Forage feeding? How to increase activity?

JamaisVu

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Hello everyone!

Susu had a vet appointment yesterday. The good news is that all tests came out pretty good and there's no immediate health concerns. However, the vet is concerned about her weight. In her words, Susu is obese. I know it's rare for chinchillas to overeat, but the vet was concerned that she could feel fat deposits and recommended Susu loses some weight. This isn't the first time I had heard that but it had been hard to limit her access to pellets while she had a cagemate because Kumo was always a pretty lean chinchilla and Susu was very food-dominant (it wasn't rare that she would block his access to the pellet bowl if she wanted to eat first). However, now that she's alone I have a lot more flexibility on how to control her food.

As background:
  • She is currently 750g. Was about 690 when I first got her as a young chin (likely less than 1 year old, but not completely sure because she's a rescue).
  • She has lost about 15 g since her last annual visit, but vet still doesn't think she's at a good weight.
  • She gets fed Oxbow essentials and unlimited hay. I did not limit pellets but might start to based on the fact that she might be overeating. Hay is available in every level of her cage as well as parts of her play area to encourage hay eating.
  • She gets 3-4 oats as "special treats" (for example, manipulation reward). I plan to reduce this.
  • She gets rose petals or rose hips as regular treats. I plan to reduce this, as well. I know I have been giving her a lot more of these since her buddy passed, but don't think this is a major factor in her being obese.
  • She's a pretty lazy chin and often prefers very short (5-10 minute) play time sessions rather than long periods of activity. She's been like this for the 10 years I have had her.

The vet suggested limiting food to 1 tsp/day and was really keen on the idea of introducing forage feeding (hiding food so she has to find it instead of putting it in a bowl) to encourage more movement and activity. I'm not sure on how to go ahead and start her on this. Does anybody have any suggestions/ideas? I figure I'll have to train her and I'm OK putting in this effort if it will help her improve her health. Also, if anybody has any idea on how to encourage her to move/play more I'll take them...I've tried for 10 years, she likes chilling/napping/watching TV.

Now, for the negative: the vet wants her to lose about 200g, to get her down to the lower 500s-upper 400s. I'm OK with helping Susu get to a healthy weight but this seems very low to me. Even Kumo, who was always a smaller chin than Susu, was only ever below 500g when he got really sick. Does that seem extreme to anybody else? The clinic I take her to is specialized in exotics, but the main veterinarian that saw her yesterday was not her usual vet so it is possible that she's mostly seen smaller chinchillas.
 

Amethyst

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I've got some ideas on foraging, but first I'd be a bit reluctant to limit pellets too much long term (like more then a few days) so I would make sure to offer a variety of hay to make sure she is getting all the nutrients she needs. I also do agree that loosing that much weight does sound extreme, I have heard some vets think that since wild chins are on average about 450g (1lb) that must be how big chins are suppose to be (average pet line domestic chins is more like 400-800g). I would ask for verification from your normal vet before worrying too much about trying to get her to lose a specific amount. Another way to look at it is, she should lose enough to get to the point where you can feel her ribs under a thin layer of fat.

As for foraging, you can get some small clay pots, put some of the pellets on the bottom and hay on top (if she just tosses the hay don't bother with adding hay) and stick the pots in different parts of the cage. To encourage her to get more playtime in you can also put a few of her pellets out around the area in small bowls or other containers, so she has to hop around to get her food. You can also try feeder toys like you would use for a cat or dog, when they have to roll it around to get the food (I don't really have any specific ideas for that though). Also you can use toys like cholla logs to stuff with hay so she has to pull the hay out. Oxbow also makes foraging mats you can scatter pellet in for her to find.

Hide and Seek Mat Large
and
Hide and seek mat small

You can also try trading out giving treats for giving chew sticks, a different kind of hay like oat hay or hay chew toys like Timothy Twists for example, or loofah slices instead of treats on some days and just do a treat once a week.
 

Amethyst

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I forgot to ask, does she have wheel? If not that might be a good idea. Just make sure it's a safe one, solid metal and at least 14" diameter (at least 15-16" is better since she is on the large side though 😉 ). I can give some suggestions if needed.
 

JamaisVu

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I've got some ideas on foraging, but first I'd be a bit reluctant to limit pellets too much long term (like more then a few days) so I would make sure to offer a variety of hay to make sure she is getting all the nutrients she needs. I also do agree that loosing that much weight does sound extreme, I have heard some vets think that since wild chins are on average about 450g (1lb) that must be how big chins are suppose to be (average pet line domestic chins is more like 400-800g). I would ask for verification from your normal vet before worrying too much about trying to get her to lose a specific amount. Another way to look at it is, she should lose enough to get to the point where you can feel her ribs under a thin layer of fat.

As for foraging, you can get some small clay pots, put some of the pellets on the bottom and hay on top (if she just tosses the hay don't bother with adding hay) and stick the pots in different parts of the cage. To encourage her to get more playtime in you can also put a few of her pellets out around the area in small bowls or other containers, so she has to hop around to get her food. You can also try feeder toys like you would use for a cat or dog, when they have to roll it around to get the food (I don't really have any specific ideas for that though). Also you can use toys like cholla logs to stuff with hay so she has to pull the hay out. Oxbow also makes foraging mats you can scatter pellet in for her to find.

Hide and Seek Mat Large
and
Hide and seek mat small

You can also try trading out giving treats for giving chew sticks, a different kind of hay like oat hay or hay chew toys like Timothy Twists for example, or loofah slices instead of treats on some days and just do a treat once a week.
Those are great ideas, thank you! She had 2 smaller bowls so I already started dividing some of her pellets into those to see if she'll find them (she ran into one of the bowls while exploring and started to eat, so this might work!)

