Feeding Rodents

By Gregory Rich, DVM; 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 from your veterinary office, online, or at pet stores. Many veterinarians also recommend offering hay and fresh vegetables to rodents to encourage chewing and wearing down their continuously growing teeth. Check with your veterinarian about this first.

Most diets sold as “Premium”, “Deluxe” or “Fully Balanced” are not ideal for your pet rodent. For chinchillas, guinea pigs and rats, species-specific pelleted diets are the best and most nutritionally complete diet.

"Diets containing seeds and nuts are not recommended for guinea pigs, rats, or chinchillas."

Diets containing seeds and nuts are not recommended for guinea pigs, rats, or chinchillas, as they are high in fat and low in nutrition. If these tasty seeds and nuts are offered, many rodents will eat these instead of the 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?

When pet rodents are fed a proper diet, extra vitamins are not required. A nutritionally complete pelleted rodent food contains all the vitamins a pet rodent requires for a balanced diet. An exception to this is that guinea pigs require a vitamin C supplement (see below and the handout "Feeding Guinea Pigs" for more information).

For specific medical cases, certain nutritional supplements are beneficial, such as Urinary Support Supplement for urinary tract diseases and Digestive Support for intestinal problems in rabbits and rodents. Ask your veterinarian about your pet’s specific needs.

Can I offer my rodent treats?

Seeds, nuts, pasta, unsalted popcorn, or a whole grain cracker can be offered as occasional treats (1-2 times a week) to mice, rats, and hamsters. The total amount of treats offered should be less than 5-10% of the total daily diet. You can also feed your rodent fresh, well-cleaned, preferably organic vegetables daily and occasionally give a small amount of fruit. Leafy green vegetables are acceptable, as are yellow and orange vegetables. The total daily amount of these foods should not be more than 10% of the diet. Iceberg lettuce and celery are composed mostly of water and provide little to no nutritional value for rodents.

"The total amount of treats offered should be 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, 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. Similar to humans though, guinea pigs will develop scurvy when fed a diet deficient in Vitamin C. Guinea pigs should be fed a commercial, high fiber guinea pig pellet with 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 may benefit from a daily supplemental vitamin C tablet made for guinea pigs. Do not add the vitamin C to their drinking water, since the vitamin breaks down rapidly in water and loses its potency.

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

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). Rats, hamsters, and pet mice love to tear up paper and cardboard, so these types of products may be placed in the cage for enjoyment. Speak to your veterinarian about suitable toys for your pet rodent.

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