Which small mammals are (not) rodents and what does that mean for their diet?

Versele-Laga offers several ranges of food for small mammals. Animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, degus, chinchillas, (dwarf)hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, squirrels and ferrets. The umbrella term small mammals was introduced in our company to group animals with a similar housing and status in a family. The majority of these small mammals are rodents (Rodentia), but there are two exceptions: rabbits and ferrets. 

Rabbits do not belong to the Rodentia order, they are lagomorphs (Lagomorpha order). This is because a rabbit has four incisors in the upper jaw (including two non-functional teeth), while rodents only have two. Both rabbits and rodents each have two lower incisors. So, the distinction rabbit-rodent is not drawn based on the diet, but on the dental anatomy.

Ferrets are part of the order of the Carnivora. Their dental anatomy is completely different from that of rodents and lagomorphs, and they also have a much shorter digestive system. Even their diets differ drastically from other small mammals', in fact, their diet has a close resemblance to that of a cat.
In order to go more deeply into the nutritional needs of the different small mammals, we have to make a distinction between herbivores, omnivores and carnivores. 

So, the distinction rabbit-rodent is not drawn based on the diet, but on the dental anatomy.

Herbivores, omnivores and carnivores

 Herbivores only eat plant-based material. These are rabbits and some rodents, like the guinea pig, chinchilla and degu. Omnivores eat both plant-based and animal-based material. Examples are (dwarf) hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils and squirrels. The only (strict) carnivore within our group of small mammals is the ferret. A ferret MUST east animal material to survive.

Different nutritional needs of herbivores, omnivores and carnivores 

For rabbits and herbivorous rodents (chinchillas, degus and guinea pigs), a daily healthy diet consists of a rich mixture (such as Nature) or a monocomponent feed (like Complete), hay and water. You can also give them snacks (like our Nature Snacks) and fresh vegetables as healthy treats. These animals' basic feed should be rich in fibre, with a low starch and sugar content. Especially the added sugars should be limited as much as possible. The high fibre content contributes to the tooth wear, which is very important for rabbits and herbivorous rodents, because their teeth continue growing throughout their lives. In fact, rabbit incisors grow 1 to up to 2.5 cm per week! 

The daily diet of omnivorous rodents (hamsters, dwarf hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils and squirrels) consists of a basic feed, water and a small amount of fresh vegetables. Limit the amount of sugars and do not overdo it with fruit. You can treat your pet every once in a while with a snack specifically made for your animal (e.g. Nature Snacks). Compared to herbivores, omnivores have a greater need for protein and starch, and a lower need for fibres. Their diet should also contain a small amount of animal proteins. Besides, they also need sufficient tooth wear, just like the herbivores. 

Carnivores like ferrets need a large amount of animal ingredients. Animal proteins are an important source of taurine, an essential substance, which, just like arachidonic acid, is not produced by ferrets themselves, so it must be sourced from the food. Their diet should also contain few carbohydrates and simple sugars. 

Conclusion: it can be very dangerous to give your pet food or snacks that were actually composed for a different kind of animal. Our R&D department carefully gears all ingredients, analytical constituents, vitamins, minerals, etc. in each feed to the unique needs of every species. Shortages or surpluses of certain components can be detrimental for the development of an animal. Every small mammal has its own needs, that is why you should opt for an animal-specific food. 

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