Ingredients Used by Sherwood

Blended Hay

Say NO to Soy!

Instead of relying on soybean meal like other brands we use a blend of legumes and grasses to provide a balanced healthy source of protein that small herbivores like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are adapted to. As a result you’ll notice a major decrease in the smell in the litter box which is caused by wasted protein.

Timothy Hay and Alfalfa Hay

Many people have concerns about feeding a pelleted food containing alfalfa hay (blended with timothy grass hay) to adult rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas . This question has arisen because of two concerns about alfalfa, namely Calcium and Calories.

Calcium: The issue of calcium is readily addressed by understanding that calcium in the diet does not cause calcium sludge or stones in the urinary tract. Research has clearly shown that a high urine pH causes calcium to precipitate out of the urine even in bunnies fed a low calcium diet. A high urine pH is caused by bacterial infection. It can also occur in low calcium diets that rely on soybean meal as a protein source because it leads to high levels of protein waste and increased urea production… evidenced by the horrible ammonia smell in the litter box.

Calories: Alfalfa does have a slightly higher calorie content than grass hay does. However, calories alone do not cause them to gain weight. The balance of the diet is far more influential. In fact, small herbivores like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas consuming a balanced diet based on alfalfa and grass will actually burn excess body fat and gain healthy muscle tone while those eating a soy and grain-based diet will easily gain unwanted body fat.

Ingredients Used by Sherwood

Whole Flax

Whole oil seeds v.s grain-byproducts: We use our own proprietary blend of whole natural oil seed(s) (flax is a major part) as a source of energy instead of using wheat middlings or grain by-products. This is proven to improve the health of rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas and their protein and energy efficiency. We currently are keeping the identity of our blend proprietary but we guarantee it is GMO free because Sherwood Forest uses absolutely NO SOY and NO CANOLA! Someday we will reveal our secret and I’m sure we’ll find other brands following our example.

Vitamin E, Antioxidants, and Omega 3’s: Oil seeds like flax are loaded with natural vitamin E and other antioxidants that help rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas be healthy. As a result they provide our foods with the highest concentrations of natural vitamin E ever found in any brand of food. These oil seeds also provide essential fatty acids (omega 3’s and 6’s) and amino acids that help balance the protein in Sherwood’s food.

Ingredients Used by Sherwood

Our Adult food formulas are grain-free.
Whole Millet

However, we do use a small amount of whole millet in our baby food formulas because it helps boost the natural fermentation patterns needed to break down the cellulose fiber in their diet and produce ample amounts of B-vitamins. Millet is GMO-free.

Ingredients Used by Sherwood

Sherwood’s custom formulas are VERY DIFFERENT!

Chelated minerals: We fortify our food formulas with chelated minerals and certain vitamins to balance what is naturally found in the rest of the ingredients. We put a lot of research into our formulas to ensure a balanced bio-availability of all the minerals, especially the trace elements that are so crucial to long-term health.

Natural vitamins:Furthermore our formulas are focused on providing natural vitamins already present in the ingredients (like vitamin E in whole flax, and the vitamin A precursor known as beta-carotene in fresh green hay). This way we ensure your bunny receives the full potency of natural vitamins while avoiding the all too common side effects of toxicity caused by synthetic vitamins (such as A and D3). Additionally have very detailed knowledge about the fermentation patterns in the caecum and how much of each of the B-complex and other vitamins are produced. To this we add certain vitamins that further optimize the balance of nutrients needed to unleash your bunnies full metabolic potential… rewarding you with more binkying than ever before.

Choline is an important part of cell membranes. Without it the cells of tissues rupture and die. A diet that is low in choline causes cirrhosis of the liver and poor health. Choline is also used to build acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter needed for memory and to stimulate the muscles.

Healthy rabbits and chinchillas make adequate amounts of vitamin C but stressed pets will benefit from supplementation. Guinea pigs require vitamin C but be careful not to overdose.

The Reason why Sherwood is Healthier


Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are a special type of herbivore (plant eater) sometimes referred to as a FIBERvore. This means that to be healthy, they need to be selective with the types of plants they eat. The reason for this lies in an understanding of their unique digestive system.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are “hind-gut fermenters” meaning that after they digest and absorb nutrients from their food, the remaining undigested material is shuttled into the caecum. The caecum is located at the end of the small intestine but before the large intestine (where water is reabsorbed). This location ensures that only undigested fiber (primarily cellulose) provides material to fuel the slow growth of the healthy bacteria housed in the caecum. In this sense, cellulose acts like a probiotic. This mixture of cellulose “incubates” and is fermented by bacteria for up to 8 hours producing nutrients that can be absorbed directly across the mucosal wall. The remaining material is formed into mucous coated caecotrophs that are re-ingested and further digested providing some additional nutritional value.

