Warmer weather means we’re all craving fresh summer salads – and we don’t want our small pets to feel left out. But what fresh foods are safe for our rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas and degus to eat? What foods are harmful and should be avoided at all costs?
If you’ve ever wondered if rabbits eat cucumber or even if rabbits eat broccoli – or can chinchillas eat carrots or what veg can guinea pigs eat daily – we’ve all the need-to-know nutrition info right here so you can plan your small pets’ summer menu.
What’s on the main course for your rabbits?
The most important thing you need to know when it comes to having happy, healthy bunnies is that 85-90% of their diet should be high-quality feeding hay and fresh grass that they graze on themselves (never give them grass cuttings as this will make them ill). This is equal to their own body size in hay every day! Along with fresh water, your bunny chums should also be fed about one egg cup size of pelleted rabbit food daily to ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need. Add some nutritious treats (have your buns tried Fruity Feasts, Herby Hearts or Meadow Munchies yet?) and the rest of your rabbits diet – around 15% – should be rabbit-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs – and yes, that does include broccoli and cucumber!
On the menu
The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund recommends the following vegetables and herbs for your nibbling nose-twitchers:
- Basil, Broccoli, Beetroot greens
- Cabbage (dark green varieties), carrot tops and roots as a treat, cauliflower (including the leaves), celeriac, celery, coriander, curly kale, courgette (including flowers/excluding leaves)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Mint, marrow
- Parsley, pepper, pumpkin
- Radish greens and roots, rocket
- Salad leaves, sprouts (but if you get them a sprout tree be careful of how much of the stalk they eat as it’s very tough), squash (any type – including cucumber!)
Off the menu
If you let your buns have some free roaming time in your garden, get rid of plants that are toxic to rabbits or ensure your rabbits cannot get to them. This includes anything growing from a bulb – snowdrops, hyacinths (including grape hyacinths), bluebells, crocuses, daffodils and tulips. Other common garden plants that are poisonous to rodent nibblers include buttercups, foxgloves, primrose, delphiniums/larkspur, columbine (aquilegia) hellebore, comfrey, poppy, periwinkle, monkshood, nightshade, ivy, privet, holly and yew.
Here are some of the main foods that are dangerous for buns. If you suspect your rabbit has eaten any of the following, consult your vet immediately.
- Lettuce– Some types of lettuce, such as iceberg, contain lactucarium, which can be harmful to rabbits in large quantities. Light-coloured lettuce varieties are high in water and have very little nutritional value and will probably just give your rabbits the runs
- Carrot – Rabbits don’t naturally eat root vegetables and their digestion isn’t designed to cope with them
- Chard– It’s a leafy green but not one that rabbits can tolerate, causing colic and bloating
- Fruit– Rabbits don’t naturally eat fruit, which is high in sugar, so it shouldn’t be a regular part of their diet. Avocado, which might seem like the perfect rabbit snack food, is fatty and should never be included in your rabbit’s diet. Also steer clear of rhubarb – a common garden plant that can be poisonous to animals if eaten raw. A cube of apple as an occasional treat is as fruity as it should get for bunnies
- Grass cuttings– Rabbits should be given unlimited access to steadily graze on fresh grass, just as they would in the wild, but doling out a pile of grass cuttings for them to demolish can be very harmful to them
- Bread, pasta and crackers– High-carb foods like these can cause series stomach issues including enterotoxaemia – a toxic overgrowth of bad bacteria in the intestinal tract
- Nuts– All nuts are high in fat not fibre and will give your rabbits extremely uncomfortable indigestion
Meal planning for your guinea pigs
Just as with rabbits, the majority of your piggies’ diet should be high quality feeding hay and grazed grass. Along with a daily portion of yummy guinea pig nuggets and fresh water, your cavy chums can also be fed fresh greens to give additional nutrients and to provide some variety.
However, you need to be careful which greens you feed and how much to avoid tummy upsets. PDSA advises a teacup sized amount of fresh guinea pig safe greens per day as these are a great source of vitamin C, which is important for guinea pigs. Just like us, guinea pigs can't make their own vitamin C, so need a daily dose to keep them healthy.
On the menu
Each day, you could alternate:
- A small bunch of parsley
- A couple of dandelion leaves (ensure they have not been sprayed with pesticides or are from an area where wild rabbits graze, as they could carry disease),
- Half a curly kale leaf
- One small floret of broccoli
- 1/8th of a green bell pepper
Off the menu
Never feed your guinea pigs with human food – chocolate and dairy products are particularly dangerous and citrus fruit can upset their sensitive tummies. Also avoid potato, nuts, onion and related vegetables, rhubarb, tomato leaves, buttercups, daffodils, poppies and tulips.
