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Care of Small Herbivores

Fundamentals of natural care

Feeding the right diet is one of the most important aspects of care.  Dental disease and digestive disorders can largely be prevented by feeding high fibre forage and avoiding the wrong kind of foods.

Our Herbivore Nutrition pages explain the basics elements, fibre, protein, energy, vitamins and minerals.  Reading through these will help make sense of those when mentioned in the nutritional analysis sections of individual foods and forages.

Learning from the wild diet

Animals in the wild survive perfectly well without the kind of food found in pet shops.  The type of herbivores kept as small pets would eat mainly fresh grass and wild plants, supplementing their diet with berries, bark and roots.

Pestle and mortar with herbs

Let food be their medicine

Wild animals often seek out plants and mineral clays with which to self-medicate, a process known as zoopharmacognosy.  This behaviour is passed down through the generations, young animals learning from the adults around them.

As well as having medicinal properties, many wild plants which would form the natural diet of small pet herbivores are an important source of minor minerals and trace elements missing from commercial food.  Fortunately these plants are abundant in hay from ancient meadows.

Selective Feeding

Rabbits and guinea pigs  are unable to vomit so cannot eliminate toxic plants in the same way a cat or dog could.  This explains their natural caution with regards to new food, if they see another animal eating that food they will be far more inclined to try it.

In addition they are naturally attracted to the sweetest foods such as young growing grasses which are higher in protein and energy.  This natural behaviour assists them in the wild, but in captivity it is our responsibility to avoid giving them the wrong type of sweet, high-calorie food.

Observation is key

As prey species, small herbivores are able to mask their symptoms until really quite ill indeed.  An important part of their care is being able to recognise their normal behaviour and trusting your instinct when they’re somehow “not right”.

If in doubt, get the vet to check your pet out.  Once you know what is wrong, you can ask your vet if herbs would help.

When does prevention become intervention?

If a health problem is recurrent, and you are confident you recognise the early signs, then making particular herbs available is worth trying as a preventative measure.  If the symptoms abate in a reasonable time then fine, if not, then go back to the vet asap, and certainly if symptoms worsen.

Veterinary surgeons & homeopathy

There are some vets who would like to see vet homeopaths struck off the veterinary register for practicing voodoo.

There are other vets (presumably equal in intelligence and qualification) who choose to study homeopathy to a high level and use it in their practice, presumably because they’ve seen it work and had success with it…

For those interested in homeopathy, we’ve compiled a list of qualified vets who are also training, or are qualified, in homeopathy.  Along with some general use guides based on published literature, and a bit of background for those who want to find out more.