This entire process supplies rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas with the energy wielding B-vitamins, a small amount of high quality protein, and a significant amount of very short chain volatile fatty acids (a main energy source).


This can all go wrong if your pet eats too much of the wrong things. Generally speaking this means anything that is high in starch or protein. It also includes overloading the diet with the simple fibers that are found in fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens. These fibers are not digested and absorbed but instead stimulate the rapid growth of bacteria that grow faster than the healthy bacteria that are responsible for digesting cellulose.

The growth of these “bad” bacteria can change the pH of the caecum which favors faster growth and the production of large amounts of gas. For example, a sudden influx of starch (grains), soybean meal or simple fibers can stimulate a few stray bad bacteria cells growing in the caecum to grow and double every 20 minutes into a population of over a half billion cells within 8 hours of fermentation. This growth potential of bacteria highlights the important responsibility we have to ensure our pets maintain a stable hay-based diet with very limited access to “treats”. Too many treats can cause unhealthy fermentation patterns that lead to uneaten caecotrophes, bloating, G.I. stasis, megacolon, or even diarrhea.


A “hay” based diet supports the stable growth of healthy bacteria that provide just enough nutrition for wild rabbits to survive and reproduce. However because hay and veggies are often deficient in key nutrients rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas need for optimal health and a longer life, domestic pet greatly benefit from a fortified and balanced diet.

This is why it has become common practice to feed domestic pets at least some pellets that provide additional nutrients. Sadly most pellets are grain and soy based and lack the right types of FIBER particles they need for proper gut motility. Furthermore most manufactures of pet food adjust their formula with every batch they make by adding in more or less soybean meal/grain to compensate for the variable protein content of the hay they use. This means the food is never the same from batch to batch even if it is from the same company.


For these reasons a pelleted diet based upon grain and soy cannot be relied upon EVEN IF THE FIRST INGREDIENT IS HAY. To compensate for this issue veterinarians have recommended that we add hay to our pets diet to dilute the grain and soy the pellets contain. However this also dilutes the additional vitamins and mineral trace-elements the pellets provide that are needed for optimal health.


The ideal diet for domestic pets is a hay-based diet that is fortified with additional nutrients to support long-term health. The easiest way to provide these additional nutrients is in a formulated balanced pellet.

Instead of adding cheap grain as an energy source it would be far better to provide a small amount of whole natural oil seeds, especially flax seeds that are rich in omega 3’s. The reasoning behind this approach is because rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas do not digest starch (grain) very well but are highly efficient at digesting oils. Also, they regulate their food intake based upon the concentration of calories in the diet. This means that the quantity of all nutrients in the diet needs to be balanced according to a limited total calorie content.


The right ratio can actually help your pet to gain healthy weight and simultaneously shed excess body fat. To date, most pellets have been so far out of balance that they contribute to weight problems rather than solve them.


Furthermore a hay-based diet allows rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas to utilize natural vitamin precursors that they can convert to active vitamins on an as needed basis. I speak specifically about the common practice of adding synthetic vitamin A and D3 to pellets.

World renowned rabbit nutritionist F. Lebas says that adding synthetic vitamin A to pellets is “nutritional nonsense” (2000) and can lead to toxicity problems. Alternatively a hay based-diet provides ample amounts of beta-carotene, a natural pro-vitamin A source.

Also, because of the way rabbits regulate their calcium metabolism it causes them to be over 40x more sensitive to vitamin D3 than other mammals (Eason 1993). Adding it to their diet stimulates them to actively absorb more calcium from their diet and prevents them from eliminating excess calcium through the urine.

Instead of adding synthetic vitamin D3 to their diet it is best to provide your pets access to natural daylight or to feed them sun-cured hay. Both approaches provide them with vitamin D2, the natural precursor that they can convert on an as needed basis to active vitamin D3.


