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Are Small Rodents Herbivores?

Last Updated: 26.02.20


Most rodents are, in fact, omnivores, such as rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters, so you might want to add some special food next to the gerbil exercise wheel you want to buy. However, some species, such as chinchillas and guinea pigs are herbivores, with the latter having particular vitamin C intake needs as well. 

Found almost all over the world, rodents are very interesting animals that have adapted to a wide range of habitats, from rainforests and deserts to swamps, forests, and tundra. There are over 1,500 known species ranging in size from the pig-sized capybara all the way to the smallest mouse. 

When it comes to their diets, most species are omnivores, but some of them are herbivores. Rodents have also developed other particularities that help them with their food intake, such as pouches on the sides of the mouth that can store food. Hamsters and chipmunks, for example, have them. 

Other types of rodents, such as squirrels, spend a lot of time in trees, while others, such as beavers, have adapted to water. On the other hand, all rodents do have one thing in common, namely that they have teeth specially made for gnawing. The pair of chisel-like and sharp upper and lower incisors are continuously growing and their front features a protective layer of enamel. 

As rodents use their teeth to gnaw their food, the backside of the teeth wears away, this way keeping the edges sharp. Moreover, they don’t have any canine teeth, which means that there is a gap between the molars and the incisors that allows them to easily gnaw. 


A few words about their nutrition

Rodents are usually omnivores, the most popular species falling into this category being mice, rats, and gerbils. They eat both plants and meat, which is one of the aspects that allow them to adapt to various environments. On the other hand, some species such as chinchillas and guinea pigs are herbivores. 

One thing worth noting about rodents is that almost all of them practice what is known as coprophagy. This means that they eat feces and, while this sounds disgusting, it’s actually a very important part of their nutrition that allows them to remain healthy. 

Rodents cannot absorb vitamins and amino acids in the large intestine, therefore this habit allows them to ingest newly formed nutrients formerly not present in the food. We’re not talking about nutrients that were not absorbed the first time but about new ones formed after the food went through the absorptive section within the intestine. 

This might not sound like something very nice, especially when we’re thinking about how cute small rodents can be, but nature does have interesting solutions to some issues such as not being able to absorb the right amount of nutrients from the beginning. 



Omnivorous species 

Mice and rats are among the types of rodents that fall into this category. One particularity about their digestive system is that the fermentation of fiber takes place after the stomach and also after the small intestine. Due to this particularity, these little guys also practice coprophagy which allows them to consume valuable nutrients that would otherwise be lost. 

In terms of food, most of the commercially available pellets ensure all the nutrients that mice and rats need. Plus, if you provide hard pellets, as well as supplemental grains, these wear down the incisor teeth, thus ensuring proper dental health. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also part of their diet, but the intake should be limited so that they also consume pelleted food. 

While these little guys are known for loving treats, these should only be given in limited amounts since, otherwise, they might face either digestive issues or diseases caused by unbalanced nutrition. Furthermore, since rodents are known for eating something all the time, food should be available at all times. 

They have a fast metabolism, which means that if there is a lack of food, this can seriously affect them even in a short period of time. Various types of rodents also have different dietary needs. What works for rats isn’t necessarily a balanced diet for gerbils, for example. 

Hamsters and gerbils are also considered omnivores by scientists, given that they have higher fat and protein requirements compared to mice and rats. On the other hand, hamsters also have high fiber requirements that rats and mice don’t, so some people think that they are, in fact, herbivores. 

While there might be some questions on whether hamsters fall into one category or the other, there is no question that gerbils are omnivores. These little guys also have the habit of hiding their food in the bedding, which allows them to store it for later. On the other hand, it also means that you should limit the amount of vegetables and fresh fruits to what they can eat right away. 

The reason is a pretty obvious one, namely that if they hide food that can go bad and they eat it later, there’s a high chance that this might cause digestive problems that, depending on various factors, can lead to very serious ones. 


Herbivorous species 

The most popular species of small rodents that are herbivorous are guinea pigs and chinchillas. Just as in the case of rabbits, these little fellows have a higher fiber requirement, so it’s a good idea to feed them commercial pellets, besides fruits and vegetables, and supplement their diet with high-quality hay. 

When it comes to fresh food, however, you need to make sure that only suitable types of vegetables and fruits are provided, since otherwise digestive problems can arise. Another measure that you can take is simply letting fresh forages sit and dry for a couple of hours after cutting them. 

Guinea pigs have another particularity, namely their inability to synthesize vitamin C, which is, in fact, a dietary requirement. If this need is not met, related diseases can appear, but specially formulated commercial pelleted food prevents this from happening in most cases. 

Make sure that you get food for guinea pigs since that for mice, rabbits or rats doesn’t contain the same levels of vitamin C. You can also supplement this need by providing green leafy vegetables and fruits. Furthermore, you should know that in the case of adult guinea pigs alfalfa hay-based products can lead to developing kidney stones. 

If you have any questions on what it’s best to feed your pet, no matter what type of rodent we’re talking about, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion from a vet. A specialist can also take into account any particular needs that your little friend might have. 



A few words on how to feed your pet 

There are so many alternatives on the market when it comes to food for rodents, that you might be a bit lost among the various packages you can choose from. If you are just getting your new pet and it’s the first time you are owning a rodent, the first thing you should do is simply research a bit about particular dietary needs you should be aware of. 

Then you can look into the various food brands to see which ones are reliable in terms of both quality and consistency since any change that might appear in a formula can have an effect on your pet’s health. Then you need to make sure you choose a food that was specially formulated for a particular type of rodent. 

Rats and guinea pigs, for example, cannot eat the same food, since this would mean one of them doesn’t have its dietary needs met. Furthermore, experts recommend using pelleted food instead of mixtures, given that the latter allows rodents to select only what they like. If the food comes as pellets, this means that your pet will get a bit of all the nutrients with each bite. 

This also depends on your pet’s behavior, but selective eating can become a problem in the long run, so make sure that the diet is diversified and complete. Of course, fruits and vegetables should be part of everyday food, but you may want to see which ones are beneficial for certain types of rodents and which ones might lead to digestive problems. 

If you need to make any transition to a new diet or introduce elements or ingredients for the first time, make sure that this is done gradually and over the course of 1 to 2 weeks. 




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Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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