Nutritional requirements of small animals

The small furry market is an increasingly important sector for pet food manufacturers and covers a number of different animal species. But not all small furry animals are equal when it comes to nutrition. 

Small animals, big differences

Broadly speaking, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and degus can be considered ‘fibrevores’ while rats, mice and hamsters are omnivores and ferrets obligatory carnivores. But there is a lot more to understanding the nutritional needs of small furry pets than that.


Fibre is an essential part of the pet rabbit’s diet and is required to maintain normal gut function, dental wear and to provide substrate for normal fermentation in the caecum. Fibre can come from either a compound feed or forages, although the advice should always be to feed good quality hay as well. 

Rabbits continue to absorb calcium from their food, even if they no longer need it. So it is advisable to limit calcium to around 1%* of the total diet and ensure a balanced calcium:phosphorus ratio of between 1.5:1 and 2:1. Feeding guidelines for prepared rabbit feed should be clear and indicate that it should be fed alongside forage, suitable fresh vegetables in small quantities, fresh water and supplementary snacks or treats high in indigestible fibre. 

Guinea pigs

The guinea pig is well known for its requirement for dietary vitamin C. Typically a minimum supplementation of 200 mg/kg is recommended. Calcium content should be moderated as not doing so can lead to urinary tract problems. Guinea pigs (and chinchillas) also require access to good quality forage and treats to help avoid dental issues. 

Hamsters and ferrets

Hamsters have a higher requirement for vitamin A than other small pets, while ferrets need to eat a diet consisting mainly of meat or materials derived from animals. Supplementation of taurine is recommended: 1,000 mg/kg in dry foods and 2,000 mg/kg in canned foods.

Lack of guidelines

There are no published nutritional requirements for pet small animal species, except rabbits. The NRC Nutritional Requirements of Laboratory Animals, 1995, is a useful source of information, but there are differences between laboratory animals and their domesticated pet equivalents. 

Until published guidelines become available, nutritionists at Premier Nutrition will continue to rely upon their expertise to translate the nutritional requirements of laboratory species to small furry pets.

*Based on a 12% moisture content of the feed, assuming 10MJ DE/kg



Sara Rowley

Pet Nutritionist Premier Nutrition