Good nutrition is an essential part of any pet’s needs.
Although it is easy to feed chinchillas, it’s important to understand just how their digestive system works, or they will suffer from serious health issues.
Because chinchillas don’t adjust quickly to changes in their diet, they are vulnerable to digestive disturbances if they are fed food that is unsuitable.
As they are herbivores, not a great deal is know about what plants are most vital to them when they are in the wild.
The digestive system of a chinchilla is well evolved to breaking down plant food and obtaining the most nutritional benefit from it.
The importance of a chinchilla’s incisor teeth
A chinchilla’s incisor teeth which are at the front of it’s mouth play an important part in deciphering food and allow them to nibble it first with their sharp incisor teeth and to break it down so as to get the most nutritional benefit from it.
Their incisor teeth have a sharp cutting edge which are not flat but are sloped and shaped like a chisel.
They have a thick covering of enamel on the front with an area of soft dentine behind which wears away more quickly and so maintaining the sloping profile.
They also have a big gap in their jaws which extends back behind their cheek teeth which means that they can pull in the skin of their cheeks behind their incisors whilst they are nibbling at shoots.
This acts like a curtain so that they cannot swallow any small stones or debris whilst they are eating which might otherwise cause choking.
When they live in inhospitable surroundings the plant food that they can feed on can be particularly tough and so they will look to nibble the pant food using their incisor teeth and tear it into pieces before passing it through to their molar teeth at the back of their mouth making it easier to swallow.
What food do they tend to eat?
The food that they eat tends to be low in nutrients and means that they need to eat large amounts of it to meet their nutritional requirements.
They rely on beneficial microbes which take the form of unicellular organisms and bacteria called protozoa.
They use this to break down cellulose that is present in the cell walls of plant matter so that food can be digested properly.
There is a blind-ending sac which is known as the cecum, which is at the junction between the small and large intestines where these microbes are found.
The cecum corresponds to the human appendix and it is quite large in chinchillas as it is where the digestive process occurs.
The protozoa and bacteria only operate effectively within narrow set of of environmental conditions.
Any changes in their acid in this part of the gut means that not only will they not function well but bacteria may well grow here and will result in a large digestive disturbance.
Chinchillas have quite a consistent diet when they live in the wild and this helps to keep the microial population of their gut stable.
However if you happen to vary their diet quite significantly what it will do is to change the normal conditions within the digestion tract and it can kill of many of the microbes that are necessary.
Because of this they wont be able to digest their food how they would do and will suffer diarrhoea and eventually weight loss.
Changing a chinchilla’s diet
If you are going to change their diet this needs to be done over a period of a few weeks with slight adjustments being made rather than sudden changes so you can allow their microbial population to adapt as a result.
What helps a chinchilla’s gastrointestinal system is fiber as it helps to propel food through the digestive tract by making it bulk out and ensuring that there is no big shift in the pH of the cecum which has such a big effect on their overall health.
When a chinchilla doesn’t have enough fiber in their diet it can mean that food doesn’t pass through their gut as quickly as it should and they will develop constipation.
The nutrients that chinchillas need
Chinchillas need protein to help them to grow.
They also need carbohydrates to give them energy.
They need fat to help insulate their body and this is also used in their cell membranes and is used for energy to be broken down if needed.
They need vitamins for their body such as vitamin A and Vitamin D which they will store in their liver and also Vitamin B.
These are water soluble vitamins as they are not stored and can be washed out of the body via the kidneys. This is why they need them often and they need them often.
Calcium and phosphorus are also key nutrients in making bone.
Ensuring Chinchillas are well fed
Chinchillas these days need a healthy amount of chinchilla pets to be fed to them on a daily basis. These pellets contain all the nutrients that they need to keep healthy and in order to breed in the best way that they can.
There are a number of pelleted diets that are available to purchase but keep consistently to one type and make changes gradually.
A chinchilla will only eat just a small amount of around 30g a day of pellets. Just make sure that they don’t run out by keeping a healthy stock for them to eat.
Store their food in a relatively cool place which is away from direct sunlight and keep all packages sealed so as to keep out air which will be harmful for the vitamin content.
If water reaches the contents then it will need to be thrown away because the dampness will trigger molds to develop which will cause stomach upset.
Typically a chinchilla needs 2 tablespoons of pellets each day and slightly more for young chinchillas and also pregnaTheir digestive system is well adapted to breakingnt chinchillas who need more feeding as they are developing.
A good practice is to measure prepare your chinchillas food at night and then it is ready for them when they wake up.