Complete Feeding Guide for Pocket Pets

What to feed your rabbit, rat, guinea pig, mouse, or ferret.

14 AUG 2019

This article is written by our in-house veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc

From rabbits to mice, small mammals - also affectionately known as 'pocket pets' - can make excellent companions. Rats are incredibly smart and can be taught a whole array of fun tricks. Rabbits can easily learn to use a litter tray and live as apartment pets. Guinnea pigs are just about the most gentle creatures ever, with distinctive 'wheek' calls that are hard not to love. And ferrets are a quirky animal each equipped with their own unique and playful personality.

Once you've got everything set up for an appropriate living environment, it's time to look at what food your fur friend will need. Every small mammal species has a unique diet, and it's aboslutely vital to ensure their individual dietary requirements are met. We've set out our guide below via species, with an outline of their feeding requirements and our top food recommendations.

Skip to a species:

1. Rabbit feeding guide

2. Guinea Pig feeding guide

3. Rat and mouse feeding guide

4. Ferret feeding guide

5. Further reading

1. Rabbit Feeding Guide

A rabbit's diet should be made up of 80% grass or grass hay, 10% vegetables, and 10% pellets. You can occasionally replace a small part of the pellet portion with some healthy treats or fruit.

Grass or Hay is a very important part of the rabbit diet, as it supports their digestive system and helps them keep their teeth trimmed. If you are keeping your rabbit as indoors-only, you may find a basket or hay wheel useful to keep the hay dry, clean, and away from any faeces or waste (as this is unhygenic and can make your rabbit sick). Adult rabbits should not be fed Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover hay, due to their high protein and calcium content. Hay or grass should be available 24 hours a day and of good quality.

Did you know: Rabbit teeth never stop growing. Just like guinea pigs, rats, and mice, rabbit teeth grow continuously. They require chewing objects such as wood, hay, and chew treat toys so they can grind down their teeth daily. If left without objects, their teeth can become overgrown, painful, and impede their ability to eat.

What fruit and vegetables are safe for rabbits?

The best vegetables and herbs for rabbits include basil, carrot, broccoli, celery, mint, parsley, dandelion, cabbage (occasionally) and spinach (in small quantities).

Do not feed potatoes (both leaves of the plant or the potato itself) or tomato leaves to rabbits, as these can be toxic.

Fruit is rich in sugar, so it should be given only occasionally and in small quantities. Safe fruits include strawberry, apple, pear, apricot, peach, raspberry, rockmelon or banana. You will quickly notice that rabbits love fruit; but try not to give into their begging eyes too often, as too much sugar can lead to weight gain. Small quantities of low-sugar fruits such as strawberry and raspberries are best if your rabbit is on the pudgy side.

What is the best rabbit food?

Burgess Excel Rabbit Pellets

A delicious, complementary rabbit food made for specific life stages. High in fibre, rich in nutrients and prevents selective grazing. Natural prebiotics help with digestive health and vitamins and minerals support the immune system.

High Quality Hay

If you can't always feed fresh grass, or if your rabbit is indoors most of the time, a high quality hay is essential to ensure their fibre needs are met. Hay also helps grind down the teeth to prevent malocclusion and pain.

Vetafarm Origins Rabbit Food

A pellet food designed to meet the dietary needs of rabbits, enriched with fibre to support the digestive system. The extruded pellet form also ensures good dental health when combined with a balanced diet of hay, greens and vegetables.

Peters Healthy Rabbit Treats

Peters healthy rabbit treats are specially formulated in Australia with a focus on quality and consistency. Items like this parsley hay cube with dry carrot can help keep the teeth trim and healthy.

2. Guinea Pig Feeding Guide

Guinea pigs are herbivores who naturally spend most of their day grazing. They require a constant 'stream' of high-fibre food such as grass - in fact, a guinea pig's hindgut is constantly secreting digestive fluids and can suffer from ulcers if food is withheld for even a few hours.

