Feeding a Shunamite type diet

The Shunamite diet has been developed, modified and refined over a number of years; the product of a growing interest in rat nutrition and the result of a great deal of reading and research. It (or an adapted form of it) is now used widely amongst rat owners within the UK and seems to be a diet that is well received by the majority of rats. I find that rats on this diet maintain excellent condition, and are generally robust health wise. It can be easily adapted to meet the needs of kittens or elderly rats.

The main issues that arise when feeding this kind of diet are overfeeding or not modifying it sufficiently to accommodate the changing needs of rats throughout their lives.

The ingredients

Percentages are by volume of the whole mix. I will explain how to measure these in the �making up the mix� section.

Base food. 40 to 60%.

Before I used straight grains as a base food I used a pellet free rabbit food called Alpha Herbal Deluxe mixed with Harrison's Banana Rabbit Brunch. This was well suited to the mix, as all of the ingredients are palatable, they weren't highly coloured and it has reasonable copper levels. However Alpha Herbal Deluxe changed their recipe in 2009 making it less suitable for feeding to rats, so I would recommend using an alternative rabbit food (or mixture of these):

  • Burgess Supa Fruiti Rabbit
  • Harrison�s Banana Rabbit Brunch
  • Burgess Supa Natural
  • Mr Johnson's Supreme Rabbit Mix (with fruit)
  • Jollyes Fruiti Guinea Pig If you select rabbit foods with some alfalfa/hay pellets then you will probably find that the rats leave these so there will be some waste.

    I prefer not to feed rat foods because of the poor quality meat products that they often contain. But if you are looking for a rat food as the base for your mix here are some of the better alternatives:

    • Xtra Vital Rat mix
    • Pets at Home Rat Muesli
    • Reggie Rat Premium Rat Food
    • Rupert Rat

    Dog kibble. 5 to 10%.

    I use Burns brown rice and fish complete dog food. Other suitable kibbles are:

    • James Wellbeloved Senior/Lite
    • Autarky Nature Lite
    • Nutro Choice Lite
    • Pascoes Complete Lite

    Uncooked pasta. 0 to 10%.

    I generally use wholemeal pasta spirals, but tricolour or white pasta can also be used. Spirals seem to be a good shape for the rats to eat easily. Do not feed pasta if your rats are overweight.

    Breakfast cereals, whole grains. 30% to 55%.

    Try to select a mixture of grains. I use at least 5 or 6 cereals selected from the following:

    • Shredded Wheat (broken or �bite sized�)
    • Weetabix (broken)
    • Sugar free puffed wheat
    • Weight Watchers multigrain flakes with apple
    • Whole Earth cornflakes (low sugar and salt)
    • Jordan�s 4 grain porridge oats
    • Jumbo oats
    • Oatibix
    • Sugar free puffed rice cereals
    • Plain rice cakes
    • Ryvitas � sesame seed or oat and pumpkin seed (broken)
    • Flaked grains e.g. flaked spelt, flaked barley, flaked wheat (not to be confused with wheat flakes which are laden with sugar).
    • Pearl or pot barley.
    NB There is a extensive cereal list here.


    Not part of the general mix but may be added in small quantities from time to time for interest:

    • Dog biscuits (e.g. Pedigree milk bones)
    • Plain banana chips
    • Broken uncooked noodles
    • Small amount of dried fruit or vegetables
    • Seeds and nuts

    Making up the mix

    To measure by volume simply use the same container to measure all of the ingredients. This can be a jug, or large scoop or something similar. Using this method an example of the mix would be:

    • Base mix 60%: 6 scoops/jugs/cups
    • Dog kibble 5%: half a scoop/jug/cup
    • Dried pasta 5%: half a scoop/jug/cup
    • Breakfast cereals 30%: 3 scoops/jugs/cups
    This is just an example of proportions. These proportions would be good for older well nourished rats who are no longer growing.

    Store the mix in a suitable container. Depending on the number of rats you own this could be a lidded bin, or a large Tupperware container.

    Common mistakes

    The overall mix has too little copper - a potential problem with many rat diets, but probably not as much of an issue as it was once thought to be, so long as you are feeding a varied diet with plenty of wholegrain.

    The cereal contain too much sugar - unless you are careful about selecting breakfast cereals it is possible to add a lot of hidden sugar to this diet. This may lead to obesity, tooth abscesses and reduced immune system health. Always check packaging.

    The dog kibble is too high protein or fat - many dog kibbles have protein in excess of 20%, and hugely varying fat content. Be careful to choose a suitable product and not to add it to the mix in excessive quantities.

    The mix remains the same for life - no one cereal diet can meet a rats needs form weaning to the end of its life. Any diet should be reviewed and modified as the needs of the rats change. As a general rule, younger rats need more dog kibble and calories overall. Very young rats should have access to food all of the time. Once growth slows down the volumes of food offered should be reduced or the rats will get fat. At this stage pasta and dog kibble can be reduced if needed.

    Additional fresh food

    In addition to the above mix, which would make up around 80% - 90% of an adult rat's diet, you should feed your rats a portion of fresh food each day. This food should be carefully chosen to supplement the dry diet with suitable nutrients. Stay away from moderate/high fat foods, high protein foods and anything with added sugar.

    Nutrient rich vegetables (such as curly kale, spring greens, broccoli and carrot) and herbs can make up the bulk of fresh food offered. Rats will also enjoy small amounts of carbohydrate foods (such as buckwheat, bulgar wheat, rice, cous cous, noodles, sweet potato, chick peas, sweetcorn) and some fruits � particularly berries � which have excellent nutritive qualities. It is also possible to add dried rabbit herbs to your mix to increase the greens available to your rats.

    For a special treat now and again you could replace a portion of the daily mix with Nature Diet Lite (wet dog food).