Chipmunks, also called chipmunks or just squirrels, are quite unusual pets. In order to keep them as species-appropriate as possible, we two-legged friends have to come up with a few tricks. This includes a spacious cage, a lot of employment opportunities – and above all a special feeding. The animals are seldom if ever tame and, if in doubt, will not be examined by a vet without a fight. The diet of chipmunks is all the more important. This is because health, employment, care and trust in them can be regularly promoted. Not to be forgotten is the seasonal rhythm of the animals. In other words, feeding chipmunks properly is an art in itself. One that can also be a lot of fun.
What and how do chipmunks eat in nature?
Wild chipmunks are usually solitary. However, with a surprisingly large territory. Up to one hectare of space is required per animal. The reason for this lies in the diet of the small rodents. Since they hibernate, like our native squirrels, they are busy looking for food for the rest of the year. A large territory is required for this, because only then can the demand per squirrel be adequately covered. Intruders are vehemently repelled for the same reason. Chipmunks can be pretty aggressive if need be. No wonder, considering that any predator can mean not surviving the winter. And so the chipmunks in the wild have developed their very own strategy to ensure their survival.
First on the menu are:
- and occasionally smaller insects, bird eggs and invertebrates.
Insects are usually destroyed immediately because they cannot be hoarded for long. Everything else is stored in underground pantries. These are hidden in a real labyrinth of tunnels, which the chipmunks laboriously create. Such caves and tunnels always have a certain structure. There are sleeping caves, rubbish tunnels, droppings, escape routes and also storage areas.
Chipmunks pay meticulous attention to the cleanliness and functionality of their burrow. In winter they spend most of the day here, so of course everything has to be well prepared so that the squirrel is well taken care of until spring and doesn’t get sick or go hungry.
Chipmunk teeth and their peculiarities
Of course, as rodents, squirrels also have incisors. 22 pieces in total in adult specimens, of which 4 incisors and 18 molars. Canines are absent. Although squirrels occasionally prey on animal food, they do not “tear” it, making the presence of canines or fangs superfluous.
It is important to know, however, that incisors grow throughout life and therefore have to be used constantly. Otherwise, there will be injuries in the mouth, pain or even starvation because food can no longer be broken up and ingested.
Chipmunk cheek pouches
The diet of the chipmunks has also produced another special feature. Namely the cheek pockets on both sides. A surprisingly large amount of food fits in it. The bags can expand many times over and are therefore used to transport the food from the place where it was found to the underground building.
So everything that is found on the way ends up in the jaws left and right and is collected. Of course, the squirrel also eats on site, depending on how hungry it is and whether the situation is safe. Another reason for the aggressive territorial behavior of the small rodents. After all, nobody wants to be disturbed when eating or even robbed.
Nutrition of the young
Only during the mating season and during rearing does this behavior change temporarily. However, it is so short-term that the period has little effect on nutrition. The mother collects more food only to raise the young. The young animals are first breastfed and then provided with crushed food. Once they are able to leave the burrows, they follow their mothers and learn from her how to gather (and occasionally hunt) food. However, they become sexually mature in their first year of life and the territorial conflict prevails again, so that the offspring have to go their own way.
In addition, the fact that chipmunks are diurnal makes them attractive to a certain group of predators that also hunt during the day. In turn, the squirrel is on the menu of birds of prey and raccoons. The eternal circle of life. But what about keeping pets? Who is the hunter and who is the gatherer?
The feeding plan for the pet chipmunk
One might think that just as chipmunks collect food, humans collect impressions of them. Because watching the cute animals and their behavior is really exciting. And insightful at the same time. This applies above all to their diet, which presents itself as a challenge for the owner and, at the same time, as a varied experience over and over again.
Unfortunately, domesticated chipmunks suffering from malnutrition are not uncommon. Obesity, indigestion, damage to the liver and gastrointestinal tract, and inflammation can result. The principle is therefore a feeding that is as natural as possible, based on the conditions that a wild squirrel would have.
Composition of meals
Ready-made food for chipmunks is actually now available in stores and at high-quality pet shops. However, experience with squirrels as pets is still limited. Long-term effects and feed additives in diseases are hardly known, more so with experienced breeders than in the shop. Beginners should not necessarily rely on on-site advice.