A guinea pig diet should be set out as follows:

  • 80% Grass and/or grass hay
  • 10% Fresh leafy green vegetables and herbs
  • 5% fruits, particularly as a dietary source of Vitamin C
  • 5% commercial mixture of high-quality pellets
  • Access to fresh water at all times.

For the grass / grass hay portion, a constant supply should be provided. Cavies particularly love fresh grass, which makes them handy lawn mowers! Cavvies are hindgut fermentors, which means they need to be almost constantly eating. Species of grass that are suitable include Timothy, Wheaten, Oaten, Pasture, Paddock, Ryegrass, or Meadow. Lucerne (alfalfa) is ok for pregnant or juvenile guinea pigs, but is a little too high in calcium for adult piggies - so it's best to avoid in these guys.

The best vegetables for guinea pigs include fresh leafy green vegetables and herbs such as cabbage, celery, broccoli, carrot tops, dandelion, parsley, dark leaf lettuce, asian greens, coriander, basil, and dill. Approximately one cup per day is ideal for one adult piggie.

Vitamin C is vital for guinea pigs because just like humans, they cannot synthesise it from other foods. You may wish to provide a Vitamin C supplement, however a natural source of Vitamin C is usually sufficient and can be provided from daily capsicum, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, carrots, or kiwi fruit. Plus, guinea pigs love sweet fruit, and you will probably be greeted with extra-enthusiastic 'wheeks!' every time you approach with fruit!

Pellets are a great way to give your cavy some extra nutrition in addition to grass and veggies. Always go for a high quality pellet such as those made by Vetafarm, Peter's or Peckish.

In terms of fresh water, it is ideal to have a heavy water bowl (such as one made of ceramic) as guinea pigs can be a little messy and tip over their bowl. For this reason, it is also handy to have an upright bottle as a backup.

What is the best guinea pig food?

Burgess Excel Rabbit Pellets

This complementary guinea pig food is packed with nutrients. High in fibre, this balanced blend helps prevents selective grazing. Natural prebiotics help with digestive health and vitamins and minerals support the immune system.

High Quality Hay

A high quality hay and fresh grass should make up 80% of your cavvie's diet. Hay is high in fibre and helps grind down the teeth to prevent malocclusion and pain.

Guinea Pig Treats

Hay-based treats are great to help keep your guinea pig occupied and grinding their teeth. They are also full of fibre to support gastrointestinal health.

Vetafarm Origins Guinea Pig Food

A pellet food designed to meet the dietary needs of guinea pigs, enriched with fibre to support the digestive system. The extruded pellet form also ensures good dental health when combined with a balanced diet of hay, greens and vegetables.

3. Rat and Mice Feeding Guide

What do rats and mice eat?

When it comes to your rat or mouse's diet, you'll be surprised at what's on the menu! Rats and mice are omnivorous, so they can eat a huge variety of fruits, vegetables and meats.

A high-quality pellet food formulated especially for rats and mice is important to provide as the base of your rat's nutrition, making up at least 60% of their diet. A balanced pellet food will play an essential role in your rats' health, and should be made readily available in their cage.

You can further maintain your rat's healthy diet by including animal protein (around 20% of their total diet) such as chicken or ham, as well as fruit, vegetables and grains that are safe for rats (making up approximately 20% of the diet also).

What 'human food' is safe for rats?

    Any of the following food items are fine to give to your pet rat:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Nuts including almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts
  • Cooked green beans
  • Pasta and brown rice
  • Dry rolled oats
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Chicken
  • Natural Yoghurt
  • ...plus much, much more!

What food is unsafe to feed rats and mice?

Always avoid chocolate, raw beans, cabbage and brussel sprouts, green potatoes, raw sweet potato, sugary sweets, poppy seeds, green bananas, and wild insects. We also don't recommend citrus fruits like orange, grapefruit or lemons.

What is the best rat food and treats?

