Emergency scenarios can get out of your control. What you do have control over is the pet food you give your pet every day. The health benefits of optimal nutrition will minimize emergency scenarios. And make for some fun energy!
Proper nutrition gives your pet more days basking in the sun and chewing new toys. Which is all anyone wants, right? If you keep your furry friends feeling their best, you’ll see their personality more and more as you bond with your small pet.
And we all know we’re here for the goofy, loving, and curious personalities!
Today we’re diving into the diets of popular small pets. We’re laying out the must-have information to put together the best pet food for your sweet friend.
The best way to understand each species is to look at how their wild counterparts live and what they eat. This gives you some background understanding when choosing what to include in your pet’s diet.
It teaches us more about their digestive system and what types of foods work well with it. Small pets have delicate digestive systems that can’t process foods outside of their natural diet well.
While sharing your food sounds like a loving thing to do, in most cases it leads to very upset stomachs. You need to learn about what’s going on in nature to really understand what should be going on at your house.
Real love comes from helping your animal feel like their best self!
When it comes to pet food, there’s a lot you need to watch out for. So while you may understand what you do want for your pet, you also need to understand what you don’t want for your pet.
In the following sections, we’ll look at each species and what their life and diet would look like in nature. Then we’ll talk about the best choices available for our domestic friends, as well as, run through the foods to keep off the table.
One thing that humans and rabbits have in common is that we love to eat. Rabbits spend 6-8 hours a day eating. That’s a full-time job!
As rabbit parents, we need to set them up for success by providing the right food sources so their long hours of eating translate to happy healthy years!
Rabbits are herbivores who chew a lot. The long hours of eating aren’t only for nutrients but also the health benefits that come from wearing down their teeth, which are always growing!
They eat a diet low in fat, protein, and calcium, that’s very high in carbs. Why? Because that’s exactly what their delicate digestive system requires. And we see a great example of this when we look at wild rabbits.
Rabbits in the wild have a job that domestic rabbits don’t have. They have to find the food. Their 8 hours of eating are full of hopping and getting plenty of exercise. So while we want to mimic nature’s diet for our domestic rabbits, we also want to make sure we’re giving our rabbits an active lifestyle.
A rabbit’s digestive system doesn’t work if your rabbit isn’t moving around during the day! Physical activity increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system and massages all the food they’re eating through their intestines.
Wild rabbits eat grass, clovers, twigs, bark, and anything else they can find as they forage through plants. If they get lucky they may even find a berry! Foraging through nature’s vegetation gives them plenty of fiber and roughage to wear their teeth down.
Not a bad scavenger hunt too.
We aren’t going to let our domestic rabbits wander the neighborhood or search for food outdoors. So their food will show up in their enclosure thanks to kind pet parents. But how do we choose the right pet food for our rabbits?
Hay, hay, hay!
We start with hay. Hay should make up 85% of your rabbit’s diet and it should be made available to your rabbit 24/7. So choosing the right hay is extremely important. There’s a lot to learn about hay, check out our hay guide if you really want to dive into the hay pile.
Alfalfa hay is higher in calcium, fat, and protein so it generally doesn’t work well for adult rabbits but it’s perfect for baby rabbits who are still growing.
Rabbit food pellets should be considered a supplement to the main course. Pellets are often fortified with vitamins like vitamin D and B-12. Pellets are a multivitamin that can fill in nutritional gaps but it shouldn’t steal the show from hay.
It’s also very important that the first ingredient of your rabbit food pellets is hay! Adult rabbits that are at least 6 lbs. can have ¼ cup of pellets. Rabbits that are less than 5 lbs should have ⅛ of a cup of pellets.
Fresh food is nutrient-packed and shouldn’t be avoided! Around two cups of leafy green vegetables can be given to adult rabbits every day. And they will love you for it!
Non-leafy vegetables shouldn’t be any more than 15% of your rabbit’s diet. Think of those more as treats!
High-sugar vegetables and fruits should be reserved for treats. Only give your rabbit small pieces (think a slice of banana or a piece of an apple the size of your thumb) no more than every few days.
When it comes to diet, guinea pigs are similar to rabbits. They both have hay making up the majority of their food pyramid and they enjoy many of the same fresh foods.
One difference between rabbits and guinea pigs is that guinea pigs aren’t as good at absorbing vitamin C from their food as rabbits are. Making sure you have vitamin C in your guinea pig’s food sources is very important.
While yes, guinea pig pellet food will be fortified with Vitamin C because of this, fresh food is still the more natural way to fulfill the need for Vitamin C.
