Can chinchillas eat oats?

Can Chinchillas Eat Oats?

It’s recommended that chinchillas have a strict diet of hay and hay pellets. But some snacks are suitable, albeit not for frequent consumption. So what about oats?

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It’s recommended that chinchillas have a strict diet of hay and hay pellets. But some snacks are suitable, albeit not for frequent consumption. So what about oats?

Can chinchillas eat oats? They can. Oats make a suitable snack. They don’t cause bloating if fed in small quantities, have roughly the nutrients that chinchillas need, and won’t give your pet diarrhea or gastrointestinal stasis. However, if fed in large quantities, they can make your chinchilla overweight so limit portion sizes to just two or three oats once or twice a week.

The guide below will examine why oats are a suitable snack for chinchillas, with reference to their specific nutritional content as defined by the USDA. We’ll also provide guidelines for how often to feed oats, how much to feed at a time, and how to feed them.

Can Chinchillas Eat Oats?

Chinchillas can safely eat oats, in every sense.

Oats won’t make your chinchilla choke—at least no more so than any other food. They also aren’t instantly poisonous, whether they’ve been cooked or not. And they roughly meet your chinchilla’s dietary requirements, which means they won’t cause bloating, stasis, diarrhea or any other digestion-related problem. As such, they are one of few snack foods that we do recommend.

To be clear, chinchillas can live their whole lives without snacks, and will thrive. But if you are going to feed your chinchilla snacks, make them suitable ones like oats, shredded wheat or rose hips.

Do Chinchillas Like Oats?

Chinchillas like anything that’s new. Offer yours any treat it hasn’t tried before, and it will gobble it up. That applies to things that are sweet, like certain vegetables or fruits, and to things that are savory-sweet like oats.

Likely why they enjoy oats so much is that they are a dense food. In the wild, chinchillas have to spend most of their waking hours eating just to get enough calories/energy to survive. Dense foods—those which are sugary, fatty or full of protein—are hard to come by, so your chinchilla has the instinct to eat as much of them as it can when they’re available. It’s the same instinct that we have which makes us eat fatty or sugary snacks.

In many cases, this leads your chinchilla to eat foods that don’t give it the nutrients that it needs. In this case, oats aren’t so bad for it, although they would make your pet overweight if it ate enough.

Are Oats Good for Chinchillas?

In a broad sense, oats are a healthy snack. Like most foods, they can be abused—your chinchilla could easily eat too many oats if you let it. But so long as you control the portion sizes you offer, they are a good choice.

Nutrients in Oats

To fully understand how suitable oats are for your chinchilla, we have to look at their nutritional values. Here is a table with data from the USDA, which details each key macronutrient oats contain. The data relate specifically to rolled oats, the most common kind used in oatmeal, but all kinds of oats have roughly the same nutritional content. Afterwards, we’ll look at each in more detail.

Nutrients Amount per 100g Requirements
Carbohydrate 67.7g 35g
Sugar 0.99g 5g
Fat 6.5g 2-4g
Protein 13.15g 16-21g
Fiber 10.1g 30g
Water 10.8g 10-15g
Calories 379 200

As you can see, oats aren’t far from the ideal chinchilla food. They don’t contain exactly what chins need, but they certainly aren’t as bad for your pet as many other snacks.

Carbohydrates, Fiber, Protein & Fat in Oats

Can chinchillas eat oats?
These are oats as they look when they’re growing.

The one thing oats contain too much of is starch. Most of the carbohydrate content of oats is starch. Starch is a kind of complex sugar, made up of lots of simple sugars like sucrose stuck together. They are more difficult for the body to break down, so simple sugars are best for quick energy, while complex sugars are better for slow-release energy.

