Loofah is best known for its uses in the bathroom, but it can also be used as a chinchilla chew toy. But is it safe to ingest, or will it make your chinchilla choke?
Is loofah OK for chinchillas? It’s safe so long as it’s not bleached or made of plastic. Natural dried loofah is safe for chinchillas to chew, ingest and live with. Loofah is fibrous so makes a good DIY chew toy for chinchillas, and because it’s made of plant matter, it will break down in the gut and won’t cause stasis or choking. You can grow your own loofah, too.
The guide below is only short. It explains what loofah is, why it’s safe for chinchillas, and what kind you need to make your own DIY chew toy (as there are some that are unsafe).
Is Loofah Safe for Chinchillas?
Loofah is safe for chinchillas to chew on, so long as you don’t use the wrong kind. You need a new, natural loofah that hasn’t been dyed or bleached. It shouldn’t still have seeds in it, so if it does, shake it out to get rid of them before giving the loofah to your chinchilla. You should also avoid using:
- Old and dirty loofahs. Buy one that’s new. If you can’t, you could put your old loofah in the dishwasher to clean it before allowing it to dry completely. It would then be safe to give to your pet.
- Synthetic loofahs. Some are made from plastic, which is dangerous for chinchillas to chew and ingest.
- Loofahs with rope or string attached. Your chinchilla will chew the rope and get sick.
- Loofah toys with fabric bodies or plastic decorations attached. Loofah pet toys are sold in pet stores, but often have fabric bodies like this one. This would be unsuitable for a chinchilla cage.
As for the more traditional use of loofahs as a bathing tool, chinchillas don’t need them. They bathe in dust rather than water. And in the exceptional circumstances where you do need to safely bathe your chinchilla in water, using a loofah wouldn’t achieve anything. Your chinchilla doesn’t need to exfoliate.
What Is Loofah?
Believe it or not, a loofah is a dried out cucumber.
There are lots of different kinds of cucumber. This kind is grown across south and south-east Asia and is eaten as food, just like our more familiar cucumbers. But if the fruit of the luffah vine is left to mature and rot without being harvested, it dries up. All that’s left is the inner network of ‘xylem’, which is the network of veins the plant uses to move water from the roots to the fruit. The fibrous xylem doesn’t break apart, so when the fruit dies, it’s left behind.
As it’s a fruit, the loofah is filled with seeds. Once it’s done drying, you shake the dried-out loofah to get rid of them (which now looks like the bathroom sponge you’re already familiar with). It can then be used for washing. If you didn’t know, you probably shouldn’t use a loofah for bathing. Because they rarely if ever fully dry out, they contain lots of bacteria and even fungi. These can cause spots and rashes on your skin—but even if they didn’t, who wants to scrub themselves with something dirty to get clean?
There’s also synthetic loofah you can buy. This is made of plastic, which is unsuitable for a chinchilla’s cage. Because loofah isn’t intended to be eaten, the one you buy may not make it clear what exactly it’s made from. You therefore have to be careful buying one from a general store.
Can Chinchillas Eat Loofah?
Your chinchilla isn’t supposed to eat the loofah. It’s not intended to replace or mimic the hay that your chinchilla should eat. That applies both to the living fleshy fruit and the dried-out bathroom sponge. But the point of putting loofah in a chinchilla’s cage is as a chew toy. So, your chinchilla will chew on it whether it’s safe or not.
Can Loofah Be Digested?
Loofahs are only plant matter. That means they can be digested just like regular vegetables. The xylem is made of dense fiber; while there are digestible and indigestible kinds of fiber, both kinds can be broken down and passed. The difference is that only some kinds of fiber provide the body with energy. So, loofah won’t get stuck in your chinchilla’s gut.
The problem is if the loofah has been bleached, dyed or treated. If it’s treated with chemicals, these could make your pet sick if ingested. The same applies to plastic loofahs. The pieces of plastic in your pet’s gut can’t be dissolved or passed, meaning the accumulate and cause a blockage. This condition is called stasis, and can kill chinchillas.
You also shouldn’t put loofah in your chinchilla’s cage if it has rope or string attached. Any kind of fibrous string like cotton is unsuitable as it can’t be digested. Your chinchilla will easily gnaw through it, and having something like string in its gut could kill your pet.
DIY Loofah Chew Toy for Chinchillas
Most owners who use loofahs as chinchilla chew toys buy them from specialist stores. There are lots of these online that sell things for chinchilla owners. One major benefit of buying this way is that you know you’re getting something suitable for chinchillas.
That being said, you can use loofah you buy from a store, so long as it isn’t bleached, treated or synthetic. Most loofahs sold for bathing are bleached to look lighter. If you aren’t absolutely certain that it’s safe, you shouldn’t buy it. Stores with a natural or ‘health food’ focus are more likely to have the kind you want.
Can You Grow Your Own Loofah?
If you can’t find any natural loofah, you can always grow some. You can grow your own loofah in temperate regions. The loofah is a kind of vine, and you can buy seeds from online stores. The first year, the plant will likely not produce any fruit. But the year afterwards it might.
If you do plan on growing your own loofah, be careful not to expose the fruits to cold temperatures and frost. They prefer tropical regions, so frost will kill the fruit, which is the part you want. If you have one, you should grow your loofah in a hothouse/greenhouse to keep it warm.
Loofah can take a long time to completely dry out: up to six months. So, be prepared for this if you plan on growing your own. You can tell when it’s fully dried because it looks like the bathroom sponge you’re familiar with.
Making Loofah Chews for Chinchillas
Once you have your loofah, you can put it straight into your chinchilla’s cage. It doesn’t present any more of a choking hazard than any other chew toy or food. But if you want it to last longer, you could consider cutting it into slices. These cross-sections look attractive and they’re easy for your chinchilla to hold.
Alternatively, you could tie them to the roof of the cage. Most owners use sisal rope, which is stronger and safer than most other kinds of rope. Alternatively, you could use wire doubled back on itself; just make sure there are no loose ends poking into your chinchilla’s cage. You could also run the loofah slices over a piece of wood and string it from one side of the cage to the other, or put it on the cage floor.
Is Dyeing Loofah Necessary?
We recommend against dyeing the loofah to make it look more interesting. Dye is poisonous and shouldn’t be ingested. Because the loofah will act as a chew toy, your chinchilla will inevitably eat some by accident, so could get sick.
Some owners recommend using a safe product like Kool-Aid to give the loofah some color. This is much safer than using regular dye, which shouldn’t be ingested. But it’s likely best to avoid giving your chinchilla something that contains colorants and various other additives. The only reason why you would consider doing this is to make your chinchilla’s cage look more attractive. But unless you have a completely safe way to do that, there’s no point.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to dye things using vegetables and other non-toxic dyes. Beetroot is the best example. If you boil the loofah in water with a beetroot for a couple of hours, it will turn a deep blue color. If you do plan on dyeing the loofah, use a natural method like this instead.