In this article we take a look at what chipmunks eat. We’ll share their natural diet in the wild, and how best to replicate that for a pet chipmunk. Feeding the wrong diet can cause health problems for pet chipmunks, so we’ll help you to avoid those as well.
Chipmunks are an increasingly popular choice of pet for animal lovers who are looking for a slightly more unusual choice of furry friend. In order to keep your pet chipmunks happy and healthy, it’s vital that you feed them correctly. So, to make sure you get it right, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide!
And to get you off to a flying start we’ve included reviews of a few of our favorite pet chipmunk foods that you can purchase online! We’ve also included convenient links to the products, so ordering the right supplementary diet for your pet chipmunks couldn’t be easier!
In order to choose the correct chipmunk food for your pet critters, it’s very important that you have an understanding of what chipmunks prefer to eat in the wild. So, let’s start by looking at the diet of wild chipmunks.
What do chipmunks eat?
Chipmunks are members of the squirrel family. There are 25 species of chipmunks. With the exception of the Siberian chipmunk that is found across northern Asia from central Russia to China, all the other varieties are all found widespread right across North America.
In fact, chipmunks can feel right at home anywhere there are trees! So, what do chipmunks like to eat? These little rodents are omnivorous. This means that they eat both plants and foods of animal origin.
In the wild, chipmunks have a very varied diet. You will see a wild chipmunk eating nuts, seeds, buds, fruit, grains, and fungi. In addition, chipmunks eat fresh grass and new plant shoots. As well as the veggie option, chipmunks will happily tuck into small frogs, insects, earthworms, bird eggs, baby birds, and even arthropods such as millipedes and centipedes. It is not unheard of to see a chipmunk eating a snake!
Natural feeding behavior
Although they are mainly forest or woodland dwellers and are adept climbers, wild chipmunks choose to live in underground burrows, hollow tree logs, or in nests built in thick bushes.
Chipmunks are crepuscular, being mainly active at dawn and dusk when there are fewer predators to threaten them. In between resting and napping, these busy little creatures spend much of their day foraging on the ground, although they will also climb trees to feed on acorns and nuts. In fact, according to National Geographic, a single chipmunk can gather up to 165 acorns in a single day!
So if you were wondering, “Do chipmunks eat acorns?” the answer is definitely yes. Rather than sitting in the open where they could be vulnerable to predation, chipmunks like to collect food and take it back to their burrow. They also bury food items such as nuts, returning to collect their cache later.
Wild chipmunks do not technically hibernate, but they do spend much of the winter months in a largely dormant, torpid state. Unlike bears and other hibernating mammals, chipmunks do not build up large stores of body fat to see them through the winter. Instead, at the beginning of fall, these industrious little critters harvest and stockpile non-perishable foods in their burrows to keep them well-fed over winter when food is scarce.
They will sleep for a few days, emerging briefly to nibble on some of their larder items, before going to sleep again for another brief period, and so on until spring.
You may have seen pictures of cartoon chipmunks with bulging cheek pouches! These pouches are used just like grocery bags to transport items of food. And they can actually stretch to become three times larger than the chipmunk’s head – awesome! Chipmunks use their pouches to transport items of food back to their nest or burrow.
Do chipmunks eat acorns? You bet! They love those nuts, and acorns provide a good amount of nutrition for chipmunks.
Chipmunks – the farmers of the forest!
Chipmunks perform a very important function in the forest ecosystem. Their harvesting and hoarding activities help to spread tree, fungi, and plant seeds around their habitat, helping the woodland to flourish.
What do chipmunks eat when kept as pets?
For your chipmunks to remain happy and healthy, it’s important that you feed them a diet that is kept as close as possible to what they would eat in the wild.
To a certain extent, what chipmunks eat will depend on the species and on where they originate from. For example, wild southern chipmunks may have access to a peanuts and pecans, whereas others may only have acorns or pine nuts available.
