Chinchillas are fed pellets alongside their fresh hay. But what are hay pellets, and what do they have in them? Do chinchillas really need them, and if so, why?
What are hay pellets? Hay pellets are compacted hay, often with bulking ingredients added, that form a core part of a chinchilla’s diet. They are typically made from timothy hay or alfalfa and look like tiny strips of bran. Your chinchilla needs 1-2 tbsp per day but they can be fed in unlimited amounts as chinchillas self-regulate hay intake. There are many brands available including Oxbow, Mazuri, Tradition, Science Selective, Manna Pro, Purina and more; most are roughly equivalent without much variety in quality.
The guide below covers everything you need to know about chinchilla hay pellets. First it looks at what hay pellets are made from and how they’re made, before detailing what they contain (fillers, different kinds of hay, supplements and more). We’ll also look at the different brands of chinchilla hay pellets to see which is best.
What Are Hay Pellets (& Do Chinchillas Need Them?)
Hay pellets are made from compacted fresh hay. They are made from hays that you would normally feed your pet fresh, such as timothy hay and alfalfa. They can also contain a combination of hays to provide a nutritionally rounded or complete diet.
They look like bran and are a common kind of feed for small pets like chinchillas. They aren’t intended to replace hay, but to be fed alongside it, so you have more control over your pet’s diet. Some owners feed one or two tablespoons per day, while others allow their chins to have as many as they like (an unlimited supply).
You can buy them from pet stores, from feed stores, or online. They come in large bags and you can buy them in bulk. They’re cheap, and there are lots of brands available to choose from, most of which are roughly the same. Almost all chinchilla owners feed their pets one kind of chinchilla pellet or other.
Why Do Chinchillas Need Hay Pellets?
Chinchillas don’t strictly need hay pellets. Pellets are, after all, only made of hay. Your pet can get all the hay it needs from eating fresh hay, and some owners do keep their pets on a fresh-hay-only diet. But pellets are useful in several ways:
- They are tightly compacted, so give your chinchilla more energy and nutrients with less time spent eating
- Pellets can be made of more than one kind of hay to provide a complete nutritional balance; they can also be supplemented with macronutrients or micronutrients
- Pellets are easier to store, and to store for longer, than fresh hay
- They offer a small amount of variety without compromising the nutritional balance in your chinchilla’s overall diet
Because of these factors, almost every experienced owner recommends feeding a chinchilla pellets. They’re used by owners new and old, chinchilla ranches, and even scientists studying chinchillas in the lab. You should use them too.
How Are Hay Pellets Made?
Hay pellets are made from regular hay, so that’s what this process starts with. They’re first cured (dried) in the sun, before being ground down. They are ground down in industrial-sized mills, of which there are many kinds: hammer mills, ball mills, roller mills, die mills and more. The mill chosen will affect the consistency of the final product. After being ground down, the hay is formed into a cable which is chopped by a large knife. You can see these knife marks on the finished product.
The pelleting process heats up the hay because of friction. Big operations therefore use large coolers to cool down the pellets before packaging. These stop the heat from, essentially, cooking the hay and changing its nutritional makeup. The pellets are then bagged for sale.
Hay cubes are made in the same way. The only difference is that hay pellets are ground down to a finer consistency and are, of course, formed into a different final shape.
Do You Have to Soak Hay Pellets?
You would have to soak hay pellets if you wanted to eat them, but you don’t have to do that for your chinchilla.
Chinchillas don’t have mouths and teeth that are the same as ours. They have big front teeth that are perfect for breaking up pellets, and thick molars that are good at breaking them down.
What’s more, rodents have rootless teeth. This means that their teeth constantly grow, and need to be ground down on rough surfaces, or else they’ll grow too long. That’s why chinchillas need chew toys. While some owners disagree, it stands to reason that chewing on tough and fibrous foods would help rather than hinder here.
