Any guinea pig owner knows how much their cavy likes to chew, eat, and eat some more. An added benefit is that with so much fresh produce in the house, you can start eating healthy foods with your pet. However, not everything you eat is appropriate for your piggy.
Guinea pigs are not omnivores, they are herbivores. Their diet consists of strictly vegetables, leafy greens, and fruits. Anything outside of that could be dangerous.
Today we are going to learn what goes into a proper guinea pig diet and why it matters.
Guinea pig are Herbivores
Guinea pigs do not eat meat, meaning they only eat fruits, vegetables, and grasses. Meat is not a part of their diet because their digestive system will not process it. If you give a piggy meat, they will most likely not eat it. However, if they do, they need to be taken to a vet right away. Nuts and seeds are also not a part of a guinea pig’s diet and should be avoided.
All pellets that you feed your cavy should be fortified vegetables and hay, depending on the brand you buy. The nutrition facts of your guinea pig’s food are just as important as your own food. Guinea pigs have very sensitive systems that should be treated with care.
Guinea pigs like to stick to nutrient-rich leafy greens such as spinach, parsley, and romaine lettuce. Next time you are making yourself a salad, be sure to give your guinea pig some too! However, they should avoid iceberg lettuce. This lettuce has no nutritional value and can upset your piggy’s sensitive stomach, causing diarrhea.
Several other fruits and vegetables are safe for guinea pigs to eat as well and we’ll dive into that list in a moment. Another thing to keep in mind is the amount of fruit you give your piggy. Fruit is high in sugar and should be given sparingly as a treat. A small treat once a day should suffice.
The last component of a healthy diet is hay. Guinea pigs love hay. In fact, my little cavy starts popcorning once I refill her feed station. Timothy hay is recommended to always have available for your guinea pig. Hay encourages chewing and provides a lot of fiber.
What to look for in guinea pig food?
When choosing what pellets to buy to offer the best nutrition for your cavy there are a few considerations. First, consider how old your pig is. If they are young (less than 6 months old) they are going to need food that is rich in calcium to help with development. However, once they are an adult they no longer need calcium-rich foods. In fact, too much calcium can cause health issues such as bladder stones.
Another thing to look for is the cleanliness of the food. There should not be any nuts, seeds, or other things besides hay and vegetables. This also includes avoiding sugar. Sugar is dangerous for a cavy and should only be from fruits as a treat.
Fortification should also be included in their pellets. There are some nutrients, namely vitamin C, that guinea pigs are unable to produce by themselves. It’s important to have pellets that are vitamin C fortified so your cavy doesn’t develop scurvy. This, and how to treat it, will be discussed further in a moment.
When it comes to their hay, it should be meadow grass and high in fiber. Timothy has the most popular choice for guinea pigs.
What foods can guinea pigs eat
When choosing food for your guinea pig, the following list will provide a well-rounded diet. However, your piggy might not like everything on this list. For example, my guinea pig loves spinach way more than she likes romaine lettuce. She also doesn’t really like bell peppers too much and she prefers blueberries rather than strawberries!
When introducing new foods, take it slow. Guinea pigs have a sensitive digestive track so introducing too much fresh produce at once, can overwhelm their system and cause diarrhea. If this is the case, don’t feed your cavy any produce until the diarrhea stops. Then, reintroduce the produce slowly and in small portions.
This first list is all the vegetables your cavy can have on a regular basis:
- Timothy Hay- high in fiber to aid in digestion/ encourages chewing
- Fortified Pellets- fortified pellets have the right amount of vitamin C
- Romaine Lettuce
- Carrots- I like giving my pet carrots to encourage chewing
- Carrot tops
- Tomato- avoid the stems and leaves
- Bell Pepper- red and green are most beneficial
- Dark leafy vegetables
- Cucumber- the seeds are soft enough to eat and the peel is also okay to eat
This second list is all the fruits your pet can eat, remember these are high in sugar so it should not be most of their diet. That being said, several fruits are high in vitamin C which is also important for a guinea pig diet.
- Strawberry- they really like the leaf too
- Blueberry- only 1 or 2
What foods can guinea pigs not eat
The following list are foods that you should not give to your pet. These are dangerous for various reasons. They are either too fattening, cause obesity, cause digestive concerns, or are just simply poisonous to a guinea pig. Guinea pigs have a sensitive stomach so be cautious.
- Nuts/seeds- fattening, can get stuck in throat or teeth
- Meat- digestive system can’t process
- Iceberg lettuce- no nutritional value
- Avocados- very fattening
- Dairy products- digestive system can’t process
- Peanut butter
A Sensitive Stomach
A guinea pig’s digestive system is like a finely tuned clock. As humans, most of the time we can eat something bad, get bloated, and move on with our day. Even food poisoning can be easy to get over after a few days. But for a guinea pig, this is not the case. A minor issue can quickly turn into a serious health concern.
Guinea pigs have a very high-fiber and herbivore specific diet. When there is not enough high- fiber foods in their diet they can get gastrointestinal (GI) stasis. GI stasis is when the digestive system slows down or stops completely. This can cause unhealthy bacteria to grow in the digestive system which causes several other health concerns. If your cavy is not pooping, uninterested in food, or seems bloated, go to your vet immediately. These can be signs of GI stasis.
Diarrheal disease is also a concern for guinea pigs. Diarrhea is caused by any changes in the gut flora. Thankfully, this is not as life-threatening as stasis if taken care of right away. Diarrhea is dangerous because it means that your pet is not taking in the proper nutrients and they are at risk for dehydration. If you believe the cause is having too many new foods, cut back completely. If it continues, be sure to take your pet to the vet.
Other Nutritional Concerns
The biggest concern for a guinea pig is the risk of a vitamin C deficiency. Like humans, guinea pigs are not able to synthesize vitamin C. This vitamin is important for collagen production, which affects bone growth and the way the blood vessels stay intact.
Scurvy (lack of vitamin C) is a dangerous disease that causes hemorrhaging, bone dysfunction, hair loss, diarrhea, and joint pain. It’s important that you are aware of the signs of scurvy because guinea pigs are so susceptible to it.
With a proper diet, your guinea pig should not be at risk. This includes having fortified pellets and vitamin C rich foods. Strawberries, parsley, kale, and broccoli are some foods with the most vitamin C for your pet. Try to include these foods regularly.
Mineral wheels, supplements, and salt licks are rarely needed if you are giving your pet the proper diet. However, if you believe that they need additional care, speak to your vet about getting a mineral wheel or vitamin C supplements. Be cautious of gummy supplements, which are a popular choice. These contain high amounts of sugar to mask the bitterness of vitamin C.
Guinea pigs are not omnivores. They are considered herbivores because their diet is strictly fruits and vegetables. The foundations of a healthy guinea pig diet start with their hay and pellets. They should have high-fiber hay, preferably timothy hay, at all times. This helps their digestive system process other foods. Their pellets should be free of any ‘extras’ such as nuts and seeds, which can be harmful.
When it comes to extra foods for your pet, stick to dark and leafy vegetables and others that are on the preferred list. Fruits should be limited, due to the high sugar content.
It is important to provide your piggy with a well-rounded, and proper, diet to avoid any digestive system diseases or nutritional deficiencies, like scurvy. If you do feel that your pet is sick in any way, be sure to take them to the vet immediately. It is important to seek the proper care.