilla normally gets from its food; timothy hay only contains 180-207.
As they do for us, so they do for chinchillas: calorific foods will make your pet gain weight. While you no doubt only intend to feed sunflower seeds as a snack, they will still make your chinchilla gain weight if they are fed consistently. Chinchillas can develop obesity and diabetes just like we can, and the effects of these conditions are the same. They will shorten your chinchilla’s lifespan, and make what life it has left less enjoyable. Since there are snacks that your chinchilla will enjoy just as much, but which won’t cause these problems, we recommend these instead.
Water & Fiber in Sunflower Seeds
The water level in sunflower seeds is lower than your chinchilla would prefer, as is the fiber level. Sunflower seeds have lots of fiber for us, but not enough for chinchillas, which thrive on 18-30% fiber in the diet by weight.
The issue is that your chinchilla’s gut is set up perfectly to digest fiber. Fiber is more difficult to digest than regular sugars, because it’s made of lots of sugars bound together that have to be broken down. Your chinchilla has a special pocket of sorts in its gut called the cecum, where fibrous food sits and is digested gradually. The cecum is chock-full of gut bacteria which specialize in breaking down tough fibrous foods like hay. The chinchilla will then go to the toilet and eat special poop that comes from the cecum called cecotropes, which it then digests again.
If you feed your chinchilla foods that don’t contain enough fiber, this system is thrown out of balance. Your pet won’t die or become sick, but its way of digesting food will have to change. It’s better for your pet if that doesn’t happen.
Vitamins and Minerals in Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds contain lots of vitamins and minerals, as all seeds do. This is one of the many reasons why they’re so popular. This may be a good reason to consider adding them to a person’s diet; but for a chinchilla, the same doesn’t apply. Here’s a list of all the micronutrients sunflower seeds contain enough of to be noteworthy:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
But as stated above, these micronutrients aren’t as important for your chinchilla as they would be for you. That’s because your chinchilla should get all the nutrients it needs from its hay. While your chinchilla would enjoy one, it doesn’t strictly need a varied diet, and can both survive and thrive on fresh hay and hay pellets. Some breeders even give their chinchillas an all-pellet diet, and their animals will live long lives. The same applies to your chinchilla, which should already be getting its micronutrients from hay.
If your chinchilla is unwell because of a deficiency in one nutrient or another, sunflower seeds won’t be the answer. Rather, your chinchilla’s vet will recommend either a different kind of hay, a different kind of pellet or a supplement that can be fed directly. There’s no need to supplement your pet’s diet with seeds or nuts, especially since they cause dramatic weight gain.
How Many Sunflower Seeds Can Chinchillas Eat?
We recommend against feeding your chinchilla sunflower seeds. There’s no need: there are snacks that your pet will enjoy just as much, but which won’t cause any kind of weight gain. We therefore recommend feeding these instead.
The only circumstance in which you could consider feeding sunflower seeds is if your chinchilla is very underweight. Chinchillas can lose weight whether because of stress, the mistreatment of a previous owner, or gastrointestinal stasis. But even once it overcomes these problems, it is still underweight. As such, you could consider supplementing a small number of sunflower seeds into its diet to help it gain that weight back. Just be careful—weigh your pet every week to ensure that it doesn’t go past a healthy weight to become unhealthily overweight or obese.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Sunflower Seeds?
We would suggest that you shouldn’t feed your pet any sunflower seeds, so the ideal frequency is ‘never’. But if you’re going to do so anyway, keep feedings very irregular so as not to cause weight gain. Once a week should be the maximum that you consider.
If you are feeding your chinchilla sunflower seeds to help it gain weight, even then, you should limit feeding frequency. That’s because chinchillas can become fussy if they’re fed snacks they very much enjoy, and will then only eat those snacks as opposed to others, or even as opposed to hay. So, again, keep feeding infrequent; once every few days should be enough.
Should Chinchillas Eat Sunflower Seeds?
Aside from the need to gain weight after an illness, there is no reason why you should feed your chinchilla sunflower seeds—and yes, that’s despite unscrupulous companies including them in generic ‘chinchilla feeds’ which, in reality, are unsuitable. We recommend that you feed the following treats instead:
- Shredded wheat. Shredded wheat is high in fiber, and dry enough not to upset your chinchilla’s digestion; it’s similar to hay in those respects. Pick a shredded wheat brand that contains no added sugar and no additives.
- Rose hips. Rose hips are the fruits of the rose plant. They can be dried and fed to chinchillas.
- Sweet hay and botanical hay. Some hays, like alfalfa, taste sweeter than others and so can be fed as a kind of snack. Botanical hay is regular hay with herbs mixed in.
You could also choose not to give your chinchilla any snacks at all. Chins enjoy, but don’t strictly need, variety and yours can both survive and thrive on only hay and pellets. As such, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of snacks altogether, you don’t need to feed them.