Feeding Rabbits and Guinea Pigs

Rabbits and guinea pigs are some of the most popular pets, and for good reason: They are gentle, companionable, and easy to care for. Their diet is one of the most vital part of having a healthy and happy rabbit or guinea pig, although it can be confusing for some. Their diet has three components:

Pellets: What most people to consider the staple of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet is, in fact, the most minor part. Pellet food was first created for breeders, to save them time. Instead of a bowl full of pellets, they only need one to two tablespoons per day. Many veterinarians are even suggesting that they only be offered as treats.

Hay: Rabbits and guinea pigs absolutely must have hay. Offer unlimited amounts of hay for your pet. It is vital for their digestion; they must have the fiber to move their food through their digestive tract. Keep hay in the cage at all times, topping it up with fresh when they eat it down. Timothy hay is the main staple hay. Alfalfa hay should only be offered to young animals as it is high in the fat, protein, and minerals need for growth. For animals older than a year, it can be offered occasionally as a treat (they love the taste of it), but excessive alfalfa can cause obesity.

Greens: The bulk of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet should be dark, leafy greens. Smaller rabbits and guinea pigs should get 1 – 2 cups per day, and larger rabbits should get 3-4 cups. Offer a wide variety, as no one vegetable has all the required nutrients. Besides, wouldn’t you get bored with the same diet day in and day out? Generally try to have 3-5 vegetables in each feeding. The basis of your mix should include: Romaine, red or green leaf lettuce, butter or Boston lettuce, or spring mix of greens. Add one or two other things: arugula, basil, beet greens—green leaves on the top, not beets themselves, carrot greens, cilantro, dandelion greens—not from the yard as it can be covered in pesticides or pollution, dill, endive, escarole, fennel, chopped finely, kale—use sparingly, if at all—high in calcium, mint, mustard or collard greens, parsley, radicchio, radish greens, sage, sorrel , and watercress. Small pieces of apple, oranges, bananas, or bell peppers are an added treat. Check out our article “Your Herbivore and You” here.

Offer spinach occasionally, as it contains compounds that inhibit the absorption of calcium into their bones. Offer carrots rarely (maybe one small peeled baby carrot a week); carrots are very high in sugar, something not easily digested by rabbits or guinea pigs (only Bugs Bunny eats carrots every day). Avoid cilantro, as it is thought to contribute to bacterial infections. Never feed your rabbit or guinea pig chocolate, cookies, crackers, bread or breadsticks, nuts, pasta or other human treats. Also don’t give them corn, potatoes or onions. And don’t feed them birdseed, yogurt or cat or dog food. These items can be poisonous or cause serious health problems
Guinea pigs have one special need that rabbits don’t: vitamin C. Most mammals, except for guinea pigs and humans, produce their own vitamin C, so we must supplement this. Vitamin C tablets are the easiest way to do this. It takes just one tablet a day, and many guinea pigs take it from their hand as if it’s a treat.

Try this recipe for homemade bunny biscuits. Offer these treats sparingly.

1 small carrot, pureed
1/2 banana, mashed until really creamy
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup rabbit pellets, ground finely in a coffee grinder
1/4 cup ground oats, ground finely in a coffee grinder

Mix pureed carrot, banana and honey in a medium bowl. Add pellet powder and ground oats. Mix until blended. Knead in your hands for 1-2 minutes. Roll out the “dough” in 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick layers between sheets of plastic wrap. Cut into small cookies (about 3/4 inch across). Place cut shapes onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes (check to make sure they are not browning too much). Turn off the heat and let the cookies sit in the warm oven for an hour or so.

Providing the proper diet for your new little pet is not hard. It can take a little bit of time to get into the swing of it, but it is well worth it. Keep in mind a few things: variety is important, and feed them the healthy greens that you’d eat. As people better understand the digestion and nutritional needs of rabbits and guinea pigs, they are living longer, much healthier and happier lives.

