Guinea Pig Eating
What can guinea pigs eat?
What food to avoid? Are nutritional supplements a good idea?
Guinea Pig Manual answers common questions about healthy diet.
Proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and water are necessary nutrients for a cavy, as they are for any human being. Choose and combine them carefully to provide your pets with a healthy food plan.
In order to achieve optimal performance, guinea pigs must have these basic nutrients available 24/7:
2) Grass Hay
3) Pellets (lower priority than hay and water)
Also, it is highly recommended to provide your guinea pig with following healthy nutrients and organic products:
4) Vegetables (daily)
5) Fruits (occasionally)
6) Vitamin C (if not getting enough through vegetables and fruits)
NOTE: Guinea pigs have a sensitive digestive system which is easily upset. Always introduce new foods slowly and patiently. Begin with a very small piece, and if they like it, keep increasing the amount a little for the next serving. The way that you introduce nutrients is as important as a healthy diet.
Healthy food plan, priority #1: Water
Guinea Pigs need constant supply of clean, daily fresh, room-temperature plain water for optimal performance.
- Avoid distilled water (it does not provide minerals that are essential to important body functions).
- Avoid water high in minerals (especially calcium).
- Avoid putting medications, vitamins or any other supplements in water.
- Untreated tap water is usually not recommended (possibility of chlorine and heavy metal contamination), but this depends on the quality of your home water distribution which can be tested.
- Unflavored bottled drinking water or fresh spring water is recommended.
- Provide water in a cage-mounted drip bottle (to prevent contamination and/or spilling, which is usual for dish servings).
- Clean the drip bottle nozzle frequently (hay and pellet gunk can breed harmful bacteria and clog the water flow if not cleaned regularly).
Healthy food plan, priority #2: Hay
Guinea pigs are grazing animals. It is highly recommended to provide your guinea pig with unlimited amounts of grass hay, primarily for three reasons:
- Guinea Pigs’ teeth are continually growing, so they need to be constantly grazing and grinding (hay) to prevent teeth from over growing.
- Eating the long hay strands keeps their digestive system moving, and in good health.
- They can’t get fat from hay, not significantly anyway. Hay is only a modest source of protein and nutrients.
- When buying, hay should smell really nice, and should be greenish in color. Buying a fresh grass hay from a local farm would be a good choice in most cases.
- Avoid buying dusty, brownish hay with neutral or bad smell. Your pet might even refuse to eat it.
- Be careful not to buy straw instead of the hay. Straw is brown, much harder than hay, and has virtually no nutritional value.
There are two different common types of hays, and you need to know which one to use in which cases.
- Grass hay: Every guinea pig must have grass hay available at all times. Most famous example of this type is Timothy hay.
- Legume hay: Most famous example of this type is Alfalfa. This type is only recommended for pregnant cavies, young or sick cavies, as Alfalfa has more calcium, protein, and carbohydrates. It has to be used as a supplement, not as a replacement for a grass hay, which needs to be available for any cavy. Because of the high calcium content, it is not recommended to give Alfalfa to adult guinea pigs as there is a risk of formation of bladder stones.
NOTE: Pellets are not a substitute for hay. Lack of hay can lead to misalignment of the teeth that may require surgical correction, and gastrointestinal stasis - shutting down of the digestive tract which often leads to guinea pig death.
Healthy food plan, priority #3: Pellets for guinea pigs
- Not inevitable as hay or water, but plays a major roll in providing needed nutrients.
- Provide your guinea pig with about 1/4 – 1/8 cup of plain, dye free guinea pig pellets for eating.
- You can serve it in a small, relatively heavy ceramic bowl (to prevent tipping).
- It is recommended to buy pellets formulated with vitamin C.
- Store pellets in a dry, cool, dark place to preserve the potency of the vitamin C.
- Always look on for an expiration date to insure product freshness.
- Avoid pellets that use animal byproducts and those whose primary ingredient is corn.
- Do not feed other small animal pellets (like rabbit pellets), because the vitamin content is not the same, and can be harmful to your guinea pig in a long-term use.
- To prevent selective eating and junk chemicals, the boring, grayscale pellets are preferred over the funny colorful ones.
- Feed your guinea pig primarily green leafy vegetables.
- Some vegetables can be provided few times a day, some few times a week.
- It is strongly recommended to remove uneaten vegetables to prevent spoiling/rotting.
- Do not feed wilted or spoiled food.
- Don’t feed your guinea pig the same vegetables everyday - Variety is the key for maintaining guinea pig’s health.
- Be cautious about vegetables from the freezer – if the food is too cold, guinea pigs can get diarrhoea.
- NOT recommended: iceberg (high in nitrates and low in nutrients, can cause diarrhea if given in excess).
