The Shunamite diet
The Shunamite diet is a living, evolving diet which works according to the following principles:
1. Take a suitable base food.
2. Add a source of protein if required.
3. Add carefully chosen human cereal.
4. Add seeds, vegetables and herbs for nutrition, variation and interest.
5. Add in treat ingredients (in small amounts) if desired such as dried fruit or chopped nuts.
Choosing a base mix
All diets tend to have staple foods which form a regular and substantial part of the whole. I call these base foods. Generally (for rats) base foods should be grain based and include a good proportion of minimally processed grains. My preferred choice of base food is a mixture of straight grains which can be purchased individually or ready mixed. I feel this gives maximum flexibility for creating a mix that is ideally adapted to the needs of the rat, and also removes the negative aspects of commercial mixes such as colourants and fibre pellets. However, there are many other suitable alternatives and I have included a list of some of these at the end of the article. The base food would make up approximately 50-60% (by volume) of your mix. The easiest way to convert this percentage to a working volume is to use a cup, scoop or other measure. Think of your whole mix as being 10 cups, so each cup would equal 10%. This means if you want 50-60% base food, you would add 5 to 6 cups to the mix. The size of your 'cup' will depend on how much mix you want to make up at one time. Precise measurements are not important so long as plenty of variety is included, and once you become familiar with rough proportions you may feel comfortable about just mixing by eye.
Example of a base food made from straight grains
3 cups micronized barley flakes
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup paddy rice
1 cup brown rice
1 cup wheat groats (groats are grains without the inedible chaff/husk)
1 cup whole corn,
1 cup micronized corn flakes
1 cup buckwheat
2 cups mixed millet
Many other combinations are possible, but the skew towards barley, rice and corn rather than wheat and rye in the mix above is intentional and designed to promote long term kidney health. Buckwheat is not wheat, or even a true grain; it is more akin to a fruit seed. Millet is an excellent grain source and not high in fat as is often assumed.
Straight grain mixes are now available already made up and some people prefer this option. Rat Rations sell a wide variety of individual grains and mixes.
Other base foods
Xtra Vital Super Supreme Rat Food
PAH Rat Muesli
PAH Rat Nuggets
Harrison’s Banana Rabbit Brunch
Mr Johnson’s Supreme Rabbit Mix
Mr Johnson’s Supreme With Fruit Rabbit Mix
Mr Johnson’s Clover Country Crunch Rabbit Mix
Supa Natural Deluxe Rabbit Food
Supa Fruiti Rabit Food
Supa Deluxe Rabbit Food
NB Other generic mixes may be suitable. Inclusion does not constitute a recommendation by the author. If using any generic mix as a base food I would recommend mixing at least two together for greater variety. I have not included Alpha Herbal Rabbit Food because recent changes may make it less appropriate than many of the other foods listed.
If you are using a base food that contains animal protein, the separate protein addition to the mix should be reduced accordingly, but because you are effectively diluting the base food extra protein sources can still be added sparingly. However, for adult rats the extra protein is not essential.
This can be anything from soya flakes, chick peas, peas and other legumes, (preferably soaked and roasted as these contain anti-nutrients when raw, which make the nutrients in them less available), to a quality dog kibble (like Burns) or freeze dried fish and insects. The amount you need to add will depend on the amount of protein in what you are offering. For instance you would need to add more in terms of legumes or dog kibble to deliver the same amount of protein as dried river shrimps. The protein would make up 5-10% of your mix.
These are extremely useful for adding variety, reducing phosphate levels, reducing anti-nutrients (these occur naturally in unprocessed grains and prevent the nutrients from being fully utilised) and adding vitamins and minerals (most human cereals are fortified). A list of human cereals along with their suitability in terms of feeding rats can be found here. Human cereals would make up approximately 20 - 25% of your mix.
Seeds, vegetables and herbs
These add interest, good oils, vitamins and minerals to your mix. Hemp seeds are very popular but many other seeds can be used as well, and some seeds have specific medicinal properties. Pumpkin seeds are preferable to sunflower, which seem to cause allergies and skin reactions in some rats. Dried carrots, peppers, leeks and other vegetables are generally well received. Bunny herbs such as dandelion, plantain, meadow mixes and herb mixes are excellent and I try to put a reasonable volume of these into my mix. Kelp and garlic are also useful additions with medicinal properties. Seeds, vegetables and herbs would make up 10-15% of your mix.
Nuts, dried fruit and other treats can be added to a mix in very small amounts. Some people prefer to hand feed these individually to rats. if you are feeding whole nuts it is probably best to hand feed them, but chopped nuts are suitable in small amounts.
Here are some useful websites for sourcing ingredients for rat mixes. All are tried and trusted.
The Rat Warehouse
Spiceworld (useful for a variety of herbs and seeds) - September 2014: Spiceworld is now Just Ingredients
Author: Alison Campbell
Articles relating to feeding rats.
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