Can Chinchillas Eat Potatoes?


Chinchillas are exotic and omnivorous rodents with extremely sensitive digestive tracts. In the wild, their diet consists of a variety of grasses, green foliage, bark, seeds, roots, and stems. Potatoes might seem like they would slot fairly naturally into this list, but in the wilds of South America from where chinchillas come, they won’t naturally come across potatoes. So, can our domesticated chinchillas eat them?

Chinchillas should not eat potatoes. Potatoes are not nutritionally beneficial to them. Potatoes also contain solanine, which is toxic at 2-5 mg/35.27 oz bodyweight. Potato skins, eyes, sprouts, and green potatoes are especially dangerous. Cooking does not reduce solanine levels.

The general consensus is that chinchillas can eat potatoes. However, before you go out and chop up a potato to feed to your exotic friend, read the below article. I’ll explain what forms of potatoes are safer for chinchillas to eat, what forms are potentially toxic, and address the question of whether chinchillas should eat potatoes even if they can.  

Potatoes And Solanine Poisoning

Potatoes are tuber vegetables belonging to the family Solanaceae. This family of vegetables has a more common name as well, and once you know it, you will probably never look at potatoes the same again. The common name for Solanaceae vegetables is Nightshades. Yes, like the poison.

Solanaceae vegetables and plants contain a toxic glycoalkaloid called solanine. Solanine is found in both the skin and flesh of potatoes, although it is more concentrated in the skin and the area just below the skin.

There is a lack of research on the effects of solanine on chinchillas, so its toxicity to chinchillas specifically is difficult to prove. However, solanine is a definite toxin, which has been found to be poisonous to humans and animals like dogs, rabbits, rats, and hamsters. So, the chances of chinchillas being immune to its effects are low.

Suppose we make the logical assumption that chinchillas can be poisoned by solanine. The lack of research still limits our knowledge about what levels of these glycoalkaloids are toxic to chinchillas. Ultimately, it comes down to this: do you want to risk it?

Can Chinchillas Eat Raw Potatoes?

In an average white, raw potato, the levels of solanine are quite low, around 0.075 mg per gram of potato. In humans, solanine poisoning occurs at 2-5 mg of solanine per kilogram of bodyweight. This means that a person who weighs 75 kg (165 lbs) would have to eat around 12.5 average-sized raw potatoes to experience solanine poisoning – a very improbable circumstance.  

Now, I’m not saying that chinchillas are the same as humans, but if we were to apply these calculations to an average-sized chinchilla, 17 g (0.6 oz) of potato would be toxic. This is less than 1/8th of an average potato.

Even if chinchillas are half as sensitive to solanine as humans, a quarter of a potato would be dangerous for them. Would you want to risk it?

Can Chinchillas Eat Green Potatoes?

Potatoes that have gone green, developed eyes, or sprouted are much more toxic than raw, white potatoes. The reason for this is that greenness, eyes, and sprouts are an indication of light exposure.

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Light triggers the production of solanine, so a potato that is showing signs of light exposure will contain higher levels of the toxin, and significantly smaller amounts of potato will be poisonous.

Never feed a green potato, potato eyes, or a sprouting potato to your chinchilla. In fact, you should not feed it to anyone, including yourself. The best place for these potatoes is the trash or compost heap.

Can Chinchillas Eat Cooked Or Dried Potatoes?

Man saying no to potato fries

The best way to reduce the solanine levels in a potato is to remove the skin as 30-70% if the potato’s solanine is concentrated therein. However, that still leaves 30-70% of the total toxin in the white part of the potato, so a peeled potato is not entirely safe.

Unfortunately, cooking does not significantly reduce the solanine levels in potatoes. So, baking, boiling, microwaving, or frying your potatoes will not make them safer for your chinchilla to eat. In fact, in the case of frying, it can make it more harmful because your chinchilla’s digestive tract cannot handle anything but a low-fat diet.

Furthermore, removing the skin and cooking a potato significantly reduces its nutritional value, so there is little point in giving it to your chinchilla. 

Dehydrating or freeze-drying potatoes also do not affect the solanine levels.

Can Chinchillas Eat Potato Chips?

