One of the questions we get asked most often is, ‘Can chinchillas eat rabbit food?’ It’s a sensible question, as they seem like very similar animals with similar diets. And lots of people who are thinking about buying a chinchilla already have a rabbit or two, and everything would be much easier if you could just give chinchillas the same food.
Can Chinchillas Eat Rabbit Food?
Unfortunately chinchillas and rabbits have fundamentally different dietary requirements. Rabbit pellets and mixes are specifically designed to contain the right blend of ingredients to meet the needs of rabbits, while chinchilla pellets are formulated to be perfect for a chinchilla’s more sensitive stomach.
The two different mixes do not cross over. Chinchillas should never be given rabbit food, which could cause your pet chinchilla some serious harm.
Can Chinchillas Eat Any Rabbit Food?
There are a few high quality mixtures designed as show rabbit food that are safe to feed to chinchillas. Most pet rabbits will not be fed this kind of food, and you must be absolutely certain that your show rabbit food is certified safe to be eaten by chinchillas. If there’s any doubt at all, then don’t feed your chinchilla any rabbit food!
What About Hay?
Both rabbits and chinchillas love eating hay, and it’s good food for both of them. But chinchillas tend to be a little bit fussier. Chinchillas should only be fed alfalfa hay or Timothy hay, and it must never be brown or moldy. Use a hay rack to keep your chinchilla’s hay fresh, dry and clean.
Hay is a crucial part of a pet chinchilla’s diet. It’s a great source of roughage and also helps to wear down a chin’s constantly growing teeth. Overgrowth can be dangerous for chinchillas, so anything that helps prevent this is good.
What Should You Feed Chinchillas?
Chinchillas have quite specific dietary requirements, and have to be given just the right food. Unlike many other animals, a wide variety of different foods is not necessary. The vast majority of a chinchilla’s diet should consist of hay and specially formulated chinchilla pellets. Not rabbit food. Hay and chinchilla pellets are all your chins really need to live long and happy lives in captivity.
Your chinchillas should always have food available, either chinchilla pellets or hay or both. They’ll probably be okay without one or the other for a couple of days, but they should never have to cope without either. You don’t need to worry about your chinchilla overeating and gorging itself on food. Chinchillas won’t overeat healthy food. (But they will eat too many treats…)
As a guideline, a 5lb bag of pellets will normally last a single chinchilla around three months. Buying any more than this for a single chin is a waste of money, as the pellets may have gone off by the time your chinchilla has finished the bag. Of course a 10lb bag of pellets will be ideal for a pair of chins, and they do love company.
Chinchilla Fruits and Vegetables
Fruit and veg falls into the ‘treats’ category for chinchillas. You can feed your chins a tiny amount of fruit or vegetables, but they can’t eat anywhere near as much as you would give to a rabbit. Too much fresh fruit and veg will give a chinchilla serious digestive problems, which can be fatal.
Chinchillas definitely don’t need treats. They can be given occasionally, but certainly not every day. But your chin will love any treats you give him/her, and they’ll beg you for more. Don’t give in, as it will be bad news for your chinchilla if you do cave to their demands. They certainly will overeat when it comes to treats, but even small amounts can be dangerous.
Best Treats For Chinchillas
- Dried fruits such as dried banana, apple, rose hips, blueberries, pineapple, strawberries, peach, raisins or cranberries.
- Small pieces of fruit such as grape, pear, apple or kiwi.
- Seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or flax seeds.
- Vegetables and greens such as carrot, dandelion leaves, parsley, romaine lettuce or chard. Nothing like cabbage or broccoli that causes gas.
- Pieces of unsalted nuts such as almonds.
- Grains such as rolled oats, plain shredded wheat or oat grouts.
- Commercially available alfalfa-based animal treats.
- Dried herbs such as mint, oregano, raspberry leaves, nettle, comfrey or dandelion leaves.
Remember that all of these should only be given to chinchillas very occasionally and in small quantities. They are all bad for chinchillas – there are no healthy chinchilla treats. Pellets and hay are all these animals need.
Many of the treats listed above are fattening, and others contain a lot of sugar. Any treat containing sugar or fat risks giving your chinchilla bloat, a condition that can be fatal in chinchillas. If bloat does occur, you need to get your chinchilla to a vet immediately. So only ever give your chins very small amounts of any of the above treats, and be extremely careful even then.
What Shouldn’t You Feed Chinchillas?
As mentioned above, anything fatty or sugary is best avoided. People occasionally try feeding their chinchillas chocolate, but this is dangerous and could kill your pet. Don’t do it.
Some people also seem to think that giving a chinchilla alcohol or caffeine will be hilarious. It won’t be funny when the animal dies. Please don’t do it.
What About Chinchilla Mixes?
There are a number of special chinchilla food mixes available on the market, but we don’t recommend them as many contain too many treats. Besides the dangers listed above, you also run the risk with these mixes that your chinchilla will become a picky eater, only taking the treats and ignoring the healthy food. This means that your chinchilla won’t get the nutrition it requires despite eating too much fat and sugar.
Supplements for Chinchillas
Many owners put a salt block or wheel in their chinchilla’s cage to supply essential minerals. A few also dissolve occasional vitamin C tablets into their chinchilla’s water, but most pellet mixes contain enough vitamins to make this unnecessary.
Coprophagy in Chinchillas
You might notice your chinchillas eating their own feces, a common practise in the animal kingdom called coprophagy. It might seem disgusting to you, but it’s a perfectly natural and normal behavior for chinchillas. So if you see your chinchilla eating its own poop, don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.
If you’ve got any other questions about looking after chinchillas, please take a look at our Chinchilla care sheet, where all your questions will be answered!