Pet Chinchilla Care

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Food & Treats

PELLETS:

The general consensus in the chinchilla community is that there are three "top" brands of pellets that offer the highest quality in chinchilla nutrition: Oxbow, Mazuri and Tradition.

 - Oxbow Chinchilla Deluxe - can be found at Vet's offices, some Feed Stores, and PetsMart. It can also be found on-line, either by breeders or chin rescues who buy it in bulk and sell it by the pound. If you go to Oxbow Hay they have a store locator feature which will find a local distributor for you by zip code.

 - Mazuri Chinchilla Pellets - can be found at Pets Mart, most Feed Stores, or you can buy on-line directly from Mazuri's web site .

 - Tradition Chinchilla Pellets - can be found only on the internet. I've never seen it offered in a chain pet store or feed store. You can buy it in 25 lb sacks at: 
Ryerson Chinchilla
 Some breeders will also offer it by the pound.

There are endless debates over which is the best, but these three consistently rank at the top. What you should feed your chinchilla (of these three) should depend on the availability of the brand (you don't want to ever be caught short), the price you are willing to pay, and the preference of your chinchilla’s taste buds.

You will find that some chins reject or prefer a certain brand over another. As long as you are feeding one of these three, you can be absolutely CERTAIN that your chinchilla is getting the best nutrition possible. Whichever brand you choose, you should avoid any food that contains "treats" (seeds, corn, etc). These quality chin foods mentioned above are comprised of pellets only. With any pellet feed, always be sure to check the expiration dates stamped on the outside of the bags. Outdated pellets offer little or no nutrition for your pet. If there are no dates stamped, check the pellets to see if they are “crumbly”, as this is a sign of being past their prime.

QUANTITY:

Mazuri recommends 2 tablespoons of fresh pellets per chinchilla per day, and this is the guide that I’ve always gone by. You can judge by the amount that your chinchilla eats to feed a bit less or a bit more. My girls rarely finish their entire 2 tablespoons each, but I like to have it available for them just in case. You never want to leave the pellet dish empty, it's always better to throw out a bit of extra that they didn't finish.

SWITCHING PELLETS:

If you will be switching your chinchilla’s diet from one pellet to another brand, please go very slowly to avoid intestinal upsets. Switching too quickly can result in soft poops, which are dangerous to a chin’s health and a nightmare for cage cleaning. Switching should go as follows:

For the first week, feed ¾ the amount usually fed of the original food, and ¼ the amount of the new pellets. For the second week, feed a ½ and ½ mixture of old and new. For the final week, feed ¾ of the new food and ¼ of the old pellets. In the fourth week, you can safely feed the entire amount of the new pellets.

To avoid stomach upsets, it's a good idea to sprinkle acidophilus on the pellets for the duration of the switch. Acidophilus can be found at any GNC or even your local WalMart in the vitamin section. Get the highest "billions" count possible. Sprinkle the contents of one capsule over the daily supply of pellets to help soothe the stomach during a food switch.

HAY:

Chinchillas MUST have fresh, loose Timothy hay available to them at all times.

Hay cubes can be given as a treat, or as a supplement to loose hay, but not in place of the loose, fresh hay.  Orchard Grass hay, Brome, Botanical, or Meadow Grass can be given in small amounts as a treat if you wish, but again, not in place of the Timothy hay. Oat hay or Alfalfa are fine in VERY small amounts as a treat, but should be used sparingly as some chins are more sensitive to digestional upsets than others.

Any soiled hay should be removed from the cage daily. Hay is used as a source of fiber in their diet, but it also serves to wear down the back teeth of chinchillas, which are constantly growing, making it a necessity to prevent overgrown teeth and painful mouth sores.

All Timothy hay, whatever the brand, should be a nice bright green color, not brown, to indicate freshness. It should smell fresh and sweet. Black hay indicates the presence of mold. To prevent mold, store your hay in the original bag it came in, since it has air holes, or a well-ventilated container. Since I buy hay in large amounts, I store it in a large Rubber Maid bin with no lid.

BRANDS of HAY:

Oxbow Western Timothy is probably the MOST recommended hay on the market. You can find it at most Vet's offices, at your local Feed Store, or at any PetsMart. You can also find a local distributor with the store locator feature at Oxbow Hay .

American Pet Diner has some fantastic hay also, very fresh and sweet, but you can only purchase it online.  They also offer a fairly decent brand of pellets, so if you find that your chins prefer this hay, you can get both from one source.

Another excellent choice for hay is Kleenmama's . This hay must be ordered direct from their site.

Again, your choice of hay should depend on availability, (you don't want to run out) price, and your chin’s preference, but any of the above mentioned brands will be fine.

HAY RACKS:

Don't waste your money on the hay racks sold in pet stores.  The plastic ones that clip onto the outside of your cage will guarantee that hay ends up all over your floor. The wire ones can cause a broken leg from the chinchillas climbing into or over them. You can use a ceramic dish, a wooden box, or even a terra cotta flower pot! The flower pot is the cheapest and also the cutest solution; just make sure it's unpainted. Be sure to place the hay on the bottom level of your cage, since all chinchillas LOVE to shove things off their shelves.