Vetafarm Rat Food

Origins is a pellet food designed to meet the dietary needs of pet rats and mice, and is enriched with a specific blend of vitamins, minerals and amino acids for long-term health and general vitality

Pipkins Strudel

Pipkins great range of treats are designed to help grind down the teeth while providing an occupying and tasty treat.

Guinea Pig Treats

These wood-based treats are perfect for rats and mice, who need to gnaw in order to grind down their continuously-growing teeth.

Peckish Rat and Mouse Pellets

The specially formulated pellets are manufactured here in Australia using only local ingredients, so you can be guaranteed of high quality mixture.

4. Ferret Feeding Guide

What do Ferrets eat?

Unlike all the other small mammal species mentioned above, ferrets are obligate carnivores. This means they should eat meat, meat, and more meat!

Ferrets have a very short intestinal tract and tend to eat small meals frequently. They possess a set of 34 carnivorous teeth, which closely resemble a cat's, complete with sharp canines and molars.

While a specially designed ferret food is ideal, ferrets can also be fed a high quality kitten food, especially one that is high in meat content and free from grains, particularly corn. The ideal ferret diet is high in protein (30-35%) and fat (15-30%), and low in fiber. See below for our top recommendations.

How much kitten food should you feed your ferret? If choosing to feed a kitten food to your ferret, it's important to figure out how much is needed per day. Feeding guidelines on the packaging of cat food will not provide amounts for ferrets, so you will need to calculate this yourself (or with the help of your vet). An adult ferret needs approximately 200-300 calories per kilogram of body weight, per day.

For example: one of our recommendations is the high meat, grain-free kitten diet from Ivory Coat. This contains 3,700 Kcal per kilogram, which equates to 3.7 calories / gram of food. (Note that the calories per gram does change based on the brand of food, so you will need to check the manufacturer's website to be sure). If your ferret weighs 1kg, and is moderately active (therefore requiring somewhere in the middle of the range at 250kcal per day), you can work out their required food with the following calculation:

  • Calories required per day / calories per gram of food
  • 250 / 3.7
  • = 68
  • Therefore, a 1kg moderately active ferret requires 68g of Ivory Coat Kitten food per day.

  • What is the best ferret food?

    Vetafarm Ferret Food

    Vetafarm Ferret Origins is a complete and balanced, grain-free, veterinary formulated diet for carnivorous ferrets. It is high in meats including lamb and beef liver, and is 100% made in Australia.

    Premium Ferret Diet

    This premium ferret diet is made with high quality ingredients as a kibble formula, combining chicken, wholegrain brown rice and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.

    Vetalogica Biologically Appropriate Kitten Food

    This premium quality natural kitten food is suitable for ferrets because it is high in meat and protein. It contains 65% meat or fish and animal ingredients, and is completely grain-free.

    Peckish Rat and Mouse Pellets

    Also suitable for ferrets, this all-natural, grain free kitten food is made with Australian chicken meal to provide your ferret with a high level of protein.

    What 'human food' is safe for ferrets?

      Any of the following food items are fine to give to your pet ferret:

    • Any meat, cooked or raw (only if very fresh)
    • Eggs (particularly as a treat)
    • Liver
    • Raw chicken wings or other small raw bones to help clean the teeth (only if very fresh)

    What food is unsafe for ferrets?

    Always avoid chocolate, onions, garlic, sugary foods, dairy products, dog food, and peas. Fruit and vegetables also shouldn't be given in excess to your ferret. They contain complex carbohydrates which are high in fibre that ferrets cannot digest, meaning they have a low nutritional value.

    Further Reading

    Want to read more? Check out our other pocket pet articles:

    Complete Rat Care Guide

    How To Recognise Gut Stasis in Rabbits

    10 Facts You Never Knew About Bunnies

    Train Your Rabbit To Use a Litter Tray

    Beginner's Guide to Guinea Pig Care

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