One of the most important parts of being pet parent to a rabbit or guinea pig is getting their diet spot-on. With a wealth of knowledge out there, we now recognise the unique dietary requirements that need to be met to keep them in tip-top health. But do these requirements change through life? After all a young growing animal full of binkies and bunny hops is likely to have slightly different requirements to a more senior pet, who devotes more of their time to rest, relaxation and taking life at a slightly slower pace.
So, just as puppy and kitten diets give dogs and cats the best start in life, junior diets for our smaller pet pals are equally important. Read on for all you need to know….
Best food for young bunnies
Young animals grow at a phenomenal rate, so there is no more important time in life to get nutrition just right, than during those first few crucial months. So what is the best food for young growing rabbits and guinea pigs? Diets for baby bunnies and growing guineas need to promote healthy development. Higher protein levels in both Science Selective Junior Guinea Pig and Science Selective Junior Rabbit Food do just this, and are suitable for feeding up to the age of about 20 weeks.
Making sure Junior diets are full of flavour is equally important and there’s no better way to do that than by using delicious natural ingredients. Junior Rabbit contains spinach, while Junior Guinea Pig has delicious dandelion and fennel for taste experiences that are sure to tempt tastebuds
The prime of life
Once your young pet pal has graduated to the realms of adulthood, usually around the age of 20 weeks, they should be moved onto an adult diet. The delicious single component nuggets in Science Selective Adult Rabbit Food and SS Guinea Pig are nutritionally balanced to promote wellbeing and vitality and keep your friend in tip-top condition. With high fibre to keep teeth and tummies in optimum health, and no added sugar for a healthy weight, you can be sure that you are doing your best to keep your pet healthy and happy.
Dietary transition top tips
The transition onto an adult diet should be a gradual one. This is because rabbits and guinea pigs are what is known as hind gut fermenters. In other words they have a huge organ called the caecum that contains lots of ‘good’ bacteria to help break down the tough fibre in a herbivore diet. These friendly bacteria are carefully balanced – sudden changes in the diet can upset this, so dietary changes need to be slow to allow the friendly bacteria time to adjust.
You may wonder how gradual any food transition needs to be. Well, it’s best to allow a minimum of ten days for moving onto any new diet. On day one, a maximum of 20 percent of the food portion should be the new diet, slowly building up to 80 percent by days seven and eight, with 100 percent of the portion being the new food by day ten.
Fit as a fiddle for senior years
Our pets are members of the family, so it goes without saying that we want to keep them in the best of health for as long as possible. Energy requirements decrease with age, partly due to a slowing of the metabolism and partly due to a reduction in activity levels. Tweaking the diet to reflect these changing needs reduces the risk of weight gain and obesity, and is super important for keeping our senior pets in the best of health – not only is weight gain bad news for general health, it also increases the risk of joint and mobility problems.
Fast fact: 29 percent of small mammals are overweight or obese1
So… one of the single most important things that you can do to keep your pet pal fit as a fiddle into their senior years, is to make sure they stay a healthy weight. Feeding a high fibre diet with no added sugar is key to preventing excess weight gain throughout life, but especially in the more senior years.
Science Selective Four+ Rabbit is designed to perfectly meet the nutritional needs of older buns. High fibre levels respect the natural diet and promote wellbeing and vitality while reduced protein and energy levels help maintain a healthy weight. With a correctly balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio (calcium 0.6%, phosphorus 0.4%) optimum bone and joint health is also supported.
A word about arthritis
If your older pet seems to be slowing down a bit, it may just be that they are taking things easy as they enjoy a more senior pace of life. But did you know that many rabbits and guinea pigs suffer from arthritis?
In fact, arthritis is probably much more common than is often realised. One big hurdle to picking up this condition is that rabbits and guinea pigs are experts at pretending to be fine when they are anything but, a behaviour which harks back to the wild. As prey animals, displaying any sign of weakness would make them very vulnerable, as predators tend to pick out the weakest, easy targets first. Any abnormal signs in your rabbit or guinea pig should be checked by a veterinary surgeon without delay.
What are the signs of arthritis in rabbits and guinea pigs?
Look out for…
- Reduced mobility
- Reduced appetite
- Lack of energy or ‘slowing down’
- Hunched appearance
- Teeth grinding
- Weight loss
One thing that doesn’t change whether your pet is a youngster or reaching their more mature years, is the fact that their highly specialised digestive system is fine-tuned for a fibre-rich plant-based diet.
Feeding rabbits and guinea pigs a diet that closely mimics that of their wild cousins is of the utmost importance. Here is a quick reminder of the key points to remember:
- Hay should make up a minimum 80% of the diet. Aim to feed a body-sized portion every day.
- Feed a carefully measured portion of rabbit or guinea pig food every morning and evening.
- A handful of leafy green veg adds variety and more tasty fibre to your pet’s diet.
- Feed an occasional treat as a special reward.
Now you know all about feeding your pet throughout all life stages, why not head over to our blog on portion size.