01.Are you providing your pet with a balanced diet?
Commercially available mixes and pellets are very different to rabbit and guinea pig diets in the wild. Small animals thrive on grasses and hays that are high in fibre and low in calories, protein and calcium. A similar diet is endorsed for pets by the RSPCA and exotic animal veterinarians. When CHOICE surveyed rabbit and guinea pig pellets and mixes in supermarkets and pet stores, most did not meet minimum recommendations.
Peter Beischer of Peter’s Pure Animal Foods, which was previously endorsed by the RSPCA, acknowledges that pellets and mixes are not a complete diet. “We don’t present [our products] as being complete. We’ve always said that people need to feed a balance of vegetables, hay and our food. We’re in the middle of updating our packaging to reinforce our message.”
Mixes usually contain seeds and dried fruit, which are low in fibre and high in sugar, fat and protein. Lucerne hay, the base ingredient in most pellets, is too rich in protein and calcium for these animals and can lead to gut and kidney problems in adult rabbits and guinea pigs.
After reviewing literature and consulting with experts, the RSPCA terminated its endorsements of prepared rabbit and guinea pig food in August 2010 and now only recommends high-quality pellets as a small part of a balanced diet. Surplus stock may still carry the RSPCA logo.
Dr Jade Norris, veterinarian and scientific officer with the RSPCA, says industry has not kept up with new research findings on the dietary needs of small animals. “Over the past few years there’s been an explosion of evidence on what is biologically appropriate to feed a pet rabbit and guinea pig,” she says. “Grass and/or hay are required for promoting health, longevity and welfare. They also need certain vegetables and guinea pigs need dietary vitamin C, such as in kiwi or citrus. Pellets should be high in fibre and form only a small part of any small animal’s overall diet.”
“80% of the problems I see are diet-related,” says Dr David Vella, a CHOICE member and Australia’s only Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in Exotic Companion Mammals. Dr Vella recommends Oxbow pellets as part of a balanced diet, but argues that “most of the food that is sold in Australia is what we would consider junk food, at best a treat food. Mixes are especially inappropriate, because rabbits and guinea pigs pick out the sweetest, saltiest, fattiest stuff – they love it like children love hamburgers and chips. The only good mix would be one that identifies itself as a treat, to be fed a maximum of one tablespoon per day.”