A variety of small mammals, such as rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats and chinchillas, continue to be popular household pets for people of all ages. Indeed, in the most recent survey there are estimated to be around 1.5million homes keeping them as pets.
Posted: 19 March 2020
The 2019 Pet Food Manufacturers Association Pet Population Report, which looks in detail at pet ownership trends, found that of the 12 million UK households with pets, the breakdown of households with small mammals was;
There is no doubt that owners are increasingly expecting the very highest quality of veterinary knowledge and care. Our understanding of medical conditions is taken for granted, but we are also expected to be able to inform and advise on diet. After all, nutrition is the key to a healthy pet, and it should provide all the necessary requirements for animal maintenance and growth.
Clean water must be available and accessible at all times. Some species require less water due to their physiological adaptations to living in a dry environment (e.g. gerbils and chinchillas), but they still need a reliable clean source of water. All containers, whether they are water bottles or bowls, should be emptied and refilled daily.
Some key features of the rabbit gastro-intestinal tract include;
A common mistake people make when feeding rabbits is to overfeed calorie and starch rich foods and underfeed high fibre foods such as hay and greens. Ultimately this will lead to obesity and gastrointestinal disease.
The most important part of the house rabbit diet is an unlimited supply of grass and hay, which provides essential fibre as well as being a source of proteins, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.
A high-fibre diet, based on good quality hay and supplemented with leafy greens such as dandelions, herbs, broccoli and cabbage, will provide all that is required. The fibres can be divided into;
At Burgess Pet Care we produce some of the highest quality Timothy feeding hay available, which is rich in all the essential fibres. Our Burgess Excel Long Stem Feeding Hay is our premium hay and has some key benefits.
Remember that carrots, which are high in sugar, should only be offered in small quantities. The leafy green tops are more beneficial than the root vegetable itself!
The two main groups of rodents we see as pets are Myomorpha and Hystricomorpha. Essentially these are;
1. Myomorpha (rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils)
These animals are classified as omnivores, eating roots, leaves, grains and even small invertebrates in the wild. They have a simple stomach, a much smaller caecum compared with herbivores (there is much less need for fermentation of high-fibre food) and an elongated colon.
Coprophagy is also normal behaviour with rodents, but unlike rabbits, they ingest these caecal pellets from the floor.
These small rodents have very different nutritional requirements when compared to rabbits, and as pets are best provided with a commercially prepared species-specific diet. A measured amount of this food should be offered daily and supplemented with small amounts of vegetables and fruit. Since they are omnivores, it’s also recommended that a small portion of a protein source should be offered each week, using foods such as hard-boiled eggs or cheese.
At Burgess Pet Care we produce species specific rodent food. Our range includes;
When feeding these complete diets, it helps with exercise and mental stimulation if you scatter the food to encourage the natural foraging behaviour.
The most common form of malnutrition in these species is obesity. Unfortunately, many owners feed an excess of food relative to the animal’s size, which when combined with limited opportunities to exercise, leads to;
B. Hystricomorpha (guinea pigs and chinchillas)
These rodents are true herbivores, and in the wild will feed on a high-fibre diet consisting of grass and plants. They have a glandular stomach, large caecum and long intestinal tract. Like the other rodents, they also produce caecotrophs. Their diet should consist of;
Sugar rich treats should be avoided as these can lead to dental caries.
Hypovitaminosis C in guinea pigs is a condition which results from feeding diets with inadequate levels of vitamin C. As a species they have an absolute minimum dietary requirement for vitamin C of 10mg/kg per day, rising to three times this amount during pregnancy. The guinea pig products we produce at Burgess Pet Care are fortified with Vitamin C. These products include;