July, 2022

July 25, 2022

How to Care for Your Hamster or Gerbil

How to Care for Your Hamster or Gerbil

We know your hamster or gerbil is a cherished member of the family.  These tiny creatures have big personalities and are endlessly entertaining.  In return for the joy they bring you, we know you want to provide them with everything they need to be happy and healthy every day.  From daily enrichment and balanced nutrition to physical exercise and loads of love, we focus on every aspect of small pet care to help you create a full, healthy, and joyful life for the hamster or gerbil you love.  In this article, we’ll cover the basics of what you need to keep your pet happy and healthy. 

In this article, we'll cover the following important topics:

  • Hamster and gerbil nutrition 
  • Nesting material for hamsters and gerbils
  • Housing your hamster or gerbil
  • Enriching your hamster or gerbil's world
  • Hamster and gerbil behaviors
  • Your hamster or gerbil's health
  • Essential hamster and gerbil supplies    

What Do Hamsters and Gerbils Eat?

Hamster and Gerbil Food = 75% of Daily Nutrition 

A daily recommended amount of uniform, balanced fortified food is the foundation of your hamster or gerbil’s daily nutrition and should make up approximately 75% of the daily diet.   

  • Oxbow hamster and gerbil foods contain whole grain, plant-based ingredients for the health of your pet. Choose between Oxbow’s three quality lines: Essentials, Garden Select, and Simple Harvest.
  • Avoid mixes with nuts, corn, seeds, or fruit.  Hamsters and gerbils are wired to selectively feed on these tempting morsels over the healthy pellets, leading to nutritional deficiencies.   

Learn more about the selective feeding habits of hamsters, gerbils, and other omnivores. 

Veggies, Greens, and Fruits for your Hamster or Gerbil = 20% of Daily Nutrition 

Veggies, greens, and fruits are an important part of your hamster or gerbil’s daily diet.  These fresh foods offer important vitamins and nutrients, help keep your pet hydrated, and provide enrichment to the daily routine.  

Romaine, kale, parsley, apples (without seeds), strawberries, bananas, peas, and squash

Leeks, chives, and onions

Learn more about the best fruits for hamsters and gerbils

Treats for Hamsters and Gerbils = 5% (or less) of Daily Nutrition 

Treats are great for building the bond between you and your pet but should only be offered in moderation.  All Oxbow treats are designed to be as wholesome as they are delicious.   

  • Small amounts of high-quality seeds (such as oats, sunflower seeds, barley, and cooked brown rice) and species-appropriate insects make great treats for hamsters and gerbils.
  • For convenient, wholesome options, choose from Oxbow’s full line of Simple Rewards treats. 

Hungry for more?  Check out our comprehensive list of healthy treats and foods for hamsters and gerbils!

Nesting Material for Hamsters and Gerbils

Hamsters and gerbils are expert nesters, so it’s important to provide plenty of safe, comfortable nesting material for your pet to build with.  Good nesting options include:

  • High-quality paper bedding
  • Paper nesting disks
  • Grass hay (Many hamsters and gerbils especially enjoy Oat Hay, which often contains tasty, immature seed heads.)
  • Newspaper, paper towels, and old socks

Housing Your Hamster or Gerbil

Despite their diminutive size, hamsters and gerbils require ample space to live a healthy, happy, and enriched life. 

  • While recommendations for appropriate habitat size can vary, most hamsters and gerbils will do in an appropriately designed habitat that provides between 360 – 450 sq in of living space.  If you have questions regarding the appropriate amount of living space for your specific pet, it’s always best to consult with your trusted veterinarian.
  • Choose a habitat with a solid bottom to accommodate bedding such as Oxbow’s Pure Comfort, dedicated hideouts for rest and relaxation, cardboard tubes, ropes, an exercise wheel, burrowing and nesting material, a food bowl, and two sources of fresh, clean water.
  • Set your pet’s habitat up near household activities, but away from windows and heating and cooling ducts.

Enriching Your Hamster or Gerbil’s World

All hamsters and gerbils are wired to engage in a set of core instinctual behaviors each day.  These behaviors include chewing, playing, hiding, and exploring.  Intentionally encouraging these behaviors in healthy ways is called enrichment.

