RABBIT AND GUINEA PIG NUTRITION
An article written by our exotics veterinarian, Dr Kevin Turner BVSc
Rabbits and Guinea Pigs make great pets. Full of character and sociable they can be just as much fun to own as a dog or cat. And many share the house with their human family.
Sadly, their lives as pets are often not as long as they should be and there are some very common reasons for this. The most obvious is their diet...
Many owners believe, or have been told that, Rabbits and Guinea Pigs should be fed pellets as their main food.
Pelletted diets in NZ have had a mixed history. Many were developed for use in farming (ie: rearing rabbits as a food source). The desired outcome in that case is rapid growth and lots of breeding. BUT NOT long, happy lives. The formulation of pellets for farming is very high in calories, fats and carbohydrates, very low in fibre and very high in Calcium. Sadly this balance is exactly what you DON’T want for your pet to remain healthy into old age. Pets fed these diets usually develop very serious health problems:
- Dental disease
- Kidney and bladder stones
- Vitamin C deficiency (Scurvy) in Guinea pigs
All of these can be fatal and require lots of veterinary treatment to resolve.
But prevention can be very simple. Choosing a pellet brand that is designed to be fed to pet rabbits and Guinea pigs is a step in the right direction. We recommend “Oxbow” – an American brand that has a great pedigree. We now carry these brilliant foods on our shelf.
But even Oxbow does not suggest that their pellets are the whole story. These should be fed as a part of the overall diet – with the balance being made up with:
- Fresh Grass – ideally grazed by the animal while they are outside in a large pen (hutches are generally too small – your pet needs space to play, dig and graze). Alternatively, cut fresh grass daily and stand it in a shallow water bowl to keep it fresh. The more the merrier – these pets eat heaps!.... and there’s less lawn to mow!
- High quality hay – Timothy hay is the perfect variety but can be hard to find. A good quality, sweet-smelling “meadow hay” also does the trick. Check it for dust and mould – if it smells funny your pet will think so too!
- Fruit and vege – but not too much. Focus on greens rather than sweet fruits and avoid starchy foods such as corn.
- A vitamin C supplement for Guinea Pigs – Oxbow pellets contain this or you can provide extra using a suitable vitamin product.
Check out a “Food Pyramid” for rabbits and guinea pigs on-line as this shows the best balance.
It’s amazing the difference this change can make. We see pet rabbits living for 10 years or more – twice as long as many.
If you think your pet should have a change in their diet, do it gradually - their digestive systems need a little time to adapt. And get their overall health checked by a vet experienced with these animals to pick up any subtle problems that might be lurking.