Just like rabbits, guinea pigs’ teeth are always growing. And you guessed it, that means they are always chewing to wear those teeth down. It’s an excellent job to have if you think about it. Food is fun!
Our beloved guinea pigs’ wild counterparts are referred to as “cavies”. Wild cavies live in South America, Brazil, Paraguay and the small coastal island of Moleques do Sul Archipelago.
Cavies live in large herds to keep each other safe. They burrow and use rocks for shelter. They move over rocky terrain foraging for most of their day.
Much like rabbits, they get a lot of fiber and roughage to wear their teeth down! With plenty of variety as they grab whatever they can find. They’re vegans who stick to plants and don’t eat animal products!
A guinea pig’s diet can be supplemented with guinea pig pellet food which helps fill in any nutritional gaps. This food is fortified with daily vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and C). And the first ingredient should be hay!
A guinea pig’s digestive system loves hay. Just like the wild cavies who spend much of their day chewing grass. 80% of your guinea pig’s diet should be hay. Make sure you have hay available 24/7 as a free choice food. This helps them to fill up on fiber as well as wear their teeth down.
While pellets and fresh food should also be included in a guinea pig’s diet, hay must always have center stage.
Fresh food is very important! This is the richest source of vitamins and minerals a guinea pig will come across. Guinea pigs need to make sure they’re getting enough vitamin C! Which is why fresh food is so important.
Guinea pig pellets should be fortified with vitamin C as a good backup. But here’s a list of the best fresh foods to give to your guinea pig.
High-sugar vegetables and fruits can be given to your guinea pig in small amounts as a treat. Think of pieces no bigger than your thumb. Consider the size of your snacks compared to the rest of your body and make sure you’re not overdoing it for your cavy!
A treat the size of their mouth is plenty!
Commercial breeding for chinchillas didn’t start until 1920. This means we don’t have as long a history with these furry friends as we do some of the others on this list. Chinchilla pet food is kept a little simpler and there aren’t as many options to branch out. But at the heart of the matter, we have, you guessed it, hay. And they need it all the time! Chinchillas also have teeth that are continuously growing and the wear and tear of chewing hay all day keeps them at a healthy length.
Wild chinchillas are very active. They have to work for their food! They spend their days foraging and climbing all over the rocky slopes of the Andes mountains.
They jump on ledges and quickly go into hiding at the first sign of danger. They live in herds and this helps keep them safe. And when they do feel safe, they eat! Grasses, flowers, bark, and whatever fibrous vegetation they can find can make a good meal. All of the fiber they get from plants keeps the bacteria in their gut healthy and a digestive system that’s on point.
Chinchillas that are pregnant, nursing, or still growing can be fed alfalfa hay which is higher in calcium and protein than Timothy hay. Alfalfa isn’t suitable for healthy adult chinchillas as the high calcium content can cause bladder stones.
Chinchilla pellet food can be offered as a supplement to their diet of hay. Healthy adult chinchillas should only have 1-2 TBSP of pellet food a day. They need a pellet made specifically for chinchillas.
It’s important chinchillas don't eat too many pellets as this type of food is much softer than chewing hay, and if they fill up on those easy calories, their teeth won’t get worn down the way they need to!
Chinchillas can’t eat a long list of fresh food. It’s best to keep their diet simple. But there are some simple treats that you can give chinchillas occasionally.
Hay cubes are simply hay that’s been pressed into a new shape and texture. So your chinchilla gets something new to explore while their digestive system gets just what it needs.
Dried goji berries can be given to chinchillas but they should really only be used as a treat once a month. You can break up one berry into smaller pieces and hide it in their cage for a fun surprise.
The best treats for chinchillas are chew toys because as we said, chinchillas love to chew and they love to explore. Having toys around their enclosure encourages them to forage. It keeps them active and curious so it’s great for their mental and physical health.
Sounds like a treat to me!
Chickens have a larger menu compared to the other small pets. Chickens are omnivores who frequently eat insects and snails. They may even eat a frog or a mouse if they get lucky.
While foraging is the most natural way for chickens to eat, chicken feed is a must. Even if your chickens are free-range they need to have a high-quality feed available as well.
Chicken grit helps grind down their food because chickens don’t have teeth! So next to their chicken feed should be a bowl of grit.
Check out our guide on raising chickens to get more of the nitty-gritty details (see what I did there?).
Laying hens also need lots of calcium to form strong bones and a hard egg shell. One of the easiest ways to get your chickens the calcium they need is by feeding ground oyster shells.
Laying hens who don’t get enough calcium may lay soft-shelled eggs which can cause egg binding. This is when the egg gets stuck inside the chicken and it’s very dangerous.
