Whether you’re a proud new parent to a guinea pig or are considering adding one to your family, it’s essential to know what guinea pigs can eat, and of course, what they can’t. Guinea pigs are classified as herbivores, which means they don’t eat meat. Instead, they thrive on a diet of hay, pellets, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
For your cavy to stay healthy, it’s important to limit his intake of veggies and fruit, as an imbalance in nutrition can result in obesity (yes, they love to eat). Chronic diarrhoea, as well as more serious conditions that can affect his kidneys, liver and heart.
Top 7 Things Guinea Pigs Can Eat
As tempting as it might be to share your favourite foods with your guinea pig, you could unknowingly be killing him with kindness. There are certain foods your piggy can eat, and some that he can have in limited amounts. There are also foods you need to avoid giving him under any circumstances.
Let’s take a look at the top 7 things guinea pigs can, and should, eat.
Pellets and nuggets are specially formulated to provide your guinea pig with all the nutrients he needs, including vitamin C. Look for pellets that are tested and approved by vets, and read the label for recommended portion sizes.
Guinea pigs are also fibrevores, which means fibre is an essential part of their diet, to aid proper digestion. Meadow hay is an excellent source of fibre, and we recommend that your guinea pig has access to it at all times. Make sure that it’s fresh, dry and free of mould.
There are different types of hay available, and it’s a good idea to occasionally mix it up, so he doesn’t get bored of the same thing, day in and day out.
Timothy hay is easily the most popular hay for guinea pigs. In fact, if your guinea could speak, he’d probably ask for it by name.
But before you rush out and buy all the packets you can find, we suggest you check whether it’s first, second or third cuttings. First cut timothy hay might be a little too coarse, while the third cut is relatively low in fibre. Second cut hay is just right. It’s packed full of fibre, with plenty of protein and it’s low in fat. It’s also delicious.
Orchard Grass Hay
If you’re looking for something different to occasionally feed your piggy, orchard grass hay is a great option. Just like timothy hay, it can be used as bedding, and it’s delicious to eat. Breakfast in bed for your favourite guinea!
Botanical hay is like a smorgasbord of different flavours and textures and is a firm favourite with cavies. There’s a little bit of everything here, including dried petals, and yummy herbs such as chamomile, clover, lavender and lemon balm.
Oat hay is rich in fibre and has a crunchy texture that guinea pigs love. It’s good for your pet’s overall health, as it’s low in protein, carbohydrates and calcium.
Alfalfa and Clover Hay
Classified as legumes which are both higher in sugar, fat and calcium than other types of hay. They’re suitable for guinea pigs that are six months or younger, as well as pregnant or nursing cavies. Adult guinea pigs should only have these as an occasional treat.
While your guinea pig will get all the nutrition he needs from good-quality pellets and hay, you can include vegetables in his diet. Fresh, organically grown veggies are best, and can be fed daily, but should be limited to one cup a day. Safe (and delicious) vegetables include:
- Tomatoes (but without the leaves and stem)
- Red and green bell peppers
- Romaine lettuce
Fruit provides your guinea pig with essential vitamin C he needs to stay healthy. Because most fruits have high sugar content, we recommend one or two bite-size portions a day. The best fruits for your guinea pig are as follows:
You must wash vegetables and fruit thoroughly before feeding them to your guinea pig. Also, they should be served at room temperature rather than cold.
The idea of your guinea pig eating his own poop could be considered somewhat bizarre, if not downright yuck, but cecotropes are an essential part of your pet’s diet. These soft pellets (not poo) are made up of nutrients that have been absorbed in the digestive process and contain all the nutrients your adult guinea pig needs to stay healthy. Baby cavies also benefit from this delicacy before they switch to solid foods.
6. Vitamin C
Because guinea pigs can’t break down vitamin C, they’re prone to getting scurvy. Ideally, your pet needs between 30 and 50 mg of this essential vitamin. Many of the pellets and hays that are commercially available are fortified with vitamin C. or, if you prefer, there are liquid and tablet supplements. Of course, vegetables and fruit provide your guinea pig with a natural source of the vitamin. Make sure they’re on our list, and that they’re fresh and have been washed.
7. Chew treats
Guinea pigs’ teeth are continually growing, which can lead to serious dental issues, including a condition called slobbers. Healthy treats and other fun chew toys are an excellent way to stop your guinea pig’s teeth growing too long, and they relieve boredom.
It’s important to remember that fruits and other treats should only make up approximately 10 percent of your piggy’s diet. Always check the label to make sure commercially bought treats don’t contain sugar, salt or artificial sweeteners.
Foods You Should Never Feed Your Guinea Pig
There are certain foods that you should never, ever feed your guinea pig. Some of these are potentially fatal, while others have too much sugar or fat which your pet can’t digest. We’ve included a list of foods that should be avoided at all costs.