Although most companies add vitamin D3 in concentrations that are within recommended limits (800 to 1000 I.U. /kg of food) they could still be overdosing. A study found that a well-balanced diet containing 1000 I.U./kg of D3 lead to the calcification of the aorta in 40% of rabbits older than 2 years, 28% of rabbits between 1 and 2 years, and 1.5% of rabbits younger than a year. How is this possible? The label on the package of food reports the minimum added D3 and does not account for the actual amount in the food. Furthermore sun-cured hay has ample amounts of D2 so that pets eating a hay-based diet don’t need to be supplemented with D3.


For optimal health rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas still do benefit from pellets that provide the needed additional nutrients that are found only in limited amounts in hay and veggies. However avoid grain/soy-based pellets that contain added synthetic vitamin D3 and A. Instead look for a hay-based pellet without these two vitamins. Ideally this hay-based pellet should be green and nutritionally balanced. It should contain whole natural oil seeds rich in vitamin E and higher quality chelated minerals promoting a longer and healthier life for your bunny. You’ll know that your bunny is healthy on the inside because it will shine through in their improved energy levels and the quality of their fur coat on the outside.

Works Cited:

Eason, CT 1993 .The Acute Toxicity of Cholecalciferol to the European Rabbit, Oryctolagus Cuniculus. Wildlife Research 20(2):173-176

Lebas F. 2000. Vitamins in Rabbit Nutrition: Literature Review and Recommendations. World Rabbit Science 2000. 8:158-192

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Hay Meal
Timothy Hay meal is simply timothy hay that was ground up with a hammer mill, pelleted, and then reground again. Most pet food manufactures buy and store timothy meal in large quantities. This process is necessary to ‘compress’ the hay enough that it can be incorporated into a quality pellet otherwise it will make a ‘fluffy’ pellet. This does make the hay more digestible without sacrificing the long-stem fiber needed for proper gut health. The only downside is that the meal oxidizes more quickly than just baled hay. For this reason it is best to store timothy hay as a pellet which stores better than just baled hay and then only grind it just prior to using to make a fresh batch of food pellets.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Soybean Hulls
Soybean hulls are a cheap by-product used to boost the fiber level of the food It is a lot cheaper than using timothy hay and actually contains more fiber than timothy hay. However it usually contains dust and other possible contaminants while providing little nutritional value. Ironically most brands of pellets contain just slightly less soybean hulls than timothy meal just to make timothy first on the list of ingredients. It would be far better to skip on the soybean hulls and just add in 2x more hay!

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Wheat Middlings
Wheat middlings are a by-product of the wheat milling process. It is a very cheap source of protein (about 18%) and carbohydrates. As a result it has become a principle ingredient in pellets (next to soybeans hulls). However the protein in wheat middlings is a very poor source of many essential amino acids and is not balanced for small herbivores like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas. This also contributes to the ammonia smell of the litter box. Also, too much starch found in wheat middlings can cause diarrhea, bloat, or stasis.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Soybean Meal
Soybean meal is a high protein by-product after extracting oil from soybeans. It is often used as the primary source of protein. However, rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are not adapted to the amino acid profile found in soy protein. As a result much of the protein that is digested and absorbed actually gets wasted and eliminated in the urine. This causes the litter box to smell. It also greatly increases the risk for urinary sludge and stones by increasing the pH of the urine. Too much soybean meal also can cause digestive problems as it increases the nitrogen load on the caecum.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Molasses is a by-product from food processing. It is very high in sugar which helps to bind the pellet together. It makes the pellet sweeter to help encourage them to eat all of the other less-appetizing junk that is in the pellet.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Sodium Bentonite

Sodium bentonite is a cheap clay mineral that acts as a binder and it also swells as it absorbs several times its own weight in water. This is not a natural food for rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas and is often sold as cat litter.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Soybean Oil

Soybean oil is a cheap refined vegetable oil that is chemically extracted and heated to remove the hexanes. It is lacking in vitamin E and other antioxidants and likely contains trans-fats.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Lignin Sulfonate

Lignin Sulfonate: Lignin Sulfonate is by-product from making paper and is used to make concrete or to tan leather. It is used as a binder to make a more compact pellet. It can negatively impact beneficial bacterial fermentation in the caecum!

Ingredients Used by Other Brands


Limestone is simply caclium carbonate. Carbonate dissolves into carbon-dioxide and is vented off as gas leaving only calcium behind.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Yeast Culture

Yeast Culture: Grains are fermented by common quick yeast used for bread making or brewing beer. The yeast is then preserved by drying the resulting fermented mixture. The idea is that the yeast have partially digested the grain and produced B-vitamins and other nutrients. However, the actual concentration of B-vitamins in the yeast culture is small enough that it would require a large amount of the culture to be in the food to make any significant contribution. Also, quick yeast is not a native microbe in the gut. We do not recommend using this as an ingredient.

