Rabbits and guinea pigs are two common pets for new small pet owners. These animals are known to live long and healthy lives, as long as they are taken care of properly. One of the best things you can do for your new rabbit or guinea pig is to ensure you are giving him the best nutrition possible. The nutritional requirements for a rabbit or guinea pig differ greatly from cats and dogs. They also differ from other small pets, such as hamsters and gerbils. Even though rabbits and guinea pigs have similar nutritional requirements, they even differ slightly from each other.
Rabbits, by nature, are foragers. They eat a variety of grasses, foliage, and vegetables (just ask anyone who has a garden in their back yard). The nutritional requirements of your pet rabbit need to fall into these same categories. One of the biggest nutritional needs for a rabbit is a source of hay. There are a few different types of hay on the market, the most common two being alfalfa hay and timothy hay. Alfalfa hay is very fattening and is usually only recommended for younger rabbits (under 1 year of age) and underweight older rabbits. For adults and senior rabbits at a healthy weight, timothy hay is the better option. Hay is great for a rabbit’s digestive tract, helping to keep it clear of blockages. It is also good because it helps to keep your rabbit’s teeth, including his back molars, filed down. Hay should be fed freely throughout the rabbit’s life. Another type of food offered to rabbits is in the form of commercial pellets. While they provide vitamins, minerals and proteins to the rabbit, they can be unhealthy in large quantities. Using a good quality pellet that is timothy hay-based and has 18-20% fiber and 14-16% protein will be beneficial. While under the age of one, the rabbit should be offered pellets freely. Once the rabbit reaches the age of one or becomes overweight, the pellets need to be rationed. Read the label on the commercial pellets to see the correct amount of food to feed, usually around ¼-1/2 cup per 5lbs. Vegetables are another essential part in a rabbit’s diet. Feeding vegetables daily also with the commercial pellets and hay will help ensure the rabbit has a well balanced diet. The average amount of vegetables to feed a rabbit is 1 cup per 5 lbs of body weight. Kale, dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, endive, and carrot tops are all good options.
As healthy as rabbits usually are, there are a few diseases that they can suffer from. Coccidiosis is a type of bacteria that is normally present in a rabbit’s digestive system. Problems can arise when a rabbit is stressed or even kept in too crowded conditions. Diarrhea is the main symptom, which can then lead to dehydration, weight loss and possibly liver damage. Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is another health problem that can occur in a rabbit. A rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract is very active. A rabbit needs to constantly have access to food to allow their gastrointestinal tract to run properly. Not enough fiber in a rabbit diet can also cause a problem. If the gastrointestinal tract stops running, bacteria can build up and cause a blockage. Symptoms of a blockage would be loss of appetite, and small or no droppings. Seek immediate medical attention if there is a suspected blockage because it can result in death. Malocclusion is a problem that can result from improper nutrition. Malocclusion is when the teeth either overgrow or grow crooked. Making sure the rabbit has plenty of hay can help create a grinding motion to keep the back molars filed down. Also allowing the rabbit plenty of items to chew on can help the incisors stay trimmed.
Guinea pigs have similar requirements for nutrition. Hay, pellets and vegetables are all required parts of their diet. Fewer pellets should be offered for guinea pigs than for rabbits: around one to two ounces for an adult guinea pig. Hay should be freely given just like rabbits, as well as offering vegetables once a day. The biggest difference in nutritional requirements between rabbits and guinea pigs is that guinea pigs need to be supplemented with vitamin C. Many commercial pellets specifically for guinea pigs have vitamin C added to them, but it may not be enough. Making sure to offer vegetables rich in vitamin C (kale and mustard greens are two good options) and to supplement their diet with vitamin C tablets specifically for guinea pigs is recommended.
Guinea pigs, like rabbits, are usually healthy. When something does go wrong, it can possibly be attributed to a dietary deficiency, mainly a lack of vitamin C. Hair loss is one of the first symptoms you will see on your guinea pig due to a vitamin C deficiency. A more serious complication is pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia include discharge in the eyes or nose, weight loss, sneezing, and trouble breathing. Adding more vitamin C to their diets can help to prevent the problems, and even reverse the hair loss. However, if pneumonia is suspected please seek veterinary care, as an antibiotic will be needed. Guinea pigs can also suffer from malocclusion. Again, giving access to hay for their teeth grinding needs and other items to chew on will help in prevention of this condition.
One of the biggest things you can do to ensure that your rabbit or guinea pig lives a long and healthy life is to make sure your pet is getting all the nutrition they need. Making sure to provide hay, pellets and various vegetables can help ensure that their nutritional needs are being met. Keeping these pet supplies on hand will ensure you are always prepared. Many of the diseases that guinea pigs and rabbits are prone to can be prevented with a nutritional diet.