A topic that is very important to me. Because most guinea pigs and rabbits who are ill presented in my practice are ill due to wrong diet.
Dental problems, abscesses, digestive disorders, metabolic disorders, blisters, etc. can be triggered by incorrect nutrition.
This text was edited by Tierärztin Dr. Diana Ruf and shared with Facebook. The topic is also very important to us! For this reason we have the article again, after consultation with Dr. Diana Reported. Because the more rabbit or guinea pig holders know about it, the better.
The diet of guinea pigs and rabbits must fulfill three prerequisites:
1) The food must supply nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the right amount:
Too little of it leads to deficiencies, too much of it leads to obesity. Too fat animals are prone to metabolic disorders, joint problems, but also to life-threatening digestive disorders. Too much of certain minerals will lead to urine problems or urine stones.
2) The food must ensure that the teeth are optimally worn:
Guinea pigs and rabbits originally live in grass and steppe landscapes. Therefore, they must feed on grass, which is not very rich. (Who ever tried to get fed up of green salad permanently, knows what I mean.) In order to be satisfied, the animals have to eat a lot of grass. They chew all day long. When chewing, the teeth rub against each other and would be wiped out by this constant chewing in a short time to small stumps. Therefore, nature has provided rabbits and guinea pigs with permanently growing teeth. The cutting and biting teeth of guinea pigs and rabbits grow for about 1cm per month.
The teeth, however, grow quite as fast, if it were not really necessary. Even if an animal does not have to chew so much, because it gets food that is more energy-rich than grass, the teeth grow anyway.
If guinea pigs and rabbits are fed feeds that fill more quickly than grass, they chew less and the teeth become too long. This is the cause of most dental problems in rabbits and guinea pigs.
Dental problems with rabbits and guinea pigs are therefore almost always the result of incorrect feeding. “Defects” are almost never congenital, but almost always result from too little tooth wear.
Rabbits and guinea pigs also have very sensitive tooth roots, which are damaged by the chewing of too hard feed, which must not be mutilated but must be bitten. Therefore, it is not allowed to feed dried vegetables, corncorns, locust bean, pellets, sunflower seeds, etc.
A widespread, but wrong opinion, is that we need to give the animals something “hard” like dry bread or similar, in order to promote tooth abrasion. This is not true, because the only thing that is so hard, that it can rub a tooth, is another tooth. This abrasion, tooth on tooth, happens during normal chewing.
3) The food must feed the bacteria in the intestine optimally:
Mammals cannot utilize the ingredients of grass. In a pure feeding of the grass they would starve, since the gastrointestinal tract of mammals is not made for the digestion of cellulose, which is the main energy carrier in grass. Therefore the plant-eating mammals need help for the digestion of grass.
In the intestinal tract of rabbits and guinea pigs special bacteria provide for the breakdown of grass into substances, which the animals can easily utilize. This bacterial flora is typically composed of bacteria that are specialized in the digestion of grass. If these good and important bacteria are fed wrongly, they die. As a result, harmful bacteria overgrow the intestine. In particular starch, contained in cereals, oat flakes, ready-to-eat chunks, bread, nibbles, etc., damages the good bacterial flora massively and can lead to life-threatening digestive disorders.
In addition, the intestine needs for its work crude fiber, contained in grass and hay, which is important for good intestinal motility.
Sounds all quite complicated?!
Is the diet of rabbits and guinea pigs a science in itself?
Yes and no. On the one hand, the subject is really complex, on the other hand, the solution and thus the optimum nutrition is actually quite simple, because one only needs to know which fodder teeth and digestive tract the animals are optimally arranged: This fodder is grass!
If you look at it, you cannot go wrong.
In the summer the animals get fresh grass and meadow herbs as main feed. Dried grass, i.e. hay, should always be available. Leaves and branches of fruit trees, hazelnut bushes, etc. are also eaten.
In the winter it is difficult with the feeding of the meadows, because one must then turn to green leaf vegetables. For example, Carrots green, radicchio, chicory, kohlrabi leaves, herbs, fennel green spinach, celery green, chard, china cabbage, savoy cabbage, green cabbage, white cabbage, red cabbage. There is always hay at your disposal.
Cabbage is actually a wonderful winter food, wild rabbits often eat only from cabbage, because cabbage is the only one, which still stands on the fields during the winter.
“Normal” salads are too soft, therefore it should only make up a small part of the winter diet.
“Real” vegetables such as carrots, fennel, celery, peppers, cucumbers etc. should be fed guardedly. All these vegetables will make well-fed much faster than grass. In case of excessive feeding, they lead to tooth problems. In small quantities, however, such vegetables are highly coveted and may be fed.
It is clearly understood, that pellets, dry food, cereals, oat flakes, bread, nibbles, treats, etc. are harmful!
In my opinion, it is a scandal that those feeds for guinea pigs and rabbits are entitled as “Complete Feed” and the advertising “healthy” may be sold, even though they are so harmful to the animals!
If you want to change the nutrition of your animals now, please be aware that every change of the feed must always be very slow and gradually!
The bacterial flora, which rabbits and guinea pigs depend on, must first adjust and adapt to new feedstuffs. Animals, that get little grass and greens, but also dry feed or bread or similar, must be “weaned” for at least four weeks. Decrease the amount of bad food slowly, and increase the amount of green feed slowly. Cabbage must also be introduced into the diet slowly. If a change is made in this way and a healthy intestinal flora has been produced, rabbits and guinea pigs can tolerate grass, grassland, greens and also cabbage in an unlimited amount.
Written by veterinarian Dr. Diana Ruf, July 2017
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