  • Support all four behaviors in a variety of ways each day to support your pet’s mental and physical health.
  • Providing daily enrichment is a fun, interactive way to build your bond with your hamster or gerbil.
  • Offer a variety of natural chews, engagement accessories, places for rest and relaxation, and exercise items daily.
  • Oxbow’s Enriched Life accessories are designed to help make enrichment fun, easy, and safe!

Looking for some enrichment inspiration for your hamster or gerbil?  Check out our top 10 toys and accessories for hamsters!

Hamster and Gerbil Behaviors

In addition to being adorable, domesticated hamsters and gerbils are adventurous and curious by nature.

  • Hamsters and gerbils love to chew, so it’s essential to provide plenty of appropriate chewing options.
  • Hamsters are nocturnal and should be gently handled if picked up while sleeping.
  • Hamsters are not especially social and do just fine on their own.  Before adding a second hamster to the family, we encourage you to read our expert article on caring for multiple hamsters.
  • Gerbils are generally more social and do well in pairs.

Your Hamster or Gerbil’s Health

veterinarian giving exam to hamster

You should visit a qualified exotics veterinarian at least once a year for check-ups on your hamster or gerbil’s diet, behavior, and health.

  • Be prepared for your pet’s visits by making a list of any questions you may have ahead of time. 
  • Many hamster and gerbil health problems are preventable with proper diet and care. 

Looking for a qualified exotics veterinarian near you? Find one today! 

Reasons to contact your vet right away include:

  • Abnormal stools or diarrhea 
  • Wet or soiled tail
  • Blood in the urine
  • Sneezing or trouble breathing
  • Hunching in a corner of exhibiting a lack of activity
  • Overgrown front teeth
  • Bald patches in the fur
  • Lumps or sores on the body
  • Sore on the feet
  • Abnormal eating or drinking behaviors

Essential Supplies for Your Hamster or Gerbil

Every hamster or gerbil should have daily access to some basic supplies for health and happiness.  Make sure you’re stocked up on the following:  

Still have questions about how to provide the best care for your hamster or gerbil? Our experts are here for you! 

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July 21, 2022

5 Ways to Build a Better Bond with Your Pet

5 Ways to Build a Better Bond with Your Pet

Building a better bond with your pet doesn’t have to be an advanced process! In fact, it may be simpler than you think. This blog covers 5 easy ways to strengthen the bond you have with your small exotic companion mammal. 

1. Offer Your Pet a Variety of Fresh, Healthy, Species-Appropriate Foods

Small mammals are highly food-motivated animals! Offer different species of appropriate vegetables or greens to your pet to find out what appears to be their favorite.  

While treats like fruits should be fed in moderation, vegetables that are low in sugar can be fed to our little ones a couple of times a week safely. This gives you additional opportunities to interact with your pet in positive, meaningful ways.  

2. Pick Up Your Pet Every Day

It can take a lot of time and effort, but once a small mammal is accustomed to being handled, they are much less likely to run away when you attempt to pick them up. Not only is this a wonderful convenience for you, but this also means that precious time isn’t wasted during an emergency.   

Better yet, when you pick them up have them spend a bit of time on the couch with you! Whether they’re sitting on your lap or securely sitting next to you, couch time is a direct form of bonding.

3. Bond With Your Pet in Their Playpen

It can be easier than you think to spend time with your pet! Setting up a playpen that is attached to their enclosure allows your pet to explore while having the safety of home close by. Better yet? You can sit in the playpen while your pet is exploring!  

Many small mammals (especially guinea pigs) love to walk perimeters.  When your pet walks around you as you sit in the middle of their playpen, they get more used to your particular scent. Choosing an appropriate activity while doing this (such as watching TV or reading a book) makes it easier to spend time with your pet on their own terms, as they can approach you whenever they want in this scenario.  

Keep in mind that small mammals love to chew on anything and everything. Make sure that cords, papers, and other materials you don’t want your pet to chew on and consume are safely out of their reach. 

4. Teach Your Pets Basic Tricks or Play Fun Games

Because small animals are so food motivated, they can also be fast to learn basic tricks! Simple tricks can include walking in a circle, stepping up onto your hand, or standing up on their hind legs. If your pet masters these tricks, you can try more advanced tricks, such as the ones shown on Ace’s Amazing Tricks. If your pet may enjoy games, we also have many suggestions for simple games that you can play with your pet.