Chinchillas do best on a diet that’s high in fiber, which is another kind of complex sugar. That’s because their digestive systems are set up perfectly to break down complex sugars over a long period of time. What happens is that the chinchilla eats its food as other animals do, it’s broken down in the stomach by acid, then passed on to the small intestine. The small intestine is where most absorption of nutrients happens, but because the complex sugars aren’t broken down easily, they pass through into the large intestine whole. They’re then broken down in the cecum, a pouch in the large intestine, and passed as cecotropes. The chinchilla then eats these cecotropes again, so the food can pass through the small intestine again, where the now-simple sugars are finally absorbed. While this process is used to break down fiber, it breaks down starches in the same way. That means oats are broadly suitable in this regard.

Besides that, oats have roughly the right amounts of fat and protein. They have slightly too little protein and slightly too much fat, but that roughly balances out in terms of the energy oats provide overall; plus, if you’re feeding them as a very occasional and portion-limited snack, they won’t make your pet gain weight. They also contain the right amount of water, at least if you don’t make porridge out of them.

Vitamins & Minerals in Oats

Oats are also high in several vitamins and minerals. Here is another table, again with data from the USDA, which details which they have in significant amounts:

Vitamin/Mineral Amount per 100g
Vitamin B1 0.46mg
Vitamin B2 0.155mg
Vitamin B3 1.125mg
Vitamin B5 1.12mg
Vitamin B6 0.1mg
Vitamin B9 32mcg
Choline 40.4mg
Calcium 52mg
Iron 4.25mg
Magnesium 138mg
Manganese 3.63mg
Phosphorus 410mg
Potassium 362mg
Zinc 3.64mg

One issue you may run into with certain foods is the calcium content. You need to carefully assess and monitor how much calcium your chinchilla gets in its diet. Too much and it can develop bladder stones, while too little, it can experience dental problems due to easily-chipped teeth. While oats do contain a reasonable amount of calcium, they don’t contain as much as timothy hay, meaning they won’t raise your chinchilla’s calcium intake to dangerous levels.

As for other vitamins and minerals, it isn’t essential that oats contain these. That’s because your chinchilla should get all the micronutrients it needs from hay. A chinchilla can survive eating nothing but hay and hay pellets for its entire life, and will thrive if it does. So, while it’s not bad that oats contain so many vitamins and minerals, they aren’t particularly beneficial either.

Can Chinchillas Eat Rolled Oats?

The statistics above relate specifically to rolled oats. Rolled oats are a kind of lightly processed cereal. They’re made when oat groats (the whole oat, which is attached to the oat plant) are dehusked, steamed and rolled flat. This is how oats for eating have been made for hundreds, probably thousands of years, and they’re as suitable for chinchillas as they are for us.

But rolled oats aren’t the only kind of oat. You can get steel cut oats, which are processed even less than rolled oats. Unlike rolled oats, steel cut oats are made by simply chopping up the groats into small pieces. They therefore have even more fiber, so are just as good if not better for your pet than rolled oats.

You can pick up these oats from almost any grocery store. You can buy them in bulk, and they stay good for a very long time. If you already have some in your kitchen, you can likely use those, although you should check them for added ingredients first—the fewer, the better.

Can Chinchillas Eat Porridge Oats/Oatmeal?

Porridge oats, also known as oatmeal, is a meal made by further processing and then cooking oats. The oats can be cooked in either milk, for a creamier texture, or in water. Then you might add sugar, salt or other flavorings to make it more interesting. It ranges from thin (gruel) to a very thick consistency depending on how much fluid you use and how long you cook it for.

We wouldn’t recommend feeding cooked porridge oats to your chinchilla because:

  • Chinchillas don’t typically eat hot foods (although porridge oats can be served cold, too)
  • Cooking breaks down the fiber in oats into simple sugars, but that’s the opposite of what you want to do—you want to give your chinchilla more fiber, not less
  • Chinchillas shouldn’t be fed dairy products as they are essentially lactose intolerant
  • Mixing the oats with water means that the nutritional value of the whole isn’t as good for your chinchilla as oats on their own
  • They would make a mess of your pet’s cage

Rather, we only recommend feeding your chinchilla dry, raw oats not mixed with anything else.

