Nutritional First Aid

Nutritional “First-Aid”

There may be times in a chinchilla’s life, when during a period of illness or surgical procedure they may suddenly refuse to eat voluntarily.

This can have a detrimental knock-on effect on the overall health of the chinchilla, and may adversely affect recovery times.

Many breeders and pet owners provide little in the way of specialist nutritional support during this time, if any. But this article aims to discuss the importance of syringe feeding (when appropriate) and how it can aid recovery.

Why is Syringe-Feeding of Use?

During illness or surgical recovery most animals have increased nutritional requirements, yet may have no appetite or actually physically cannot eat.

This can cause their metabolic rate to slow down, which can slow healing, impair normal gut motility and depress certain organ functions.

During long periods of inappetance, all fat reserves are mobilised and the chinchilla’s own tissue (muscle) protein is utilised to sustain it.

The metabolism of fatty acids to provide energy produces ketones, which would normally be excreted, but during periods of anorexia can cause a serious condition, called ketoacidosis. Syringe feeding may prevent this under certain conditions.

Syringe feeding also helps to stimulate normal gut motility, provides fluids and helps to stimulate the appetite.

Syringing glucose water alone may be adequate in the early stages of inappetance (to prevent hypoglycaemia) but it can be detrimental in cases of long-term anorexia as it can interfere with the liver’s fat metabolism.

When is Syringe-Feeding Appropriate?

Syringe feeding is often recommended when there has been a lack of food intake for about 2 days or there has been a recent loss of weight (useful if you know your chinchilla’s normal weight prior to illness).

However, in my experience, it is best to commence syringe-feeding as soon as a lack of appetite or weight-loss is noticed, in order to prevent digestive shut-down and total anorexia, as well as providing essential nutrients as soon as possible.

A word of caution though ... Do ensure that the chinchilla does not develop bloat (caused by gastric stasis and over-fermentation of food in the gut). This is characterised by lack of droppings, abdominal pain (stretching, rolling and pressing belly downwards) and a bloated, hard-feeling belly (we all know how painful trapped wind can be!!). Veterinary advice is essential if bloat is apparent.

If early symptoms (similar to that of bloat, but not as severe) of gastric stasis are treated early - it does not always progress to bloat!!! But it does mean that peristalsis has been impaired to some degree. Gut motility does need to be restored before over-fermentation (bloat) occurs. Veterinary advice is also recomended - as drug treatments are available to improve peristalsis.

Although, gastric stastis can sometimes improve on it's own with no veterinary intervention. (A little extra exercise can help with this condition too.) I always feel it is better to be safe than sorry - and liaise with a vet if abdominal pain is noticed - as it is not wise to just ignore the symptoms.

What Types of Food can be Syringed?

Basically you need to provide something that can be sucked up into a syringe relatively easily, and is in-keeping with the normal diet, contains adequate nutritional ratios and has a good fibre content.

I have tried several “formulas” over the years, here are some of the best …

Oxbow Critical Care

Available from some veterinary surgeries.

It contains:

Timothy Meal, Oat Groats, Soybean Hulls, Wheatgerm Meal, Wheat Middlings, Soybean Meal, Molasses, Monophosphate L, Ascorbic Acid (Vit C), Vitamin A, D3, E, K, B1, B6, B12, Biotin, Sodium Chloride, Calcium Pantothanate, Calcium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Menadione Dimethyl Pyrimidinol, Magnesium Chloride, Lactobacillus Sporogenes, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Lactobacillus Plantarium, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Streptococcus Faecium, Papaya, Pineapple and Natural Flavourings.

It says on the packet - "A complete syringe-feeding formula for convalescing small herbivores. Timothy Grass Hay - the main component in Critical Care, contains the fibre necessary for re-establishing proper microbial balance and stimulating peristalsis".

It is simply mixed with water and syringe fed as necessary, and any left-over mix can be refrigerated until the next meal.

Supreme Science Recovery

Available from vets and some retail stockists.

Is available in easy to use one-feed sachets. It includes a probiotic that re-colonises and assists growth of caecal flora. It also contains essential B and C vitamins, fenugreek (an appetite stimulant), anise (for palatability), plus high levels of fibre to encourage gut motility.

Home-Made Formulas

Using a coffee-grinder you can grind chinchilla pellets and hay (and/or wheatgerm and oats) into a powder, to which you can simply mix with water and syringe-feed as required.


Powder alfalfa tablets (from health food shops), then mix with water (1:1 or 1:3) and syringe.


Fruit baby food is often liked by chinchillas, but it is a bit sticky and lacks fibre and protein (you can add a little wheatgerm to it).

(Probiotics are a useful addition to syringe-feeding formulas, as they help to re-colonise the gut with beneficial micro-flora, which is often unbalanced during periods of illness and medication)

How much can be given??

I have always aimed for about 30ml-40ml a day (for chinchillas), divided into about 3 feeds daily. This seems to sustain an average chinchilla, but you may need to increase or decrease this amount according to how the chinchilla is responding.

Dilute @ 1 part powder to 1 to 3 parts water (depending on product).

Syringe-Feeding Techniques

1. Get everything you need easily to hand (all equipment, food and plenty of cloths!!!)

2. RELAX!!

3. Fill the syringe with the food - removing any air-bubbles.

4. Hold the chinchilla close to you - and wait until it stops struggling and settles.

5. Put the tip of the syringe into the mouth - from the side - behind the front teeth.

6. Depress the syringe - and allow a TINY AMOUNT of food to go into the mouth.

7. IMMEDIATELY remove the syringe from his mouth - and give the chinchilla time to swallow.

8. Repeat 6. and 7. until food has been eaten (mopping up any spillage as you go).

9. Whenever the chinchilla struggles - just stop what you are doing and hold gently until it settles down - then try again.

The trick is to ensure that the chinchilla does not feel "force-fed" or that it is choking down the food. A tiny, tiny bit of food at a time helps make chins feel less panicked.

You also need mountains of patience, as it is a very time-consuming procedure.

Any food inhaled can cause aspiration pneumonia, so syringe slowly and carefully and if necessary ask your vet to show you how it is done correctly.


During the period of recovery that chinchilla should be kept in as stress-free conditions as possible. If the ailment is not contagious then keep a bonded companion in with the chinchilla, as this can often provide psychological support.

Ensure the chinchilla is kept warm (but not too hot) at all times. Reptile heat pads are ideal for this as long as the chinchilla cannot chew them, and they are the type that provides a very gentle heat (always ensure the chinchilla can move away from them, if necessary).

Make sure that the chinchilla is getting adequate fluids, this encourages renal excretion of toxins and maintains hydration. If necessary, fluids can also be syringed, if the chinchilla is not drinking voluntarily. Plain water should always be provided in the usual receptacle at all times, but non-citrus fruit juices (such as pineapple) are usually eagerly taken via syringe.

Ensure you have a calm routine to minimise stress and upset during syringe feeding.

Always encourage normal eating by providing the usual diet, fresh every day. I have also found that a small pile of fresh, clean hay or alfalfa placed directly in the cage, may inspire a reluctant chinchilla to take a nibble or two.

Perseverance and patience are the key-words and your dedication will often pay dividends and may ensure a greater chance of the chinchilla making a reasonable recovery!!!

Finally, I cannot stress enough, the importance of liaising with your vet before commencing any syringe-feeding regime. It is imperative that any sick animal gets professional veterinary care, first and foremost.


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