Ingredients Used by Other Brands

Other Brands

Minerals: Most brands add minimal amounts of minerals needed to avoid deficiencies. However measurable improvements in health can be achieved by providing optimal amounts of minerals in a balanced formula Compare to Sherwood Formulas. To achieve the proper levels of key minerals they need to be provided in an organic chelated form so their absorption is efficient and so they don’t cause unwanted mineral interactions limiting the bioavailability of other trace minerals. Cheap inorganic minerals such as Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous (iron) Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, and Magnesium Sulfate also speed oxidation of nutrients in the food. Furthermore, hay is naturally rich in iron and magnesium so if the pellet contained enough hay there would be no need to add these inorganic minerals.

Synthetic Vitamins: SYNTHETIC VITAMIN D AND VITAMIN A is commonly added to pellets despite research showing its harmful effects.

VITAMIN D: Rabbits are 40x more sensitive to the active form of vitamin D (D3) than other mammals. For rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas vitamin D3 in excess will cause developmental deformities with higher levels being lethal. Active vitamin D3 stimulates them to actively absorb more calcium from their diet and it prevents the kidneys from expelling it in the urine. Most brands add it even though it isn’t needed. It is best to allow rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas access to natural day light because the UV rays stimulate the formation of the natural vitamin D3 precursor (vitamin D2) in the skin. However, a properly formulated diet (higher quality ingredients – i.e. a green hay-based diet) will have ample amounts of natural vitamin D2 that they can convert on an as needed basis to the active form (vitamin D3).

Synthetic Vitamin A is considered NUTRITIONAL NONSENSE: Most brands add synthetic vitamin A and many add borderline toxic amounts. Research shows that adding synthetic vitamin A to a balanced hay-based diet is “nutritional nonsense” because it can build up over time and induce toxicity problems. Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas can store large quantities of vitamin A in the liver. Signs of toxicity begin to occur when it becomes overloaded and starts to release excesses into the blood. That is why problems can occur seemingly “spontaneously.” Furthermore vitamin A and D3 interact with each other so that imbalances between the two vitamins can cause similar health problems.

VITAMIN E: The manufacturing process used to make synthetic vitamin E commonly added to pet food leads to the production of various “chiral stereoisomers,” or different synthetic forms of vitamin E. It has also been called “mixed tocopherols” which are used instead of chemical preservatives. These other forms of vitamin E may not be as bio-available and their presence dilutes the effective dosage the food may claim to have (as low as only 12.5% as effective due to 8 chiral stereoisomers).

IN THIS CASE MORE IS BETER: Vitamin E dosage recommendations have increased many fold over the years. Initially minimum values were presented that prevent nutritional muscular dystrophy and other health issues. Current research now touts many of the added benefits attributed to increasing the dietary dosage of vitamin E.

THE SOURCE MATTERS! Many brands that add refined oils (lacking in vitamin E) to increase the energy content will unknowingly create a vitamin E deficiency. This is because the ratio of vitamin E to the amount of fat in the diet is important.

The Color of Other Brands

Other Brands

After looking at the ingredients is there any wonder why these pellets are brown?

Why do Other Brands Use Soy?

Soy contains high levels of phytate (phytic acid), a molecule that binds to minerals (phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc) so that your pet cannot absorb them from their diet. This causes poor health.

Soy is generally added as a source of protein but ironically it contains trypsin inhibitors that block the enzyme trypsin from digesting the protein consumed by your pet. This can lead to pancreatic disorders and any other malady caused by a protein deficient diet. Additionally, any protein that isn’t digested before it reaches the end of the digestive tract will enter the ceacum and cause problems that lead to bloat, stasis, or diarrhea. What’s the point of adding it?

Soy contains significant levels of phytoestrogens that are potent antithyroid agents that lead to thyroid problems including hypothyrodism, cancer, and autoimmune thyroid disease. This causes problems with metabolism, energy levels, and eventually excessive weight gain.

Soy contains a vitamin B12 analog that replaces the good vitamin B12 in your body with a imitation that doesn’t work. This also causes problems with metabolism and energy levels. There are many additional reasons why we make our premium foods soy-free but I hope you’re already convinced that it is best to avoid soy!