Can Chinchillas Eat Instant Oatmeal?

We would recommend against feeding your chinchilla instant oatmeal, like Quaker brand instant porridge oats. That’s because these oats are highly processed until they’re a kind of rough powder, which wouldn’t be suitable or enjoyable for your pet to eat.

Beyond that, you also shouldn’t serve your pet oatmeal as you would prepare it for a person, i.e. boiling it with milk or water to make porridge. Doing so would mean that you’ve dramatically changed the nutritional content of what you’re feeding to your pet. You would be getting rid of much of the healthy fiber, fat and protein and replacing it with water/milk, which chinchillas don’t need much of. Plus, again, chinchillas don’t drink milk or eat dairy products after they’ve weaned.

There’s therefore no reason to give your chinchilla porridge instead of raw rolled oats.

How to Feed Chinchillas Oats

There are several ways you can feed your chinchillas oats.

The first is by sprinkling them on top of your chinchilla’s fresh hay. This keeps your pet’s cage nice and tidy, and means that you don’t have to buy your chinchilla a separate food bowl. You can mix them in, too, which will encourage natural foraging behavior; however if you put too many, your chinchilla will spend all of its time searching for more oats rather than eating its hay.

The other way to feed oats is by putting them in a small food bowl. We don’t recommend leaving a food bowl on the floor of your chinchilla’s cage, as it can be very easily knocked over. Or, your chinchilla might go to the toilet in it, making the oats inedible. Instead, you can buy a food bowl that clamps onto the bars of the cage. You can place it next to one of the platforms you have set up for your pet to jump to.

You could also consider feeding your chinchilla oats from the palm of your hand. Place the oats on your palm and keep it still, and your chinchilla may come over to take them. It might even sit next to your hand and take the oats like it’s eating from a buffet bar. How much it enjoys doing this depends on how much it trusts you; if it doesn’t trust you at first, try doing this during outside-the-cage playtime as your chin may feel cornered in its cage.

One thing we’d advise not doing is feeding your chinchilla by hand through the bars of its cage. This is something new owners have been doing for years, but it encourages a behavior you don’t want to encourage. It makes your chinchilla associate your fingers with food, so if you ever poke your fingers through the bars for another reason—like to tickle your chinchilla—it will nibble and bite at you because it thinks you’re feeding it.

How Many Oats Can Chinchillas Eat?

While oats are a better snack than most you might think of feeding your pet, we still think you should limit the portion you offer. There are two ways of doing that: limiting how much you give your pet per serving, and limiting how often you give your chinchilla snacks.

We recommend only feeding your chinchilla two or three oats at a time. The reason why is that while oats won’t cause nutritional deficiencies or bloating, they do contain a lot of calories, so if you fed your pet a lot of them it would make it gain weight over time. Plus, it’s commonly reported that if you offer your chinchilla lots of snacks then it won’t eat as much of its hay, which isn’t something you want to encourage.

How Often Can Chinchillas Eat Oats?

We recommend limiting the frequency with which you feed your chinchilla oats to once a week. Again, that’s because if you fed your pet lots of snacks, it would gain weight. If you only feed a few oats once a week, that shouldn’t significantly affect your pet’s weight.

We also generally recommend weighing your pet at semi-regular intervals. This lets you spot health conditions before they become obvious, as many health conditions cause either sudden or gradual weight loss. But doing so will also tell you if your pet is gaining weight from eating snacks.

Should Chinchillas Eat Oats?

Oats are one of the few snacks that are suitable for your pet, but like any snack, they can’t be fed in unlimited amounts. You should treat them as you should treat snacks for yourself: as something to occasionally enjoy, rather than something to eat constantly. To keep your pet happy, consider offering it a mix of treats. That means sometimes offering oats, sometimes offering rose hips, and sometimes offering herbs.

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!