What’s in season? How to choose safe, fresh food for your small pets

What better way to add variety to your small pets’ daily dinners than by selecting safe fruits, vegetables and leafy greens to nibble on. To save a few pennies, you could even forage for some tasty titbits yourself or why not grow your own?
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25th April 2024

Did you know that each year, National Pet Month campaigns to promote responsible pet ownership? A key part of this is feeding your pets animals a suitable diet. When it comes to small pets, along with their nutritious nuggets, tasty hay and healthy snacks, fresh food is also an important part of their nutrition plan.

However, every small pet has very specific nutritional requirements and, importantly, there are lots of fresh foods that are not safe for them to eat. That’s why it’s essential to get a handle on what’s what when it comes to feeding your small furries fresh food that’s healthy and safe.

What’s in season and safe to feed?

Spring means all sorts of fresh, seasonal goodies fill the supermarket shelves. Top picks for this season according to BBC Good Food and The Association of Dieticians include rocket, pea shoots, spring greens, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, watercress, strawberries and peppers. These are generally all small-pet safe, although what and how much you feed depends on which small pets you have.


UK charity Rabbit Welfare recommends the following vegetables and herbs are suitable for your nibbling nose-twitchers:

  • Basil, broccoli, beetroot greens
  • Cabbage (dark green varieties), carrot tops as a treat, cauliflower (including the leaves), celeriac, celery, coriander, curly kale, courgette (including flowers/excluding leaves)
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Kale
  • Mint, marrow
  • Parsley, pepper, pumpkin
  • Radish greens and roots, rocket
  • Salad leaves, squash (any type – including cucumber)
  • Thyme
  • Watercress

Fresh foods to avoid include:

  • 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.
  • Carrots – 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 



If you know your plantains from your cow parsley, collecting a selection of wild plants is a fun way to feed your small pets a natural and varied diet – and it may even save you a few pennies. Our in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes explains what you need to know before embarking on a springtime foraging adventure >> 


The majority of your piggies’ diet should be high quality feeding hay and grazed grass (never feed them grass cuttings). 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. 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

Fresh foods to avoid include:

  • Citrus fruit as this can upset their sensitive tummies
  • Rhubarb
  • Tomato leaves
  • Buttercups



If you have small pets, you could grow some forage especially for them. There are all sorts of safe plants and herbs – such as fennel, parsley, coriander, rocket and mint – that you can grow in a garden, window box or even a plant pot.

To help you out, there’s even a fabulous book,Gardening for Rabbitsby horticulturist and rabbit owner Dr Twigs Way, that provides you with all the information you need to grow bunny-friendly plants including alfalfa, blackberry, borage, chicory, chickweed, comfrey, cranesbills, golden rod, and meadowsweet. Find out more about planting for pets and adding pet-focused features to your garden >>


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!

PDSA advises that the following fruits, vegetables and herbs are suitable for hamsters and gerbils. Make sure you give them a good wash first.

  • Fresh veg: Carrot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, spinach, sweet peppers, cucumber, cress, courgette
  • Fresh herbs: Basil, sage, parsley, coriander
  • Fresh fruits: Apple, pear, peach, melon

Fresh foods to avoid

The RSPCA recommends steering clear of the following foods:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Grapes, rhubarb, onions and garlic as these are all 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




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. 

Chinchillas and degus can eat very small amounts of fresh food, but you need to be extremely careful. Some chinchillas are very sensitive to the effects of fresh fruit and vegetables which can cause serious dietary upsets.

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:

  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Sweet potato

Fresh foods to avoid

  • Apples and asparagus
  • Broccoli and blueberries
  • Cabbage, carrots, celery and corn
  • Lettuce
  • Oranges
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach




Our small pets deserve a high-quality diet that’s created just for them. At Burgess, all our foods for small pets is made at our factory in the heart of Yorkshire, using only ingredients that meet our stringent specifications. With a long tradition of supporting British farmers, we actively source all our ingredients as close to our mill as possible and have launched many innovations. These include the world’s first food specifically formulated for indoor rabbits andthe world’s first indoor guinea pig nuggets which are made with a calm formula.

It’s no surprise that 92% of UK vets recommend our Burgess Excel small pets range!

PET TALK If you love animals and want the latest pet news, expert advice and top tips, head over to the BURGESS BLOG >>


Are your small pets Burgess small pets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

  • You can also sign up to the Excel Bunny Base – a safe Facebook community for rabbit guardians that are looking for advice and friendly discussions from likeminded owners – and there are lots of cute bunny photos and videos!
  • Or why not join the Excel Squeak Squad on Facebook? Find advice and enjoy friendly discussions with likeminded guinea pig owners. You can also join Berry & Bramble, our special G-force guinea pigs, on weekly missions and fun competitions.

CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for all your pets from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care. It’s all here >>

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SPRING DAYS IN THE SUNSHINE  If you’re thinking of moving your small pets – such as rabbits and guinea pigs – back outside if they’ve spent the winter indoors, what are the important things to know?

HELP YOUR PETS GET INTO THE EXERCISE GROOVE Spring is traditionally the time of year when we’re all planning to eat more healthily and up our exercise levels – but what about our pets?

COST EFFECTIVE WAYS TO LOOK AFTER YOUR SMALL PETS How to create DIY boredom breakers and ways to upcycle old furniture and unwanted items from around the house into interesting features for your pets’ environment.

WATCH OUT FOR THESE SPRINGTIME HAZARDS If you want to avoid a pet emergency this spring, it’s important to take a closer look at some springtime hazards (from toxic flowers to irritating insects) that vets would like pet owners to be aware of.

ESSENTIAL HEALTH CHECKS FOR SMALL PETS Our small pets such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, gerbils, hamsters and degus need us to keep a constant close eye on their health and wellbeing. But do you know what to look for?

RABBITS AND GUINEA PIGS – IS INDOORS OR OUTDOORS BEST? Is the outdoor life better for bunnies and guinea pigs, or will these small pets have a more enriching time if they’re kept indoors?

HOW DO YOU CREATE AN IDEAL HOME FOR YOUR INDOOR GUINEA PIGS? Traditionally thought of as outdoor pets, more and more people prefer to keep their guinea pig friends indoors – and there are lots of good reasons why. Yet, however cosy and stylish your indoor piggies’ home is, it also needs to meet all their health and wellbeing requirements.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR GUINEAS AND BUNNIES FROM PESKY PARASITES When it comes to protecting our gorgeous small pets from mites, fleas, flies, ticks and mosquitoes – and any other irritating and unwelcome pests – a four-pronged attack is the best approach.

FINDING A VET FOR YOUR SMALL PETS Did you know that just like hospital specialists, vets have different areas of expertise? That’s why, if you have small pets, it can be a good idea to seek out a vet that specialises in small animal medicine.

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