Small Animal Nutrition
Although the animals may be small, their nutritional needs are big.
It’s easy to think that throwing a couple pieces of hay and a handful of mixed nuts and seeds into a small animal’s cage is enough to sustain them throughout the day. But just as it’s dangerous for a human to survive on junk food and soda, a lack of well-rounded, nutritious meals can be detrimental for small animals. While it is much easier to find information on the dietary needs of cats, dogs and—of course—humans, the nutritional needs of small animals can’t be pushed to the side.
All the Essentials
A complete, balanced diet is necessary for all animals, but it’s not consistent across the board. Some animals may require more proteins and carbohydrates, while others require higher intakes of fibrous, starchy essentials. The general consensus is that hay and hay products are one of the most important aspects of small animal nutrition. Claire Hamblion, marketing manager for Supreme Petfoods, says that it’s all about getting it right, “providing the right nutrients in the right formats in the right amounts, with respect to each other, at the right time.”
“Herbivorous small pets need constant access to long fiber in the form of hay, and that’s not something that should be an after-thought,” explains Hamblion. “That hay should be selected for its nutritional characteristics, too.”
Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health, also emphasizes the importance of high-quality grass hay, noting it should make up about 70 percent of a small animal’s daily diet.
“Rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas have unique gastrointestinal systems that require constant motion that is best facilitated by high-fiber grass hay,” says Stock.
Fiber is the cornerstone of small animal nutrition. In addition to large, constant and consistent amounts of hay, it is also vital that small animals get a uniform food, packed with essential vitamins and minerals, to make up 20 percent of their diet and fresh, leafy greens, which should make up about 8 percent, along with a small amount of healthy treats for enrichment and bonding. Stock advises to avoid mix-based foods that contain ingredients such as sugary dried fruit, nuts and seeds as they’re nutritionally inappropriate. Oxbow offers a comprehensive line of nutrition and care products for small pets, including farm-fresh hays, nourishing fortified foods, healthy treats, beneficial supplements and enriching accessories.
“Pet owners are already looking for plain, simple and natural ingredients that they understand and will, very sensibly, avoid unhealthy or artificial additives,” adds Hamblion.
That’s why Supreme Petfoods prides itself on brand recognition and highly-palatable foods. The company relies on a fixed-formula, ensuring that its recipes don’t change based upon which ingredients are most cost-effective. This allows consumers to depend on performance and seek comfort in the fact that digestive upsets won’t happen because a new ingredient has been introduced. Another great tip is to visually check the appearance of food before purchasing and displaying.
“The old adage is that no matter how nutritious your product is, if the animal doesn’t eat it, it won’t meet their needs,” explains Hamblion. “Does it look the same every time? For hay, is it green, leafy and sweet-smelling? How does your pet respond to the food—with enthusiasm or indifference? And how does the pet look? A great food will keep them in tip-top condition and brimming with life.”
Hamblion also warns against carrying products simply because they’re labeled as natural. She stresses that just because something is considered natural, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s beneficial. Molasses and fruit syrups are a good example because they’re appetizing, but the fast release of sugars can be harmful to small animals’ dental and digestive health. She also advises that just because two species look similar does not mean they share the same dietary needs, and encourages carrying a wide variety of options for all herbivorous, carnivorous and omnivorous small animals.
Supreme Petfoods offers a Tiny Friends Farm food range, which consists of nuggets and mixes with fibrous components. The product line has no added sugars and only includes the necessary ingredients, designed to be offered alongside hay or greens. The company uses only human-grade ingredients as opposed to specifically-formulated animal feed components, using a production line that was originally designed to produce human-baked goods that require a handmade approach. It also offers a Selective range, which is species-specific with life stage variants. This line is uniquely crafted to offer the highest levels of fiber with no added sugar and all the nutrients small animals need.
Here to Help
While it can be easy to get bogged down in the research of small animal nutrition, both companies provide an abundance of information for retailers and consumers. It’s important for retailers to be armed with a vast knowledge of small animal nutrition, giving them the ability to intelligently and accurately answer any questions that come their way.
Oxbow offers articles, videos, infographics and special pet parents events. All materials are a result from a partnership with veterinarians and nutritionists. The company provides its retail partners with education, point of sale support and special knowledge-sharing opportunities in the form of training events.
Supreme Petfoods’ website is a valued source of information for veterinarians, retailers and pet owners alike. The company runs surveys asking about customers’ experiences and concerns. For retailers, Supreme Petfoods produces planograms, based on an analysis of shopping habits that aim to alleviate shopper confusion about what to feed pets. It’s supported with leaflets, talks and digital resources for retail partners to make sure that they tell the whole story, not just the first paragraph.
Retailers should make sure that not only themselves, but everyone employed in their store are trained and knowledgeable about all aspects of small animal nutrition. Offering a large, diverse selection stocked with only high-quality products keeps consumers confident and happy that they’re providing their small animals with the best on the market. PB