What & What Not To Feed Guinea Pigs?
Guinea pigs are usually not the overeater type, but if given the chance, they can still be prone to obesity. It is still important to monitor and know what the right guinea pig diet is. Primarily, guinea pigs are true herbivores like their cousin rabbit and chinchilla. This means their body is only adapted to digest food that is of plant origin.
In the wild, a guinea pig’s diet is mainly composed of grasses, herbs, and other plants. It shouldn’t be that much different from those cavies that are in captivity, right? But with a lot of plant-based food choices out there, how would you know which ones are good for your pet? Are all fruits and vegetables good for them? In simple terms, what not to feed your guinea pigs?
A guinea pig’s nutrient requirement for growth should be composed mainly of proteins, fiber, and vital minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, manganese, calcium, and iron. The essential vitamins needed are vitamin A, vitamin E, choline, and most especially ascorbic acid which is also known as vitamin C. This is because this particular vitamin cannot be synthesized inside a guinea pig’s digestive flora unlike in other animals.
Vitamin C is essential to the development and maintenance of skin and joints. It is also important in strengthening the immune system of the guinea pig. A deficiency in this vitamin may cause scurvy, skin problems, rough coat, diarrhea or even hemorrhages. Guinea pigs need about 10 – 50 milligrams of vitamin C per day depending on its age or condition.
Another important thing to know about guinea pig nutrition is that these rodents perform caecotrophy which is a type of digestive process. This process includes food going thru their intestines and is excreted by their body as a special dropping known as caecotroph.
Guinea pigs eat these caecotrophs to maximize the nutrients from the food that they eat. So don’t be alarmed if you will be able to see them one day eating their own droppings since this is a natural thing for them.
Guinea Pig Food List
Guinea pigs’ balanced diet should be composed of hay, cavy-specific pellets, vegetables, and fruits. A good supply of fresh water should accompany their diet. As with other pets, it is essential that they get all the nutrients they need for their overall health.
Grass hay should be made available to them daily and this should also comprise the majority of their diet. It is very good for their stomach and it provides the fiber requirement of a guinea pig’s digestive system. It also helps in filing the ever-growing teeth of cavies thru constant chewing and grinding.
There are two different types of hay that are available for guinea pigs which are the grass hay and the legumes. Grass hays such as Timothy, Meadow or Oaten hay are some types that you can give to your cavy.
The Timothy hay is the most common in pet stores and it is a good choice as it is of high-quality hay. You can purchase them in bulks as bales or in individual packs of 750g or 1.5 kilos.
The legume hay, on the other hand, includes the most common alfalfa (Lucerne) and clover. This type has a higher calcium, protein, and calorie content than the typical grass hay. It is only recommended for the young and pregnant guinea pigs. The high calcium content in legume hay usually results in urine or bladder stones for adult guinea pig in the long run.
Fresh grass may also be given to guinea pigs provided that it has been pulled by hand and not from a lawn mower cut. Fresh grass is a good source of vitamin C so it will be a good addition to your pig’s diet. Grass has a higher nutrient content during the spring and summer seasons so it can be considered as a seasonal food for your pet.
2. Commercial Guinea Pig Food Pellets
A good quality food pellet can also be provided to complete a guinea pig’s nutritional requirement. About 1/8 cups of pellet a day should be enough for your cavies. It should be noted that it is better to purchase a high quality, guinea pig-specific pellet to avoid health problems. Avoid also buying mix seeds or pellets as this can result to picky eating for your pet.
Mixes are usually made up of different types of seeds, nuts, hay, cereal, dried fruit, and vegetable matter. The problem is that some of its components cannot be digested by your guinea pig such as the nuts and dried fruit. They are high in fat, some also in sugar, so frequent feeding of these mixes may cause dental diseases and obesity.
Choose a food pellet that has 20% protein and 16% fiber in its composition which is usually seen at the back of the packaging. It is also preferred that a guinea pig food pellet should already have a vitamin C supplement in its formula to provide for the guinea pig’s recommended daily intake.