Dairy products of any type aren’t good for your guinea pig. They don’t have the necessary enzymes to digest and effectively breakdown things like cheese, cream, sour cream, kefir, yoghurt or yoghurt drops. Feeding your guinea dairy will result in damage to his digestive system.
Meat in any form is bad for your plant-eating cavy. And this includes the meat by-products found in cat and dog foods. As is the case with dairy, guinea pigs’ digestive systems are not built for anything other than plants. Giving your pet meat can lead to serious health issues
As delicious as avocado is, it has a high-fat content and can cause serious weight issues for your guinea pig. The skin, however, seems to be toxic, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
4. Iceberg Lettuce
Although lettuce is a healthy food choice for your guinea pig, iceberg lettuce leaves aren’t. These, along with other lighter lettuces, can cause diarrhoea in guinea pigs. This can lead to dehydration and even death.
5.Cauliflower and Cabbage
Cauliflower and cabbage can cause bloating in guinea pigs. And because they’re unable to pass wind, it can lead to severe abdominal pain and cramps.
6.Tomato stems and leaves
The leaves and stems of tomatoes contain solanine and tomatine, two alkaloids that are incredibly toxic for guinea pigs. The leaves also contain phosphorous and calcium, which can cause urinary problems, including bladder and kidney stones.
Chocolate is an absolute no-no for your guinea pig. Your piggy’s digestive system is extremely sensitive and is unable to digest the sugar (and dairy). Also, chocolate contains theobromine. This ingredient is similar to caffeine in that it speeds up your guinea pig’s heart rate.
Other foods that are bad for your guinea pig include:
- Potatoes (including the peel, and potato sprouts)
- Onions, leeks or chives
- Seeds, pits and cores of fruit
If you’re ever in doubt as to what constitutes healthy food for your guinea pig, it’s worth thinking about what they would eat in nature.
Tips for Feeding Your Guinea Pig
Knowing how to feed your cavy is as important as knowing what (and what not) to feed him.
Make Sure Your Guinea Pig Has Fresh Water
Your guinea pig’s diet consists mainly of dried pellets and hay, which means he doesn’t get a lot of moisture from his food. Make sure he has access to clean, fresh and chlorine-free water at all times., especially during the warmer months. Rinse his water bottle out daily, and clean it with hot water. Use a bottle brush once a week.
Feed Your Guinea Pig Twice a Day
Your guinea pig needs to be fed twice a day, in the morning and at night. If allowed, cavies will over eat, which can lead to weight issues. It’s best to remove any uneaten food, including pellets, and don’t add new food before you’ve cleaned out the old.
Keep Your Guinea Pig’s Diet Varied
For a happy and healthy guinea pig, we recommend you feed him a varied diet. There are loads of healthy fruits and vegetables to choose from, so feel free to mix it up.
Make Sure Your Guinea Pig Has Access to Hay
Remember, your guinea pig is fibrevorous, which means he needs loads of fibre for a healthy digestive system. Make sure he has access to fresh and clean grass and hay 24/7.
Don’t Serve Food in Plastic Bowls
Guinea pigs love to chew, and if given a chance, they’ll eat their plastic food bowl too. Instead, serve your cavy’s food in a ceramic dish. The heavier, the better, as he won’t be able to overturn it.
Keep Your Guinea Pig’s Food Fresh
Don’t leave uneaten food in your guinea pig’s cage. Known for being picky eaters, piggies prefer their food fresh.
Adjust Food Quantities if Your Guinea Pig is Gaining or Losing Weight
Keep an eye on your guinea pig’s waistline. If you notice that he’s gaining, or losing weight, adjust the quantities accordingly. Keep in mind that the amount of food he needs will change, depending on his age, overall health and lifestyle. Always read the label for the correct serving portions. If you’re still not sure, speak to your vet.
Grazing is Good for Guinea Pigs
Your guinea pig loves grazing so let him do it every now and then. Never leave him unsupervised, or let him graze on a lawn with any kind of chemicals or pesticide. Keep an eye on the weather, and if it’s particularly hot, make sure there’s a shady spot available.
For his safety, and your peace of mind, it’s a good idea to get an enclosed outdoor run, where your guinea pig can run and graze without worrying about other animals, including predatory birds.
One of the simplest ways to ensure your guinea pig is happy and healthy is with a well-balanced and varied diet. Ideally, your guinea pig’s diet should consist mainly of pellets and hay, which are rich in fibre. Veggies can be served daily, but it’s best to limit fruit to the occasional treat. Introduce new foods slowly to prevent diarrhoea, and stop feeding him any foods that don’t agree with him.
If your guinea pig shows any signs of being unwell, get him to your vet immediately. Diarrhoea, weight and hair loss, crusty eyes and sneezing are usually signs that something is wrong.
Did you find this article helpful? If you have any questions regarding your guinea pig’s diet, please get in touch.