Feeding rabbits and guinea pigs
Ratification Date: 23 Jul 2015
Rabbits and guinea pigs must be fed a predominantly grass hay and/or grass diet, to ensure proper wear of their dentition, to promote proper gut function and to ensure adequate water intake. This is essential to prevent major health issues, poor welfare, and death. Muesli-style diets are completely inappropriate, and can lead to severe dental disease, poor gut function or ileus and predispose to urolithiasis.
Additionally, guinea pigs need to be supplied with an adequate amount of vitamin C every day.
Rabbits are lagomorphs and guinea pigs are rodents, so they have very different dietary needs. However both are small herbivores and exhibit aradicular hypsodont dentition, which means their teeth grow continuously throughout life. This is an evolutionary adaption to the consumption of high fibre, highly abrasive diets. High fibre diets are essential for adequate gastrointestinal function, the maintenance of an appropriate microbial flora and the prevention of ileus.
Inappropriate feeding regimes contribute to the development of dental disease, which is progressive and incurable once clinical. Prevention of dental disease leads to a much better welfare outcome than managing the disease once present.
Many muesli style diets are labelled as complete foods, but selective feeding by the animals is likely to render the consumed diet nutritionally imbalanced. Lower fibre levels lead to increased gut retention time, which can be linked to increased development of clinical ileus. Rabbits (and likely guinea pigs) consume the largest amount of water when on a hay only diet. Given the frequency of calcium urolithiasis in these species, increasing water intake and thus increasing urine dilution is highly desirable.
Rabbits (and likely guinea pigs) exhibit increased calcium load associated with lucerne hay diets. Guinea pigs do not synthesise vitamin C, and must be supplemented with sufficient amounts every day to ensure proper physiological function. This can be done by provision of calculated volumes of high vitamin C containing foods, or by using oral vitamin C supplements. Vitamin C provided in water is prone to degradation, and may be affected by cleaning chemicals.
Date of ratification by the AVA Board: 23 July 2015
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