Nutrition and Digestive Problems in Chinchillas

 a baby blue diamond chinchilla eating alfalfa
13 May 2020 Pets4Company

The digestive system of Chinchillas: The importance of plants and the consequences of a poor diet.

From the Origins: The Importance of Plants in Food

The chinchillas are herbivorous animals from the deserted slopes of Chile where the environment is harsh and temperatures reach both extremes over the course of twenty four hours. The dry and fibrous plants of this region have shaped their inhabitants, making them evolve and adapt, creating defense mechanisms that allowed them to survive.

mountain bush land of chille

Herbivores of all species have developed a sophisticated digestive system capable of absorbing all essential vitamins and nutrients from their diet.

Chinchillas are monogastric animals, that is, they have a simple, mono-compartmented stomach (where food undergoes a first digestion process), and a cecum , a portion of the intestine where there is a culture of bacteria responsible for the fermentation of food and for degrading cellulose particles, the main component of plants, which otherwise would be indigestible. In the large intestine, however, only a small part of the nutrients is absorbed, the rest being lost in the feces.

Some faeces are later consumed and again digested by the chinchilla , providing a reuse of nutrients that are not absorbed by the intestine in the first digestion. We call these cecotrophes .

Some owners, observing this behavior in their chinchillas , find it somewhat strange and even worrying, but it is only a second digestion.

Cecotrophs are beneficial, containing a high nutritional content and live cultures of bacteria that help keep the chinchilla intestinal flora healthy.

This entire digestion process takes an average of fifteen hours.

Disturbances of intestinal flora and gastrointestinal problems

The lack of a balanced diet can lead to multiple gastrointestinal problems in chinchillas . Although intestinal blocks are not common, situations of intestinal stasis can occur - a slowing down or even stopping the digestive system, or abdominal swelling due to the accumulation of gases and fecal debris.

Chinchillas do not normally fall into situations of overfeeding and therefore should always have food at their disposal in the form of feed appropriate to the species, but also hay whose quality / species can and should be alternated in order to avoid nutrient deficits. alfalfa is also a good complement, very rich in crude protein, fiber and calcium, and the frequency and amounts vary according to the age and health of the animal.

green rolls of hay

Their digestive system is always active, performing functions in the various states of digestion. If a chinchilla is deprived of food, this whole system can slow down or even stop. The damage can even be irreversible depending on how long the grace period was.

Another problem that affects chinchillas is intestinal bloating and gas accumulation. The digestive system of chinchillas is not prepared to eliminate gases, so for a correct diagnosis and treatment, in both situations, the help of a veterinarian will be necessary.

Intestinal stasis can result in abdominal bloating and vice versa.

The consumption of inappropriate food, stress, illness and sudden changes in diet are mainly responsible for changes in the level of intestinal flora . Any change of feed should be done slowly and gradually . Treats rich in fats and sugars that can also compromise the liver should be avoided.

The best way to keep the chinchilla healthy is to limit the number of “extras” and less appropriate foods, make all feeding transitions slowly, provide multiple sources of hay and fiber and water always clean and fresh!