Dietary Overindulgence in Exotic Pets

April 30, 2015 at 2:33 PM by Nikki Wardle

Overindulgence in Exotic Pets

Obesity in pets has skyrocketed in recent years as the US human population’s weight has enlarged.  We have weight management options for dogs and cats, but we also see overindulgence of food in some of the exotic species as well.  These indulgences can cause many health problems.

Some common issues we see:

Rabbits & Guinea Pigs (cavies):

Protein – alfalfa is sold in pellet and hay forms.  It is a good part of a growing bunny’s/cavie’s diet and is only a small part of a healthy adult rabbit’s/cavie’s diet.  When fed in too high a quantity it can increase risks of obesity, bladder stones and dental disease (pellets).

Carbohydrates - Just like people, rabbits and guinea pigs like sweet foods and just like people they can eat too much of a good thing.  Rabbit and guinea pig digestive systems are full of healthy bacteria that thrive on fiber.  The unhealthy bacteria thrive on sugars.  If a rabbit/cavie eats too much sugar, the unhealthy bacteria grow, overpower the healthy ones and cause bloat, pain, and diarrhea, sometimes even death.  Avoiding high sugar foods like fruits and yogurt drops greatly reduces the risk of this issue.  (They can, however, be fed as small treats, just not regularly).


Fat – Birds LOVE seeds. Why?  Seeds are full of fat, and just like us, birds like the taste of fat.  Nuts and seeds are part of a natural diet but in small amounts.  Too much fat in the diet from nuts/seeds like peanuts and sunflower seeds can cause obesity, heart disease, liver disease.  Use seeds with less saturated fat and more omega three fatty acids as part of a healthy diet.  These include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and pecans.

Insect-eating Lizards:

Fat – Like most species, fat is tasty to insect-eating lizards as well.  Wax worms are very tasty but if fed in high numbers can lead to obesity.  Most of these species need a dietary mix of both meat and vegetable matter for adequate nutrition as well as to reduce the risk of obesity.


Fat & carbohydrates – Rats love food, almost any kind of food.  This makes it very easy to offer treats.  We tend to love our rats, so we tend to share our love in the form of treats.  Treats they prefer tend to be either fatty or sweet.  Many rats do not get a lot of exercise, so they do not get to burn off those extra treats.  Theses extra treats pack on the weight and that extra weight can increase risks for health problems, like heart disease, respiratory disease, and tumors.

Topics: Pet Care

Nikki Wardle

Written by Nikki Wardle

Nikki has been writing for Intermountain Pet Hospital since 2014.