 

Download the care sheet (pdf)

Properly feeding rabbits and guinea pigs

Rabbits and guinea pigs are some of the most popular pets, and for good reason: They are gentle, companionable, and easy to care for. Their diet is one of the most vital part of having a healthy and happy rabbit or guinea pig, although it can be confusing for some. Their diet has three components:

Pellets: What most people to consider the staple of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet is, in fact, the most minor part. Pellet food was first created for breeders, to save them time. Instead of a bowl full of pellets, they only need one to two tablespoons per day. Many veterinarians are even suggesting that they only be offered as treats.

Hay: Rabbits and guinea pigs absolutely must have hay. Offer unlimited amounts of hay for your pet. It is vital for their digestion; they must have the fiber to move their food through their digestive tract. Keep hay in the cage at all times, topping it up with fresh when they eat it down. Timothy hay is the main staple hay. Alfalfa hay should only be offered to young animals as it is high in the fat, protein, and minerals need for growth. For animals older than a year, it can be offered occasionally as a treat (they love the taste of it), but excessive alfalfa can cause obesity.

Greens: The bulk of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet should be dark, leafy greens. Smaller rabbits and guinea pigs should get 1 – 2 cups per day, and larger rabbits should get 3-4 cups. Offer a wide variety, as no one vegetable has all the required nutrients. Besides, wouldn’t you get bored with the same diet day in and day out? Generally try to have 3-5 vegetables in each feeding. The basis of your mix should include: Romaine, red or green leaf lettuce, butter or Boston lettuce, or spring mix of greens.  Add one or two other things: arugula, basil, beet greens—green leaves on the top, not beets themselves, carrot greens, cilantro, dandelion greens—not from the yard as it can be covered in pesticides or pollution, dill, endive, escarole, fennel, chopped finely, kale—use sparingly, if at all—high in calcium, mint, mustard or collard greens, parsley, radicchio, radish greens, sage, sorrel , and watercress. Small pieces of apple, oranges, bananas, or bell peppers are an added treat. Check out our article “Your Herbivore and You” here.

Offer spinach occasionally, as it contains compounds that inhibit the absorption of calcium into their bones. Offer carrots rarely (maybe one small peeled baby carrot a week); carrots are very high in sugar, something not easily digested by rabbits or guinea pigs (only Bugs Bunny eats carrots every day). Avoid cilantro, as it is thought to contribute to bacterial infections. Never feed your rabbit or guinea pig chocolate, cookies, crackers, bread or breadsticks, nuts, pasta or other human treats. Also don’t give them corn, potatoes or onions. And don’t feed them birdseed, yogurt or cat or dog food. These items can be poisonous or cause serious health problems

Guinea pigs have one special need that rabbits don’t: vitamin C. Most mammals, except for guinea pigs and humans, produce their own vitamin C, so we must supplement this. Vitamin C tablets are the easiest way to do this. It takes just one tablet a day, and many guinea pigs take it from their hand as if it’s a treat.

Try this recipe for homemade bunny biscuits. Offer these treats sparingly.

1 small carrot, pureed
1/2 banana, mashed until really creamy
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup rabbit pellets, ground finely in a coffee grinder
1/4 cup ground oats, ground finely in a coffee grinder

Mix pureed carrot, banana and honey in a medium bowl. Add pellet powder and ground oats. Mix until blended. Knead in your hands for 1-2 minutes. Roll out the “dough” in 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick layers between sheets of plastic wrap. Cut into small cookies (about 3/4 inch across). Place cut shapes onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes (check to make sure they are not browning too much). Turn off the heat and let the cookies sit in the warm oven for an hour or so.

Providing the proper diet for your new little pet is not hard. It can take a little bit of time to get into the swing of it, but it is well worth it. Keep in mind a few things: variety is important, and feed them the healthy greens that you’d eat. As people better understand the digestion and nutritional needs of rabbits and guinea pigs, they are living longer, much healthier and happier lives.

Your Herbivore And You

Download the care sheet (pdf)

A guide to choosing the right vegetables for your pet

So you’ve recently acquired an herbivore, like a tortoise or a rabbit? Or maybe you’ve taken home an omnivore, like a bearded dragon? In any case the clerk at the pet store told you that you would have to formulate some, if not all of this animals food on your own.

