Chinchillas have been popular for centuries as a source of fur. For several decades they are also common as pets. If you think about chinchillas as pets, you should also know what these animals eat. So are chinchillas carnivores or herbivores?
Chinchillas are not carnivores. They are herbivores and in the wild, they feed mainly on grasses, herbs, twigs, leaves, and cacti. However, sometimes they eat insects if they find any. They usually can’t get their hands on roots or fruits. This also has implications for the proper diet of chinchillas as pets, as their digestive tract has adapted to this meager diet.
Let’s take a closer look at why chinchillas are not carnivores, but herbivores. You should know some details about it in order to provide your chinchillas with food in the best possible way.
Furthermore, we will also look at whether chinchillas are hunters or prey in their natural environment and whether they are considered an endangered species.
Finally, we explain important details about their digestive tract and why chinchillas eat their feces.
Are Chinchillas Carnivores?
Wild chinchillas live in the barren mountainous regions of the Andes, more specifically in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. There they live at altitudes of up to 16,500 ft.
The food supply at these altitudes is naturally somewhat less varied than at your favorite supermarket. However, chinchillas have adapted well to this meager food supply.
They eat what they can find at these altitudes. And this is usually not meaty food.
But chinchillas have been known to occasionally eat insects or even afterbirth. But this is not their usual food, but really rather the exception.
Their digestive tract is also not designed for the absorption of animal protein.
Are Chinchillas Herbivores?
Chinchillas are herbivores. However, in their natural environment, they have only a limited choice of plants.
At altitudes of up to 16,500 ft in the Andes, not very many plants grow. Their diet consists mainly of grasses, herbs, twigs, leaves, and cacti.
Fruits do not appear on the menu in their natural habitat. They also do not normally have access to roots, as their paws and soft fingernails are not suitable for digging up roots.
Since the digestive tract of chinchillas has adapted to this limited food supply, you must also be careful what you feed your pet chinchillas.
An overly rich diet is not conducive to keeping your chinchillas healthy. Give them only a little bit of fats and proteins. Instead, their food should consist mainly of raw fiber. Carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins are also important for chinchillas.
Of course, this form of diet is not very nutritious. Therefore, chinchillas must eat a relatively large amount of this food to adequately meet their nutritional needs.
Are Chinchillas Predators or Prey?
Since chinchillas are not carnivores, they are not predators. However, they are prey to various predators in their natural habitat.
These predators include mainly birds of prey. But felines, snakes, skunks, and wild dogs also prey on chinchillas.
Chinchillas have developed some defense mechanisms against predators. First, they are nocturnal and spend most of their days in their safe burrows.
If they are actually attacked, they spray urine to distract and chase away the predator.
They may even shed their fur if a predator gets a hold of them. You also need to keep this in mind if you want to pick up chinchillas.
In doing so, they may also shed their fur. Therefore, it is important to know the proper technique for picking up and carrying chinchillas.
Are Chinchillas Endangered?
Wild chinchillas are indeed endangered. They have been hunted and severely decimated for centuries for their beautiful furs.
Chinchillas do not get very many offspring in the wild. Therefore, they are slow to recover from heavy hunting, even though they have been more protected since about the 1910s.
However, it is already too late for the largest chinchilla species, the royal chinchilla. This species is already considered extinct.
Chinchilla Digestive Tract
Since chinchillas have been eating their meager and nutrient-poor diet for a long time, their digestive tract has also adapted to this form of food.
The digestive tract of chinchillas is, so to speak, its own little ecosystem. It lives on the fact that a very specific ratio in the food composition is given.
If there is a wrong ratio, for example too much sugar and too little raw fiber, disturbances are the result and the ecosystem threatens to topple. But too much raw fiber is also unhealthy for their digestive system.
Unlike ruminants such as cows, sheep, or goats, chinchillas have only one stomach. Like guinea pigs, they are monogastric herbivores.
Chinchillas have a very long intestinal tract, which can be up to 10 ft long. In direct comparison to us humans, where the intestinal tract can be up to 30 ft long, this is a lot.
They need this long intestinal tract to digest the nutrient-poor raw fiber as well as possible.
A special feature in the digestion of chinchillas is their appendix. During digestion, special intestinal bacteria push the already chewed components of the raw fibers back into the appendix.
In the appendix, the sugar is then extracted from the raw fibers and fermented. The result is that fatty acids are obtained through this process. Chinchillas then later excrete these so-called appendix feces or soft feces.
The feces excreted from the appendix, also called caecotrophs, are rich in amino acids, proteins, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. So it contains many important nutrients. And this brings us to the next chapter.
Why Do Chinchillas Eat Their Feces?
It may sound a little gross at first, but chinchillas actually eat their feces. But this is completely normal and even necessary for their nutrient intake.
As described above, the so-called appendix feces or soft feces contains many important nutrients such as amino acids, proteins, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins.
Chinchillas cannot absorb these nutrients directly from the digested raw fiber. They are first formed in the appendix and then excreted from there in the soft feces.
To get these valuable and important nutrients, chinchillas have only one option. And that is to eat this soft feces.
So eating their own feces is part of the diet for chinchillas. They absorb vital nutrients through it.
But this also means that you should not prevent this for your chinchillas in any case. So do not remove the droppings immediately after they are excreted, and also do not stop your chinchillas from eating droppings if you observe this.
Only in this way can the chinchillas get these important nutrients.
Chinchillas are herbivores, not carnivores. In their natural environment, they have a relatively meager supply of plant food, but their digestive system has adapted to it.
Chinchillas feed mainly on grasses, herbs, twigs, leaves, and cacti. From these, they obtain important nutrients by digesting the food in the appendix in a special way.
The result, called appendix feces, is part of their diet. They eat their feces to get the vital nutrients in it.
It is quite common for chinchillas to eat insects as well. But this is not a common part of their diet. Chinchillas are rather prey than hunters.
Always remember that a diet too rich can be harmful to your chinchillas. Their digestive tract is simply not designed for it. And also remember that it is perfectly normal and important for chinchillas to eat their feces.
With this information in mind, you can find the right diet for your chinchillas that will allow them to live a long and healthy life.