Nutritional Supplements for Small Animals

The nutritional needs of small animals are just as important as those of larger mammals and retailers should educate themselves on each animal’s dietary needs.



Small animals need love too. Much of the pet industry focuses on the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, but rabbits, ferrets and hamsters have specific dietary needs as well. As pet parents become more invested in what their pets are consuming, retailers should make sure to stock small animal diets that are nutritious and healthy.


“All small pet species have unique needs that should be met with a diet that’s formulated specifically to meet these needs,” says Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health, based in Omaha, Neb. “Similarly, the needs of young and adult animals are different and should be addressed via the diet.”


Oxbow’s foods for small animals—rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, rats, etc. —are all formulated with the guidance of leading exotic veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure the products meet the specific needs for a pet’s age and species. Now, the company is complementing this approach to advancing small pet health with the launch of its Enriched Life line this spring.


“Enriched Life will include a variety of healthy chews, stimulating activity centers, enriching habitats and essential care items to meet key instinctual needs that include exploring, chewing, playing and hiding,” says Stock. “Through Enriched Life, we are excited to bring an added purpose to the hard goods aisle that will help pet parents meet the essential daily enrichment and care needs of their pets.”


Supreme Petfoods is another company that manufactures species-specific foods to ensure every animal gets the nutrients it needs. The company has food for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, degus, ferrets, hamsters, mice and gerbils that are specifically formulated for each animal. It also produces grain-free options for rabbits and guinea pigs, as well as small animal treats.


“Small pets can be very diverse, some are pure herbivores, some are omnivores with higher protein requirements and some, like guinea pigs, have very specific needs for nutrients such as vitamin C,” says Claire Hamblion, marketing manager for the Suffolk, U.K.-based company. “The best way to reliably meet their needs is to feed a food designed
for that species and opt for a trusted brand like Supreme, which has a heritage of feeding these species and a bank of knowledge about their needs.”


While each animal has its specific needs, ferrets stand apart since they are carnivores and can’t be given the same types of foods as other small animals.


“A well-rounded ferret diet needs to have aspects of both micronutrients and macronutrients,” says Amanda Altman, marketing coordinator for Wolcott, N.Y.-based Marshall Pet Products. “Small animals have an extremely high metabolism, so providing a nutrient-dense diet is key. High protein and fat levels are essentials specific to a good ferret diet. Most of the ferret’s calories should come from fat.”


Marshall Pet has chicken and turkey diets for ferrets, as well as a variety of treats, including Munchy Minnows, Salmon Chunk, Freeze-Dried Duck and Freeze-Dried Rabbit. Altman also points out that while pet parents can supplement many small animal diets with fruits and vegetables, ferrets shouldn’t be given these foods.


Hooray for Hay

Aside from foods that are specifically designed for each animal’s health, an important staple in the diet of every herbivore is unlimited amounts of grass hay as it helps with digestion in small animals.


“Hay provides the fiber that is essential to digestive health in animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas, and should make up at least 70 percent of their diet,” says Stock. “We encourage pet parents to offer multiple varieties of hay to prevent picky eating tendencies that can lead to serious health issues such as gastrointestinal stasis.”


Hamblion adds that hay “promotes peristaltic movement of food through the gut and it has a positive effect on the microbiota, or the bacteria in the gut, which are needed for digestion in these species.” She warns that sugars can result in the opposite effect, causing digestive upset, dental issues and weight gain, and should be avoided in small animal diets.


The fibers in hay are also fermented to become short chain fatty acids, which can provide as much as 40 percent of a rabbit’s metabolic requirements for energy.


Supreme is adding Country Loops for rabbits to its Selective Naturals range, which will blend together carrots with Timothy hay, resulting in a nutritious snack. The Selective brand can come with counter-top display units along with a free sample offer to encourage sales of small animal foods.


“Sampling offers a great way to show you care about the needs of small pets and gives retailers the chance to show off their nutritional expertise to reinforce the benefits of trial,” says Hamblion.


Oxbow agrees that education about the nutritional needs of small animals is key for retailers to be most successful in sales.


“Taking advantage of education and training opportunities to learn about the essential needs of small pets will help empower your sales associates, build trust and loyalty with customers, and, in many cases, will lead to an increased basket size and more frequent purchases of key products,” says Stock, adding that Oxbow “believes that every retailer has the opportunity to serve as a trusted expert in the aisle and proudly provide educational support to help build the knowledge and confidence necessary to guide key purchasing decisions of customers.” PB


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