We’ve really learned a lot about small pets in our last two lessons. You are now well on your way to becoming a very well-educated pet scientist!

  • Finding out more about food
  • Suitable foods for different pets
  • How food moves through a small pet’s body

Finding out more about food
All food is made up of a mixture of nutrients that are used to provide energy as a fuel so we can be active and also help our bodies work. Herbivores and carnivores use different nutrients.

Suitable foods for different pets
These foods are idea for herbivores:

  • ALWAYS – Hay, a portion of nuggets, kibble or mix suitable for that herbivore, most leafy greens, fresh and dried herb mixes, dandelion leaves, carrot tops, wild plants as long as correctly identified.
  • SOMETIMES – broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, celery, carrots, green beans.
  • TREATS – apple (without seeds), raspberries, strawberries, cucumber.
  • NEVER – dairy, apple seeds, meat, chocolate, citrus fruits, avocados.

Did you know?
Hay is dried grass. It is a good food for herbivores as it provides fibre
Straw is the dried stalks from cereals like oats, barley or maize. Although some types of straw can be used as food for some larger animals, it is much more likely to be used for bedding.

Rats (omnivores)

  • ALWAYS – A portion of rat food, leafy green vegetables, cooked grains, cooked legumes (never raw), fruits (no apple seeds or avocado) small amounts of cooked meats, low fat cottage cheese and cooked eggs.
  • SOMETIMES – Dried corn, beetroot, celery, aubergine, lettuce, cucumber, spinach, radishes, live insects.
  • TREATS – Small amounts of no sugar added dried fruits, small amounts of toast, small amounts of yogurt (soya rather than dairy), low sugar baby food.
  • NEVER – Citrus skin, uncooked dry beans and peanuts, mango, chocolate, poppy seeds, apple seeds, avocado, raw sweet potato.

Ferrets (obligate carnivores)

  • ALWAYS – a portion of ferret food, cooked or raw eggs, raw chicken wings/thighs with bones (must be human grade produce, and fed fresh – remove if not eaten rapidly).
  • SOMETIMES – small amounts of liver or fish
  • TREATS – kitten/cat or ferret treats
  • NEVER – anything with added sugar or carbohydrate e.g. dog foods, other types of biscuit, fruits, chocolate, avocado, apple seeds.

There’s a full list of what to feed different small pets here:

Did you know?
The word obligate in ‘obligate carnivore’ means the pet must be fed as a carnivore and cannot live without meat. Cats are also obligate carnivores but dogs are not.

How food moves through a small pet’s body

We’ve talked all about a small pet’s mouth and how chewing helps them grind down their food.
Once the food is swallowed it enters the digestive system and this is slightly different in different animals.
Herbivores usually have digestive systems that act as a big fermentation vat, churning around the food and allowing it to be broken down by friendly bacteria that live in the gut. In some herbivores the fermentation happens in the early part of the gut – the stomach – while in others it happens further down the gut in the intestine. Rabbits are hind gut fermenters – which means food is broken down quite the digestive system.

Rabbits are quite unusual in that the first poop they pass after food is digested is called a caecotrophe. It’s a larger, dark coloured poo that looks like a tiny shiny, cluster of grapes. Rabbits eat these directly from their bottom and they then pass through the digestive system again. This often happens at night so you might never have seen it and it’s entirely normal rabbit behaviour. In fact, it’s totally essential because it allows rabbits to digest extra nutrients from their food. Rabbits that don’t eat caecotrophes don’t grow properly and may even become ill. After the caecotrophe is itself digested, the rabbit then produces the normal hard pelleted poop you see more often when the hutch is cleaned.

In this lesson you have learned about healthy foods for small pets and how they use their food to keep them healthy. Now you can help our pet scientists by taking part in our project!

Download Project 3