What Do Chinchillas Eat in the Wild and as Pets?

In the wild, chinchillas are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and meat. However, they eat mostly plants and grains. Occasionally, they will eat insects and bird eggs. This only happens opportunistically. They will not go hunting for insects, but if they see one, they will eat them. They feed on all kinds of different plants in their native area, including shrubs, grasses, flowers, and roots.

They are also known to eat bark, which is very high in fiber. For this reason, they also require high amounts of fiber in captivity.

As you can imagine, their diet is slightly different when they are tamed. They have no control over their own food and depend entirely on their owners for food.

They will need mostly good quality hay. In the wild, they mostly eat grass, so hay is a suitable alternative when they are domesticated. They will also eat grass, leaves, and twigs, but these are more difficult to provide safely in captivity. Most grass in suburban areas has been treated with harmful chemicals that will injure the chinchilla. Therefore, only hay and grass designated for chinchillas may be used.

In addition, the chinchilla should also be fed the appropriate pellets. This provides some additional nutrients and vitamins that they may not get from hay. They can be fed dried fruits and root vegetables as a treat. Various herbs can also be given. However, this should only be given as a snack, as it can cause the chinchilla to become overweight.

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What Fruits and Vegetables Can Chinchillas Eat?

Chinchillas can eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruit. However, some can be given more than others. This largely depends on the nutritional value of the fruit, as well as how sweet it is. Generally, you want to provide the most nutrients per calorie.

These vegetables can be given regularly:

  • alfalfa

  • Celery

  • potato

  • Carrot

  • cabbage

  • Sweet potato

  • Pumpkin

Fruits that are high in sugar should only be given occasionally, including apples and most berries. It’s too calorie-dense without offering a nutritional boost. Hence, they can lead to nutritional deficiencies if they are fed too much of these fruits. They can also lead to obesity due to the high amount of sugar.

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Where Can You Buy Chinchilla Food?

You can buy suitable hay from almost any pet store. If the store carries other small pet supplies, they will likely have some kind of hay to suit. These shops will often have pellets as well. However, it is slightly less common than hay. You may have to order pellets online, as not all stores sell them.

Vegetables and fruits can be purchased from the shop. Human grade fruits and vegetables are fine. Many people use leftovers from their own stock of vegetables and fruits because these chinchillas often eat very little. They won’t eat intact a packet of celery.

Can Chinchillas Eat Rabbit Food? Or Other Rodent Foods?

Chinchillas are not kept as pets as often as other rodents, such as mice and rabbits. For this reason, it can be tempting to buy food designed for these other animals, as they are often easier to find.

Chinchillas can eat some of these other rodent-designed foods. For example, straw is usually quite universal. You don’t need to buy species-specific hay. This hay is sometimes advertised for certain species, although hay is straw.

However, you should buy pellets that are specifically for chinchillas. They need specific vitamins and minerals, which will be provided by species specific pellets. However, pellets designed for other species will not meet these requirements. They may have too much of certain nutrients and not enough of others. It is important that the pellets are specifically designed for chinchillas.

Do Chinchillas Eat Other Animals?

No. Chinchillas are omnivores by classification. However, they eat insects—not other animals. Sometimes they may eat a bird’s egg or two, but these are the eggs they find while looking for food. They will not deliberately hunt bird eggs or insects. They are opportunistic eaters.

Meat is not a core part of their diet. However, they may eat any meat they encounter, which makes them omnivores. For the most part, chinchillas will eat grass and similar vegetation.

hairy chinchilla

What is a Chinchilla’s Favorite Food?

A chinchilla’s favorite food will vary from individual to individual. Although these animals share a common diet, they have their own preferences. It is important to point out that their favorite foods are usually not the ones they eat frequently. Chinchillas tend to like fatty or high-carbohydrate foods.

From a survival perspective, this makes sense. You want to eat the most calorie-rich foods, as these will make you live longer than low-calorie foods. However, a diet consisting only of high-calorie foods will inevitably lead to obesity. In addition, many of these high-calorie foods are not nutrient dense, so they can lead to nutrient deficiencies if: all Your chinchilla is eating.

You’ll need to find out what your chinchilla’s favorite food is based on experimentation. Just try a few different treats and see what they like. Of course, don’t just give them their favorite food all time, but you can use it as an occasional treat.

How Often Do Wild Chinchillas Eat?

Chinchillas in the wild usually eat two meals a day—morning and evening. Like rabbits, they usually come out in dim light. This is when they can see enough to find suitable food with care, but when it is not so visible that they can be picked up by birds or similar predators.

However, unlike many other rodents, they may consume food throughout the day. They eat rather slowly, so they may not be able to consume all the food they need during this time.

Pets can be offered the same amount of food. They should be offered food twice a day, but hay should generally be provided around the clock. They usually won’t overeat hay, and this gives them a chance to damage their teeth.

Can Chinchillas Eat Cheerios?

Yes, in moderation. Like most treats, chinchillas can eat some Cheerios. They will not hurt them and are non-toxic. However, they don’t really contain all the nutrients that chinchillas need, so they shouldn’t take up most of a chinchilla’s diet. (Or even a measured percentage of their diet.)

Cheerios also has the wrong calcium-phosphorus ratio. If your chinchillas eat too much, they can develop an imbalance. This can cause all sorts of problems.

Many chinchillas love Cheerios, so they make a great snack. They are also cheap. Of course, be sure to get regular Cheers, because many flavors have a lot of added sugar that can interfere with their diet. You just want a plain one.

chinchilla eats

What Foods Are Bad for Chinchillas?

There is a long list of foods that chinchillas cannot eat. As you might imagine, you shouldn’t give your chinchilla anything that doesn’t fall into the fruit or vegetable category. Dairy, meat and similar foods should be avoided. It’s not part of their natural diet, and they don’t have the enzymes to break it down properly. This can upset their stomach and cause health problems.

There are also types of fruit and vegetables that they cannot eat.

For example, you should avoid:

  • Asparagus

  • Avocado

  • Peas

  • Cabbage

  • Corn

  • Lettuce

  • Broccoli

  • Spinach

  • Rhubarb (and its leaves)

You should also avoid high-fat nuts and seeds, including sunflower seeds and peanuts. While these animals may eat low amounts of seeds in the wild, these are usually not as fatty as sunflower seeds. Very sweet fruits should also be avoided, such as strawberries and bananas. Look for foods that are low in calories and high in nutrition.

The calcium-phosphorus ratio is also important. Imbalances can easily be caused by the wrong diet, which can lead to various health problems. For this reason, it is best to stick to a list of safe foods and snacks only very sometimes.

  • You may also want to read: Can Chinchillas Eat Hamster Food? What you need to know!

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Final Thoughts

In the wild, chinchillas eat mostly grass and other vegetation. They are similar to rabbits in this respect. They may occasionally eat insects, but this is usually an opportunistic diet. If there are insects in front of them, they will eat them. However, they would not go out and look for them.

When in captivity, the easiest way to replicate this diet is to provide plenty of hay. Straw also damages their teeth, which is important for their overall health. They can also be given some safe vegetables and fruits for added nutrition. Pellets should be provided, as they are enriched with nutrients as well.

  • Related reading: Can Chinchillas Eat Broccoli? What you need to know!

Featured Image Credit: Lyona, Shutterstock

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