Chinchillas are small, South American rodents often kept as pets. They are known for their extremely soft, gray fur. Various types of chinchilla foods are available and should be given careful consideration, as proper nutrition is essential to the life and longevity of the animal. It is important to use chinchilla foods that closely mimic the diet the animal would eat in the wild. Treats can be offered occasionally or when needed, but water and chewing material should always be available.
Pet stores sell chinchilla pellets that are safe and provide the animal with a balanced diet. Chinchillas should only be given food that is specifically designed for them and should not be given food that is intended for other small animals, such as hamsters or ferrets. Some chinchilla foods come in a loose, mixed form, but pellets are generally preferable, as a chinchilla may pick through a mix and only eat the most desirable portions. This can lead to a deficit of some nutrients.
Chinchillas should not be given food or treats that are meat- or green plant-based, as their digestive system often has trouble processing these materials. When switching chinchilla foods, the new product should be introduced gradually because of the animals’ sensitive stomach. Pellets should be given in bowls and in small amounts so that optimum food freshness is maintained. Timothy hay or grass hay should also be regularly provided to match the diet of wild chinchillas.
Giving treats to a chinchilla can be helpful in taming the animal. Keep in mind that treats are not a substitute for chinchilla foods and can upset the animal's stomach if given too often. Chinchillas enjoy raisins and other fruits, but these should be used sparingly. Pet stores sell a wide variety of treats made for chinchillas, but a small-animal veterinarian can best determine the safety of these individual products. Alfalfa hay can be given as a treat, but only in small amounts.
Chew sticks are very important chinchilla supplies and play an important role in the animal’s ability to eat. Chinchillas chew to keep their teeth ground to a proper length. Without the ability to chew, the teeth can grow too long and prevent the chinchilla from eating. Chew sticks designed for chinchillas can be found at pet stores and are most often made from wood or pumice stone. Water should also be provided to a chinchilla, either in a small bowl or in a bottle that hangs from the side of the pet’s cage.