So, if you are intending to keep rescued wild chipmunks from your local area, you’ll need to do some research into what kinds of foods would be naturally available to them.
If you are obtaining your pet chipmunks from a pet store, ask where they come from originally and do some detective work on the kinds of foods they would have access to in nature.
Do chipmunks eat tomatoes and veggies?
Wild chipmunks can wreak havoc in domestic gardens, laying waste to fruits and vegetables that are left unprotected.
The veggies and fruits in a chipmunk’s diet do mirror much of what humans eat. They enjoy strawberries, blackberries, tomatoes, corn, and squash – to name a few.
What about live food?
Wild chipmunks do eat live food. However, you may find that feeding captive-bred chipmunks wrigglers simply won’t work!
However, if you are planning on keeping rescued wild chipmunks, you may find that they catch and eat insects, worms, and other small creatures that they find in their outdoor cage or enclosure.
Chipmunk feeding habits
Chipmunks habitually store food in their cheek pouches to eat later. They also like to bury food.
Provide your pets with layered stuffing in the cage bottom to accommodate this natural behavior. But, do bear in mind that, even though your chipmunks’ food dish may be empty, they may still have plenty to eat secreted about their cage!
When feeding pet chipmunks, remember that they will not have the space to roam and forage that their wild counterparts enjoy. You should therefore resist the temptation to give your pets too much calorie-rich food such as peanuts and sunflower seeds, as they may become obese and unhealthy.
Instead, offer a lower-calorie, nutritious snack such as grapes, pine nuts, almonds, apples or oats.
What do chipmunks eat as pets?
Your chipmunks need a balanced diet that is low in fat. You should include fresh and dried fruit, seeds, vegetables, and some protein. Favorite foods for pet chipmunks include:
- Pine nuts
For a protein component in your pets’ diet, add some cooked chicken, light dog biscuits, and mealworms. You can buy live mealworms from good pet stores.
If you don’t like the idea of introducing live wrigglers to your chipmunks’ cage, you can still provide your pets with a tasty protein shot by giving dried mealworms instead. Dried mealworms are sold as bird food in many garden centers and pet stores.
If they are kept outside, you may find that your pet chipmunks become less active during the winter months, sleeping for whole days at a time before emerging to look for food. These actions mimick their natural seasonal behavior.
During this time, you should reduce their food ration slightly. Captive bred chipmunks that are kept indoors may not exhibit this hibernating behavior. You do not need to add vitamin and mineral supplements to your chipmunks’ food, as they will obtain everything they need from their diet.
What do chipmunks eat as babies?
If you find a baby chipmunk, you may be tempted to keep it as a pet. However, the ASPCA does not recommend this. You should take an injured or very young wild chipmunk to your local wild animal rescue shelter as soon as possible.
If your pet chipmunks breed, the mother will suckle her babies until they are weaned. Once weaned, baby chipmunks will happily forage in the cage for food, just like their parent. Weaned and adult chipmunks eat the same things!
Chipmunk health problems
There are a few feeding-related health problems that you should be aware of before taking on pet chipmunks.
In the wild, chipmunks routinely gnaw on hard nut shells or on wood. This habit helps to wear down the chipmunk’s front incisor teeth. If the teeth become overgrown, the chipmunk may suffer injuries to its mouth and will not be able to feed properly.
It’s extremely important that you provide your pet chipmunks with pieces of hard, untreated wood to gnaw on. You can also enable tooth wear by giving your chipmunks nuts with hard shells as part of their regular diet.
It is essential that the chipmunk wears its teeth down naturally. Clipping or cutting the teeth is dangerous, as it can fracture the teeth, leaving an entry point for bacteria that could cause infection.
If absolutely necessary, your vet may be able to burr down your chipmunk’s overgrown teeth, using a special electrical dental tool.
Cheek pouch diseases
Unfortunately, cheek pouch diseases are very common in pet chipmunks. The primary causes of these conditions are abscesses, impaction due to using incorrect nesting material (cotton wool), infection, and prolapses.
