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Why Do Chinchillas Eat Wood?

Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner with a strong background in nutrition.

Chinchillas are desert animals that live in the Andes mountains of South America. They're also popular in some areas of the world as pets. But if you choose to adopt one, it's important to keep them healthy. How? Give them a large cage with plenty of space to run and play and ensure you’re feeding them a healthy diet.

The mainstay of a chinchilla's diet is mostly grasses, but they also eat lesser amounts of insects, fruits, and vegetables. But there’s something you might not know about these endearing creatures. They enjoy gnawing on wood. Even they have plenty of insects and fruits, they may still nibble on pieces of wood. But why?

That a chinchilla eats wood might raise some eyebrows since wood, at least for humans, isn’t exactly a delicacy. But there are a few reasons these furry creatures do so.

First, wood is a reliable source of fiber, which helps them digest their food properly. Second, chewing on wood helps preserve their dental health. Third, it provides mental stimulation and helps keep their brain sharp.

Chinchillas Eat Wood for Their Dental Health

Possibly the most important reason chinchillas eat wood is to keep their teeth healthy. They have teeth that continue to grow during adulthood. The top incisors grow at a rate of about 3mm per month, while the bottom incisors lengthen at about 2mm per month and it doesn’t stop when they’re adults.

In the wild, this is beneficial as chinchillas can whittle down their teeth on tough vegetation. However, in captivity, they often do not have access to the same type of abrasive vegetation, which can lead to overgrown teeth.

If not properly cared for, overgrown teeth can cause a chinchilla a great deal of pain and may even lead to death.

The chinchilla's teeth are sharp, and they use them to gnaw on their food. This constant gnawing compensates for their continued tooth growth by wearing them down.

Wood is an excellent source of firm material for chinchillas to chew on to keep their teeth from elongating too much. That’s why they need access to hay, wood, or some other firm substance to keep their teeth from growing too long.

It Helps With Mental Stimulation

In the wild, chinchillas live in burrows and nests made of sticks and twigs. This natural chewing behavior helps keep their teeth healthy and sharp. In captivity, they may chew on wood to help fulfill their instinctual need to chew, as well as for mental stimulation.

Providing your chinchilla with safe, chewable toys and objects made of wood helps satisfy their natural chewing habits and provides them with much-needed mental stimulation.

Be sure to choose chew items that are free of chemicals and other harmful substances, as chinchillas are sensitive to these. With a little creativity, you can give them a fun and enriching environment that meets all their mental and physical needs.

Chinchillas Can Benefit From Chew Toys

If you notice your chinchilla chewing on wood, try to provide them with other chew toys to help satisfy their need and desire to use their teeth. You can also give them small pieces of untreated wood to gnaw on. Just be sure to supervise your chinchilla to make sure they don't ingest any large pieces, as it could lead to an obstruction.

Wood Is Also a Source of Fiber

Wood has high fiber content and is a good source of roughage, which is important for chinchillas' digestive health. While wood doesn't provide direct nutritional benefits, it's an important part of a healthy chinchilla diet due to the fiber it contains. Wood provides a source of roughage in their diet, which can benefit their gut health.

Final Thoughts

There are several reasons chinchillas chew on wood. The most important is to trim down their teeth and prevent them from becoming too long. A secondary reason is the fiber wood provides a chinchilla.

If you give your chinchilla access to wood, ensure that you’re not giving them wood from trees like plum, redwood, cedar, and cherry which can be toxic to these small animals. Be sure they have access to water at all times too.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.