In the wild, Chinchillas are generalists and opportunistic herbivores – an adaptation to living in areas where food availability fluctuates. They feed on different plants when they become available so their diet varies greatly between the wet and dry seasons. Their main food plants are the bark and leaves of native herbs and shrubs, and succulents such as bromeliads and cacti. Chinchillas rarely drink in the wild but obtain all their fluids from their diet.
However Chinchillas in captivity are mainly herbivorous (eat only plant material) and caecotrophic (they produce two types of fecal pellet, the first type, the ‘ceacotroph’, is eaten by the chinchillas directly from the anus to produce a second, small, dry pellet). A diet high in plant fiber is needed to maintain this special digestive process so chinchillas must have ad lib access to good quality, fresh, dust-free grass hay at all times. A chinchilla’s typical daily diet consists of 30g of pellets and unlimited hay, with fresh water provided daily from a bottle.
Fresh herbs and leafy greens can be fed in very small amounts daily as treats. Chinchillas have been shown to prefer dead and dry leaves to fresh leaves, and can be given dried herb and plant mixes, which can be found in most pet stores, to supplement their hay-based diet and add variety and interest to it.
Chinchilla eating out of a Hopper.
Common Disease and Ailments:
Chinchillas have many ailments. These include infectious diseases such as: Listeriosis, Pasteurella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Respiratory tract infections and Gastrointestinal disorders. These can be better prevented than treated. Prevention should include keeping the chinchilla accommodations clean, giving them a climate matching their natural one, providing an optimum diet, and immunization when appropriate.
Listeriosis is not a typical chinchilla disease but in group housing conditions, it can spread as a digestive tract disease in a community. If it is identified then all chinchillas in the community should be treated. During and forever after treatment hygiene standards should be raised.
Pasteurella can be contracted from food and then transmitted among a group of chinchillas. Symptoms include apathy, digestive disorder, and fever.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections are widely distributed in nature and can affect chinchillas like many other animals. They can cause wide deaths in populations of chinchillas and spontaneous abortion in pregnant chinchillas.
Respiratory tract infections can be caused by many pathogens but regardless of cause, usually result in difficult breathing and a nasal discharge. Young chinchilla are more likely to be affected and these infections are unlikely to result in an epidemic even if transmissible.
Gastrointestinal disorders are observed as either constipation or diarrhea. These are almost always the result of a problem with the diet, but if the diet is optimal, they could be the symptom of an infectious disease. Problems with diet should be excluded before other treatments, and perhaps the regular food stock should be discarded and replaced on the presumption that it has spoiled. Constipation in chinchillas is difficult to observe in groups because it may not be obvious than an animal is not contributing to the population's waste. If it is identified, mild treatments include feeding paraffin as an oil to soften the feces. An experienced hand may massage the chinchilla to assist with a bowel movement.
Mental heath is also a big deal as the rodents can become easily distressed. It is best to disturb Chinchillas as little as possible. Providing a wooden home as a hiding spot can help Chinchillas cope with stress.