The reason for the confusion is that other animals that eat hay pellets may need to have them soaked beforehand. Also, this doesn’t mean that a chin won’t eat damp or wet pellets; they will. It’s just that they don’t need to be soaked.
What’s The Difference Between Pellets & Fresh Hay?
Pellets and fresh hay are both made of hay. But depending on which you pick and how you feed them, they can serve different roles.
One key difference is that pellets are more tightly compacted. They allow your chinchiilla to meet its nutritional needs quicker. They may also have different nutritional values, like if you feed fresh timothy hay with alfalfa pellets.
Many experienced owners and breeders feed their chinchillas nothing but pellets. Scientists who conduct experiments on chinchillas do the same thing. That’s because pellets are cheaper to source, stay fresh for longer, and it’s known exactly what nutritional value they contain.
Will your chinchilla just eat pellets, not fresh hay? While you could likely feed your pet on nothing but pellets, we recommend a mix of fresh and pelleted hay for optimal health. Chinchillas also enjoy variety, even if they don’t strictly need it, and will be happy to have a choice between foods.
What Do Hay Pellets Contain?
High quality hay pellets contain nothing but hay. But there are pellets that contain only one kind of hay, and those that contain several kinds of hay. There are also fillers, additives and supplements to consider.
Alfalfa Pellets vs. Timothy Hay Pellets vs. Bermuda Hay Pellets
Hay pellets can be made from many different kinds of hay. The kind chosen will determine the nutritional content of the finished product.
The most common is timothy hay. Timothy hay is the most common fresh hay that owners use, so it stands to reason that it makes a good pellet, too. Timothy hay contains the correct levels of each macronutrient (carbs/fiber, protein, fat and water) that chins need.
Alfalfa pellets are perhaps the next-most common. Alfalfa is a sweeter hay than timothy hay, and has around twice the protein. This isn’t a major issue as chinchillas need a reasonable amount of protein in their diets. The only issue with alfalfa is that it contains lots of calcium. A buildup of calcium can cause bladder stones in chinchillas.
Bermuda hay is roughly equivalent to timothy hay in terms of its nutrients. It’s commonly fed as a fresh hay, and some companies sell it as a pellet hay. You can make any hay into a pellet, including orchard grass hay, meadow hay and more. So long as you buy from a reputable brand and are certain that the product is what it says it is, any pelleted hay is suitable for your pet.
Hay Pellet Fillers
Hay pellets may contain things other than the hay they’re labelled as containing. This can either be done on purpose, to bulk out the hay, or by accident (e.g. if there were weeds/other plants in the field when the hay was harvested). Meadow hay, for example, is supposed to contain weeds and random flowers. These add variety and new tastes that make the hay palatable.
Fillers are added on purpose to make the pellets cheaper, but can make a food less nutritious. They aren’t commonly seen in branded products which like to proudly proclaim that they have no added ingredients. Examples of potential filler ingredients include:
- Soy meal. Soy meal is a very common fodder ingredient, and is even used to bulk out human food. It’s a byproduct of using soy to make other, more palatable, products. It’s very high in protein (45g per 100g) so can make a timothy hay pellet closer to what a chinchilla needs.
- Wheat. Wheat is another cheap bulking ingredient, but it’s higher in carbohydrates than protein.
- Millet. Millets are a broad family of grasses grown for fodder.
- Oils, e.g. flax. Oils give a pellet greater fat content.
If you’re worried about additives and fillers, check the ingredients list and/or contact the manufacturer. Bear in mind that some fillers like soy meal can make a product closer to what chinchillas need; chinchillas, especially younger ones, thrive on a higher-protein diet and soy meal helps with that. You therefore shouldn’t strictly avoid pellets with fillers and added ingredients, but do your research, and see how appropriate they would be for your pet.
What you should avoid are any pellets that have nuts, seeds or dried fruit added. These mixes are similar to those you give to other animals, but they aren’t suitable for chinchillas. That’s because nuts and seeds are too high in fat, and dried fruits or vegetables are too high in fructose. Plus if you feed your pet one of these mixes, it will eat all the added bits and leave its hay.