- NOT recommended: any vegetable in the cabbage family (it won’t kill them, but could cause bloat if feeding continuously), or beet greens (too high in oxalates)
4.1 Vegetables that guinea pigs can eat everyday
- Cucumber: Little nutritional value, but high water content – especially appreciated in summer
- Bell Peppers: Green and Yellow: Remove seeds
- Carrots: Both the root and the green tops are recommended (BUT take note that high sugar and Vitamin A content require moderate consumption)
- Green leaf lettuce
- Butterhead lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Red leaf lettuce
- Swiss chard (chard, silverbeet)
- Curly endive
- Belgian endive
- Sweet Potato leaves
- Chicory greens
4.2 Vegetables that guinea pigs can eat occasionally (few times weekly):
- Bell Peppers: Red/Orange (remove seeds)
- Asparagus (low in Vitamin C)
- Turnip greens
- Green leek tops: feed in moderation
- Pumpkin (WITHOUT seeds)
- Romaine (only small amounts recommended – it has a poor calcium/phosphorus ratio that can cause kidney stone problems)
- Spinach (small amounts recommended to avoid potential kidney stone problems)
- Broccoli leaves and peeled broccoli stem: Related to the cabbage family, so small doses recommended
- Cauliflower: Related to the cabbage family, so small doses recommended
- Kale: Related to the cabbage family, so small doses recommended
- Chinese Cabbage/pak-choi: Related to the cabbage family, so small doses recommended
- Corn silks and husks: When in season
- Parsley greens and root: Very high in calcium, so caution is recommended if guinea pig is prone to developing bladder stones
- Celery: Cut into small pieces as it is very stringy, to avoid guinea pig choking
- Celery leaves
- Fresh Grass: Clean, pesticide-free, not soiled by dogs/cats/etc, NOT cut by a lawn mower
- Tomato: Remove the poisonous tomato top (green part). Remove seeds if using a slice from a larger tomato
- Beetroot: Recommended in raw form rather than pickled. High in antioxidants and other nutrients. Feeding too often may result in red urine
- Carrot greens (high in calcium, potassium and vitamin C)
- Common grass (avoid ornamental ones)
- Chickweed (Stellaria media)
- Dandelions (Teraxacum officinale)
- Young clover (Trifollium repens or Trifolium pratense)
- Plantain (Plantago major, Plantago lanceolata)
- Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
- Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
- Yarrow (Achllea millefolium)
- WARNING: Make sure that forages are free of chemicals, exhaust fumes or animal urine. It is best to harvest them in nature, far from urban areas. Pick plants that are undamaged, and healthy-looking.
1. Many fruits are full of natural sugar, have fruit acid and possible low Ca:P ratio, which could lead to bladder problems.
2. Cut the fruits to small pieces to avoid mouth soreness.
3. ! Because of the high sugar content, fruits must be provided occasionally, as a treat. This means small quantities (such as 1/8 of an orange, 1/8 of an apple, etc.), only once or twice per week.
Fruits which you can occasionally give to your guinea pig:
- Apple: Thin wedge, include peel, REMOVE SEEDS which contain cyanide compound
- Pear: Thin wedge, include peel, no seeds
- Apricot: Dried, a couple small pieces
- Banana: Relatively low in vitamin C but rich in other nutrients. BUT, could cause constipation, so feed in great moderation.
- Seedless Grapes or Raisins: NOT BOTH, and very sparingly
- Strawberries: Another popular summer fruit, also very high in vitamin C
- Watermelon: high water content, could cause diarrhoea
- Cranberries: very high in vitamin C; too much can cause STOMACH UPSET
- Grapefruit: Pink, red, and white varieties are all good sources of vitamin C, but they can be too sour for some pigs. They are high in WATER content so are refreshing in warm weather.
- Kiwi: Extremely high in vitamin C and considered very good for cavies
- Mango: High water content makes it very refreshing
- Raspberries: Some guinea pigs find these too tart to eat; others love them
- Cherries: without pits
- Dried fruits: Full of concentrated sugar, so give rarely and in very small doses
5.1 Fruits to Avoid
Guinea pigs will eat most types of fruit, but some vets believe that grapes can lead to kidney disease and are best avoided. If you do decide to feed them to your pets, be sure to give them seedless grapes.
6. Vitamin C
Guinea pigs are, like humans, one of the very few mammals who can’t make their own vitamin C, so they need to get it from their food and food suplements (latter not recommended). Guinea Pigs are highly prone to getting scurvy and loss of resistance to other diseases, which is a disease caused by low levels of Vitamin C.
- Healthy, adult guinea pigs need 10mg/kg to 30 mg/kg per day of Vitamin C.
- Sick or pregnant guinea pigs need a minimum of 30 mg/kg per day.
- Water drops and tang are not recommended (they can even make cavies stop drinking water, if they dislike the taste).
- It is possible (depends on the many unique factors) that they receive adequate vitamin C from fresh vegetables and pellets, but not reliable.
NOTE: Multivitamins are NOT recommended. Excessive amounts of fat soluble vitamins like A and D can cause serious problems for your guinea pig.
CAUTION: Food to AVOID at All Costs
- Altered food: cooked, tinned, preserved, etc.
- Pickled vegetables: sour krauts, dills, capers
- Potatoes: skin and eyes are poisonous, very starchy, high in oxalic acid
- Nuts, Seeds, Lentils, Beans (exception are green beans)
- Red hot chilli peppers, Jalapeno peppers, Hot herbs and spices
- Collard Greens: could cause gas
- Bok choy
- Dairy products, Meat, Fish, Eggs, Bread, Chocolate
- Alcohol, Teas, Coffee, Carbonated Drinks, Fruit juices (exception can be made on sugar-free or unsweetened juices)
- Peanut butter, cakes, cookies, baked goods
- Iceberg lettuce: practically no nutritional value, very fibrous and watery
- Corn kernels, Popcorn: risk of choking
- Seeds: risk of choking
- Tomato leaves and stalks
- Tamarillo leaves
- Avocado, Coconut: too high in fat
- Taro: dangerous if eaten raw
- Jams, jellies and fruit preserves: too high in sugar
- Garlic or pungent onions
- Horseradish root
- Commercially grown flowers
- Wild plants, grasses, and herbs that you are unfamiliar with
- Any non guinea pig food which often contain seeds and different balance of vitamins and minerals which aren’t suited for a guinea pig’s dietary needs