I agree, I was getting mixed feelings about limiting pellets too much. I think I will monitor her pellets a bit more but I'm thinking I'll focus primarily on getting her to move more until I can get a second opinion with her regular vet. Losing ~200g is about 1/3 of her weight...I'm not comfortable with that big a weight loss.

When you say a variety of hay, do you mean various types? I give her mostly Timothy, but I'm open to getting different types and maybe that would encourage her to look around for her favorite types. She's always been a good hay eater, so I'm fairly certain she'd be thrilled at more variety of hay to choose from.

I forgot to ask, does she have wheel? If not that might be a good idea. Just make sure it's a safe one, solid metal and at least 14" diameter (at least 15-16" is better since she is on the large side though 😉 ). I can give some suggestions if needed.
Yeah, she has a Silver Surfer. She doesn't use it as much as she did when she was younger, but at least once a week she wakes me up when she's going full speed on it. I think she's learnt that I wake up and check on her if she's rattling the whole cage with the wheel, so she may be running when she wants attention. 😅

I've considered getting a Chin Spin instead, but not sure if it's much better than the one she has.
 

Amethyst

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Although timothy should be the primary hay and always available you can also offer other grass hays like Orchard and meadow daily, and even add small amounts of grain hay like oat hay (like a handful worth a week). You can also try giving hay cubes for some variety too, as well as try the oxbow hay stacks (not the one with carrot) just as something different. I normally offer two kinds of hay, one hay feeder has timothy and the other has some other kind of hay or a hay stack puck (I let them pull it apart), and they get hay cubes a couple times a month (takes them a little while to eat them). Different kinds of hay have different nutrients, and even the same kind of hay can vary from bag to bag how much nutrients it has based on the soil as well as how much sun and water it got while growing. I realize the chin needs to lose weight, but 2 tb is what a normal chin needs per day to make sure they are getting any nutrients the hay might be lacking, which is why if you cut back on pellets make sure you offer a variety of hay. If you were giving unlimited before I would try just cutting back to 2 Tb first (unless you get ahold of your normal vet and they agree on the 1Tb) and see how it goes.

If you can get a chin spin it might work better for her, the Silver Surfer is only a 14" and has a 4" running surface which can be harder for larger chins, they are more likely to slip off (I don't know if that is a problem for her or not). The chin spin is 15" and have a running surface a little over 6" wide so even chubby chins can fit. It's up to you though, the chin spin wheels are not cheap, lol.
 

Spoof

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Please do not limit the food, pellets are her only source of balanced minerals and vitamins. Without testing the hay you can't be sure if it is a great cutting or nutritionally void.

In the 60's and 70's the average weight for a chinchilla was 650g. That has increased over the decades to a much larger animal, I'd say my herd average is 850g and the average surrender I've taken in over the last year has been 700g at a good weight. I have a few smaller (angoras) and a few much larger (1,107g). So long as your chinchilla does not have bald spots under the armpits or massive fat/crust buildup on the feet she is likely a healthy weight for her body style.

It is unfortunate that you had a vet that didn't know much about modern chinchillas. I would request another or use your normal vet in the future. Seasonal weight fluctuations of around 30g in a 750g animal is normal. At 10 years old she may be starting to get arthritis so encouraging her to move is not the best thing. I've been experimenting with a treat called seinor snax with my older lot as it contains biotin and a bunch of good fats. Some are noticeably more active, some no change and others won't even eat them. If you choose to try these they would replace your oats completely - break them up with a hammer to about 6 pieces per cookie and try giving every other day or every 3 days. These do contain sugar, but none of my guys have gained any noticeable weight from them over the last six months. It takes a week or two to really notice a difference if there is one.
 

JamaisVu

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Messages
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Hello!

Thanks so much for the advice and suggestions. I got her a Chin Spin and cholla wood that is on the way and I'm looking into a few more things to enrich her environment.

So far, the only thing I've actually cut are the treats. I agree with both of you that long-term limiting of food makes me uncomfortable and 200g is much more than I want her to lose. Instead of limiting her food I started splitting it in 3 (she doesn't seem to like to eat scattered food so I decided teaching her that food can be in more than 1 place was step 1 before hiding it everywhere). So far she seems to be eating from the additional smaller bowl but definitely did not like eating from the floor, so I'm planning to get another small bowl.

I did get a variety of hays and have started placing little bunches of hay and apple sticks everywhere around her cage and play pen. I also decided it was silly to hold her to "play hour" when she has never played for more than 5-10 minutes before wanting to stop and taken advantage that I am working from home now and have the flexibility to watch her through the day, so as long as I am home I am giving her access to her playpen while I work. This has worked out even better than I hoped. Although she still mostly sleeps through the day (as she should) when she wakes up to look for a snack she has been jumping out and exploring the different bunches of hay I put in the play area. She loves it and is eating so much hay and grunting happily at me while she does. Once she's explored, eaten some hay, and played for about 10-15 minutes she goes in to continue sleeping.

I've continued to monitor her weight and intake and she has seemed to lose a bit of weight this past week while still pooping normally and in the expected amount. Of course it could just be normal fluctuations, but I am encouraged. She's actually seemed way happier this week than she's seemed since her cagemate passed since she's getting so much more attention and things to explore, so if anything that alone makes me very happy. She even warmed up to her chinnie buddy and cuddled with him a bit after playtime last night!
 
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