This means going to the grocery store and stepping away from comfortable, tried and true section of the produce department and sniffing out something that may be a bit more exotic. This means unlike your dog, who gets the same bowl full of the same kibble every morning and night, your new pet’s health and well being depends on feeding one thing today and something entirely different tomorrow.

But what vegetables are the best? What can you feed too much? Are there any that should be avoided altogether? Contained herein is a simple, informative, and concise guide to formulating an herbivorous diet.

Nutrients: Macro v. Micro

Macronutrients are the basic building blocks of nutrition. Protein, fat, carbohydrates, and water are all macronutrients. In general an herbivore’s diet should be low in protein and fat, and high in water, fiber, and plant proteins. Animal protein is almost always accompanied by a high fat content and can be dangerous if fed to strict herbivores, whose digestive systems have evolved to extract maximum nutrition from nutrient-poor plant matter. Avocado, because it is high in fat, should not be fed to herbivores.

Commercial pelleted diets may contain all the proper vitamins and minerals in the proper amounts, but lack water. Animals fed exclusively on pelleted diets often become dehydrated.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, the catalysts that allow body processes to take place. Most strict herbivores are browsers, which means that they graze in one field one day, then amble over to another field the next. Over the course of a year a browser will eat dozens of different kinds of plants, as well as small amounts of soil. This makes a deficiency in any one micronutrient unlikely. In captivity it is important to rotate your pets diet to ensure that no nutrient is deficient or fed in excess.

Again, pelleted diets contain what the manufacturer thinks is the right balance of micronutrients, but vitamins and minerals from fresh vegetables have a much greater bioavailability. That means that your pet’s body is able to absorb and use that vitamin much more efficiently. Raw fresh vegetables also contain digestive enzymes, which precludes the body’s need to produce its own enzymes, allowing more nutrition to be be gleaned from the food.

Secondary Plant Compounds

All plants contain certain chemicals that can affect their digestion. Plants evolved with these chemicals the same way your hedgehog evolved with spines or your tortoise with a shell, as natural defense mechanisms. Some plants may want to repel certain herbivores, which destroy the plant, and attract others, which pollinate it.

Our concern with the plants available at the grocery store will be with two major categories of secondary compounds: oxalates and goitregens. Oxalates and oxalic acid bind with calcium and inhibit its absorbtion by the body. Goitregens affect thyroid function by inhibiting iodine uptake and cause goiters.

Plants high in oxalates include: spinach, beet greens, kale, collard greens, parsley, chard, and okra

Plants high in goitregens include: all cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts)

Does this mean that you should avoid these veggies altogether? NO. ALL plants contain secondary compounds. Variety is the key! Care must be taken not to over feed vegetables from these categories, or make them the basis for any diet, but they are an excellent addition to any well varied meal plan.

Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables are a great convenience, and can provide a great back up for when you run out of greens and can’t get to the store. However, frozen veggies should not comprise a regular part of your pet’s diet. Freezing destroys thiamin (vitamin B1), an essential nutrient.

Fat Soluble Vitamins

Vitamins A and D are both fat soluble vitamins, so when fed in excess they accumulate in the fatty tissues of the body and cause health problems. This is known as hypervitaminosis, and can manifest similarly to vitamin deficiencies or metabolic bone disease.

The easiest way to protect against over vitaminizing is to provide vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A as it needs to. Foods high in beta carotene are often bright orange, such as: carrots, sweet potatoes, and hard-shell squash. Provide vitamin D by giving natural sunlight, or simulated UVB light from special reptile bulbs, and your animal will synthesize its own.

A Basic List

Here is a basic list of acceptable veggies:

  • Staple Veggies: Hardshell or winter squash, dandelion greens, mustard greens, cactus pads (prickly pear), green beans, snap peas, parsnip, turnip tops, and others.
  • Avoid feeding in excess: Spinach, kale, collard greens, okra, asparagus, summer squash, carrots and carrot tops, beets and beet greens, broccoli, parsley, sweet potato, and others.
  • Avoid: Iceberg lettuce (nutrient poor – but won’t harm your animal), avocado, cabbage, cilantro.