Pets love treats, and chinchillas are no different. But your chinchilla’s sensitive stomach means that you have to carefully control what snacks you feed it, and how much of them you feed.
What treats are safe for chinchillas? Chamomile flowers, sweet hay or botanical hay, shredded wheat, rolled oats, rose hips, dried dandelion and apple pomace are all suitable and healthy snacks. Raisins are common treats but are too high in sugar for a chinchilla, while nuts and seeds, vegetables and other fruits are unhealthy too. Rather than experimenting with new snacks, stick to this safe list of foods that experienced owners approve.
The guide below first looks at a range of treats that are perfectly suitable. Each of these treats more or less meets a chinchilla’s base nutritional needs, or at least won’t make your chinchilla overweight or deficient. We’ll also cover which treats aren’t suitable for chinchillas, even if many owners feed them anyway.
What Treats Are Safe for Chinchillas?
Chinchillas have certain nutritional needs just like we do, although those needs aren’t the same as ours. Besides that, they have sensitive digestive systems and can suffer dangerous bloating, diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies, obesity and diabetes. As such, you have to be careful what treats you offer your chinchilla.
Here is a list of suitable treats for you to choose from: they’re all easy to find either in grocery stores and pet stores, or online.
1) Chamomile Flowers
Chamomile is a kind of herb. More accurately, chamomile is a kind of daisy-like flower from the Asteraceae family that has small white petals and a yellow core, just like a daisy. But it also has a distinctive taste which is why it’s used for tea. The flowers are dried before being used.
While we don’t typically do so, these dried flowers can also be eaten. They are safe to give to a chinchilla and don’t seem to cause any side effects, digestive issues or nutritional deficiencies.
Benefits of chamomile: Chamomile flowers are dried before being used, so your chinchilla won’t ingest too much water by eating them. Plus, they’re high in fiber that’s difficult to break down, just like chinchillas like it (similar to another dried ‘plant’ they eat—hay).
Portion size: One dried flower per serving.
2) Sweet Hay
There are lots of varieties of hay that you could feed to your pet. The most common is timothy hay, which owners recommend to form the bulk of a chinchilla’s diet. It has roughly the right nutrients and chinchillas seem to like it.
But besides timothy hay, there are varieties that are more suitable as a snack. While it might taste the same to you, a chinchilla’s cultured palate can tell the difference between the varieties, and some are sweeter or more flavorful than others. You can feed these hays as snacks. Examples include:
- Alfalfa. Alfalfa isn’t a kind of grass, but a kind of flowering plant. It looks more like cress than anything else. It’s high in calcium and tastes mild and sweet.
- Meadow hay. Meadow hay is like regular hay, but is a blend of lots of grasses and weeds. It therefore offers variety without giving your chinchilla anything unhealthy (as a mix of hay and dried fruits and seeds would).
- Botanical hay. Botanical hay is regular hay with herbs mixed in. It tastes different to regular hay but offer the same nutritional content.
What you do need to avoid are hays that have nuts, seeds, dried fruits or dried vegetables mixed in. These four things aren’t suitable for chinchillas for a variety of reasons, as we’ll touch on later. Only normal kinds of hay will do, and if anything’s added, it should be hay-like material like herbs.
Benefits of sweet hay: Nutritionally no different to what your chinchilla normally eats. It’s therefore not a problem even if you overfeed it slightly.
Portion size: Unlimited, as chinchillas can regulate their own hay intake.
3) Rose Hips
Rose hips are a kind of fruit. They are, in fact, the only kind of fruit dried or otherwise that we recommend feeding to chinchillas. They don’t taste like roses, but instead taste tangy and sharp, and astringent like tea.
They’re a kind of accessory fruit like pears or strawberries, but unlike other fruits, have a nutritional profile that isn’t so bad for chinchillas. They are very high in fiber and despite being a fruit, have hardly any fructose. Their protein and fat levels aren’t quite what a chinchilla needs, but this isn’t a big problem if your chinchilla still eats its hay.
On top of that, because of their unique taste, chinchillas go wild for them. We recommend feeding dried rose hips, and these are easy to find online or in health food stores.
They do happen to be high in vitamin C, but that’s not much use to your chinchilla. They can make their own. That doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy, but many guides state this is one of their benefits, so it’s good to be clear.
Benefits of rose hips: They won’t cause stomach issues, and chinchillas love them, more even than most other snacks.
Portion size: One rose hip per serving.