Burgess Excel guinea pig food, feeding hay and treats contain ingredients to help your gorgeous guinea pigs stay happy and healthy.
What can you dish up for hamsters and gerbils?
In their natural habitat, wild hamsters eat grasses, seeds and grain. Gerbils naturally eat seeds of various grasses and a range of leaves and herbs. And, although they are often thought of as herbivores, both hamsters and gerbils they are actually omnivores and need protein in their diet to keep them healthy.
Your small pets may like an occasional treat of safe fresh food, such as a sliver of fruit or small piece of vegetable, but be aware that too much green food can cause a runny tummy.
On the menu
PDSA advises that the following fruits, vegetables and herbs are suitable for hamsters and gerbils. Make sure you give them a good wash first.
- Veg: Carrot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, spinach, sweet peppers, cucumber, cress, courgette
- Fresh herbs: Basil, sage, parsley, coriander
- Fruits: Apple, pear, peach, melon
Off the menu
The RSPCA recommends steering clear of the following foods:
- Avoid citrus fruits and do not give your small pets grapes, rhubarb, onions or garlic as these are poisonous to rodents
- Avoid excessive amounts of certain seeds (such as sunflower) as they are fatty and can cause obesity. Pumpkin seeds are a healthier treat
Hamsters have delicate cheek pouches so don’t give foods that contain whole oats as these can puncture them. Also avoid sticky foods, as these can cling to their pouches. Find out more about what food hamsters can eat >>
Nutrition-packed nuggets specially designed for hamsters and gerbils are the best choice – steer away from ‘muesli-type’ mixtures as hamsters may pick out the bits that are high in sugar, which can cause painful problems with their teeth, and discard other parts leading to an imbalanced diet. Burgess Excel Hamster, Gerbil and Mouse contains only the best quality ingredients to provide your pets with a balanced food that replicates their natural diet to help them stay happy and healthy and prevent selective feeding.
Nourishing nibbles for chinchillas and degus
Both chinchillas and degus are herbivores and need to eat a high fibre, low energy diet. They have very sensitive digestive systems and, in the wild, eat grasses, leaves, twigs, bark, roots, stems and seeds.
Pet chinchillas and degus need plenty of fresh, high quality feeding hay – not bedding hay, which lacks nutritional value. Constant access to tasty feeding hay benefits both their digestion and their dental health, helping to keep their continuously growing teeth in good shape.
Chinchillas and degus can eat very small amounts of fresh food (including a little bit of carrot!) but you need to be extremely careful. Some chinchillas are very sensitive to the effects of fresh fruit and vegetables which can cause dietary upsets including bloat.
On the menu
PDSA advises you can offer around a teaspoon a day per chinchilla of fresh herbs and leafy greens as a small daily treat. Occasionally, you could offer a small cube of one of the following vegetables:
- Sweet potato
Off the menu
- Apples and asparagus
- Broccoli and blueberries
- Cabbage, carrots, celery and corn
Whether you have a pair of chinchillas or a trio of degus, your pets will require an eggcup- sized portion of tasty Excel Chinchilla Nuggets each every day to ensure they are getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need to keep them in tip top health.
Rather than too much fresh foods, chinchilla-friendly treats are a good choice for keeping these small, inquisitive pets busy – why not try:
- Excel Country Garden Herbs Chinchillas prefer dead and dry leaves to fresh leaves and this delicious blend of herbs and foliage is great to mix through feeding hay to help increase fibre intake and add variety and interest to your chins’ diet. Naturally air dried with no additives
- Excel Gnaw Sticks Chomping on Excel Nature Snacks Gnaw Sticks, made from 100% natural, wholesome ingredients – willow, apple and hazel – provides great environmental enrichment, keeping your chins or degus happily occupied
Find out more about what chinchillas can eat >>
Why choose Burgess Excel food and treats?
Did you know that 92% of UK vets recommend our Excel range? What’s more, at Burgess, all our pet food is produced in line with FEDIAF (the European pet food industry federation) nutritional guidelines. These guidelines, which are based on many pieces of published research, helps us to calculate the nutrient content and dietary components required to ensure all our foods meet the detailed nutritional requirements for the pets they are designed for.
Are your small pets Burgess small pets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.
Whether you have bunnies, piggies, hamsters, gerbils, degus or chins, the Excel 5 Step Feeding Plan has been designed to help pet owners understand the high levels of beneficial fibre required by small animals to create the perfect feeding plan:
Excel Feeding Hay + Excel Tasty Nuggets + Excel Nature Snacks + Fresh greens + Fresh water = happy small furries
If you’re at all unsure about the best way of feeding your small pets, ask your local veterinary practice for advice. You can also call our expert team on 44 (0)0800 413 969 who’ll be happy to help. They’re available 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
Alternatively, you can use our online form to get in touch.
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