New to Rabbits and Guinea Pigs? … Here are some feeding tips to help you along the way..
It’s such a delight to see children with their pet Guinea Pig or Rabbit. The cute little pocket pets bring so much joy to a family as well as giving children the opportunity to learn compassion, responsibility and pet husbandry. Guinea Pigs make ideal pets due to their small size, ease of care and quiet nature. Guinea pigs are sociable animals, they love to squeak around their enclosure, fossicking around, and should not be kept alone – so sorry mum and dad, that means either lots of play time or maybe consider that two would be better than one. They can happily be housed in colonies in a large, suitable enclosure. Guinea’s often become very used to handling, especially if started at a young age, making them a favourite with everyone in the household.
Guinea pigs are herbivores (they eat plant matter only) and would usually spend many hours a day foraging and grazing on grass in small herds. Their teeth grow continuously throughout life, so they need a diet high in roughage to encourage chewing. Chewing helps to wear down their teeth and prevent serious dental problems. To avoid trips to the vet, it is essential to provide sufficient fibre in their diet both for their dental health but also their gastrointestinal system.
A guinea pig diet should contain the following:
- A constant supply of grass and/or grass hay (such as Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays). Guinea pigs should not be fed straight Lucerne or Clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium. Providing grass/grass hay is paramount in providing the ‘complete’ diet and encourages ‘chewing’ for long periods of time.
- Feeding a quality commercial Guinea feed mix helps ensure a well-balanced diet. High quality commercial pellets with a minimum crude fibre >18% (Indigestible fibre content >12.5%) may be offered in small quantities (1-2 tablespoons per guinea per day).
- Fresh leafy green vegetables & herbs. Some examples of these include broccoli, cabbage, celery, endive, carrot tops, bok-choy/other Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties, parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint.
- A dietary source of Vitamin C because (like humans), guinea pigs cannot synthesize Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) from other food substances. This is usually supplied sufficiently by the fresh leafy green veggies, but it is safer to supplement this with small quantities of vitamin C rich foods such as citrus or kiwi fruit.
- Access to clean fresh water at all times
If you need to change your guinea pig's diet, please make sure you introduce any changes gradually over a few weeks.
The following foods should not be offered to guinea pigs: breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate, buttercups, garden shrubs, lily of the valley, onion grass, onions, potato tops, raw beans; beetroot, spinach and rhubarb leaves; pickled foods.
What about Rabbits?
Like Guinea pigs, rabbits make fantastic family pets for small children. They are very quick to win a place in your heart with their kind and quirky nature. There are about 30 breeds of rabbits, ranging in colours, shapes and sizes but all need similar care and attention. Having more than one pet rabbit is recommended as they are sociable animals and require companionship. Please ensure the area where rabbits or guinea pigs are kept will not become too hot as they are prone to heat stress which can be fatal.
Rabbits are intelligent animals that need plenty of exercise and room to run around to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. It is ideal to make their environment as interesting as possible and provide opportunities for running, jumping, and digging on a daily basis. This is best achieved by regularly letting out your rabbit, supervising them in safe, protected grassy area where it can move around freely.
Feeding the right diet is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a healthy rabbit. Rabbits are also herbivores and it is essential that you provide a constant supply of grass and/or grass hay (e.g. timothy, oaten, wheaten, pasture, paddock, meadow or rye grass hays) as fibre is paramount in providing a balanced, high fibre diet.
In the wild, rabbits eat predominantly grass and they may graze for up to 6-8 hours a day. Their whole digestive tract from their teeth right down to the end of their gastrointestinal tract is adapted to this diet and eating habit.
To ensure your rabbit has a healthy balanced diet, you should:
- Provide a constant supply of good quality fresh grass and grass hay (they should comprise about 80% of the overall diet) - e.g. Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays. Adult rabbits should not be fed Lucerne or Clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium – reserve this for juvenile or aging rabbits. Grass or grass hay is paramount in providing sufficient fibre for gastrointestinal health and encouraging chewing for long periods of time for healthy teeth.
- Provide plenty of fresh leafy greens & vegetables. As a guide, feed around two packed cups of leafy greens per kg body weight per day. Some examples are vegetables such as broccoli, celery, endive, beet/carrot tops, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, bok choy, other Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties and herbs such as parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, and mint.
- Treats may be offered in small quantities (1-2 tablespoons per rabbit per day). Examples include most fruits, root vegetables such as carrot and sweet potato and capsicum.
- High quality commercial rabbit pellets or muesli mix with a minimum crude fibre >18% (Indigestible fibre content >12.5%) may be offered in small quantities (1 – 2 table spoons per day). Feeding a high quality, fortified commercial rabbit mix helps ensure a well-balanced diet.
- Providing other objects to chew on is also a good idea such as wooden chew blocks, cardboard or old telephone books.
- Aim to keep feeds and feeding habits consistent. Any changes to the diet must be made gradually (over a 2-3 week period) to minimize digestive upsets.
- Always have fresh clean water available.
The following foods should not be offered to Rabbits: breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate or any garden plants that are toxic to rabbits including buttercups, comfrey, ivy, apricot trees, tomato, onion, rhubarb and potato greens.
We thank Megan McKenzie of Green Valley Grains for this knowledge.