Preferably, a timothy hay-based pellet should be given to an adult guinea pig. The additional protein and calories in alfalfa hay-based pellets may cause obesity in your pig. It is also good to avoid those pellets that have chemical preservatives and artificial colors. Also, try to avoid pellets that list corn as one of the main ingredients as it does not provide any nutritional value.
Leafy greens and other vegetables can also be given once a day to your pig. About 1 cup of vegetables per pig should be provided, as recommended by The Humane Society of the United States on guinea pig feeding.
A variety of vegetables should be offered to supplement all the needed nutrients of your pig. Your guinea pigs will also get to enjoy the variety of vegetables that will be given to them.
Leafy green vegetables can be given each day; about 2 leaves or a teacup per serving. Examples of recommended greens are arugula, broccoli leaves, basil, turnip greens, watercress, endive, parsley, and kale.
Collard greens may be given sparingly – about once or twice a week due to their high calcium and vitamin A content. Kale should also be given occasionally even if it is a powerhouse vegetable since it contains the vitamins A, K, and C.
Lettuce variants can be given daily such as romaine, green leaf, and the red leaf but never the iceberg lettuce. This is because it causes diarrhea in guinea pigs due to its high nitrate and water content. On top of that, it doesn’t have any nutritional value to boot.
Other vegetables that you may offer are baby carrots, yellow and green bell peppers, radicchio, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, beets, asparagus, artichoke, cucumber, edible podded peas, and celery. It would be good to give your pigs about a cup of mixed, colorful vegetables a day to provide a good balance of vitamins and minerals.
Fresh fruits are usually considered as treats due to its naturally high sugar content; also known as fructose which, if not monitored, can also cause obesity in guinea pigs. They are known to have a sweet tooth so any sugary foods left in their dish will be eaten and finished first.
Fruits rich in vitamin C such as kiwi, apple, oranges or papaya are recommended to support the pig’s need. But the thing is, these fruits are usually sour so it should be given sparingly – about once or twice a week and cut into small pieces. This is primarily because too much sourness can cause sores in and around the guinea pig’s mouth which can be a source of infection.
Other fruits that may be safely offered are melon, pineapple, mango, melon, pear, plum, and watermelon. A lot of berry varieties may also be given like blackberries, blueberries, cherry, cranberries, gooseberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Banana and raisins can be given but should only be provided as a treat about once a month. Bananas usually cause constipation and should be fed in very small amounts while raisins that are bought in boxes are typically higher in sugar with preservatives.
It cannot be stressed enough to always remember to limit the serving portion of fruits. For example, a wedge of orange or 3 pieces of small-sized strawberries should only be given per feeding session.
Dietary Source of Vitamin C
As mentioned earlier, good sources of vitamin C may be provided thru vegetable and fruit consumption. Tomato (remove the leaves), bell pepper, spinach, asparagus, kale, parsley, and broccoli are the vegetables which are high in ascorbic acid.
You should discuss with your veterinarian first if you are considering getting a supplement for your cavies if you think they do not get enough vitamin C from their food. There are ascorbic acid supplements in the form of tablets or liquid and it is best to talk to your vet about the most efficient form specific to your cavy.
Though mostly, it is recommended that a supplement is given orally rather than putting it in their water because it loses its effectiveness as it degrades in water easily.
Also try to avoid the chewable, gummy vitamin C supplements that you might spot in a pet store. These chewables are usually made with high sugar content and therefore may trigger illness in your guinea pig.
It is also advisable to buy pellets fortified with vitamin C in small packs, should be resealable, and kept away from light. Typically, this type of pellets should be consumed within 90 days from their manufacturing date to maximize the potency of the vitamin. The same goes for guinea pig treat in packs that are usually fortified with 25 milligrams of ascorbic acid.
