April 12, 2022
Is Juice Healthy for My Small Pet?
By Dr. Cayla Iske
Many human food and nutrition trends continue to make their way into today’s pet space. This comes as little surprise when considering that most pet parents want to feed their loved ones similarly to the way they feed themselves. With juice cleanses becoming more popular in human nutrition, many pet parents naturally ask themselves if juice is something they can and should share with their pet. It is a logical question, but one without a black and white answer.
There is a great deal of conflicting information regarding juices. Fruit and vegetable juices are typically associated with a healthy diet or lifestyle, but it’s essential to remember your small mammal’s unique dietary and digestive needs when considering whether juices are appropriate for your pet.
In this article, we’ll address a few prevalent myths about juice as they pertain to your exotic companion mammal.
Myth #1: Juice has all the nutrients of whole produce.
Fruits and vegetables are known to supply important nutrients (such as antioxidants) in large part due to their phytonutrient content. These foods can also be a great source of vitamins and minerals in the diet.
A nutrient less commonly associated with fruits and vegetables (though just as important) is fiber. Your hindgut fermenting small mammal, specifically rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, requires significant amounts of fiber in their diet to support healthy gastrointestinal (GI) function and maintain a healthy microbiome. In fact, without proper amounts and type of fiber, these animals cannot properly utilize many other important nutrients.
The standard process of making juice means the removal of the pulp or the solid portions of fruits and vegetables. This means juicing removes most of the vital fiber that these foods offer.
Another prevalent nutrient in vegetables and especially fruit is natural sugar. By removing the pulp, you are also concentrating the sugar contained in produce. While concentrating sugar does make for a tastier treat, the combination of removing fiber and concentrating sugar can be a recipe for disaster for small herbivores, potentially leading to dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria and the microbiome) and even GI stasis.
So, if you choose to make vegetables and fruit a part of your pet’s diet, it’s always best to offer whole produce (mainly dark leafy greens) rather than juices.
Myth #2: Juice is easier to digest than whole fruits or vegetables, so it’s better.
“Easier to digest” is one of those claims that sounds good in theory but isn’t necessarily something to strive for in relation to healthy herbivores. Foods that are easy to digest are often characterized by being high in sugar and simple carbohydrates and low in fiber. This is essentially the opposite of what your little one’s digestive tract needs to operate efficiently and effectively.
Above all, you want to ensure you provide a high fiber diet that keeps your small pet’s digestive tract moving (peristalsis) and provides substrate (fiber) for the microbiome to ferment and provide energy to the animal. Rabbits and, even more so, guinea pigs and chinchillas are incredibly efficient at utilizing fiber and need it in the diet to maintain a healthy digestive tract and overall health.
Myth #3: There are no scenarios in which juices can be offered to my pet.
While whole fruits and vegetables are certainly better, and dark leafy green the best, to offer your pet in most circumstances, there are ways that juices can be helpful.
- If designing and creating homemade treats is one of your love languages for your small pet, no sugar-added juices can be added in small quantities when combined with other high fiber ingredients.
- Additionally, if your pet is sick or recovering and slow to begin eating again, mixing some no sugar added juice in with a high fiber recovery food, such as Critical Care, can be a great way to encourage eating.
- Using a small amount of your little one’s favorite produce juice is a great way to encourage them to try something new in their diet. Adding a bit of juice to a new type of grass hay or new pellet can make transitioning a bit easier on everyone. Adding juice to treats and recovery foods is certainly not required but can serve as a useful option if you choose.
Myth #4: All juices are created equally.
If you do choose to incorporate small amounts of juice into your pet’s diet, there are a few factors to consider:
- Organic juices are always preferred to ensure pesticides and chemicals don’t make their way into your pet’s food.
- Selecting natural or 100% juice products is also always preferred over fruit juice concentrates. Fruit juice concentrates add an extra processing step which has potential to destroy some of the valuable nutrients in juice.
- Most importantly always ensure the juices you offer contain no added sugars of any type.
Myth #5: Juices are effective at treating some ailments such as hairball and bladder issues.
Some fruits do contain compounds beneficial for mitigating certain health issues. For example, enzymes in pineapple (bromelain) and papaya (papain) may help break down the mucous coating of hairballs (trichobezoars) to facilitate hair passing naturally. However, offering fruit juice is not an effective way to treat hairballs. This is because the amount of juice needed to provide a beneficial level of these enzymes is not realistic and can potentially cause GI upset or worse.
Similarly, cranberry juice is often associated with treating bladder issues. Here again, the concentration of beneficial flavonoids in cranberry juice is far too low to offer real treatment without providing far too much sugar. If your animal is suffering from hairballs or bladder issues, you should always consult your veterinarian and consider a targeted supplement with concentrated amounts of beneficial compounds.
Is Juice Healthy for My Small Pet?
Whole fruits and vegetables are always a better option than juices in your small mammal’s diet. Juices remove the valuable fiber that produce offers and concentrates the natural sugars which can wreak havoc on your small pet’s digestive system if offered in large quantities. Because of the relatively high sugar content, juices are also not an effective way to treat health issues. No sugar added juices can be used in very small quantities to increase palatability of homemade treats or to encourage your pet to eat a high fiber recovery food if needed but should be used sparingly and should be organic, 100% juice products.