Small pets can come with big appetites. The trick is knowing the best way to feed them in order to ensure a long, healthy life. We’ve put together a feeding guide for four popular small pets, ranging from the tiny to the relatively hefty, to help you provide them with the diets they need to fully thrive. Proper nutrition is everything, so try and accommodate your furry little friends by giving them what they need.
Starting with the smallest of the four popular pets is gerbils. These little desert rats, as they are sometimes referred, are easy to keep and make great pets. For the best results, provide your gerbil with a varied diet, which is naturally high in nutrients. As a basic, gerbils can be fed either feed mixes of seeds or block feeds. Other treats should include choices of fresh fruits and veggies such as carrots, broccoli, berries and apples in small pieces and very small amounts.
The Hows & Whens of Feeding Gerbils
Set up a feeding routine for your gerbil of approximately 24 hours. Place the food you’ve selected (block or loose seed) in a small bowl that won’t tip and provide the supplement or treat on the side in a separate container. Monitor how much your gerbil eats within that 24-hour period and continue feeding just that amount.
It’s important to remove any uneaten base foods from the previous day’s feeding before replenishing. Uneaten fresh food should be removed within a matter of a few hours. Spoiled fruits and veggies attract fruit flies and create unsanitary conditions.
If you like, you can try hand-feeding your gerbil. This action can instill trust in your pet and provides a solid basis for training.
These adorable pets with the velvety soft fur are natives of Chile and Peru in the mountainous Andes. These nocturnal creatures are herbivores that reach up to 12 inches in length and can live well beyond 10 years with proper care and nutrition. Because they are known to have sensitive stomachs, it’s important to adhere strictly to their diet. Provide them with adequate amounts of fresh, clean Timothy hay at all times along with pellets as a base food.
If you see your chinchilla eating its own feces, don’t freak out. There’s nothing wrong. While gross, yes, their practice of coprophagy allows them to get the nutrients they need to survive. There are pellets specially formulated for chinchillas with Timothy hay as a base you can purchase for your pet to do the rest.
The Hows & Whens of Feeding Chinchillas
While nuts, seeds and fruit are all a favorite of chinchillas, they should be considered as treats only, not a primary food source, due to their high fat/oil/sugar content. You can sparingly offer a few unsalted nuts or sunflower seeds once a week and very small pieces of fresh or dried fruit such as strawberries, pear, apples, bananas, cranberries and peaches two to three times a week, but Do Not allow the amount of fruits and veggies (small slice of carrot only) to exceed 10 percent of their total daily diet and remove uneaten portions before spoilage occurs.
Like a lot of rodents, salt blocks are a good source of essential minerals for your pet. And, although a quality chinchilla pellet food should contain everything your pet needs to remain healthy, a vitamin C supplement can’t hurt. There are products that can easily be added to their water.
Because chinchillas can be greedy, persnickety little fur balls that can turn into selective eaters, provide the limited treats discussed above only after they’ve consumed a portion of their fresh pellets, and then do it on the weekly timetable recommended. Treats are not all that good for them, but you want to provide them with some variety. Hand feeding can be tried with chinchillas, also.
The only carnivore on the list of proper diet and feeding habits of four popular small pets, ferrets require a high protein diet with a certain percentage of fat, primarily from lamb or chicken. There are ferret feeds available to ensure that they receive at least 34 percent protein and 20 percent fat daily from their food source, making it easier to keep them as pets.
The Hows & Whens of Feeding Ferrets
Due to their fast metabolism, ferrets need to be provided with fresh food and water throughout the day. This means they require multiple small meals. You can do this by supplementing your ferret’s regular base food with some cubed cooked chicken or lamb. These curious creatures are known to enjoy chewing on the soft ends of bones in order to retrieve marrow. Bone marrow is full of nutrients, including calcium.
Baby food for chickens can also be used as a form of meat supplement for ferrets.
The largest member of on our list or four popular small pets, rabbits have a diet similar in nature to chinchillas in that pellets and Timothy or other grass hays are its main staples. They do differ, however, in that they don’t have the stomach sensitivity that a chinchilla has and not only tolerate but thrive on certain veggies.
The Hows & Whens of Feeding Rabbits
Grass hays are rich in vitamins A and D, calcium, protein and other important nutrients for rabbits. They include but are not limited to Timothy, orchard, oat hay and brome. Consuming these promotes healthy teeth and a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Besides providing fresh, clean amounts of this substance at all times in addition to pellets, you can include leafy green vegetables in their diets such as spinach, parsley, Swiss chard, mustard greens, radish and carrot tops, beet greens and sprouts.
The majority of their fresh food intake (75 percent) should consist of these materials. Besides nutrients, fresh foods like these contribute moisture as well. As a rule of thumb, any leafy green veggie that is safe for humans and/or horses to eat is safe for rabbits to eat. You can feed approximately 1 cup of leafy greens per every 2 pounds of rabbit weight per day. This can be given to them all at once or spread out throughout the day. Root vegetables and fruits can also be supplied, but they should only make up 25 percent of their daily fresh food intake.
Mix your greens up from day to day, week to week. Some greens contain oxalic acid, which is completely harmless to animals and humans when ingested in small amounts but can present problems at higher levels of intake. Spinach, parsley and mustard greens are higher in oxalic acid than other greens. It’s recommended you feed three different leafy greens a day in your rabbit’s fresh allotted intake. If you do, make sure only one of those listed among the oxalic acid group is among their daily portion.
Watering Small Pets
It goes without saying, but here goes anyway: make sure your pets have access to fresh, clean drinking water at all times. With smaller pets try and provide them with filtered water and always avoid giving them chlorinated water, especially chinchillas.
Important Final Note
When it comes to hay, alfalfa is not a grass hay. While it is not harmful, it is much higher in calories and protein than the average domesticated pet needs. Due to this, avoid using it as your small pet’s primary source of hay, if they require it. Alfalfa is, in fact, more closely related to a legume, which falls within the pea and bean family.