Small Animal Nutrition 101
Proper nutrition for small animals is the foundation for a happy, healthy life. Sure, rabbits love lettuce and mice love cheese, but is that all they need to thrive? Here’s a brief refresher course in small animal nutrition:
Rabbits Classification: strict herbivores Primary diet: high fiber, unlimited hay, ample leafy greens Rabbits are strict herbivores, meaning they cannot properly digest milk products, meats, etc. Their diet should consist of ample fiber, such as grass hay, high-quality pellets, fresh, leafy greens, and the occasional treat. While commercial pellets are essential, they should not be the majority of the diet, as this can quickly lead to obesity.
Guinea Pigs Classification: herbivores Primary diet: high fiber, unlimited hay, ample leafy greens Guinea pigs have diets similar to that of rabbits. They are herbivores that require pellets, fresh vegetables, and unlimited grass hay. However, they cannot be fed rabbit pellets, which might contain a level of Vitamin D that is toxic to guinea pigs. The most important part thing to remember about guinea pig nutrition is their requirement for Vitamin C, which they are unable to produce on their own. Without it, they will become lethargic, lose hair, etc. Dark, leafy greens like kale, collard greens, green peppers and broccoli are great sources of Vitamin C. Be careful when feeding your guinea pig, as they are very susceptible to obesity, especially due to too many treats or sugary dry food.
Hamsters and Gerbils Classification: omnivores Primary diet: Seeds, insects, kibble While gerbils and hamsters have their differences- tail vs. no tail, social vs. solitary- their dietary requirements are the same. Beware of mixes, as your furry friend may pick out their favorite bits and leave the rest untouched, leading to an unbalanced diet. Instead, stick with high-quality kibble from Oxbow or Sunseed. Your gerbil or hamster will love fruits and vegetables, but these should only be fed as treats. Added bonus- treats help you bond!
Chinchillas Classification: herbivores Primary diet: high fiber, dry grasses Chinchillas have a very similar diet to their other rodent friends. However, because they originate from a very dry climate, chinchillas need fewer leafy greens in their diet. Chinchilla pellets will be complete and balanced with protein, fat, and roughage. Your cute critter should have access to this food at all times. As for treats, chinchillas love nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. While chinchillas rarely suffer from obesity, treats should still be fed sparingly. *Note: all of the above animals have teeth that never stop growing. Do not underestimate the importance of hay in your pet’s diet. They should always have access to an unlimited supply of grass hay, such as timothy or alfalfa, to up fiber intake for better digestion and aid in wearing down their ever-growing teeth. Further, it stimulates their desire to forage. While proper diet is key to keeping these teeth worn down to a normal level, wooden toys designated for chew are always a good idea.*
Hedgehogs Classification: insectivores Primary diet: high protein, such as pellets and bugs Hedgehogs are insectivores, meaning their diet is high in protein and mainly consists of bugs. Hedgehog pellets are specially formulated to fit these unique dietary needs. Keep in mind that they are small in stature and require very little food, fruits, and vegetables daily. Your hedgehog will go crazy for live mealworms as a treat!
Ferrets Classification: obligate carnivores Primary diet: high protein, high fat The diet of a ferret very closely mimics that of a cat. They are obligate carnivores that require a moderate protein, high fat diet. High-quality cat kibble or frozen, raw cat food are great options for ferrets. Unlike other companion animals, ferrets eat only to caloric need, which means they will not gorge themselves. Additionally, short digestive tracts and fast metabolisms means they must eat often. For these reasons, free-feeding kibble is acceptable. It is important to note that ferrets imprint on their food in the first year of their life. Ferret parents are encouraged to introduce a variety of foods during this time in order to prevent pickiness. As with all animals, diet is all about balance. There’s nothing wrong with fun treats, like fruit, as long as they’re given in moderation. Access to fresh drinking water is also an important part of your pet’s diet. A sipper bottle with metal spout is recommended, as they can hold up against curious chewers. We’d love to hear from any small animal pet parents out there! Comment with your thoughts below, or over on our Facebook page. Sources: House Rabbit Society, Rabbit Resource Network, The Humane Society of the United States, Oxbow Animal Health, Chinchilla Care, Drs. Foster and Smith, American Ferret Association