If your pet chipmunk’s cheek pouch appears to be perpetually engorged, or if your pet appears lethargic, consult your vet. The cheek pouch can be flushed and cleaned with disinfectant, but persistent problems may necessitate removal of the pouch altogether.
Obesity is a growing problem in exotic pets such as chipmunks. This problem is largely caused by overfeeding oil-based or high-fat diets.
Obesity in chipmunks can cause renal, cardiac, or hepatic diseases and result in a shortened lifespan.
Be sure to feed your chipmunks a balanced low-fat diet and restrict fatty foods such as peanuts to an occasional treat.
What do chipmunks eat – formulated diets
In addition to including fresh fruits and veggies in your chipmunks’ diet, you must offer them nuts and seeds. We’ve found these specially formulated chipmunk diet recipes that are perfect for both wild and pet chipmunks!
Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for information on what to feed chipmunks. Alternatively, check with your vet if you’re not sure how much food to offer your pets.
Kaytee Squirrel & Critter Blend Wildlife Food
Kaytee Squirrel & Critter Blend Wildlife Food contains a healthful balance of nuts, seeds, and corn and is ideal for use with fresh vegetables and fruit as a staple diet for chipmunks.
Audubon Park 12243 Critter Crunch Wild Bird and Critter Food
Audubon Park is a family owned, U.S. company. They’ve clearly asked themselves, “What do chipmunks eat?” when devising this product!
The company’s Critter Crunch contains all-natural ingredients and much of the chipmunk’s favorite food items, including black oil sunflower seeds, corn, peanuts, and whole peanuts in their shells.
Squirrel/Chipmunk “Sparky’s Special” Premium Squirrel Food
Sparky’s Special Premium Squirrel food is billed as a superior quality, all-natural food that is suitable for feeding to chipmunks.
The mix is varied and full of delicious and unexpected ingredients, including cashews, walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts. If that wasn’t enough, the blend is packed with sunflower and pumpkin seeds and kernels, diced dried mango, coconut, kiwi, papaya, strawberries, apples, and bananas.
A healthy protein hit is also included in the food in the form of vitamin enriched pellets with a delicious coating of peanut butter powder.
Pennington Ear Corn on Cob Squirrel Food, 6.5-Pound
Simply pop a couple of these handy snacking foods into your pets’ cage to prevent boredom and provide a tasty meal.
200 Gram Organic Apple Sticks Pet chew Toys and Food by Mupian
With an eye on the dental health of your chipmunks, these natural, pesticide-free organic apple sticks provide a perfect gnawing treat.
These are not a food item so much as a healthy snack designed to occupy your furry friend.
What do chipmunks eat – A summary
Chipmunks are omnivorous, enjoying a wide variety of veggies, fruit, seeds, nuts, and live foods. It’s important that you try to replicate this diet as much as possible for your pet chipmunks.
Be sure to provide your chipmunks with hard-shelled nuts and hard wood for gnawing to help keep your pets’ front incisor teeth worn down.
They do enjoy their food though! Their love of nuts and seeds could even inspire male or female chipmunk names. We bet you can think of some fun ones.
Why not tell us about your chipmunks. What are your chipmunks’ favorite foods?
Let us know in the comments section below!
References and further reading
- Benato, L. (2009). Treatment Approaches Aimed At Keeping Chipmunks in Tune. Vet Times.
- Meredith, A. (2002). Chipmunks. BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. BSAVA.
- Ark Vets, Chipmunks: Things to Know.
- Aldous, S. E. (1941). Food Habits of Chipmunks. Journal of Mammology, 22.
- Geiser, F. and Kenagy, G. J. (1987). Polyunsaturated lipid diet lengthens torpor and reduces body temperature in a hibernator. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 252.
- Oxford Living Dictionaries, Hibernation.
- National Geographic, Chipmunks.