Guinea pigs love to eat! One of the signs that they are healthy is that they have a great appetite and constantly nibble. Here are some tips and tricks about food that will help keep your piggie safe and well.
Guinea pigs need to eat regularly. It is important to have food available all the time. Their diet consists of 70% to 80% fibre which they obtain predominantly from a good source of hay. There are many different varieties available but please ensure it is always in the cage and always available.
Hay provides the necessary fibre to regulate their gut, but it also enables them to wear down not just their front teeth, but their rear teeth too.
When purchasing hay it is important to purchase hay that has long strands and is not cut into tiny sizes ( called Chaff). They need the long strands to work right through to their back teeth.
There are many different varieties of hay and their nutrient content does go up and down depending on wether it is a good season, with rain, little rain etc. However, It is important that any hay that you purchase does not have ‘black spots’ on it which means that it has been wet at some point. The black spots are fungal and it is not healthy for your piggie to eat this hay.
Timothy hay, Oaten hay, rye hay, barley hay, grassy hay are all excellent.
Lucerne hay ( Also known as Alfalfa hay) is part of the legume family and looks considerably different as it is green, is higher in calcium, fats and sugars. It is also very stalky and guinea pigs can ‘run’ into hay and get eye injuries called a hay poke. That aside, piggies do love lucerne hay ( as with all hays) but keep it as an occasional treat. It is recommended most for piggies that are under 6 months of age or for pregnant/lactating females.
Keeping your hay in an airtight container will keep it fresh and ensure that you don’t attract anything else to it.
In addition to a good hay, they will need a fresh source of vitamin C daily. Guinea pigs, like us, don’t make vitamin C and need to get this from their food. If they do not sufficient vitamin C, they become vitamin C deficient. The first signs of this are their rear legs not being able to move well, and piggies slowly start to drag them.
Vitamin C deficiency will kill. So providing your piggies with a fresh source of vegetables/fruit/grass daily will ensure this does not happen.
Providing their daily dinner/grasstime is also a social time for piggies as they just love to interact with you and nothing quite gets them as excited as knowing you are about to arrive with food!
How much fruit and veg do I feed my guinea pigs?
Fruit and vegetables are loved by all piggies and you will see them get very excited and often vocalize when you come with their dinner. As a rough guide 1 adult guinea pig will need 1 cup of fruit/veg per day. Variety is also the key! Don’t just feed a cup of one type of vegetable. Try and be creative in what you can offer. Your guinea pigs will thank you for it.
Piggies also have preferences and as you get to know them individually you will get to see what they like and enjoy most.
Pellets are predominantly made from hay. They are a different food source and depending on what hay they are made from will determine nutrient/fat values.
Pellets are made to include vitamins and minerals that are not found in hay and that will allow your guinea pig to have a healthy full diet. These include Vitamins A, B-12, C, D and E as well as minerals such as Phosphorous, Niacin, Selenium and Biotin.
There is a stong angument that if your piggies have a good source of hay and fresh vegetable/fruit/grass combinations daily that they do not require pellets. However pellets provide variety and interest to your piggie as well as supplimenting additional vitamins that may be missed.
Check what your pellets are made from. Lucerne based hay (otherwise known as Alfalfa) is higher in fat, sugar and calcium so this is best to give younger piggies that are growing and you can as a quide between 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup of pellets per day is sufficient for 1 guinea pig.
If the pellets are made from Timothy hay then you do not need to be as restrictive on them.
Guinea pigs always require a fresh clean source of water. You can have a water bottle on the side of their cage, or a bowl within the cage. Certainly bowls are faster and quicker to clean but they also become messier as piggies run through them and over them all the time. In summer, I always promote having 2 sources to ensure that they do not run out of water.
You will also notice in the cooler temperatures that they may not appear to be drinking. They are getting enough moisture from their wet vegetables in this case.
If you are using bowls making sure you have a heavy based ceramic bowl is best so they don’t knock it over.
Please consider if your piggie is outdoors, that they are exposed more to temperatures. High temperatures also affect the drinking water. Please watch this video at the bottom of the page.
What not to feed my guinea pigs?
I always advise the compost rule – “anything you don’t put in the compost – don’t feed your guinea pig”.
This includes any member of the onion family ( onions, shallots, chives, onion grass etc), citrus ( lemons, limes and oranges), no meat – dairy or bread. Of course guineapigs do not eat treats like us – so no lollies or artificial foods.
Guinea pigs are herbivores and they only eat plants!
Variety is key! If you were to feed just one item then there is higher chance of bloat occuring which is both extremely painful and lifethreatening.
Bloat is a severe distension within the gut through the process of fermentation. It is extremely painful and life threatening. A guinea pig with bloat feels like their tummy is a tight as a drum. It is imperative that you act immediately and get them vet attention.
The best action is to avoid this to begin with. If guinea pigs eat foods that cause more disruption to their gut than expected then bloat is a potential threat. In the same way that some vegetables can cause us to be ‘windy’ it also affects your piggies. These foods include the cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, cauliflower, brocoli, brussel sprouts. It also includes foods that have a high amount of water in relation to their fibre content – such as the stem of cellery, watermellon and melons in general, iceberg lettuce.
With all of the foods mentioned, piggies love them all. The problem is if they were to only eat these, it would cause an imbalance. So the key is variety. In addition, if a piggie has not had a certain item before, then introduce it slowly and in small amounts.
Safe options that are likely not to cause bloat are:Carrots, tomatoe, cucumber, corn, corn husk and silk, capsicum, celery leaves, spinach, herbs like parsley and corriander, grasses.
This is a quide for you to use while you make other introductions. As with all vegetables they have a wide variety of nutrients and enzymes so introducing them slowly keeps food really interesting for your guinea pigs.
As you learn more about these vegetables/fruits you will also hear and see things about solicilate levels, calcium and so forth. The larger issue at hand is to understand how to keep them safe from bloat so that by providing a rounded regular nutrient dense meal, they will love it and feel safe while you slowly introduce other items.