Not everyone has the time or space for larger animals like dog and cats. Small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and hamsters are a great alternative for animal lovers, looking for something with less time and care commitments. These curious little creatures can provide companionship and make wonderful pets.
Caring for these small animals would be difficult once removed from their native habitats as their food is not readily available everywhere, especially in urban areas. Luckily, pet food companies have developed different formulas of food for each type of animal to mimic their natural diet. No matter where you live, you can ensure these pets a happy and healthy life in captivity. Rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and hamsters all have teeth that grow throughout their lives, it is important to always ensure they have lots of food to chew to wear their teeth down. And, of course, they all require access to fresh clean drinking water at all times.
Rabbits require a high fiber diet, with the bulk of it being roughage like hay and grasses, supplemented with pellets for a complete nutritional meal. This helps to ensure the digestive tract health and avoid problems like hairballs or blockages. Rich alfalfa hay and pellets have more calcium, calories, and protein, and are ideal for young rabbits, up to 7 months old and lactating females. Fully grown rabbits and adults should be switched to Timothy hay and pellets as a maintenance food and to control their weight. Other mixes of hay are good in moderation to provide a variety of flavors to prevent boredom from their daily food. Hay should be free fed, 24 hours a day. Pellets should never make up more than half of their daily food intake. A variety of fresh vegetables like dark leafy greens and smaller amounts of root vegetables should be given regularly. Pelleted products that contain other grains, dried pieces of fruits and vegetables and legumes should be considered as treats and only fed in small quantities.
A common misconception about Guinea pigs is that they can eat the same food as rabbits, however, their dietary needs are not the same and require specific food made for them. Hay is very important to Guinea Pigs and should be the bulk of their diet. This will aid in digestion. The type of hay is also important. Alfalfa hay is very high in calcium and calories and only suitable for Guineas under 4 months of age or lactating females. It should not be given to adults. Too much calcium can build up and result in painful and potentially deadly bladder stones. Adults should be fed a diet of Timothy and grass hay, supplemented with Timothy based pellets. Pelleted foods should have Vitamin C added, check the label to make sure your food has it in the ingredients as it is necessary to their health. Adult Guinea Pigs should only be fed around 1/8 of a cup of pellets per day, the rest of their food should be made up of fresh vegetables and all they can eat hay. Remove any left-over pellets before giving them new ones. Only buy small quantities of pellets that you can use within six weeks, and store it in the bag in an air-tight container, kept in the dark. The pellets should remain a dark green color, this indicates the potency and will help preserve the vitamin C. Supreme mixes may include different kinds of pellets, dried vegetables and fruits and are meant to be fed in small amounts as treats or snacks and should not be their staple diet.
Chinchillas in the wild eat a lot of grasses, plants, and twigs, and spend much of their time foraging for their food. They have teeth that continually grow and require a lot of chewing to wear down and maintain their teeth at a healthy length. In captivity, we need to recreate these activities and provide a balanced diet. They require a diet largely consisting of high-quality hay and grasses. Timothy hay and orchard grass are generally the best types of hay to offer as the main source in their diet. Young, growing and lactating Chinchillas may benefit from richer, Alfalfa hay. Other types of hay may be offered in moderation as treats and supplemental feeds for more variety. We also recommend specially formulated pellets to mimic their natural diet in an easy to use product. Pellets are specially fortified to be nutritionally balanced. Some pelleted formulas have small pieces of dried fruits and vegetables mixed with them, these can be offered in small amounts as treats. Chinchillas can easily become overweight and this can cause health problems so their food intake needs to be monitored closely.
Most commercial hamster foods contain a variety of pellets, seeds, dried vegetables, and grains. While most pelleted food with 18-22% protein is considered a complete diet, most hamsters get bored with these foods. Choose a pelleted feed with a large variety of mixed ingredients, but not one with excessive amounts of sunflower seeds as they can cause obesity. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great snacks too, just feed them in small quantities and removed uneaten food daily.
Thanks to commercial pet food, feeding our little friends has never been easier. Make sure you are feeding the right foods and supplements for your species and always, make sure they have clean, water available at all times.