You might also think what will happen if you give too much vitamin C to your guinea pig? It would be quite difficult to overdose on this vitamin as it’s one of the water-soluble types. This means that whatever the body needs will be absorbed while the excess will be excreted through their urine. Studies also show that large doses of vitamin C don’t have any toxic effect to guinea pigs that are fed with a well-balanced diet.
Awareness of the signs of vitamin C deficiency is important to keep your pig’s health in check. Acute deficiency symptoms can be typically observed in two weeks.
Early signs would be a loss of weight and appetite loss then followed by anemia. It will be coupled with internal bleeding and muscle damage. You will be able to observe them physically through swollen joints, diarrhea, eyes and nose discharge, and poor skin condition.
Unsafe Foods for Guinea Pigs
Not all fruits and vegetables are good for your guinea pigs as some can be poisonous to their small body. Below are some of the guinea pig foods to avoid:
- Potato and potato tops
- Rhubarb (including the leaves)
- Tomato leaves
- Raw beans
There are also some tasty human treats that could be toxic to your pet. Most human treats result to enterotoxaemia in cavies which is an imbalance of bacterial flora in their gut. It is best to avoid giving these foods or their by-products:
- Caffeine-containing food
- Peanut butter
- Corn kernels
- Dairy products
- Pickled products
- Cereals and breakfast cereals
Prevent giving them any flowers or plants from your garden because they might contain pesticides and some houseplants are toxic. If you are unsure about the safety of a particular food, it is best to avoid it and stick to the recommended food varieties. There are a lot to choose from anyway and your cavies will surely be happy already with these choices.
Guinea Pig Feeding Schedule
A guinea pig may be easily stressed with a sudden change in its environment or even its schedules. Like other animals, it has a set time for doing its daily activities such as foraging or napping or even going to the toilet. Guinea pigs live better in a structured life as it gives them a sense of comfort and security.
This includes their eating time so it is better that you have a feeding schedule that you can work around with. A good routine would be to visit them at least twice a day to check on their food. Feeding them their dry and fresh food in the morning then replenishing their hay in the evening would be nice. It will already provide the nibbling that they need and enjoy for the whole day.
Here are some guides to keep you on track of the guinea pigs’ diet and ultimately their health:
- Introduce new food to them slowly to avoid diarrhea and stress. Try to inject a variety of fruits and vegetables to them while they’re still young so you would have an idea what they do and don’t like.
- Always give them fresh food and avoid giving them rotten or any discolored part of a plant as this may cause an upset stomach.
- Check for any unfinished fresh food in your pig’s dish and throw them away before they spoil.
- Replace their food pellets daily, especially those fortified with vitamin C because guinea pigs sometimes contaminate their dishes by accidentally kicking in their droppings into their dry food.
- Buy only clean hay with a grassy scent and a tinge of color green left in them. Never give your guinea pigs a dusty or moldy hay as this could become poisonous to them.
- Store your hay stocks properly in a dry area to avoid mold formation.
- If you have given them grass inside their cages, remove them after an hour as grasses easily decompose.
- Always wash the fruits and vegetables before serving them to remove the possible residual pesticides and dirt.
- Do not serve cold vegetables because they will put your guinea pigs off that may result in them not eating that particular vegetable anymore. Always serve them at room temperature.
- Too many fruits and vegetables can cause diarrhea in guinea pigs. If this happens, increase their intake of timothy hay to improve their digestion while decreasing their fresh food supply until they go back to normal.
- Avoid giving them multivitamins as this can cause an overdose of some vitamins and minerals. Always consult your veterinarian prior to giving them any supplement.
- Carefully read all the labels of commercial food or treats in the market and avoid those with artificial sweeteners, sugar, and salt.
You will know if your guinea pigs have a balanced diet and are taking in the right nutrients by looking at their feces. A well-formed fecal pellet shows that their digestive system is functioning properly.
It is also a good sign if you hear a “wheeking” sound from them whenever you feed guinea pigs. It just means that they are eagerly anticipating for their food and enjoy them.