5. Always Remember That Consistency Is Key

Building a better bond with your pet requires consistent interactions over time.  Inconsistent interactions are confusing for our small friends, and this confusion can sometimes lead to a lack of trust.  

When you interact with your pet, it’s best to not trick or deceive them (pretending to offer food and instead give them a bitter-tasting medicine, for example).  Instead, honest interaction with your pet in this scenario would be to pick them up, give them the medication, and then provide a treat as a reward afterward. When your pet knows what they can expect from you, they will be more trusting of you. 

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July 15, 2022

How to Support Your Senior Rabbit

How to Support Your Senior Rabbit
Written by Patricia Larson, LVT

With all the advances in nutrition and veterinary care, our rabbit friends are living longer than ever before. With this new longevity, it is imperative to know how to care for your rabbit as they grow older and their needs begin to change.  

Rabbits reach their senior years around age 5, but this may be earlier for giant breeds or later for your dwarf breeds. Your veterinarian is the best resource to help determine when your bunny is officially a senior. 

Common signs of advanced age in rabbits include:  

  • Less active and more prone to obesity 
  • Thinning fur or developing a salt & pepper coat 
  • Decreased muscle mass and resulting weight loss 
  • Cataracts 
  • Arthritis 
  • Sore hocks  

The Importance of Providing Age-Appropriate Nutrition 

Providing the best possible premium nutrition for your senior bunny is one of the most important steps you can take to support their aging bodies. Foods that target common aging issues help your rabbit live a long and healthy life, free of pain and discomfort.  

Like their youthful counterparts, seniors need higher amounts of protein and calcium to support aging muscles, bones, and teeth. Antioxidants help protect aging cells from free radicals in the body, lessening the damage they cause. As the old adage goes, “You are what you eat.”  

Oxbow Essentials Senior Rabbit Food Highlights: 

  • Made with Alfalfa 
  • Higher protein and amino acids to help prevent loss of muscle mass 
  • Extra Calcium to support muscle mass, bone health, and dental maintenance 
  • Contains natural antioxidants to help common health concerns associated with aging 
  • Turmeric Powder- Contains curcumin and carotenoids that have anti-inflammatory properties and help alleviate chronic pain 
  • Ginger Root- Contains gingerols which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to reduce inflammation and pain. 
  • Chamomile- Contains terpenoids, apigenin, quercentin, and luteolin which contain anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties. 

Other Ways to Provide Antioxidants for Your Senior Bunny 

  • Provide plenty of fresh greens and veggies.  If you’re unsure of which varieties to offer, be sure to check out our complete list of rabbit-friendly greens and veggies.  
  • Mix our Botanical Hay into other hay varieties to provide an antioxidant boost with the added chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, and clover. 

Support With Help of Supplements  

Our Natural Science Supplements can provide added support to aging body systems and can provide assistance with system-specific problems associated with aging. Speak to your vet about whether one or more of these specially designed snacks may be beneficial to support your senior bunny! 


  • For pets during times of stress or with chronic health issues. 
  • Active ingredients include: 
    • Vitamins A,C,D,E, and B-Complex support optimal health & well being 
    • Flaxseed provides beneficial Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids 
    • DHA supports overall brain, eye, skin, coat and heart health 

Joint Support 

  • For pets advancing in age, diagnosed with arthritis, or with issues related to stiffness 
  • Active ingredients include:  
  • Glucosamine helps prevent cartilage degeneration 
  • Yucca: anti-inflammatory, antioxidative 
  • Turmeric: anti-inflammatory, helps protect liver 
  • Ginger root: anti-inflammatory, helps relieve chronic pain 

Digestive Support 

  • For pets with gastrointestinal sensitivity, infection, or a history of problems. 
  • Active ingredients include:  
  • Chicory Root contains inulin, supports growth of beneficial bacteria. 
  • Ginger Root: anti-inflammatory, supports gastric motility 
  • Fenugreek Seed: anti-inflammatory, slows absorption of glucose 
  • Chamomile: anti-inflammatory, helpful during times of distress

Urinary Support 

  • For pets with a history of urinary issues such as infections, bladder stones or urine sludge. 
  • Active ingredients include:  
  • Cranberry: antimicrobial, helps prevent urinary tract infections 
  • Dandelion Leaf: natural diuretic, supports overall urinary health 
  • Astragalus Root: anti-inflammatory, supports renal function 
  • Pumpkin Seed helps relieve spasms and cramping from urinary disorders

