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Diet and nutrition

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Feeding your rabbit, guinea-pig, or hamster

Most small animals require the same basic feeding requirements. This is usually a mix specifically designed for the pet and fresh fruit and vegetables. The mixes will include cereals, minerals and vitamins. The most common types of vegetables fed are carrot, cabbage and cauliflower, and for fruit it is apple. These small animals also require constant access to fresh water. To maintain a healthy diet which will enable your pet to remain free from illness certain foods are best avoided, this includes sweets, chocolates and excessive amounts of coloured additives.

Rabbits

Rabbits are vegetarians, in the wild they eat grass and graze on vegetation. When feeding your pet rabbit remember that they have a unique digestive system, which best suits a high fibre, low protein, low energy diet. A high fibre diet, as well as being essential for digestion, also helps them to keep their teeth trim.  All a rabbit really needs is a good quality rabbit mix containing cereal grains, minerals and vitamins, a constant supply of fresh hay, fresh water and small quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Sometimes your rabbit will not eat everything that is in its feed dish, picking out the favourite bits, this means that it will not receive a balanced diet. One way to stop this is not to throw away the leftovers but to put a small amount of new, fresh food in the dish, the rabbit will then eat everything therefore getting all the vitamins and minerals it needs. Hay is a good source of natural fibre and calcium, and should be given fresh on a daily basis. Be very careful when feeding fruit and vegetables, always introduce them in small amounts and occasionally as they may cause dietary upsets. A rabbit can suffer from digestive problems and it cannot be sick if it eats too much. Never feed fruit and vegetables straight from the fridge, always wait until they are at room temperature first. Some of the vegetables that can be fed include cabbage, carrot, broccoli etc. Fruit includes apple, banana, melon and pear. You should never give your rabbit grass cuttings as the go mouldy very quickly. Rabbits are also prone to obesity if they are given too many treats which contain sugar, honey and seeds. These ingredients are all high in fat and your rabbit requires a low fat diet. They can accumulate fat in their liver and arteries. If your rabbit is overweight cut back on its food and make sure it gets plenty of exercise. If you want to give a treat read the label first or give it a piece of fruit or vegetable.  Once you have your rabbit on a balanced diet stick to it as changing it too often can cause dietary upset.

Guinea pigs

Guinea Pigs are basically grazing animals. They are vegetarians, their diet consisting of a mix containing seeds and cereals, hay and fresh fruit and vegetables. They need hay in their diet to help them with digesting other foods they have eaten. The guinea pig will also use hay as bedding. A good quality guinea pig mix will contain crushed oats, barley, wheat, bran, maize and alfalfa.

When feeding fruit and vegetables remember to give it in small amounts as some will cause other problems. Lettuce, for example, can cause liver damage if fed in large amounts, however they do seem able to tolerate cauliflower fairly well. You can also feed almost all types of root vegetable, except potatoes, they particularly like carrots. Water must be supplied fresh on a daily basis. Unlike rabbits, guinea pigs require a high intake of vitamin C, this can be obtained from their greens. If these greens are in short supply a vitamin supplement may be necessary. This can be in the form of a powder or tablets which can be dissolved in the drinking water. You cannot give your guinea pig too much of this vitamin as any extra will be excreted in the urine.

Hamsters

Hamsters must be fed a hamster mix which will meet its daily dietary requirements. Foods for other animals may not meet these needs. Hamster mixes should contain grains, cereals, nuts, seeds, crushed oats, barley, wheat, sunflower seeds, peanuts and maize. These mixes will help them to grind their teeth down.

Most hamsters will like to have fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet but this is not necessary and too much can cause diarrhoea. They will enjoy a piece of carrot, cabbage and even apple. A treat which many hamsters also enjoy are mealworms, these can be bought from most large pet stores. If you give your hamster too much food it will pick out the pieces it enjoys the most so do not feed too much, and remember hamsters will hoard their food, carrying it in their cheek pouches and storing it in their beds. Fresh water should be supplied daily, you can also add vitamin drops to this to ensure your hamster is receiving all it needs.
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