4) Dried Dandelions
You may never have encountered them, but dried dandelions have been used for tea for a long time. Once the seeds blow away, what’s left is a small and rough yellow flower that isn’t as pretty as a daisy, but makes an excellent snack for your pet. Or, the mix might be made of dandelion leaves; or, a mixture of both leaves and flowers.
Dried dandelions are similar to rose hips, in that they have a unique taste your chinchilla will love. They taste slightly bitter, almost like arugula. While they aren’t sweet, chinchillas seem to like new tastes whether they’re sweet or bitter.
You can dry your own dandelions, too, if you like, or you can buy them online at a reasonable price.
Benefits of dandelions: They’re cheap, easy to find, and very fibrous.
Portion size: A crushed up amount the size of your fingernail.
5) Apple Pomace
‘Pomace’ isn’t to be confused with ‘pumice’. Pumice is a kind of volcanic rock, while apple pomace is what’s left over after apples are squeezed for fruit juice or cider.
Pomace is essentially everything in the apple apart from the juicy pulp inside. That means the seeds, the skins, the stalks, the fibrous bit in the middle—it’s all in there, and there’s even some juice left over. It can either be fed fresh, or in this case, dried. It’s regularly fed to farm animals rather than being wasted, so it’s perfectly safe.
Benefits of apple pomace: Fibrous and fruity, pomace tastes sweet and fruity so your chinchilla will love it, but without the water and high levels of sugar that make regular apples unsafe for your pet. One drawback is that it can be hard to find if you don’t have a feed store near you.
Portion size: The size of your fingernail.
6) Rolled Oats
Rolled oats are, unsurprisingly, a kind of oat. They’re made from ‘oat groats’, which are raw hulled oats, that are dehusked and steamed. They’re then rolled flat with heavy rollers and lightly toasted. People have been making rolled oats for hundreds of years, and they make good snacks for chinchillas.
Oats aren’t too dissimilar to hay in their nutritional content. While they do have more calories, they have roughly the same amount of fiber, protein and fat. Meanwhile, they’re low in pure sugars, which is what chinchillas prefer. The only problem is that they’re a dense food—high in calories. You therefore should only feed your chinchilla a tiny portion each time you give it a snack.
Benefits of rolled oats: Similar to hay in nutritional value, similar to the grains that chinchillas find in the wild, chinchillas enjoy them.
Portion Size: One or two oats per serving.
7) Shredded Wheat
Shredded wheat is another snack that like rolled oats, offers roughly the same nutritional content as does regular hay. It’s made from whole wheat that’s shredded, cooked, and then shaped into pillow shapes. It was the first-ever mass-produced cereal. The whole wheat kernels it’s made from are rock hard, so they’re first cooked in water and steam for half an hour or so. The grains are then dried and rolled like rolled oats are, which leaves each kernel a delicate strand. These strands are built up in layers before being cut and divided into pillow-shaped biscuits.
Basic brands of shredded wheat are low in water, high in fiber, have the correct levels of fat and protein, and are enjoyably crunchy, which chinchillas like. Watch out for added sugars, even in kinds that aren’t frosted. And don’t buy any with lots of added calcium, as your chin likely gets enough calcium already (and excess can cause bladder stones).
Benefits of shredded wheat: It has the same nutrients as hay so won’t make your chinchilla overweight or deficient in anything.
Portion size: Small, the size of your pinky fingernail.
8) Dried Herbs
Herbs make a great snack for chinchillas due to their unique flavors. Because they eat the same things over and over again, chins enjoy anything that’s different. That means anything like rosemary, oregano, basil and the like all make exciting treats.
Dried herbs have roughly the same nutritional content as hay: they’re dried plant matter, so are fibrous, low in water, and low in protein and fat. They therefore won’t make your chin gain weight or give it diarrhea.
Benefits of dried herbs: Nutritionally suitable, widely available, fun for your pet.
Portion size: Strictly speaking your chinchilla can eat as many herbs as it likes. They won’t make it gain weight. But as you want your chinchilla to eat its hay and not just its snacks, limit portions to the size of your thumbnail.
9) Flower Petal Mixes
Dandelions aren’t the only flowers your chinchilla can eat. Your chin can eat just about any flower petal, so long as you pick a kind that isn’t poisonous!
There are assortments you can buy that contain many different flower petals. Examples include rose petals, calendula and hibiscus petals. Some mixes contain only one kind, others several; some contain both petals and buds. All are fine: high in fiber and low in pure sugars, and low in fat and protein, so they won’t make your pet gain weight.
Ideally, you should give your chinchilla petals that are dried. But if you gave it one fresh petal, that wouldn’t contain enough water to give your chinchilla any digestive issues. So long as it’s clean, and you don’t leave it to rot on the cage floor, they’re fine too.
