Sugar gets a lot of negative press these days, maybe rightly so with links to all manner of health problems in humans. But what about our small pets? Read on for all you need to know about small pet diets and why you should look out for ‘no added sugar’ on the shelves.
It’s all about balance!
A balanced diet is the key to health in all animals, ourselves included, and that balance includes sugars (which are a type of carbohydrate) as well as protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates are an important energy source, but if eaten in excess they can have a negative effect on health.
Wild rabbits are pretty good at regulating their diet, with a big helping hand from nature! For example, a wild rabbit might choose nutrient-rich leaves and new shoots over older woodier plant material. However, these succulent shoots, whilst having a relatively high sugar content, are only available at limited times of year. What about sugary fruit and root veg? Again, not widely available in wild bunny habitats.
The lifestyle of our much-loved pets is somewhat different, and we need to be careful that we do not overindulge our four-legged family members with a year-round supply of sugary sustenance.
Too much of a good thing
The main risk of feeding our small pets a diet that is too high in sugar is weight gain and obesity. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association 2019 obesity report, 29% of small mammals are overweight or obese and carrying this excess weight has a detrimental effect on health.
Top tip: weigh your small pet regularly to help keep track of their health
Health risks associated with obesity
- Fly strike (less able to groom)
- Sore feet or hocks
- Skin disease
- Heart disease
Did you know? Degus are unable to metabolise sugar so are at high risk of diabetes!
A diet low in sugar is also best for optimum dental health.
No added sugar: the low-down
So, what does ‘no added sugar’ mean? Many small pet diets will include additional sugar. These sugars may not be immediately apparent on the ingredients list, coming under the guise of additives such as molasses. Added sugar such as this is very energy dense and will predispose to obesity.
Far better to provide the carbohydrates necessary for health, in a manner more akin to the natural diet of our small pets. Rabbits for example have evolved to spend many hours a day grazing and foraging, so should get the majority of their energy supply from good quality feeding hay or grass.
A small portion of rabbit food, either pellets, nuggets or mix, should also be offered to our bunnies. Where sugar is added to small pet diets, it tends to be to increase palatability and help stick other ingredients together. For example, many small pet diets are made by crushing ingredients under pressure and need molasses to help bind everything and improve taste. Extruded nuggets are cooked at higher temperatures, meaning they don’t need sticking together plus they have a nicer crunchy texture so there’s no need to add sugary syrups for palatability.
So why not offer your pet a naturally tasty diet, flavoured with irresistible ingredients like herbs, healthy vegetables or Timothy hay?
What about fruit and veg?
Fruit and root vegetables have a high sugar content so should be fed in moderation and that includes carrots, the staple diet of cartoon rabbits everywhere. Save these as a once a week treat and if your pet is a bit on the portly side, avoid them completely. Pet herbivores do need a handful of veg a day, but fresh leafy greens are a better staple than sugary fruits. Head over to our blog on Veggies & Foods Safe For Rabbits & Small Pets for more great info!
Top tips for low sugar success:
- At least 80% high quality feeding hay, such as Timothy hay, and / or grass
- Handful of fresh leafy greens daily
- A carefully measured portion of no added sugar pet food from the Science Selective or Tiny Friends Farm range, fed every morning and evening
- Occasional portion of root veg e.g. carrot
- Occasional no added sugar small pet treat
- Constant supply of fresh water