Setting Up the Ideal Habitat for Your Senior Bunny 

Movement can be a lot more challenging for our senior rabbits. Wear and tear on joints can lead to arthritis and stiff joints, so they may not be able to move as easily as they could when they were young. The following tips for setting up an ideal habitat for your senior bunny will help ensure they are safe and comfortable in their home setting:  

  • Setting up a single-story cage with minimal ramps in and out of the cage and lots of extra bedding for extra padding is ideal.  
  • Cover any slick areas with soft non-slip mats or carpeting so that your little one doesn’t have issues finding their footing.  
  • Make sure that food, water, and hay are all easy to reach, preferably at floor level so they do not have to overstretch or get up on their hind limbs to eat or drink. You want everything as easy as possible for them.  
  • Provide a low-entry litter box that they can easily walk into rather than one they need to hop into. Achy joints can make doing this difficult and if they can’t easily get into the box to potty you may see an increase of accidents outside their box.  
  • It is also important to keep their habitat as clean as possible, lower mobility can make it difficult to move away from messes and senior rabbits can be prone to grooming issues like urine scalding. 

The Ideal Senior Bunny Habitat will be: 

  • Single Story 
  • Have a low-entry litter box 
  • Have plenty of bedding 
  • Slick areas will be covered with carpet or no-slip mats
  • Water, food, and hay are within easy reach

Regular Grooming: Essential For Your Furry Senior Friends  

Providing regular grooming to your senior friend is important as it offers comfort as well as an opportunity to evaluate their condition. Stiff joints make it more difficult to keep clean so it is likely that your bun will need more help.  


Brushing will remove loose hair and allow you to evaluate their coat and body condition. Some questions to consider include: 

  • Does their coat seem drier or more oily than normal?  
  • Do you notice any areas of hair loss?  
  • How is their body condition?  Do they seem thinner or heavier than normal?  
  • Are there any sores or lumps that are abnormal?  
  • Are there any areas where urine or fecal matter is caught in the fur? 

Nail Trims 

Keeping nails trimmed to a healthy length is important for all rabbits, seniors included.  Some questions to consider when clipping your little loved one’s nails include:  

  • How do their feet and nailbeds look?  
  • Do you notice any signs of sore hocks or urine scalding to their feet?  
  • Do their joints seem to be moving normally?  
  • Is there any wear to the fur on the bottom of their feet that seems abnormal? 

Checking Dental Health 

Dental health is essential for overall health and wellbeing.  Similar to your rabbit’s coat and nails, there are some important areas to look for (and questions to ask yourself) when taking a closer look at your pet’s pearly whites.  Questions include:  

  • Do your pet’s teeth seem to be aligned normally?  
  • Are any of the teeth misaligned or longer than normal?  
  • Do you notice any sharp points or teeth spurs that may be causing discomfort while eating? 

Scheduling Veterinary Check-Ups 

While proper veterinary care is important throughout your rabbit’s life, it becomes doubly so during their senior years. Regular checkups should be scheduled annually but your vet may recommend increasing check-ups to every six months depending on your rabbit’s history and condition.  Bloodwork and other tests may be recommended to check your bunny’s liver and kidney values, among other things, which is highly recommended for our senior friends.  

Changes to Watch for and Report to Your Veterinarian: 

  • Weight (either up or down) 
  • Eating habits 
  • Urine or stool consistency 
  • Ability to move (difficulty getting up, or being less active) 
  • Behavior (acting moody, aggressive, or abnormal in any way) 

Life with a senior bunny can be a bit challenging, but it is so rewarding to know that they are supported and well cared for as they enter their twilight years. While this article provides some great ways to support your aging rabbit, always rely on your exotic specialist vet for the best, most comprehensive plan for supporting your beloved senior bunny. Your veterinarian has the expertise and personal relationship with your sweet pet that will allow them to provide the specialized care your bun bun needs. 

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July 13, 2022

Frequently Asked Senior Pet Questions

Frequently Asked Senior Pet Questions

Micah Kohles, DVM, MPA | Vice President of Technical Services & Research

How do I know if my rabbit or guinea pig is considered a senior?