Chinchillas cannot eat potato chips! You might think it is fun to share your snack with your friend, and they will probably partake of the crispy contraband very happily. However, potato chips are harmful to chinchillas in several different ways. Let’s face it, they’re not very healthy for us either.

As I’ve mentioned, cooking potatoes does not reduce or eliminate the solanine in potatoes. Moreover, most potato chips are fried, which adds a lot of oils and fats, to which your chinchilla is intolerant. Then there are all the artificial flavorings, preservatives, and additives. Potato chips are a definite no for your chinchilla.

Should Chinchillas Eat Potatoes?

When we feed our chinchillas, the foods should fall into one of two categories. The first is foods that are nutritional and necessary to their survival and health. The second category is foods that we give them as treats. Treats are less nutritious and should only make up a small proportion of their diet (approximately 10%).

For chinchillas, foods like hay and grass fall into the first category. Chinchillas require very high fiber diets (15-35%). Hay and grass contain upwards of 20% fiber, which is ideal. Chinchillas also need 16-20% protein, 2-5% fat, and minerals and vitamins. Their carbohydrate intake needs to be moderate, or they will develop diarrhea. 

Potatoes, with the skin on, only contain about 6.3% fiber. Most of this fiber, along with most of the vitamins and minerals contained in potatoes, is concentrated in the skin. As the skin is the most dangerous part of a potato, and should be removed before feeding it to your chinchilla, potatoes are not a nutritional option for them. Furthermore, the carbohydrate content in potatoes is too high for them to form a part of your chinchilla’s daily diet.

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Potatoes would then fall into the category of a treat. There are so many alternative treats you can give to your chinchilla that do not contain potentially deadly toxins! Try raisins, peppermint leaves, and rose hips instead.

Can Chinchillas Eat Sweet Potatoes?

Chinchilla eating sweet potato

Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes don’t belong to the Nightshade family. They belong to the Convolvulaceae family of vegetables. Oddly enough, these are known as Morning Glory vegetables and plants. The most crucial difference between potatoes and sweet potatoes (at least as far as we are concerned) is that sweet potatoes do not contain solanine.

Once again, there is little research documenting the benefits and dangers of sweet potatoes for chinchillas. However, research has shown that raw sweet potato causes a build-up of cyanide in the stomachs of rats. As chinchillas are also rodents, it is probably safer not to feed them any amount of raw sweet potato.

Cooked sweet potato does not hold the same dangers, but your chinchilla, who is designed to crunch and gnaw its way through its food, might not enjoy eating a squishy cooked sweet potato.

Furthermore, sweet potatoes contain even less fiber and more sugar than regular potatoes, so they fall into the category of treats. There are several other treats that your chinchilla would probably prefer to sweet potato.

Can Chinchillas Eat Yams?

Yams belong to the Dioscoreaceae family, so solanine is also not an issue here. There is no indication if raw or cooked yams are good or bad for chinchillas, but they are very starchy vegetables and would fall into the category of treats.


In Summary

Technically, chinchillas can eat a very small amount of potato. However, potatoes do not have the correct nutrient profile to be beneficial to a chinchilla’s diet and would only ever be classified as a treat.

Additionally, potatoes contain solanine, which is a toxin. Research is lacking on how much solanine is poisonous to chinchillas. However, extrapolations from the amounts that produce toxicity in humans, it would appear that less than 0.6 oz of potato may potentially be dangerous to chinchillas.

Green potatoes, potato eyes, and sprouted potatoes all contain higher levels of solanine and should not be fed to your chinchilla in any amount. These potatoes can even contain high enough levels of solanine to poison a human when they ingest a regular portion of the potato. Cooking has minimal impact on the solanine levels in potatoes.

Until further research can be conducted, it may be better to avoid feeding your chinchillas potatoes in any form. There are other tastier and less potentially toxic treats that you can give to your chinchillas.


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Jo

I'm a Biomedical Scientist by trade, (over 22 years and counting), but my goal is to rehabilitate animals for an living. I started offering Canine Massage, and Equine Shiatsu alongside my lab work, but this has had to take a backseat to the pandemic. So I thought I'd put together a blog of (what I consider to be) helpful advice for chinchilla owners, and prospective chin parents. I hope you find something useful.

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