Rodents, such as hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, chinchillas and guinea pigs, are becoming increasingly popular pets. Typically, their diet consists of a mixture of hay or grass, pellets and fruit and/or vegetables. Each rodent has their own specific dietary requirements, so it is very important to understand their nutritional needs to help them live a happy and healthy life. Rat food, hamster food, mouse food, gerbil food, guinea pig food, chinchilla food… whilst they can be similar, they also have key differences, but don’t panic! Our articles Rodent Pellets and Rodent Hay and Grass go into detail about what you should feed your pet rodent, so be sure to read those articles too.
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There are a few reasons why rodents need to eat a nutritionally balanced and specifically formulated diet. They need to receive a good level of fibre, which is a component of their pellets, to help keep their digestive system functioning efficiently and to wear their teeth down (we will elaborate on the next point!). Hay is also high in fibre, but not all rodents need hay as a key part of their diet.
For those rodents who do require hay, such as guinea pigs and chinchillas, the motion in which they have to chew the hay is like a figure of eight. This has dental benefits because rodents' teeth constantly grow so this helps keep them at a suitable length to avoid pain and them not eating. For those rodents who don’t need hay as a regular part of the diet, like rats, mice and gerbils, gnawing on cardboard or hay cubes helps with this.
Rodents behave very similarly to their wild cousins, and natural behaviours include foraging and gnawing. Luckily, it’s super easy to make feeding your pet rodent fun and mentally engaging for them, so they are able to perform the behaviours they would have done in the wild. In our articles, Rodent Pellets and Rodent Hay and Grass, there are ideas to help you feed creatively and provide enrichment for your pet, as this can be very easily achieved! Simple things like scattering their pellets in their cage, or stuffing an empty toilet roll full of hay can liven up your pet’s feeding routine and provide entertainment!
We must aim to feed a diet which mimics their natural diet as close as possible. For some species of rodents, we must also consider where they originated from and how this can impact their nutritional requirements. For example, Chinchillas originate from a mountain range in Chile, so their natural habitat is very dry. Their natural diet is a lot of grass and leaves, meaning hay is an important food to feed to mimic this diet and to promote their digestive and dental health (bonus!).
Some rodents have even more specific dietary needs we need to consider:
Guinea pigs require a good source of Vitamin C in their diet, which can be found in high-quality pellets, to avoid scurvy
Chinchillas should not be fed alfalfa hay unless they are growing, pregnant or feeding as it is otherwise too high in protein and calcium which could lead to urinary crystals and bladder problems
We all love a good treat, and our rodent pets are no exception. Some rodents are herbivores, and some are omnivores, but whichever your pet rodent is, there are plenty of treats we can give, from fruit and vegetable to eggs and mealworms. Our article Rodent Pellets has more information on this, including examples of safe foods we can feed. As delicious as treats are, they can also be high in sugar and feeding too many can result in unhealthy weight gain, so be sure to give these in moderation alongside their daily allowance of pellets and/or hay.
Water should be kept fresh and available at all times. For rodents, it’s best to give it through a sipper bottle.
This may seem an odd thing to mention in an article about rodent food, but we don’t want you to be alarmed if you see them eating their own faeces. Rodents are caecotrophic, meaning their produce two types of faeces. The first one, the caecotroph, is softer and full of undigested nutrients and this is what you will see them eating. It is perfectly normal and helps keeps their guts healthy.
Now we’ve covered the basics, keep reading our more in-depth articles on each aspect of the diet, so you know for sure you’re buying the right one for your furry friend.