One of the most common questions I get as a veterinarian is at what age do I consider my rabbit and my guinea pig "senior?" It's a great question. We're all aware of the different stages and the journey of our pets' lives. And we want to be conscientious about the things that we should be considering during those life stages. So, we first need to remember that all pets are individuals.  We can make generalizations, but we want to look specifically at our pets.  What is their breed? What is their lifestyle? Have they had underlying other issues along the way?   All these factors make a difference when it comes to that dietary transition. In general, though, rabbits at the age of five and older and guinea pigs at the age of four or older are the times that we start having "senior" conversations with these pets. 

How often should I take my senior pet to the vet? 

We're all aware of the importance of good wellness and preventative care.  Another common question I get with senior pets is how often should I bring them to my veterinarian? For adult animals, a once-a-year physical exam with your veterinarian gives us that opportunity to evaluate them and really gives us a good opportunity to look for disease. Obviously, as animals age, there are age-related changes that we may see potentially associated with disease. So, I do recommend that you work with your veterinarian to get your animal in at least twice a year, ensuring we're getting that good weight check, that good physical examination, and that may even warrant additional diagnostics such as blood work and radiographs.

What type of hay should I feed my senior rabbit or guinea pig? 

Another key factor to think about as our animals age is what those changes mean in terms of our diet.  With hindgut fermenters like rabbits and guinea pigs, we understand that fiber (and hopefully a diversity of fibers) is at the root of that nutritional need. So, what do we want to consider differently as our animals age? First, we don't want to change our consistency in offering the largest diversity of grass hays that we can; the bigger the diversity we can offer for these animals, the more likely we're going to ensure consistent intake. As we begin to see age-related changes (potentially associated with weight loss, a loss of muscle mass, or other issues associated with arthritis), we may want to consider bringing in other types of hays (namely alfalfa) into the nutritional equation. Alfalfa is still going to bring good amounts of fiber, but also provides an additional amount of protein that can be beneficial to these animals as they age.

What should I look for in a senior diet for my pet? 

We've talked a little bit about hay, but what about the other parts of that nutritional equation? Let's talk about pellets and what to think about from a nutritional standpoint. When we look at senior rabbit diets, we want to think about the types of proteins that are in that diet. With proteins, we're specifically talking about amino acids, those essential building blocks to muscle. So, we want to think about additional levels of protein. Beyond protein, we also want to evaluate the benefit of additional antioxidants. We know antioxidants can help to slow the age-related processes and combat oxidative stress that can naturally occur. Lastly, we want to think about prebiotics. One of the most important things in a senior animal is to maintain a healthy GI tract specifically to support the microbiome that lives in the hindgut.  Utilizing different types of prebiotics in the diet of a senior animal can be beneficial to support that hindgut.

Just like we talked about in rabbits, with senior guinea pigs, we don't ever want to forget about the importance of the diversification of fiber sources. We know this is going to support dental health as well as digestive health, and it will decrease the likelihood of obesity as these animals age and potentially become less active. Number two, we want to think about the inclusion of antioxidants. Antioxidants have a lot of beneficial properties, especially in animals as they age, as they can combat the naturally occurring oxidative stress-related process. And, number three, we want to think about prebiotics - things like mannan-oligosaccharides and fructooligosaccharides. These prebiotics are food for the microbiome that lives in the hindgut.  The happier we can keep those bacteria, the more effective they're going to be at fermenting fiber and the more healthy that ecosystem is going to be.

Should I offer supplements to my senior pets?  

Let's talk a little bit about supplements. We're all aware of how popular supplements are in the dog and cat world. And, many of us ourselves probably take supplements. Supplements are an important part of the nutritional health and wellbeing equation, but we want to look at supplements through the lens of the individual. We want to evaluate what potential challenges they may have or what potential diseases they may have faced and consider supplements specifically for those purposes. We also want to make sure that the supplements that we use are specifically formulated for these species. It would be easy to take dog and cat supplements and potentially think about using them in rabbits and guinea pigs. However, that would be a mistake and could actually lead to nutritional issues. We want to stay focused on a high fiber basis and look at appropriate plant-based nutrients, such as herbs and other nutraceuticals that are targeted for specific types of diseases.

Is enrichment important for senior pets?