Are There Supplements in Hay Pellets?
Pellets aren’t typically supplemented with particular vitamins and minerals. That’s because hay has everything chinchillas need already. If a manufacturer wants to ensure that their pellet has the right amount of calcium, for example, they wouldn’t add powdered calcium to the mix. Instead, they would blend alfalfa (high in calcium) with timothy hay to give the desired effect.
How Much Hay Pellets Do Chinchillas Need?
Owners generally recommend feeding one to two tablespoons of hay pellets per day. These are served in a bowl in the morning, and the chinchilla can eat them at its leisure. It should spend its time alternately eating the pellets and fresh hay, depending what it’s in the mood for. As for how many pellets do chinchillas need, that depends; that’s because pellets vary in size. You’re better off weighing the pellets rather than counting them out (which even if it was the better option, would take just about forever!)
How Often Should You Give Chinchillas Pellets?
Chinchillas should have hay pellets every day. You can feed them at any time of day, so long as your chinchilla always has some available. Alternatively, you could feed a double portion once every other day. This will mean your chin still gets the same amount of pellets, but you don’t have to feed them as often.
Some owners say that you can feed unlimited amounts of pellets. This is an option since they’re made from regular hay, so even if your chin chose to eat only pellets and no fresh hay, that wouldn’t be a problem.
How Do You Feed a Chinchilla Pellets?
Chinchillas should have hay racks for their fresh hay and a small bowl for their pellets. They can then eat from the bowl at their leisure. You place a suitable amount (two tablespoons) in your chinchilla’s bowl each morning.
You can hand feed a chinchilla small amounts of food if you like. But chinchillas spend most of their time eating, and eat most of their food at night when they’re active. Hand feeding your chinchilla all of its food therefore isn’t possible.
Can You Give a Chinchilla Unlimited Pellets?
The idea of feeding unlimited food to a chinchilla isn’t a new one. Your chinchilla should already be getting an unlimited supply of fresh hay from which it can eat as much as it likes. Many owners recommend feeding unlimited amounts of both fresh hay and pelleted hay.
Can Chinchillas Self-Regulate Food Intake?
If you ask why owners give their chinchillas unlimited amounts of either fresh hay or pellets, they’ll tell you it’s because chinchillas can regulate the amount they eat. This is at least partially true, depending on your perspective.
What’s definitely true is that chinchillas don’t get fat if you give them unlimited fresh or pelleted hay. That’s because chinchillas are grazing animals: they forage for food most of the time they’re awake. Because they eat hays (or, in the wild, grasses) they have to eat constantly to get enough energy to survive. It’s for this reason that chinchillas have strange sleep schedules: they nap for ten to fifteen minutes at a time throughout the day and night so they can get up to get more food.
On top of that, hay is a tough and fibrous food. So on top of having to eat lots of it throughout the day, chins have to chew, chew, and chew some more to even eat it in the first place. This means that there aren’t enough hours in the day for a chin to gain weight from eating hay or pellets.
What chinchillas can’t do is eat calorific snacks like nuts and seeds. If you gave your chinchilla unlimited cashews, for example, it would eat far too many and get overweight. Chinchillas aren’t masters of self control, it’s just that hay is tough to eat.
Which Chinchilla Hay Pellet Brand Is Best?
There are many brands of hay pellets available. Most have roughly the same ingredients and nutritional content. There are some that owners commonly use, and which can be found in almost any pet store. Our guide below looks at three of the most common, assesses their ingredients and nutritional contents, and recommends which of them you should use.