Ideally, the ready-made feed should be optimally tailored to the special requirements of the animals, but the obligation to check always lies with the owner. It is therefore better to provide more information than too little.
A healthy chipmunk food is made up of natural ingredients that are also available to wild conspecifics and combines them in a balanced and seasonal way.
The basis is formed by seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp and dried corn kernels. There are also nuts, which should of course also be presented with their shells, for the sake of dental care. In addition, the squirrel also wants to have something to do all day long.
Fruit and vegetables are also eaten in small amounts. The vitamins it contains are extremely important for the health of the small rodents, support the immune system and at the same time cover the need for fresh food. However, sprayed fruit should be avoided. Organic products are usually more tolerable and also more nutritious. For example, apples, pears, mangoes, papayas and wild berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, etc.) are well accepted. Rose hips and pumpkins are also a welcome change for squirrels. On the other hand, carrots, cucumbers and salads from the vegetable department are very popular.
Last but not least, animal protein is extremely important. Mealworms and grasshoppers can be fed live. However, it is important to pay attention to their good posture. Wrongly fed insects consist of more chitin than protein, worms kept on newspaper absorb and pass on printer’s ink. If you have trouble with live insects, you can alternatively use dried shrimp, hard-boiled eggs or thawed frozen insects. In principle, this part of the chipmunk’s diet only makes up a small percentage – but it is at least as important as the right composition of fresh food, seeds, nuts and grains.
But it doesn’t matter whether it’s dry food, live food or a combination of all of the above: there really always has to be a bowl with fresh drinking water available every day.
Treats for chipmunks
Feeding should always serve to keep them busy and cared for at the same time. Although a feeding bowl can be filled fresh day after day, the hidden treats are much more exciting. Here the squirrel has to work harder to get its reward.
The advantages? On the one hand, mental development and fitness are promoted, especially with fidgety worms and nuts that are difficult to crack. On the other hand, species-appropriate behavior is made possible. Squirrels are primarily foragers and spend most of the day foraging, ingesting and hoarding. Difficult-to-reach hiding places have to be dug free – the ideal way to care for their claws. Nuts have to be cracked – again the ideal dental care. And the animals usually have fun too.
A treat is always a special sense of achievement. At the same time, the condition remains in good shape, which can prevent obesity. And if you do it very cleverly, you can use treats to train your chipmunk to be tame.
The hidden amount should of course be deducted from the daily feed ration. The hiding places are also to be checked regularly so that forgotten or unfound spots do not start to mold and stink.
A special combination is that between treats and toys. In this way, the level of difficulty can be increased again – and accordingly also the sense of achievement and the length of employment. Toys originally intended for rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, or rabbits may also fascinate a chipmunk. Here it is simply a matter of trying out what your own darling prefers.
Nutrition during hibernation
Regarding the diet of chipmunks, hibernation in particular must be considered. Many domestic animals neglect these, depending on how many generations they have been domesticated and adapted to the human climate. But especially squirrels in outdoor enclosures keep their usual seasonal diet.
Of course, this includes the hibernation, whereby no permanent hibernation occurs. The fresh water must therefore continue to be available. The only thing that needs to be reduced is the amounts of feed, especially with regard to their energy content, since the animals hardly move at all.
Conversely, increased feed intake applies in summer and autumn. Both for fattening and for hoarding for the winter.
Regardless of the season, fasting days can also be integrated into the process. This regulates digestion, detoxifies and regenerates. After all, in the wild, chipmunks don’t find a feast every day, but sometimes go away empty-handed.
What if the chipmunk doesn’t want to eat?
Carrying out a health check on chipmunks is not always easy. They often hide, do not want to be touched and certainly do not want to be examined more closely. Therefore, food intake and excretions are always essential indicators of the health of the animals.
If the food is refused, something is wrong. Maybe the squirrel has a toothache or digestive problems. Special attention should be paid at the first signs and the animal should be observed closely. Behavioral problems often give further indications as to whether the little darling is doing well or not.
If even mild food does not help or if there are clearly recognizable problems, the squirrel must be taken to the vet as soon as possible.
In principle, the diet of chipmunks is not particularly complicated or even time-consuming, but due to the sensitivity of the rodents, even the smallest discrepancies can have a major impact. The knowledge of healthy food and a balanced feeding are therefore a must for every chipmunk owner so that he can enjoy his little rodent for a long time.