Chinchillas enjoy snacks, especially fatty or sugary snacks. So what about nuts like walnuts? Do chinchillas like them, and are they nutritionally suitable?
Can chinchillas eat walnuts? They can, as they aren’t poisonous and won’t make your chinchilla choke. They are also unlikely to cause bloating. However, they are not nutritionally suitable: they have far too much fat, and not enough fiber. As such, we don’t recommend them. You should feed your chinchilla suitable treats like rose hips, herbs or sweet hay instead.
The guide below looks at the precise nutritional value of walnuts to explain why they aren’t suitable. If you’re planning on feeding them anyway, we’ve also explained the likely health effects they’ll have (gaining weight) plus portion recommendations.
Can Chinchillas Eat Walnuts?
Chinchillas can safely eat walnuts without choking or being poisoned. So long as you keep portions strictly controlled, they won’t even make your pet gain weight. However, since there are snacks that aren’t so liable to cause health issues like overweight or bloating, we recommend these instead—treats like shredded wheat or rose hips.
Do Chinchillas Like Walnuts?
Chinchillas enjoy eating anything new and different. Whether that’s something like a walnut, fruit, a vegetable or a different kind of hay your chinchilla will gobble it down. That’s because in the wild, they eat a variety of plants, not just one. This gives them the broadest number of vitamins and minerals available in their habitat.
Beyond that, most animals have an in-built instinct to eat highly fatty or sugary foods. That’s because these foods tend to be dense in calories, and dense foods like this are difficult to find in the wild. As such, the animal—be it a chinchilla, a dog or a person—wants to eat as much as it can of the food in one sitting. The food tastes good so that the animal is encouraged to go and find more and eat more to increase its chances of survival.
Walnuts are one of these foods. They’re very, very high in fat, meaning they’re high in calories too. So, your chinchilla will want to eat as many walnuts as you’ll give it! But that doesn’t mean they’re a suitable snack, in the same way that exceptionally fatty foods aren’t a good snack choice for us.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Eat Walnuts?
We don’t recommend feeding your chinchilla walnuts because they’ll likely gradually make your chinchilla gain weight.
Nutrients in Walnuts
To understand why walnuts are suitable or unsuitable, we have to look at their nutritional values. The table below uses data from NutritionValue.org, and relates specifically to ‘English walnuts’, another name for the most common kind of walnut.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Requirements|
It should be immediately obvious from these data why walnuts aren’t suitable. The rest of this guide breaks these issues down and addresses them one by one.
Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat & Water in Walnuts
Contrary to what many believe, no nutrient should be entirely cut from the diet to promote optimal health. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats each provide energy to the body and your chinchilla needs some of each. Walnuts, however, have too much of some and not enough of others.
Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy. They are more easily converted into energy for cells than protein and fat. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are broken down in the digestive process through chewing, dilution in acid and through the use of enzymes. This is done until all the carbohydrates/sugars have been broken into their constituent parts, which are glucose, fructose and/or galactose. These enter the bloodstream and are taken directly to the cells of the body to power them in their functions, be they parts of organs or muscles. Walnuts don’t have enough carbohydrates for chinchillas.
Proteins are essential for their amino acid content. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and have all sorts of uses in the body: restoring and repairing tissue, building new tissue, and creating new proteins. In fairness to walnuts, they contain roughly the amount that chinchillas need, so this is a mark in their favor.
It’s fat, however, that walnuts have far too much of. Fat is broken down in the gut into products like glycerol, which can be transmuted into sugar. Unfortunately, walnuts contain so much fat that they will very quickly make your chinchilla overweight.
Fiber in Walnuts
Fiber is a kind of carbohydrate, a complex carbohydrate, but it’s perhaps the nutrient you have to pay closest attention to in your chinchilla’s diet. That’s because your chinchilla has evolved to have a very high-fiber diet, and the way it digests things is tailored to this adaptation. And walnuts, even though they might have lots of fiber when considered as part of a person’s diet, don’t have enough for chinchillas.