TREATS & CHEWS:

Try to limit yourself to one small treat for each chinchilla per day.  Their diets in the wild are pretty boring, so their little digestive systems aren’t really used to variety, and can be easily upset. It’s human instinct to want to “spoil” your pet with treats, but it can do more harm than good in this case.

Safe treats include:

  • Quaker Slow-Cook Oats (not the instant kind). These make a great treat in pinch-sized servings.
  • Rose Hips are an excellent source of Vitamin C, which your chins need anyway. LINK
  • Plain Cheerios (one or two per day)
  • Unsweetened shredded wheat squares (cereal) - broken in half
  • Whole Oats LINK
  • Oxbow Papaya Tablets LINK
  • Wood twigs (scrubbed, boiled and baked) LINK

 Chinchillas do not have the internal glands to properly process any sugars

Avoid FRUIT treats such as raisins, dried banana, dried papaya, etc. as they are loaded in natural sugars.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are also a bad idea, since they can cause diarrhea and bloat.

The best idea I've ever heard of was to mix crushed rose hips with Quaker oats and keep it in a "treat jar". You can shake the treat jar every night to lure your chin back into the cage after playtime, and then reward him with a small pinch of mixed oats and rose hips. Both of those are beneficial to his health.

Prepared Wood twigs make an EXCELLENT substitute for TREATS! If you find yourself wanting to spoil them with multiple treats a day, use the twigs instead of a food treat - your chinchillas will be just as happy to get a fresh chew stick. My favorite source for tasty twigs is NOLA Chinchilla Rescue . 

Chinchillas are constant chewers, who will chew up your furniture, their cage, their hutches; basically EVERYTHING they can reach. It’s not because they like the destruction, it’s because their teeth never stop growing, and gnawing on things like wood helps to wear down their teeth to a comfortable level.

For this reason, you need to keep a large supply of chew toys on hand to divert them from what they shouldn’t chew. I use Bark Bites and Bark Branches from Pets Mart, and some of their other wooden Critter Kabob accessories. Avoid brands that proclaim to be flavored with fruit juices, since you don’t want to add sugar to their diet.

It helps to have the cage accessories made from wood instead of potentially fatal plastic, so avoid the cute Igloos and other plastic items in favor of wooden hutches. A terrific source for chewable toys is Whimsy's Menagerie. 

A great idea for hanging toys is to get some thin lengths of chain from your local hardware store, say about 6" or 7" each. Fill the chain with chewable wood, cholla, or pumice, and then slip a binder ring through each end. You can hang them sideways in the cage or dangle them end to end, and they are easily refillable. 

WATER: 

It should be mentioned that most tap water contains parasites that can affect your chin's intestinal tract adversely, causing diarrhea. Use bottled or filtered water and clean the water bottles thoroughly every day to help prevent bacteria build up.

I have a PUR 3 Stage Filter which I use to fill my water bottles. It works beautifully and cost about $35 at Wal-Mart.

The best water bottles I have found are the Lixit Glass 8 oz bottles, which you can find in the bird section at PetsMart. Glass is better than plastic for 2 reasons: plastic can (and will) be chewed, and glass inhibits the growth of bacteria more than plastic does.

Chinchillas consume very small amounts of water, only drinking 1-2 ounces per day. When you first get your chinchilla, or when you change water bottles, it's a good idea to use a semi-permanent marker to draw a line on the bottle to mark the water level. This way you can visibly tell if the chin is drinking. To test your bottle, tap your finger on the ball valve on the head of the spigot, and water should come out.  Don't fill the bottle all the way to the top - leaving a small bubble of air at the top of the bottle helps the vacuum to form properly.

Whichever bottle you find works best for you, be sure to clean it thoroughly every day, and refill it with fresh bottled or filtered water. Once a week, run it through the dishwasher or boil it in a pot like you would a baby's bottle. If you boil, remove the rubber ring inside the cap first.

*If you have a chin that doesn't know how to drink from a water bottle, or can't seem to find the water bottle, try the Raisin Trick - cut open a raisin and rub the "juice" (the slimy inside) on the tip of the bottle's nozzle. The smell will attract your chin to the bottle,and in the process of trying to lick the raisin juice off the tip, he'll figure out how to work the bottle and get water.

DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS:

A normal, healthy chinchilla does not need any dietary supplements. However, if your chin has recently been ill, or lost weight as a result of a food switch, you might want to consider a supplement as a health booster.  There are quite a few good supplements available.

Lonestar Chinchilla makes a whole grain supplement that can really help your chin gain weight. This supplement has calf manna in it, though, which is best for only short term use, so you don't want to give this long term. I recommend it after an illness or for a malnourished chin. (one who has been eating low quality pellets for a long time.)

Forever Feisty has an herbal supplement that chins really love! This one is specially formulated to help maintain digestive health. It does have added sugars in the form of dried carrots and blueberries, so please give this in moderation.

Ryerson Chinchillas also sells a terrific supplement that they have been using for years.

If you choose to use a supplement, place the measured recommended amount in a separate dish apart from the regular pellets. Placing the supplement in the same dish as food pellets will encourage the chin to dig through and sometimes even throw out his pellets, looking for the supplement.  No supplement should be given long term. It should be used short term as a health booster during or after a crisis.

*** To see live chinchillas in action, check out www.youtube.com/user/mistywaterwoman ***

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