Oxbow Essentials Chinchilla Food
What I like about Oxbow’s chinchilla pellets is that they’re clear about what’s in them, and the nutritional value of their product. The ingredients list is admittedly long, as these pellets include…
Alfalfa Meal, Soybean Hulls, Wheat Middlings, Soybean Meal, Soybean Oil, Salt, Lignin Sulfonate, Cane Molasses, L-Ascorbyl-2-Monophosphate (Vitamin C), Limestone, Yeast Culture (dehydrated), Vitamin E Supplement, Choline Chloride, Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Copper Sulfate, Selenium Yeast, Vitamin A Supplement, Folic Acid, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Copper Proteinate, Riboflavin Supplement, Manganese Proteinate, Biotin, Manganous Oxide, Thiamine Mononitrate, Magnesium Sulfate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Cobalt Carbonate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Calcium Iodate
But on the front of the packet, underneath these ingredients, it states that the pellets ‘guaranteed’ to contain:
|Crude Protein (min)||18.00%|
|Crude Fat (min)||2.50%|
|Crude Fibre||(min) 18.00% (max) 23.00%|
|Calcium (min) 0.60%,||(max) 1.10%|
This falls roughly within the range of what chinchillas need, so even if it does contain added ingredients like soybean meal and salt, that’s not a problem.
Mazuri Chinchilla Pellets
Mazuri pellets are roughly similar to Oxbow Essentials pellets. Here’s a list of the ingredients you can find in them. Let’s take a look at what they contain, and what’s different to what you’ll find in Oxbow (different core ingredients are highlighted):
Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Dehulled Soybean Meal, Wheat Middlings, Ground Timothy Hay, Ground Oats, Ground Soybean Hulls, Wheat Germ, Dried Beet Pulp, Cane Molasses, Dicalcium Phosphate, Flaxseed, Soybean Oil, Dried Whey, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Dl-Methionine, Choline Chloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Magnesium Oxide, D-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Form of Vitamin E), L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Stabilized Vitamin C), Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, Yeast Culture, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus Niger Fermentation Extract, Dried Trichoderma Longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract, Calcium Pantothenate, Zinc Oxide, Nicotinic Acid, Copper Sulfate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin, Manganous Oxide, Ferrous Carbonate, Zinc Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite, Cobalt Carbonate.
The most important differences are that Mazuri pellets contain a mixture of alfalfa meal, timothy hay and ground oats. Oxbow, by contrast, only have alfalfa meal and fillers like soybean hulls and soybean meal. That doesn’t mean that Mazuri pellets are significantly better, but these slight differences in ingredients and the levels of each they contain mean that the guaranteed nutrients in Mazuri are slightly different to those in Oxbow:
|Crude Protein||20.0% min|
|Crude Fat||3.0% min|
|Crude Fiber||18.0% min|
|Vitamin E||175 IU/kg min|
|Ascorbic Acid||100 mg/kg max|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||0.50% min|
Science Selective Chinchilla Pellets
Last but not least, Science Selective has a few different ingredients to the two listed above. The fact that it contains fewer ingredients may appeal to you. It contains:
Lucerne meal (alfalfa), soya hulls, wheat, soybean meal, wheat feed, extruded locust beans, dried parsley, dried plantain, linseed, monocalcium phosphate, salt, calcium carbonate. May contain genetically modified soya. Additives: Vitamin A 15000IU/kg, Vitamin D3 1500IU/kg, Ferrous sulphate monohydrate 152mg/kg, Calcium iodate anhydrous 1.5mg/kg, Copper sulphate pentahydrate 20mg/kg, Manganese oxide 38mg/kg, Zinc oxide 62 mg, Sodium selenite 0.2mg/kg.
Despite having different ingredients, though, Science Selective pellets contain roughly the same nutrients as the other two brands. This is roughly what scientists think is most suitable for chinchillas, so it’s little wonder that they all have roughly the same nutrients. These pellets contain:
Which Pellets Should You Buy for a Chinchilla?
Truth be told, any of the three brands above would be suitable for your pet. Their nutritional contents were determined through scientific study, which means you can be as sure as it’s possible to be that they provide your pet with what it needs. We recommend trying different brands to see which your chinchilla prefers, as some if not most chinchillas are picky, fussy creatures that inexplicably prefer one to the other despite them being basically the same!
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