You probably don’t hear a lot about wild chickens since chickens have been domesticated for at least 7,000 years. But chickens are actually native to the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia. That’s right, chickens are a tropical bird!
Wild chickens eat a whole range of things. Grass, plants, fruit, insects, worms, worm eggs, and seeds are all on the regular menu for wild chickens.
Chickens have unique digestive systems that allow them to eat very quickly but digest the food later when they are safe and resting. And if you know chickens then you know they’re very active going from one thing to the next.
Wild chickens get grit in the form of tiny pebbles as they’re picking up food. Grit is stored in the chicken's gizzard and it doesn’t dissolve. These pebbles help pull their food apart, the same job teeth have in other animals!
When it comes to choosing chicken feed, you need a product that is age-appropriate for your chickens. Adults and chicks need different feeds. Adult chicken feed should be 16-17.5% protein. While starter feed (food for chicks) should be between 20-24% protein. Feed for adults is called layer feed.
After six weeks, you should be phasing out starter feed so the excess protein doesn’t cause liver damage. However, there’s another type of feed called grower feed which can be fed to chickens till they’re 20 weeks old. So make sure you’re reading the package!
Mash and crumble are chicken feed in softer forms. These looser textures are often used with young chickens but also some adult chickens prefer them as well.
If hens are eating chicken feed alone then grit isn’t a necessity. If they’re eating grass or scraps that’s when they definitely need grit to go along with it!
Oyster shells are considered soluble chicken grit (helps give hens the calcium they need to lay strong eggs). But what we're talking about here is insoluble chicken grit. This can be finely ground flint or granite and doesn’t dissolve in water.
It just sits in their gizzard and rolls around helping to break up the food they’ve eaten. With chickens, they don’t have teeth, but grit helps them chew up the food after they’ve already swallowed it!
Chickens don’t need to take care of their teeth the way the other animals on this list do, but they do need to make sure they’re always swallowing their teeth.
Hamsters, gerbils, and mice are all rodents who have similar lifestyles and diets. But still different stories!
There are over 20 different types of hamsters and 5 of those are common as pets. Wild hamsters are found in Europe and Asia.
Wild gerbils live in grasslands and semi-deserts in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Wild mice live in nearly every country! These little guys really get around.
Rodents spend their days in a similar way to our other furry friends in that they are always foraging and searching for the next meal. And they eat their meals in little bits over a long period of time.
Rodents are prey animals and will often collect their food and take it somewhere safe to eat.
Hamsters, gerbils, and mice need a high-quality timothy-based pellet diet. Seed mixes allow your pet to be picky and they may not be getting all the nutrients you think they are when you give them the mix.
Hamsters - 1 ½ TBS per day
Gerbils - 1 TBS per day
Mice - ½ TBS per day, depending on size
Look for food that looks uniform and natural. You don’t want unnecessary additives or dyes. Timothy hay is a great first ingredient!
You can give your rodents hay as well! This helps keep their teeth healthy and gives them a great source of fiber to chew on.
Providing lots of toys for your rodents will keep them busy exploring and chewing. This keeps their teeth filed down and healthy. Similar to rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, rodents' teeth are always growing! And there are plenty of toys that double as a snack.
Rodents are small, so when we start talking about giving them treats, remember, we’re talking about very small pieces. Fresh vegetables make a great treat but don’t overdo it! Too many veggies can give your buddy diarrhea.
You can try giving your pet a small piece of carrot, cucumber, or cauliflower. But keep it minimal. Some other vegetables you can give your rodent in very small qualities are:
Hay Cubes are a fun treat for rodents and these are just hay formed into a cube to give your pet a new texture to enjoy. A little extra crunch! These are perfect because your rodent (and their digestive system) should be very familiar with hay!
Once you figure out what food your small pet needs, everything else usually falls into place! The fuel gives your pet the energy to exercise and bond with you. And good health gives you more time to love on your pet!
Of course, you’ll get to know your pet, and by doing this you’ll be better at noticing when something seems off. When their normal routine and energy seem to be interrupted that is the first sign that they aren’t feeling well.
When this happens you need to check in with your vet and they can help you investigate the situation and try to get things back on track for your sweet animal.
Not every animal is the same. For example, the diet that works for one rabbit may not be the best for another. There are a lot of factors that go into play for each of these animals: age, health history, energy levels, and even just individual preferences (the fuel doesn’t do any good if they won’t eat it).
So, learn as much as you can about your animal’s body as well as their personality and you’ll come up with the best fuel for days of love and energy.
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