A Nutrition Guide For Alternative Pets in Texas

By Sam Hacker – September 1, 2022

Everyone, for the most part, knows what dogs and cats eat. But what if you have a less common animal, like a ferret or chinchilla? Here are some nutritional tips to care for those unique furry friends.


A domestic ferret eats a quail egg.

When choosing a ferret as a pet, it’s important to know what a ferret can and cannot eat and how it can impact your life.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they won’t survive without meat. Their diet is similar to a cat’s; if a local pet store or veterinarian office doesn’t have ferret food, kitten food suffices. However, it’s recommended to buy premium quality cat food as it contains the correct number of nutrients, whereas generic cat food can have nutritional deficiencies, like being too low in fat.

You’ll also want to provide a variety of ferret food because, just like cats, ferrets will become fixed on a particular brand. If you do need to switch food, gradually changing food rather than doing it instantaneously is more likely to succeed.

Having dry food available is also important because it helps ferrets keep their teeth clean.

Foods to avoid include fruits and vegetables, such as raisins. If there is too much sugar or complex carbohydrates, your ferret will get sick as their digestive tract cannot process it. However, cooked eggs, cooked meat (especially chicken), freeze-dried muscle, or organ meats are all acceptable treats that your ferret will love.


Hedgehog eating food.

Hedgehogs are cute little critters, but most people have little idea what hedgehogs need in their diet. 

These furry friends should be fed a uniformed kibble diet with some supplementals from foods that are appropriate nutrition-wise. Hedgehogs are mainly insectivores in the wild (occasionally, they are omnivores, eating small or baby mammals), so it would also be appropriate to offer insects two to three times a week as a way to supplement their diet. These insects are often gut-loading, meaning you feed the insects a nutritious diet before feeding the insects to your hedgehog so your hedgehog gets even more nutrients. Some of the insects suggested include mealworms, earthworms and crickets.

It’s important to note that if you do wish to feed your hedgehogs insects, they need to either be bought from the pet store or raised in the house. Buying insects from a bait shop or catching them from the garden are dangerous because they could have harmful insecticides or fertilizers. If you’re worried, you can talk to your local vet about where to purchase insects or how to raise the insects for your hedgehog.

Some treats hedgehogs enjoy include fresh veggies or fruits, but avoid avocados as they are toxic to hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are also unable to digest milk, so try to avoid any milk or milk-based products.


Someone feeding a chinchilla.

A common fact that people know about chinchillas is that they take dust baths, but here are some nutritional facts to keep your chinchilla happy and healthy.

Chinchillas are herbivores, and their diet should consist of high-quality pellets and fresh hay. Grass hay is recommended to be available at all times for your chinchilla, perhaps in a hay rack. Sources differ on whether or not alfalfa hay should be available at all times for chinchillas to feast on, but it’s at least recommended as a treat. Hay does more than just offer nutrients, though; it also helps keep chinchilla’s teeth healthy. Aside from hay, don’t worry about feeding your chinchilla fresh fruits or veggies, as they do not need it.

If you want to treat your chinchilla, try giving them dried rose hips or dandelion leaves. Dried fruit and nuts are also great treats, but they are fattening, high in sugar and can cause digestive problems, so offer these either sparingly or not at all


Grass-eating alpaca looks in camera.

Alpacas are gentle, but sturdy creatures who can be fairly self-reliant. However, any good alpaca owner needs to know how to care for them well nutritionally.

Alpacas are primarily grazers. While similar to sheep in regard to their digestive tract, alpacas actually need a diet that’s closer to a horse. Alpacas only eat about 2% of their body weight in feed each day, but they’re effective at extracting nutrients from available feed. While alpacas can survive harsh conditions, it still helps to provide supplemental nutrients with food pellets specifically tailored for alpacas.

You’ll also need to monitor what grows in or near the alpaca grazing area. Since alpacas will eat anything possible, they’ll also unknowingly eat toxic plants. While plants such as oleander or lantana may not be in the pasture itself, if it’s growing near it, you’ll need to take steps to remove them before letting alpacas graze there. Other poisonous plants include rhododendron, laburnum and buttercups.

These unusual pets can have some even more unusual nutrition habits, but they are ones that will keep your pet happy and healthy for years!


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