Basic nutrition for rabbits and guinea pigs

Favourite food? Hay!

The most important basic foodstuff for rabbits and guinea pigs is hay. You should make sure they have access to some crunchy blades of hay at all times.

Guinea pigs and rabbits seem to spend the entire day nibbling away at crispy twigs, fresh herbs and seeds. And it’s true! In contrast to carnivores, these animals eat more regular, smaller portions spread throughout the day, meaning they spend a large proportion of the day eating.

There’s a good reason for this munching marathon: These animals’ stomachs have very thin walls and don’t have any muscles. They must continuously eat small morsels of food to make sure their digestion works properly and keeps moving. As you would expect from this diet, they consume a large quantity of food in a day. If your pets ate fruit or ready-made feed all day, they would quickly become overweight. So rabbits and guinea pigs also need a high percentage of crude fibre in their feed. All of this means that the ideal basic foodstuff for guinea pigs and rabbits, along with fresh grass and herbs, is hay, which is easily-digestible and low in calories. It keeps your pets’ stomachs in good working order, meaning it should always be available in sufficient quantities. Fruit and ready-made feed should only serve as a supplement to their main menu.

Hay is important for guinea pigs and rabbits for other reasons beside their sensitive digestion. Chewing the hard straws also ensures that your little ones’ teeth are filed down. The hay is broken down between the chewing surfaces of the molar teeth. During these chewing motions, the teeth also rub together and wear down – specifically around 8 mm per month. This is important, because guinea pigs’ and rabbits’ teeth are open-rooted, which means they will continue growing throughout their lives. This doesn’t just apply to the long front teeth, but also for the molars, which can be worn down through continual chewing. If there isn’t enough material available for the animals to chew, it can lead to some serious health problems. Guinea pigs and rabbits whose teeth grow too long are unable to eat and can suffer from inflammations inside their mouths. Pet owners should regularly check the front teeth of their small animals to avoid any risk of this happening. If the teeth are not worn down enough by chewing, they must be shortened by a vet.

Look out for freshness and quality
Not all hay is the same. It is important that you always look for good quality every time you buy hay. Test it by giving it a sniff: Does it smell fresh and aromatic? Or is it already musty and old? If the hay smells dusty, you should stop feeding it to your pets. The colour is also a good indicator as to the quality of the straw: Pale green is better than yellow. It is a common misconception that hay cannot go off, as it is mostly very dry. In fact, pet owners should take a good look at the hay and check for mould, fungi or clumping and matting before feeding it to their pets.

You should also make sure that the hay on sale is packaged in a plastic bag with holes. These air holes ensure that the hay doesn’t rot in the packaging. We also recommend that you look for hay that is labelled as “non-irrigated” hay. This refers to a particular quality characteristic which guarantees that the hay wasn’t repeatedly watered during the drying process, meaning that no important nutrients were washed away.

Hay for breakfast and dinner
Guinea pigs and rabbits should have hay available in sufficient quantities at all times. Ideally you should serve your pets a large portion for breakfast and dinner. Finish off the menu with seeds, fresh greens, vegetables and fruit. The animals can have as much fresh grasses and herbs as they like, as long as you introduce them gradually to their diet. However, you shouldn’t give them any more than a tablespoon of ready-made feed per day per animal.

If you’d like to give your guinea pigs or rabbits extra treats to munch on, you can’t go wrong with fresh twigs from unsprayed fruit and hazelnut trees. However, hard bread is not suitable because of the high quantity of carbohydrates and seasoning it contains.

Call into your local store today to discuss your small animal’s personal needs with our Maxi Zoo Pet Experts

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