Small mammals, also referred to as small furries, such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs, are some of the most popular pets in the UK. However, despite being grouped together based on their size, they have different nutritional needs. In the wild small mammals live in different climates and naturally eat different foods. In fact, food suitable for one species can be totally unsuitable for another, with some of them only feeding on plants and others relying on animal proteins in their diet. In this factsheet, the difference between herbivores, carnivores and omnivores are explained and pet owners are encouraged to seek reliable nutritional advice, specific to their pet type. This will help providing a balanced diet, a significant contributor to a healthy happy pet.
Different Nutritional Needs
In the wild small mammals live in different climates and naturally eat different foods. In fact, food suitable for one species can be totally unsuitable for another. They also have different nutritional needs with some of them only feeding on plants and others relying on animal proteins in their diet. So it is important for pet owners to get reliable nutritional advice, specific to their pet type, to provide them with a balanced diet. Vets, specialist pet food retailers, manufacturers and small animal nutritionists are best placed to provide tips on what to feed your pets. For all pets, remember to clear away and replace any uneaten food on a daily basis to prevent spoilage. If introducing new foods, it is best to do it gradually.
Herbivores such as rabbits, guinea pigs, degus and chinchillas are animals that only eat grass and plant-based food. All herbivorous small mammals need plenty of good quality fresh hay and/or grass on a daily basis. In fact this is an essential part of their diet to keep their digestive system and teeth healthy. Check our Hay Poster for more information and as a handy reminder of the importance of hay. www.pfma.org.uk/the-importance-ofhay-poster
Alongside their daily portion of good quality hay, which as a general rule should be a serving around the same size as their body, they should also be fed a portion of species-specific pet food. When fed alongside hay and/or grass, a product designed for their species will ensure they are getting all of the vitamins and minerals they need. A small handful of suitable fresh herbs or leafy green vegetables can also be given occasionally to provide variety in their diet and behavioural enrichment.
Carnivores are animals that eat mainly or exclusively animal-based food. Ferrets, for example, are obligate carnivores which means they need a nutritionally balanced diet containing animal protein to stay fit and healthy and cannot be vegetarians. Complete foods, specifically designed for ferrets, are available. Find out more on our website. www.pfma.org.uk/ferrets
Those animals that eat a variety of food sources including both plant-based and animal-based foods are called omnivores. Examples of omnivorous small pets are hamsters, gerbils, mice and rats. In their natural habitat they eat grass, seeds, grains and insects. Although they are often mistaken as herbivores, they are omnivores and will thrive on a variety of plant and animal-based nutrients in their diet. Complete pet foods, specifically designed to help keep omnivores healthy, are available. Small amounts of suitable fresh fruit and vegetables can also be provided.
How important is water?
Drinking water is incredibly important and a constant supply of clean fresh water should always be
available to your pet. Specially designed bottles with metal spouts are a good option but some animals prefer to drink from a heavy bowl. So why not try offering your pet both and see which they prefer. Any water spillage should be cleared up so that your pet’s bedding stays clean and dry.
THERE IS A PET OUT THERE FOR YOU!
With the right care, small pets make great companions for children and adults alike. Do your research to see what different pets need and which pet type could suit you and your lifestyle best. Think about your home environment, your family members and how much time and resource you have for your new pet. PFMA’s Pet Care page is a great place to start or further your research on this exciting journey. www.pfma.org.uk/pet-care