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Old 01-26-2017, 10:28 PM United States
Sleeis Sleeis is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2016
Age: 29
Posts: 8
Chinchillas: 2
Default The Dangers of Alfalfa

Dear Chinchilla Owners,

As you know, or may not know, alfalfa is extremely high in calcium. Calcium, in high levels, can often result in your chinchilla forming a stone within his/her bladder- commonly referred to as a bladder-stone, uncommonly referred to as cystolithiasis. When a chinchilla is subject to bladder-stone(s) his/her health can rapidly decline. Preventative actions are the best way to prevent this health hazard, of which can be cause for expiration of your chinchilla, or other major health concerns resulting from an untreated bladder-stone.

One of my two chinchillas, Clarence, recently underwent bladder-stone removal surgery, otherwise known as cystostomy. The aforementioned procedure involves a small incision into the abdomen, and then another to enter the bladder. Upon removal of the stone, the bladder is closed, most commonly by using a "rolling" technique so as to reduce a possible reopening of the bladder, and also prevent other risks associated with a bladder-stone removal procedure. The incision is then closed by means of a tissue adhesive - which prevents infections, reopening of the incision, and allows for the tissue to heal at a normal pace. Along with tissue adhesive, staples are often used in conjunction, this to ensure the wound does not become opened under stress and movement.

The main source of alfalfa for my chinchillas was their food, Oxbow Essentials Pellets. This food, despite being the best that I knew of, had alfalfa listed as its first, and therefore, most abundant ingredient. I slowly weaned my chinchillas from this food by beginning at a 50/50 dilution of new and old food, and then increasing the amount of new food by ten percent every five days. You do not want to remove calcium entirely from your chinchilla(s) diet, so you will want to provide them with small amounts by means of chew toys, treats, food, and/or ledges made of calcium.

Though the procedure my chinchilla underwent was a success, many chinchilla owners lose their chinchilla due to surgery complications, the bladder-stone(s) being too advanced and spreading into the urinary tract, the chinchilla unable to awaken from the anesthesia, and other risks. It is best to avoid this sort of medical emergency as quickly as possible. This post is meant to be an informative post to advise you of the possible risks associated with providing a chinchilla foods/treats/etc. that contain high concentrations of calcium and/or ingredients that are high in calcium. Please feel free to add any sort of input you feel could be useful to the members reading this post. If you would like to share with us your chinchilla surgery stories, I would enjoy reading them. But, I do not want to become depressed due to the loss of your loved, little chinchillas, so please no details on the deaths. I am in no way trying to be offensive, but it breaks my heart to read about the loss of a chinchilla, because I know personally the attachments and bonding that takes place between us and our animals.

My chinchilla procedure story:

Best Regards,

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Old 02-14-2017, 08:56 AM United States
A3K3 A3K3 is offline
Join Date: Dec 2016
Location: San Francisco
Age: 34
Posts: 12
Chinchillas: 1

what did you replace the alfalfa pellets with? I've been pretty much feeding my chin alfalfa pellets exclusively - he will get bluegrass hay also soon and treats once a day.
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Old 06-14-2017, 04:29 PM United States
ebbythechin ebbythechin is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2017
Location: New York
Posts: 2
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This also happened to my chinchilla. Luckily he's recovered from surgery now, but I made the switch from alfalfa-based Oxbow Essentials to the Kaytee Timothy Complete mix. I stopped feeding him Kaytee Fiesta and Healthy Bits treats and opted for the Oxbow Simple Rewards treats instead. I also started sprinkling potassium citrate (given to me by the vet) on his food as another precaution - it's supposed to prevent the formation of another stone. All's well so far after surgery, but I definitely don't want to go through that again. He was in so much pain and almost didn't make it. And I don't have another $1000+ to drop on a surgery when it can hopefully be prevented from happening again.
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Old 06-19-2017, 09:24 AM United States
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Minnow Minnow is offline
Join Date: Feb 2017
Age: 26
Posts: 26
Chinchillas: 2

I'm curious, I've heard giving oats "sucks up" the calcium. Is that true? Would it be advisable to also give them oat hay or is that not going to do anything for them? I feed my chinchillas oxbow essentials and my little one (5 month old) gets some alfalfa hay with his timothy hay.
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Old 06-19-2017, 11:07 PM Canada
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Amethyst Amethyst is offline
Join Date: May 2012
Location: Alberta
Posts: 1,573
Chinchillas: 2

This is kinda skewed to just a handful of cases, if your chin is not predisposed to bladder stones and you aren't giving your chin calcium in other forms (cuttle bones, mineral chews, etc) you are unlikely to have a problem. Here is what I said to this exact same post posted in another thread
"Most chinchilla food is alfalfa based, and many chins live long happy lives into their teens and 20s eating alfalfa based food. There are even some ranchers (so we are talking 100s of chins) who feed alfalfa pellets with alfalfa hay without issue. The issue tends to be when a chinchilla is predisposed to bladder stones, it can be genetic, or giving the chin too much calcium from other sources then just their food. So yes it is something you should watch out for, but wont likely happen to most chins. I would highly advise against giving chins calcium chew toys or ledges made of calcium, those tend to be the number one reason for too much calcium in the diet. You don't say if you were giving the chin extra calcium (chews, treats, etc), if it was just from the pellets, what kind of hay you were/are giving, or if your chin was a pellet hog.

The general rule is if you feed alfalfa based pellets feed timothy or other grass hay, if you feed a grass based pellets feed alfalfa hay, that helps balance out the diet. Hay should make up about 70% or more of your chins diet, they can even survive on grass hay alone (alfalfa is a legume not a grass). Good quality timothy hay has roughly .3% calcium, alfalfa about 1-2%. If they are eating mostly pellets then yes you will very likely have issues, both digestive issues and nutritional imbalances. A normal amount of pellets is 2 tb a day, if you are feeding a lot more then that then they are probably getting too much."

Originally Posted by Minnow View Post
I'm curious, I've heard giving oats "sucks up" the calcium. Is that true? Would it be advisable to also give them oat hay or is that not going to do anything for them? I feed my chinchillas oxbow essentials and my little one (5 month old) gets some alfalfa hay with his timothy hay.
I give my guys oat hay on occasion, which is the leafy bits and stocks, with just a small amount of actual immature oat seed heads. It's the mature oats themselves that have a higher phosphorus content, which can prevent the absorption of calcium, so basically too much oats (or phosphorus in general) can cause calcium deficiency. The oat hay is pretty much just a higher fiber hay, and I wouldn't consider it the same as giving your chin oats.

I suppose adding oats in the diet regularly (not just as an occasional treat) might help if you chin is prone to bladder stones, I don't know, but might also do more harm then good if your chin doesn't have issues.
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