To understand why, you have to understand how a chinchilla’s gut works. Chinchillas chew and swallow food like we do: grinding it up with their molars and mixing it with saliva. It’s broken up further in the stomach, becoming a kind of wet slurry. At this point, some sugars have been absorbed, but the core nutritional content of the food has yet to be processed. It’s when the food enters the small intestine, the next stage, that most nutrients are absorbed.
However, chinchillas eat highly fibrous foods, and no stage up to this point has managed to break these complex carbohydrates down into simple sugars. As such, much of the nutritional content and energy in the food passes through the small intestine without being taken in. It’s when the food mixture reaches the cecum, a pouch at the beginning of the large intestine/colon, that these fibers are finally processed by bacteria. Unfortunately, since the large colon is better at absorbing nutrients than sugars, these pass through and out without being used.
As such, the chinchilla eats the poop it produces at this point—a special kind of poop called a cecotrope. This then passes through the chinchilla’s digestive system again, with almost all of the food’s nutrients finally being absorbed.
If a chinchilla eats food that doesn’t contain enough fiber, this process is thrown out of sync. The stool it produces isn’t as solid, and its gut bacteria/enzymes can’t switch from one moment processing fiber to the next processing lots of fat. Some constituent parts of the food may therefore ferment and cause gas/bloating.
Calories in Walnuts
Another way in which walnuts are unsuitable is their calorifi content. Walnuts contain 654 calories per 100g, which is much more than hay contains. The reason they’re so calorific is that they primarily consist of fats, which contain more calories per gram than carbohydrates.
Compounding the issue, walnuts are much denser than hay. It’s far easier and takes less time for your chinchilla to eat 100g of walnuts than 100g of hay. This makes it even more likely that they would make your chinchilla gain weight.
It is possible to avoid the worst of this problem by only feeding small portions of walnut. However, since there are snack foods that don’t cause this or other problems, there’s no justification for feeding walnut instead.
Vitamins & Minerals in Walnuts
The vitamin and mineral content of nuts, walnuts included, is one of the main reasons people eat them. Below is another table, again with data from NutritionValue.org, which lists the micronutrients that walnuts contain significant amounts of:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
This may seem like an endorsement of walnuts and other nuts, but it’s not. That’s because your chinchilla should be getting the nutrients it needs from its hay, not from snacks or supplements. Chinchillas can thrive their entire lives on nothing but hay and pellets.
How Many Walnuts Can Chinchillas Eat?
We would recommend against feeding your chinchilla any walnuts due to their dense calorific content. However, walnuts aren’t as bad for your pet as sugary, watery fruits and vegetables which cause bloating in even small amounts. As such, feeding small amounts of walnut won’t be a problem.
Keep portion sizes firmly controlled, and only offer a sliver of walnut the size of your pinky fingernail at a time. This shouldn’t be enough to have a significant effect either on your chinchilla’s digestion or its weight.
How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Walnuts?
The more frequently you feed your chinchilla walnuts, the more likely it is to gain weight. You absolutely must think of them as a very occasional treat rather than something you feed regularly as a core part of your pet’s diet.
As such, feeding treats like walnut once per week is the absolute limit. This may not seem like a lot, but your chinchilla doesn’t need snacks to thrive or survive. If you want to feed your pet more frequent treats, pick something less calorific like shredded wheat, rose hips or herbs.
Should Chinchillas Eat Walnuts?
We don’t recommend walnuts, although they won’t make your pet sick like many other snack choices. As such, they are an option available to you, so long as you understand the effect that they have.
If you do plan on feeding your chinchilla walnuts, we recommend regularly weighing your pet. This is something that’s beneficial to do anyway, whether you’re concerned about the snacks you feed it or not. Do so once a week and keep a log of its weight, so you can spot any sudden drops in weight or long-term trends. If your chinchilla is gaining weight because you’re feeding it walnuts, we recommend cutting them from its diet until it returns to a normal weight.
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