We've talked a lot about nutrition, but equally as important is enrichment. And, hopefully, you are already providing different types of physical and mental enrichment for your animals at home. But, the question I get is, "how should that change as my animal ages?"  It is important for us to understand that the behaviors, activities, and capabilities of animals as they age are going to shift. We want to keep those factors in mind as we look at how we provide enrichment. However, the importance of enrichment absolutely does not diminish. If anything, we want to focus on more enrichment. We want to continue to stimulate those animals to be as physically active as possible. And, we want to continue to challenge them to be mentally enriched in their environment.

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July 12, 2022

Frequently Asked Chinchilla Questions

Frequently Asked Chinchilla Questions

By Dr. Micah Kohles

Hi, I’m Dr. Micah Kohles with Oxbow Animal Health.  We're thankful to get lots of pet-related questions from customers, and today I want to focus on chinchillas - everything from diet, nutrition, and foraging, to other interesting topics.  Specifically, we'll answer the following questions: 

  • How much hay should my chinchilla eat each day?
  • My chinchilla doesn't like green hay.  Is that bad?
  • How do I prevent dental disease if my chinchilla doesn't like eating hay?
  • Should I throw away the hay my chinchilla refuses to eat?
  • Is a diet of only hay and water appropriate for chinchillas?
  • Are fresh or dried veggies better for chinchillas?
  • Which types of greens are best for chinchillas?
  • Which type of food is best for my chinchilla?
  • Is an Alfalfa or Timothy-based diet better for my chinchilla?

 How much hay should my chinchilla eat each day?

One question I get a lot, not just with chins but with all animals (especially rabbits, guinea pigs, and other hindgut fermenters) is how much hay should my munchkin eat? First, it's important that we stop and not get too caught up in a specific amount as pet owners. We naturally want to measure out and pay attention to a specific quantity. With hindgut fermenters, foraging with all kinds of different types of hay is so essential. What we want to really focus on is that fresh, clean hay is available all the time. We know they're going to eat it, they're going to sleep on it, and they're probably even going to poop on it a little bit. Having fresh, clean hay available for them 24 hours a day is one of the most important things we can do from a nutritional standpoint.

My chinchilla doesn't like green hay.  Is that bad?

As individuals, we know that all pets will have their own unique preferences that may not make perfect sense to us as pet parents. For example, I've had numerous clients talk to me about the fact that their animals prefer hay that is not as green, lush, or leafy as what they’ve come to associate with high quality. Instead, their pets may prefer hay that is more pale, yellow, or even brown in place. These clients ask if this is bad or wrong. Through research and testing, we know that there is very little nutritional difference between green hay and hay that is brown or yellow. As long as that hay has been cured appropriately, there's no risk to the animal whatsoever. Our goal should always go back to wanting to provide the biggest diversity of hay types possible.

How do I prevent dental disease if my chinchilla doesn't like eating hay?

We get a lot of questions about dental disease, which is because it's one of the more common problems we see in chinchillas and other hindgut fermenters. Encountering some level of dental disease as pets age is something that you want to be conscientious of. So, what can we do to hopefully prevent this? We know that hay is essential in stimulating the chewing motion that provides healthy ongoing dental wear. If dental disease progresses to the point of causing oral pain, one of the first things that we'll see is they don't want to chew as aggressively. This, in turn, discourages them from eating the hay that provides beneficial wear. In these cases, we want to challenge ourselves to think of ways to offer hay. This might mean cutting hay into shorter pieces or maybe wetting the hay to stimulate more intake. But, as we lose the ability to stimulate wear and tear with hay, we may have to consider and explore additional dental treatments to prevent dental disease from progressing.

Should I throw away the hay my chinchilla refuses to eat?

Speaking of hay, people often wonder what do with the hay in the cage that their pets won't eat. It’s normal for pets to leave some stems or other smaller parts of the hay. However, I don't want owners to automatically think they should remove the leftover hay. We want to stimulate that animal to ingest the majority of their hay. To encourage this, try mixing fresh hay in with what’s leftover. This will often stimulate pets to eat some of what they had previously left behind. If your pet’s hay becomes wet or soiled, however, then we can potentially run into other quality factors. At that stage, it’s best to remove and replace the hay.

Is a diet of only hay and water appropriate for chinchillas?

