Rosehips: The good, bad, right, and wrong

Posted on June 12, 2021

I’ve been involved with chinchillas for a long time now, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of advice come and go. Some of the ‘new’ advice is legitimate, due to new information that comes available, some is just fads pushed by misinformed people spreading information they don’t understand. Recently, I have seen a lot of people spreading some variation of; “rosehips are bad” / “don’t feed rosehips” / “rosehips should only be given one per week”. This piece of information caught my attention, mostly for its sheer absurdity.

What is the basis of the mis-advice?
To be honest, it seems the only basis for this advice is that someone said it once and others picked it up without actually investigating its validity. I’ve asked, and asked, and asked, but no one seems to even know where this “advice” originated; if you know the source, and source argument, please let me know.

So, are rosehips safe?
Yes. In fact, they are the best and safest chinchilla treat available, the below will hopefully explain why.

What amount of rosehips is safe?
In theory, a chinchilla would not be able to consume enough rosehips in a day to do themselves any dietary harm, this means the “safe” daily amount of rosehips is effectively unlimited. Though, from my experience, most chins won’t eat more than 5 whole rosehips in a day, or 1-2 teaspoons of crushed rosehips; these are about 5 grams of rosehip. This is a 100% safe amount, which is what makes rosehips a great taming and training treat for chinchillas.

Don’t rosehips have lots of sugar?
In short, no!
This is something that a lot of people who spread the advice “don’t give more than 1 a week” will tack onto their statements, if they actually knew the nutritional content of their chinchillas’ diet, they would know this is not true.
Rosehips have an average 2.6% sugar content, this might sound high if you’ve continually been told “chinchillas can’t have *any* sugar” (also an untrue statement). For comparison, Timothy Hay has an average sugar content of 6.8% (that’s 2.6 times higher than rosehips), Lucerne Hay (also called Alfalfa) has a sugar content of 5.3% (2 times higher than rosehips).
So, rosehips have less sugar than the hay that makes up the main component of a chinchilla’s diet.

What about other nutrients?
In terms of macro-nutrients, rosehips contain approximately 1.6% protein, 0.3% fat, and 24.1% fibre, these levels are well within the ‘safe’ levels for a chinchilla, though not enough to constitute a complete food.
Rosehips also contain a lot of beneficial micro-nutrients, particularly vitamin C. Many people will tell you that chinchillas ‘make their own’ vitamin C so don’t need any more, however, a growing body of evidence is suggesting that while chinchillas do synthesize their own vitamin C, this is not entirely independent of dietary vitamin C. In fact, recent observations have shown chinchillas that receive supplemental vitamin C may have, among other general health improvements, fewer [environmental] dental issues.

But won’t feeding my chinchilla rosehips impact their overall diet?
The ‘ideal’ chinchilla diet should consist primarily of hay (a ‘pile’ twice the size of the chinchillas’ body), and plain forage pellets (about 2-3T). This is a daily minimum feed amount of approximately 150grams (120g-ish of hay, 30g-ish of pellets). 5 grams of rosehip would equal about 3% of the overall diet, this is not going to impact daily food intake, and is well under the daily treat allowance for most herbivorous animals; assuming you consider them a “treat” given the information provided here, I prefer to consider them a supplement, they should be considered part of a healthy diet not an “extra”.

Can I just chuck rosehips in my chinchilla’s food bowl?
No. … Well, yes, but it’s not generally recommended. Plain pellets can be ‘boring’, adding treats to ‘boring’ food can encourage your chinchilla to dig through their food to get ‘the good bits’, this isn’t bad in and of itself except that it can result in spoiled and wasted pellets.
However, if you have a chinchilla that is reluctant to eat hay, you can often encourage them to eat more hay by sprinkling rosehips (or other safe herbs/treats) over their hay.
Another way you can offer daily supplements is to offer them in a separate bowl if not feeding by hand.

So if you come across someone who tells you rosehips aren’t safe, or to only feed 1 a week, or that they are high in sugar, feel free to share this article with them!