Benefits of flower petals: They’re nutritionally adequate, but more than anything, the idea of feeding your chinchilla flower petals is as cute as it gets.
Portion size: The average amount—the size of your pinky fingernail.
10) Apple Wood Sticks
Apple wood sticks aren’t a snack like the rest of those on this list, but you should consider giving them to your chinchilla anyway. That’s because they make great chew toys—and while your chinchilla chews them, it does ingest some, so you could argue that they qualify!
What makes apple wood sticks an especially good choice for a ‘snack’ is that your chinchilla doesn’t eat them. They don’t add calories to your pet’s diet, they can’t possibly give your chin too much calcium or too much sugar, and if anything, they’ll add extra fiber.
That’s beside the point that chins love to chew apple wood sticks. They give your chin just as much enjoyment as any snack, but serve the double purpose of keeping your pet’s teeth trimmed.
Benefits of apple wood sticks: They keep your chin’s teeth trimmed and don’t add sugar to your pet’s diet like many snack choices (fruits, raisins, etc.)
Portion size: One stick a time is fine. Most owners give their chins an unlimited supply of apple wood sticks.
11) Hay Pellets
Hay pellets are a snack, in a sense. They’re made from regular hay, just compressed down into small chunks. Many contain multiple types of hay, e.g. a combination of timothy hay and alfalfa. Some have nutrients added for the chinchilla’s health.
Pellets are supposed to be fed every day. Owners disagree on how much to feed: a couple of tablespoons per day, or unlimited pellets. But you could have one kind of pellet you feed regularly and then one kind of pellet as a snack.
If you do plan on doing this, don’t choose any kind of pellet or mix that has things like nuts and seeds added. These aren’t good for your pet.
Benefits of pellets: They have the exact same nutrients as hay because they are hay! You should already be feeding your chinchilla pellets, but adding in a second kind as an irregular snack could work.
Portion size: Somewhere between two tablespoons per day and unlimited pellets. Chinchillas regulate their own hay intake, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
There are some snacks that people commonly feed their chinchillas that don’t seem to cause any health issues, even though they aren’t a good nutritional fit for your pet. It makes sense that there would be some: there are similar snacks for people that are sort-of healthy, but sort-of not, or are healthy unless eaten in large quantities.
Multigrain/Whole Grain Cheerios
Multigrain Cheerios are a decent choice for a chinchilla snack. Because they’re so popular, and because they’re healthier than other kinds of breakfast cereal, many owners give them to their chinchillas. They’re easily one of the most recommended treats.
On several counts, Cheerios are fine. They contain a reasonable amount of fiber per 100g (7.8g total), which while not as much as chinchillas need (10-30% of overall diet), is at least some. Their levels of fat and protein also fall within the chinchilla’s acceptable range.
The problem with Cheerios is that they contain too much sugar. Chinchillas need about 5g of sugar per 100g of food, while Cheerios have more than 20g.
You should also avoid giving your chinchilla any other kind of Cheerios. These contain even more sugar, so should definitely be avoided.
Benefits of Multigrain Cheerios: Reasonable amounts of fiber, but too much sugar.
Portion size: One Cheerio.
Can You Give Your Chinchilla Homemade or ‘DIY’ Treats?
We recommend against giving your chinchilla homemade treats, or in other words, treats you’ve harvested or grown yourself. Treats like these include:
- Grass you’ve cut from your lawn, or plants you’ve harvested from outside
- Tree bark from trees outside
- Plants you’ve grown yourself
- Foods you’ve made (i.e. meals)
With plants you’ve harvested outside, there are several potential problems. Grasses and plants can have bacteria on or in them, or fungus too. If you try to treat them e.g. by baking branches or bark in the oven, there’s a chance you could do so incorrectly.
This could get bacteria or fungus in your chinchilla’s cage, causing bacterial infections or worse. While this is admittedly unlikely, it’s better to rely on properly made produce.
What Treats Aren’t Safe For Chinchillas?
As there are for us, so too are there many snacks that are unsuitable for chinchillas. The reasons why they’re unsuitable range from weight gain and diabetes to diarrhea, dangerous bloating, putting your chinchilla off its regular diet, and more. The list below explores the most common unsafe treats you’ll encounter and details why they’re bad (even if they’re thought of as healthy).
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds aren’t suitable for chinchillas because they’re so high in fats and calories. They’re very densely packed with nutrients, which makes them a useful food for animals in the wild. But as your chinchilla is in captivity and has all of its nutritional needs met, nuts aren’t necessary.
