Feeding Rodents

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

What do pet rodents eat?

All pet rodents must be fed a good, high quality rodent chow (nutritionally balanced pelleted food) available at pet stores. Many veterinarians also recommend offering hay and fresh vegetables to rodents to encourage chewing and the wearing down of their continuously growing teeth; check with your veterinarian about this first.

Diets containing seeds and nuts ARE NOT RECOMMENDED, as they are high in fat and low in nutrition. If these tasty seeds (such as sunflower seeds) and nuts, are offered, many rodents will eat these over healthy formulated pellets and therefore have a nutritionally unbalanced diet.

How often should I feed my pet rodent?

Fresh food should always be available. Many owners offer the food in heavy, spill-proof ceramic crocks, although feeders can be purchased and attached to the side of the cage, as well.

Do I need to give my rodent vitamins?

No, pet rodents do not require extra vitamins when fed a proper diet. A nutritionally complete pelleted rodent food contains all the vitamins a pet rodent needs. An exception to this, is that guinea pigs require a vitamin C supplement (see below and the handout "Feeding Guinea Pigs" for more information).

Can I offer my rodent treats?

Seeds, nuts, pasta, unsalted popcorn, or a whole grain cracker, can be offered as occasional treats (less than 5-10% of the total daily diet). You can also feed your rodent fresh, well-cleaned vegetables (preferably organic) daily and occasionally give a small amount of fruit. Leafy green vegetables (not iceberg lettuce or celery that are nearly all made of water) are acceptable, as are yellow and orange vegetables. The total daily amount of these foods should not be more than 10% of the diet.

"Seeds, nuts, pasta, unsalted popcorn, or a whole grain cracker, can be offered as an occasional treat (less than 5-10% of the total daily diet)."

Pet rodents should eat mainly pellets (90% of the diet), 5-10% vegetables and fruits, and occasionally a few treats. Hay (such as Timothy, clover, or meadow or orchard grass) may also be offered free-choice as a source of fiber, as long as your veterinarian has not recommended a specific diet for your pet.

Do guinea pigs require their own special food?

Guinea pigs, unlike most pets, do not make their own vitamin C. Guinea pigs should be fed  a commercial high fiber guinea pig pellet with added vitamin C. Ensure the  pellets are made for guinea pigs and contain added vitamin C; however, because this vitamin breaks down or oxidizes rapidly, the pellets must be used up or replaced within 90 days of the manufacturing date. In addition to vitamin C in their pellets, guinea pigs need supplemental vitamin C in the form of a tablet or liquid administered directly into their mouths daily. Do not add the vitamin C to their drinking water, since the vitamin breaks down rapidly in water and loses its potency.

"Guinea pig pellets must be used up or replaced within 90 days of the manufacturing date."

Fresh vegetables, such as bell peppers, can be offered to supply supplemental vitamin C, as well.

What about water?

Fresh water should be available 24 hours a day either in a sipper bottle (available at pet stores) or in spill-proof crocks. Water should be replaced DAILY, and sipper bottles (specifically the end from which the pet drinks) should be inspected daily for blockages that can develop if it gets clogged with food. Dishes and sipper bottles should be washed with hot soapy water and rinsed thoroughly every day. A bottle brush should be used to thoroughly clean the sipper bottle tube, as it is a great place for bacteria to grow.

Is there anything else I should know about feeding my pet rodent?

Chew toys made from hard wood are commercially available in pet stores for rodents and should be offered to help prevent overgrowth of the front teeth (incisors).  Speak to your veterinarian about suitable toys for your rodent pet.

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