Another common question I’m asked is whether it’s appropriate to feed chinchillas only hay and water. My very quick and definitive answer is “no – absolutely not.” To help understand why let’s stop and reflect on the natural diet of these animals. We know that it is a diet full of diversity, including dozens (if not hundreds) of different types of plant materials that are seasonally available. What that tells us is that they are getting a huge range of macro and micro components when it comes to nutrients. When hay and other plant materials dry, the micronutrient profile changes, especially when it comes to vitamins. As a result, pets won’t receive the diversity of micronutrients they require if they’re only eating hay. To make up for this, we need to offer a diversity of grass hays, a controlled amount of high-quality food, as well as a diversity of fresh greens. This is the best way to mimic the overall diversity of nutrients pets would receive in their natural environment.

Are fresh or dried veggies better for chinchillas?

One of the important components of any hindgut fermenter’s diet (beyond hay and a controlled amount of a uniform pellet) is greens and vegetables. We know greens and veggies provide a lot of nutritional benefits, hydration benefits, and most of the munchkins really enjoy eating those. One question I get a little more consistently, specifically to chinchillas, is whether fresh or dried veggies are more appropriate. So, the first thing I want to talk about before we get into the “fresh versus dry” debate is to make sure we understand what types of vegetables we are talking about. We really want to focus, number one, on the dark leafy greens - things like red leaf and green leaf lettuces, carrot tops, dandelion greens - those types that should be the macro component of their green category. Vegetables should really make up a very small percentage (probably less than 10% of the overall fresh produce that we're offering) and fruits are not necessarily something I would recommend at all. And if we're going to offer them, only do so in very limited and infrequent amounts, especially in chinchillas and degus who we know are a little more sensitive to sugars. In terms of fresh versus dried, I'm a very big proponent of fresh because we know that in addition to the hydration benefits that we're going to receive by having that water contained within the plant, there are certain micronutrients and especially vitamins that we degrade or lose when we dry plant materials. Now, there is nothing wrong with small amounts of dried vegetables and dried greens from time to time. But, if you have availability, fresh greens and veggies will always be more nutritionally advantageous for these animals.

Which type of greens are best for chinchillas?

So one of the other parts associated with fresh greens is what different types should we feed? We know as a concentrate selector, unfortunately, it's not uncommon for these little ones to pick out one or two types that they like and they push away everything else. Our goal should be to mimic as much diversity as we possibly can, knowing that they're going to eat dozens or more different types of plant materials in their native environment. That’s why our goal should be to discourage them from focusing on one or two types. If they do gravitate toward this behavior, we want to think about different ways to offer greens. For example, start by mixing different types of greens together, as well as mixing greens in with their pellets.

Which type of food is best for my chinchilla?

So far, we've talked a lot about hay and greens. But, what about pellets? Pellets are a very important component of the overall nutritional profile. Whether we're talking about chinchillas, rabbits, or rats, we always want to pick a food that prevents our pets from selectively feeding. That means we want to avoid seed-based or muesli mixes. We want to feed a product that is uniform in nature. That way in every single bite that they take, they're getting the same amount of macronutrients like protein, fat, and fiber, as well as micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. We want to be very conscientious of only feeding the recommended amount, which is going to be based on the individual animal, their age, their activity level, their overall body weight, their health condition, and potentially underlying medical conditions. When we consider all of these factors, we can make a very specific and individual decision that reflects the best choice nutritionally for that individual animal.

Is an Alfalfa or Timothy-based diet better for my chinchilla?

So, what is the best type of diet for chinchillas? So, we’ve already discussed the importance of not feeding mix-based diets to concentrate selectors such as chinchillas. That’s because they are instinctively going to pick out (i.e. “select”) the components of the diet that they find most appetizing. Over time, this will unfortunately lead to balanced nutrient intake, not only with macronutrients but especially with micronutrients including vitamins and minerals. With this in mind, we always want our chinchilla’s diet to be uniform in nature. We also want to take the time to look at the back of the bag and look at those ingredients to ensure they’re appropriate for our hindgut fermenters like chinchillas, guinea pigs, rabbits, and degus. We want to focus on fiber - not just the loose stranded fiber we've talked about in the form of hay – but fiber in the diet itself. Whether it comes in the form of a grass hay-based ingredient (like Timothy or orchard grass) or in the form of a legume hay (like alfalfa), we want to see one or both of these forms of fiber as a macro (or “main”) component of the overall diet.

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