By Kim Locke
Spring has sprung in Canada, with wonderful sunny days and the drive to go outside and putter about in your garden. Even though some parts of the country are still waiting for the ground to dry out, now would be a good time to plan what you will be putting in your garden this year.
Have you thought to include plants for your pets (bunny, chinchilla, degu, guinea pig, etc.) as well? This is something that I do every year, mainly because the cost of feeding them will go down by half as it’s a continuous source of forage. You will also be in control of what goes into growing their forage, so that’s also a good reason to do it as well.
Your pet’s teeth need to be worn down as they are constantly growing. One way to do this is to provide a mixture of different types of plants, flowers, grasses, and hays. This will force your pet to have to chew in many ways to eat the different types of forage, instead of the normal up/down motion for chewing pelleted foods.
The plants that are easy to grow that are very popular all three species of animals are as follows:
Dandelions – These are not actually plants that you need to purchase seeds to grow. They’re usually weeds that we remove from our lawns and gardens. Bunnies, chinchillas, and degus all enjoy the flowers, stems, and leaves of the plant. If you have a plethora of them, they can be dried and used as forage in the winter as well.
Clover – These are also plants that you do not need to purchase seeds to grow. They usually spring up around this time of year on your lawn. Bunnies, chinchillas, and degus can eat the flowers of the clover plant. White clover is very sticky and sweet, so I would use them as treats, sparingly.
Sunflowers – This is the easiest plant I would say that you can grow for your pet’s nutritional needs. The flower petals are a favorite of degus, chinchillas, and bunnies, and can even be dried for winter forage. The seeds can only be saved and consumed by degus (they are high in fat for degus, so I use them as training treats) and chinchillas (one or two is ok, not more than that). Bunnies cannot process seeds, of any kind at all.
Strawberries – This might be something that you have planted in your garden in the past, or something that you have growing wild in your backyard. Due to the high sugar content, it is not recommended to give to degus (who cannot metabolize sugar) or chinchillas (who cannot metabolize large amounts of sugar.) Bunnies can eat both the berries and the leaves of the strawberry plant itself.
Parsley – This is an herb that many people have growing in their gardens for flavoring foods and to add a piece de resistance onto their salads. Bunnies will eat one bunch of parsley a day, while one spring will be enough for a degu or chinchilla.
Rosemary – This is another herb that many people plant in their gardens for flavoring summer dishes and salads. Degus can have one sprig of rosemary whereas it will make chinchillas very sick if ingested. This is due to the high fat and calcium content. Bunnies can have rosemary, but only a few springs here and there as treats.
Rose Petals – These delicate delicacies can grace the salad of any bunny, degu, or chinchilla, but only if they are dried first. If they are not dried, they will slow down in the digestive tract of your degu or chinchilla and make them sick.
Sticks – Most sticks are toxic to degus, bunnies, and chinchillas but they are very important to assist your animal to grind their teeth down to prevent malocclusion. It’s best to stick to sticks from trees that do not have stone fruits, such as apple or willow. They will enjoy chewing off the sweet tasting bark and the young branches underneath.
It’s also best to dry out the sticks first if you are pruning them from a wild tree and then baking them at a low temperature to kill any bugs inside the stick. If you are harvesting from willow trees, you can also dry them out, but be sure to limit the amount as willow bark acts like aspen.
*Please note that you should not use any pesticides on these plants, even IF it says it will not harm your pets and is organic!
If you are still puzzled by what types of plants to use in your garden for your furry friends, please consult the following resources:
Degus and Chinchillas – Degu Internationals SAB Diet Plant Identification Forums – http://forum.degus-international-community.org/viewforum.php?f=31
If still in doubt, LEAVE IT OUT! 😊