Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and are commonly referred to as small animals.
While it may be assumed that this includes fish, insects, and other small animals, the term small animal is usually used to refer to four-legged and shaggy animals. Ferrets, chinchillas, and the more exotic degus are now also included in the small animal category.
Small animals are becoming increasingly popular as pets, with around 3.5% of UK households owning a rabbit or guinea pig. Up to 100,000 gerbils are kept in the UK, but a recent survey found that gerbils are one of the least popular pets after lizards, pigeons, and turtles.
Diet Decides Their Lifespan
Compared to dogs, cats, and horses, small animals have a relatively short lifespan and require less money and time. As a result, they sometimes skimp on their diet. Despite their small size, the lifespan of these animals largely depends on their diet. A rabbit fed a balanced diet of vitamins and crude fiber can live a year or two longer than a rabbit fed a dry diet such as muesli.
Rabbits and guinea pigs in the wild eat an almost constant variety of foods and slowly digest the large amounts of fiber they need to survive. Their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, so chewing grass and other foods for long periods helps them to maintain healthy teeth. Rabbits and guinea pigs need to eat fed regularly to get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and repair.
It can be tempting to feed rabbits and guinea pigs commercial dry pellets and forget about everything else, but this type of diet is very dangerous. If rabbits are kept indoors only, without grass or other feed, their health will suffer in every way. Rabbits and guinea pigs must have constant access to hay, both indoors and outdoors. Otherwise, the worst thing that can happen is that their teeth become too big for them to eat. Rabbits that do not chew hay are also more likely to gain weight because their digestion is not slowed down.
Alfalfa is often recommended for small animals, but too much (alfalfa-based hay or alfalfa-based pellets) can cause urine crystallization due to its high calcium content. Timothy grass is the most suitable grass for rabbits and guinea pigs because it is rich in essential fiber, low in protein and calcium, and easy to digest.
Rabbits and guinea pigs should not be fed dry foods such as muesli. The rest is usually the most nutritious and healthy part of the diet. Uniform Premium Pellets are the best dry food because pets cannot be picky and will easily eat all the good food. For rabbits weighing 3.5 kg or more, feed 1-2 tablespoons of dry pellets per day, along with hay or other coarse food (grass, weeds, plants, herbs, etc.). To see the full range of small animal foods, click here.
Vegetables is a Must
Fresh vegetables are also an important part of the diet and should be given regularly but in moderation. Rabbits and guinea pigs have sensitive digestive systems, so new foods should always be introduced gradually to avoid upset stomachs and diarrhea. Fruit should not be fed frequently as it is high in sugar and most small animals will naturally stop eating it. Many fruits contain poisonous seeds, stones or leaves, which can be dangerous as they can cause choking if swallowed. Occasional consumption of apples and pears is not harmful, but sugar intake should be limited. Wood and stone chews can help maintain dental health, but additional snacks should be kept to a minimum.
Here are some vegetables and fruits suitable for rabbits and guinea pigs (remember that these should not be given too often and should be considered as treats).
- Green beans
- Peppers (red, green and yellow)
- Baby sweetcorn
- Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries
Hamsters and gerbils also benefit from fresh food, although not as much as rabbits and guinea pigs. Since hamsters in the wild often eat seeds and insects, sweet fruits were not originally part of their diet and are not particularly significant. Daily consumption of fresh green vegetables is a valuable treat and nutritional supplement. Alfalfa and hay can be given, but are not essential for digestive health.
Grapes and rhubarb can be poisonous to small rodents, so avoid them and feed others (cabbage, carrots, broccoli, etc.). Other foods to avoid include raw nuts, iceberg lettuce, citrus fruits, and tomatoes. Commercial foods should always be given in moderation. Hamsters are nocturnal, so the best time to feed them is at dusk when they are awake.
Grains and Seeds Also Plays an Important Role
More important for gerbils and hamsters are grains and seeds, which should make up 15-20% of their daily diet.
Grains contain essential oils that promote coat, skin, and eye health. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are considered a favorite food of hamsters and gerbils, but the amount given should be limited. Hamsters and gerbils should be fed a small amount of commercial dry food, as well as a mixture of starling and canary.
(Hamsters are omnivores, not carnivores (essentially eating only small insects), but for some reason, many people are tempted to feed them dog food or cat wet food.) (Hamsters seem to enjoy eating this food, but it is not recommended by veterinarians).
Chinchillas and degus have similar diets, with a few exceptions. First, chinchillas eat very little. In the wild, they are not adapted to digesting a high-fat, high-protein diet, as their staple diet consists of desert grasses and roots. They are also not good at handling large amounts of green plants. Even though rabbits and guinea pigs like vegetables, chinchillas are prone to diarrhea and may find them difficult to digest. It is easy to forget that chinchillas live in dry areas and require a very dry diet.
The chinchilla's intestines are delicate, so ensuring an adequate diet can mean the difference between life and death. Timothy's high-quality pellets and hay meet all the nutritional needs of chinchillas. It is important to gradually modify the chinchilla's diet by avoiding high-fat nuts and seeds; according to the PDSA, the following vegetables are not dangerous for chinchillas
- Cabbage Cabbage, cabbage, cabbage, cabbage, cabbage, cabbage
- Spinach Spinach
- Asparagus Asparagus
Deguis are herbivores and their nutritional requirements are very similar to those of chinchillas. They require adequate fiber in their diet and often reduce their stools to maintain nutrient reabsorption and healthy gut function. It should be remembered that degus cannot tolerate the sugar content of their diet and can develop diabetes from the use of molasses, honey, and glucose syrup. Therefore, feed treats for degus, not treats for other small animals. Do not feed degua rabbit or chinchilla mixes, as they often contain dried fruit pieces and are not suitable for normal feeding.
It is best to use high-quality pellets or dry food mixes to feed your Degua for home use. Ideally, an adult Degua should be fed 10 grams of hard food per day. Deguas should also be fed roughage such as hay or grass and fresh vegetables once or twice a week. Mineral chips and seeds help maintain dental health and give the degus something to look forward to during the day. Many Degu owners love carrot and vegetable juices as tasty and nutritious treats.
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