There is no greater service you can give your furry friend than to provide him with a proper diet. Proper nutrition is essential to good health and can affect your pet’s coat, skin, growth, energy, appetite, and ability to fight off disease and infection.
Your pet rabbit, guinea pig or chinchilla is an herbivore, which means he eats only plant material. As an herbivore, his digestive system is uniquely adapted to digest a variety of digestible and indigestible plant-based foods such as high-fiber hay, leafy greens, herbs and pellets.
After the food your pet eats is chewed it moves through the esophagus and into the stomach. It then progresses through the small intestine, where the high-fiber part of your pet’s diet aids in moving the food through smoothly and quickly.
Then an interesting thing happens – different sized particles of food go in two different directions. Large particles of food move from the small intestine directly into the colon and are eventually expelled from the anus as waste in the form of hard, dark feces you will see on the floor of your pet’s cage. Small particles of food take a little side trip to a special pouch called the cecum, located where the small and large intestines join for further digestion.
In the cecum food is fermented by healthy bacteria and broken down into nutrients. This nutrient-rich material moves into the large intestine and is eliminated in the form of soft, greenish, mucous-covered feces called cecotropes or “night feces.” Your pet will immediately eat these nutrient-rich cecotropes. You may occasionally spot one in your pet’s cage. Not only do the cecotropes provide important nutrients, they also keep the healthy bacteria in the intestines stabilized, helping to ensure good digestion.
Now that you understand your pet’s unique digestive system, you can see why nutritionists and veterinarians recommend you feed a diet of long stem hay, pellets, and dark leafy greens.
Quality pellets and hay should make up the backbone of a good diet. Timothy hay is the most recommended hay type and you should offer this free choice to your pet. High quality pellets are important too. Make sure these pellets are timothy hay-based and include important nutrients like essential vitamins and minerals that hay does not provide.
Remember that all small animals also need a generous supply of fresh water to stay healthy. Make sure water is changed daily, and is accessible in your animals’ cage. For more information about the proper feeding of your furry pet, consult your veterinarian.