Our small pets give us boundless unconditional love and companionship, so it is no wonder that we want to do our utmost to keep them in tip-top condition for a long and happy life. There is no doubt that feeding the correct diet is key to keeping our rabbits and guinea pigs in optimum health and maybe you have been thinking that the food you are offering your small pets just isn’t quite ticking all the boxes. Your bun may have started turning their little nose up at their daily portion of food and you might be looking for a tastier, more nutritious alternative. Maybe it’s time to move your growing guinea from junior to adult food or your vet may have advised a dietary switch. Whatever the reason, it is important to make any dietary transition carefully to avoid upsetting delicate digestive systems.
The ideal diet for a healthy life
Let’s start with a short recap of the key components of a healthy diet:
- A body-sized portion of hay or grass every day
- A carefully measured portion of rabbit or guinea pig food every morning and evening
- A handful of leafy green veg to add variety and more fibre to the diet
- An occasional treat as a reward
And remember fresh hay and water should always be available.
Dietary transition: a step-by-step approach
So, the time has come to change your bun or guinea pig’s food. With a digestive system that is incredibly specialised for extracting energy and nutrients from a fibre-rich diet, it will come as no surprise that this finely balanced gut needs a bit of TLC to stay on top form. Sudden changes in diet are a definite no.
Rabbits and Guinea pigs are what is known as hind-gut fermenters. This means that they have a huge organ called the caecum that contains lots of ‘good’ bacteria to help break down the tough fibre in a herbivore diet. These friendly bacteria are carefully balanced – sudden changes in the diet can upset this, so dietary changes need to be slow to allow the friendly bacteria time to adjust.
Aim to allow a minimum of ten days for any dietary transition. On day one, a maximum of 20 percent of the food portion should be the new diet, slowly building up to 80 percent by days seven and eight, with 100 percent of the portion being the new food by day ten.
Food for Life: tailored nutrition from junior to adult
We are all familiar with the idea of puppy and kitten diets giving our canine and feline friends the best start in life. Well, did you know that young growing rabbits and guinea pigs also benefit from starting life on a diet tailored to the needs of a growing animal?
Up until the age of about 20 weeks, our bunny and guinea friends will thrive on a diet with extra protein to support growth and development. Junior diets such as Science Selective Junior Rabbit Food and Science Selective Junior Guinea Pig provide optimum nutrition tailored to this important stage in their lives.
From 20 weeks of age onwards, rabbits and guinea pigs will have reached adulthood, with most of their growth and development complete. Transitioning onto an adult diet that is high in fibre and tailored to their specific needs, will help to keep them fit and healthy. Rabbits will benefit from a further adjustment to their diet at around the age of four years old, when a diet such as Science Selective Four+, with reduced energy and added vitamin C, will help maintain a healthy weight and promote vitality in the senior years.
Follow our dietary transition guidelines for a seamless move between lifestage diets.
Keep an eye out for digestive disturbances…
During any dietary change, it is important to keep a close eye out for any signs that the digestive system isn’t working as well as it should be. Rabbits and guinea pigs are experts at hiding signs of illness and discomfort but one thing they can’t hide is their poo! Loose faeces or diarrhoea might be a sign that all is not as it should be, and a veterinary check-up is needed. Reduced numbers of poo pellets (or none at all) can be a sign of a serious condition called gastric stasis. This is a medical emergency, warranting urgent veterinary attention.
It is also important to keep an eye on your pet’s appetite and watch for any signs of them going off their food.
Herbivore digestive systems don’t cope well with a lack of food and if rabbits or guinea pigs stop eating, they can become very ill very quickly. If you notice your small herbivore saying no to nibbles, you should get veterinary help without delay.
Now you know how to safely transition between diets, find out more about our Science Selective tailored nutrition here.