Whereas owners of pet rabbits have ready access to quality pelleted, commercial rabbit feed, owners of small rodents must obtain feed from the array of colorful boxes of food and supplements at the pet store. Included among these feed may be seed mixtures, seeds mixed with vitamin and mineral pellets (often ignored by the pet), hay cubes, pelleted complete diets, salt blocks, pieces of chewable wood, and a variety of treat foods that lure the unsuspecting buyer because those treats resemble the snack foods preferred by pet owners.
Of most pet rodent feeds available, only the pelleted, complete diets (with at least 16 percent quality protein) have use as primary diets. The standard pelleted, complete diets may be fed to the Old World rodents: hamsters, gerbils, mice, and rats. The recommended diet for these pet rodents, therefore, is a reasonably fresh pellet incorporating essential nutrients, containing at least 16 percent crude protein, with the box labeled "meets NRC requirements" or a similar message.
Conventional (natural ingredient) pet animal diets produced by reputable companies usually contain adequate balanced nutritional components, but even those diets can be altered by damp, heat, oxidation, and vermin contamination. Owner-compounded diets, on the other hand, are more likely than are commercial products to lack certain trace nutrients, to be unbalanced, or to be contaminated with bacteria or mold.
Pelleting involves heat, moisture, binder, hot-air dry, and compression in a shaped mold. This form usually is well received (at least by rodents old enough to gnaw the hard pellets), and little is wasted. Powders and meals are wasted: the dust can collect around mouths and in noses and predispose a pet to medical problems. Water is best provided in bottles with, preferably, metal sipper tubes. Hamsters may gnaw or break plastic or glass tubes. Having fresh water available is critical, as many pet rodents presented as "sick" are in fact dehydrated.
Supplementation of standard feed with fruit, vegetables, hay, and preferred feed is done often with pet rodents, but the balanced diet should not be diluted by more than 10 percent except in older animals, in which case dilution to perhaps 25 percent with fiber may retard obesity.
(Excerpted from Essentials of Pet Rodents: A Guide for Practitioners by John E. Harkness, DVM, MS, Med. Published by AAHA Press, 1997.)