How to Properly Feed Small Pets
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Published by TOP4 Team
A good-quality food should contain all the nutrients that small pets need to stay healthy and happy. Manufacturers can now easily produce foodstuffs containing all the required proteins, carbohydrates, fats, essential vitamins and minerals in well-balanced proportions. Medicines to protect pets against a number of illnesses can also be incorporated into foods such as pellets.
Here are tips on feeding your little friends.
Buying and storing food
Prepared foodstuffs may seem quite expensive, but they represent good value and are easy to use and store. If you follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully, you should have no worries about your pet developing any health problems linked to its diet. Store prepared foods in a cool, dry place, as a damp atmosphere can turn them stale or even cause them to disintegrate. A metal dustbin is ideal for storage if you’re using an outbuilding such as a shed, and will prevent wild rodents such as mice from gaining access to the food.
Bulk buying may be cheaper, but avoid purchasing an excessive quantity of food so you don’t exceed the recommended “use by” date on the packaging, or your pets won’t receive the full benefits of the food's vitamin content. This is especially important with guinea-pigs, which are vulnerable to vitamin C deficiency in their diet. Like people, they’re unable to manufacture this vitamin in their bodies and, if it’s not available in their food, they will develop the cracked skin characteristic of scurvy. If you’re keeping a rabbit and a guinea-pig together, you should never feed only rabbit food, as this won’t be supplemented with vitamin C at the required level for the guinea-pig.
When to feed
Small pets tend to eat small quantities frequently, rather than consuming all their food at one sitting -- a domestic rabbit will eat as many as 40 meals in a day. You must ensure that your pet doesn’t run out of food during the day, as this will interfere with its natural feeding habits. Provide the food in a small but heavyweight earthenware bowl that your pet won’t be able to tip over easily.
- Greenstuff: Rabbit breeders have an increasing tendency not to feed greenstuff of any kind to their pets for fear that this can cause a digestive upset, and under no circumstances should you ever suddenly provide a rabbit with a large amount of greenstuff (or any other unfamiliar food). You’ll also need to acclimatize your pet by adjusting its diet before allowing it into an outdoor run.
- Fibre: It’s an important part of the diet for a number of small pets, so you should feed good-quality hay (an essential source of fibre for rabbits) on a regular basis. You can also use hay for bedding, to provide a snug nest in your pet's sleeping quarters. Fresh hay should be clean and dust-free, and shouldn’t smell musty. Never economise on the quality of hay, as this can trigger respiratory illness and have serious effects on your pet's health.
Seeds and other foods
Include seeds such as wheat and sunflower in the diets of pet rodents including mice, hamsters and gerbils. However, variety is important -- you shouldn’t rely too heavily on sunflower seeds, as they are oil-based and contain a relatively high fat level. This can lead to obesity (particularly in gerbils) and related problems, which shortens a rodent's life.
Suitable seed mixes are available from pet stores, but, unlike pellets, these don’t offer a complete, balanced diet and need to be supplemented by other items like a little cheese, and fresh fruit and vegetables. You should provide these foodstuffs regularly, particularly if you’re hoping to breed your pet. Special vitamin-and-mineral preparations are also available in powder form for small rodents, and will help prevent any nutritional deficiencies. Simply sprinkle the required quantity of the supplement over the cut surface of a piece of fruit -- the powder will stick to this, and should then be eaten readily.
Mice and rats in particular enjoy small pieces of hard cheese. Treats like this can be useful in helping to tame a pet, but take care when offering such foods by hand, as the sharp incisor teeth at the front of their mouth can inflict a painful nip (this may not be deliberate, but most rodents have fairly poor eyesight), so keep your fingers well out of the way when you offer a titbit. Remember: give treats to your pet in moderation.
Always provide your pet with a supply of fresh, clean drinking water. This should be in a suitable bottle attached securely to the sides of its cage or hutch with a metal clip, or firmly suspended from the roof (provided of course that this is within easy reach). Change the water every day, and clean the drinker thoroughly using a bottle brush at least twice a week.
Feeding is just one of the ways of caring for your pets. Get professional help from pet care experts.