What’s especially surprising about this is that so many brands sell hay for chinchillas and other small animals that is loaded with nuts, dried fruit and other things added. Given that, it’s reasonable to assume that they would be fine, but they aren’t.
When you first thought about giving your chinchilla snacks, what sprung to mind were probably vegetables. But despite their image as a healthy food, and their reputation as the ‘best food for rodents’, they’re not a good snack for your pet.
The main reason is the water content in vegetables. Chinchillas are used to eating foods that are low in water: hay in captivity, or in the wild, the dry grasses you find in the Andes and around the Atacama Desert (the driest place on the planet). You might therefore think it’s good to feed your chin something that gives it more water in its system, but that’s not the case: too much water can cause soft or sticky poops.
What makes this worse is that vegetables are low in fiber compared to hay. A lack of fiber makes stool loose, so in addition to all that water, that means vegetables can cause diarrhea. Besides that, vegetables don’t have enough protein or fat, so wouldn’t be a good choice as the cornerstone of your pet’s diet.
Fruits, if anything, are worse than vegetables. Given all we’ve just explained, that’s difficult to imagine, but it’s true. Fruit causes all the same problems that vegetables do. Because your chinchilla’s gut isn’t used to it, fruit can cause diarrhea and bloating. But what makes fruit worse is the fructose content.
We think of fruit as healthy, but it’s packed full of sugars. Natural sugars, true, but these have the exact same effects on the body as ‘processed’ or ‘added’ sugars. As such feeding your chinchilla too much fruit could give it diabetes or kidney problems, or at least make it gain lots of weight.
On top of that, fruit can be highly acidic. Something like a blueberry or an orange slice is too acidic for your pet to eat. That’s because acidity can contribute to diarrhea, too, making the problem even worse. Dried fruit is bad too, because it’s dense, so has more fructose in it per gram. Candied fruit is worse still as it’s coated in sugar or boiled in syrup.
Special Mention: Raisins
Raisins are the most common chinchilla treat that owners think is OK but actually isn’t.
The problem with raisins is that they’re so high in sugars. As stated above, your chinchilla’s gut is only used to digesting certain kinds of fiber and sugar. That’s why even changing from one type of hay to another (e.g. timothy hay to meadow hay) can upset your pet’s stomach. Raisins contain lots of fructose, which is pure fruit sugar. Your chinchilla’s gut is definitively not used to fructose, and it can cause diarrhea when first fed.
But besides that, because they’re so high in sugar but so dried and dense, raisins are too high in calories for chinchillas. If you feed them as a regular snack, they will eventually make your chinchilla gain weight. Since there are so many healthy snacks that don’t cause either of these issues, we rule raisins out.
How Come Wild Chinchillas Can Eat Grass, Fruits & Vegetables But Pet Chinchillas Can’t?
This is a good question, and one that any owner who insists on only feeding their chinchilla hay and pellets should be prepared to answer.
The difference is in what a chinchilla is used to. If a wild chinchilla occasionally eats fruit from the time it weans, any fruit it does eat won’t cause stomach problems. That’s because the chinchilla will develop the gut bacteria it needs to properly break fructose and fruit fibers down. Your pet chinchilla doesn’t have these bacteria if it’s lived its whole life eating nothing but hay. The same applies to vegetables.
How Often Should You Give Chinchillas Treats?
Most owners give their chinchillas treats once or twice a week. This is more than enough to make your pet happy, but not too frequent that the treats will cause excess weight gain.
You need to avoid giving your chinchilla treats frequently enough that it doesn’t eat enough hay. This is the problem owners find with hay that’s supplemented with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and so on: the chinchilla will eat all the treats and leave the hay. In the same way, if you give your chinchilla treats twice a day, it will hardly have need to eat its hay. This will result in digestive problems and nutritional deficiencies.
Do Chinchillas Need Treats?
Chinchillas don’t ever need to eat treats. Your pet can live its whole life without having treats and be perfectly happy. But they do serve several purposes:
- They help you build up your bond with your chinchilla
- They help you train your chinchilla, e.g. to teach it to go back in its cage
- Your chinchilla enjoys them
- You feel like a better owner if you let your pet ‘live a little’
One or all of these factors are why people give their chinchillas treats, and you should consider doing so too. Just make sure that if you do, you make them suitable ones like those listed above. While there likely are other treats that are suitable, it doesn’t make much sense to experiment with potentially fattening or harmful foods, and instead to rely on the experience of experienced owners.
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