Feeding Tips for Guinea Pigs

Knowledge of proper guinea pig nutrition and the availability of quality guinea pig food is more abundant than ever. The first thing to keep in mind is not to overfeed your guinea pigs (and they will easily overeat). A fat guinea pig is an unhealthy guinea pig, just as a fat person is an unhealthy person.

Now — on to the menu.

Water

There used to be an urban legend a few decades ago that guinea pigs didn’t need to drink water if they got fresh vegetables every day. This is still in some guinea pig care books published before 1970. Don’t believe a word of it!

Clean water should be available all of the time – unless your guinea pig plays with the water bottle all night just because he or she likes the sound the ball bearing makes. Then, you can take the water bottle away for a few hours to get some sleep.

Guinea pigs are messy drinkers. They like to shoot chewed food as far up the water bottle as they can. It seems to be a game or obsession with them. Be sure to regularly clean the guinea pig’s water bottle.

And don’t give them water in a bowl (unless it’s an emergency). They will dump the bowl over or soil it as soon as your back is turned.

Hay

The staple food of a guinea pig is hay. In the 1970’s, it was thought the staple food was guinea pig pellets. But they are too rich and eaten too quickly. Hay not only smells nice, it gives the piggy something to do. Their teeth grow all of the time, so the grinding action from munching hay helps keep the teeth at a proper size. Hay should be available at all times.

Timothy hay is considered the best hay for guinea pigs, and it is widely available in pet stores and even large supermarkets. It comes in bags or pressed chew-cubes.

Alfalfa hay can be given as a treat. The jury is still out on whether it gives any long term negative health effects on your piggies, but it does seem that alfalfa hay is very high in calcium and may contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Ouch.

Alfalfa hay is okay to give to pregnant sows (female guinea pigs), to young growing piggies or to malnourished guinea pigs.

Guinea Pig Pellets

Although many give their guinea pigs rabbit pellets, THEY SHOULDN’T. Rabbits have different nutritional needs than guinea pigs. A guinea pig on rabbit food usually gets sick.

Avoid guinea pig pellets with a lot of nuts or dried fruit in them. That’s too many calories in one sitting – sort of like having a deep dish pizza for every meal. Some guinea pigs will prefer some brands of pellets to others. They have differing taste buds just like we do.

Pellets need to be fresh in order to taste better (yes, they go stale) and to retain their nutritional content. Many are fortified with Vitamin C, which is essential to add to a guinea pig’s diet. Did you know that guinea pigs are like humans in that the both of them can’t make their own Vitamin C? This is one reason why guinea pigs have been used in medical experiments, sadly.

To keep pellets fresh, buy only what you need instead of in bulk. Keep them in a storage container like a Rubbermaid food storage unit or a large cookie tin with a secure fitting lid.

You don’t need to fill the bowl to the brim with this rich, highly-concentrated food. Just a tablespoon or two per guinea pig is all they need, provided they also have hay and fresh fruit or vegetables.

Fresh Fruits & Vegetables

Sometimes, you can’t get a hold of Vitamin-C fortified guinea pig pellets OR (as in my case), my guinea pigs hated the taste and wouldn’t touch them. But they still needed their Vitamin C, or else they risk getting potentially lethal diarrhea. So, I gave them fresh fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C.

Please, NO Iceberg lettuce! That can get your guinea pig sick with painful gas. Also, no onions or avocado or those green spots on potatoes. Rinse everything before serving and remove any wilted or discolored areas. If you would not eat it yourself, do not give it to a guinea pig.

Your guinea pig will not only need the Vitamin C in fresh fruit and vegetables, but they offer variety. Guinea pigs especially go for:

* Romaine lettuce
* Cucumber
* Parsley sprigs
* Cucumbers with skin
* Apples with skin
* Carrots with skin
* Raspberries
* Celery

Some guinea pigs love oranges, but most turn their noses up at it. Same for raw spinach and red tomatoes (not greenor yellow, please). I’ve even heard of some guinea pigs eating a childrens’ chewable Vitamin C tablet every day, but the guinea pigs in my life turned up their noses at them.

There are commercially available guinea pig treats (like yogurt drops) that are Vitamin C fortified. Feed these sparingly, as they are loaded with calories.

No Wild Plants

Although guinea pigs evolved as creatures that grazed on the wild plants of South America, feeding them wild plants today can kill them. You just never know what chemicals have been put on the plants. Even car exhaust or places where other animals defecate will taint the plants. Feeding wild plants is not worth the risk.

And, please, NO LAWN CLIPPINGS. After grass is cut, their chemical composition changes and they ferment and spoil. Your guinea pigs will like the taste – but then they will get very sick.

Treats

There are a lot of commercially available treats out there billed for guinea pigs. It is best to get something hard that helps wear down their ever-growing teeth. This should only be given sparingly. Those little wooden chew sticks usually are ignored by guinea pigs. They prefer food to wood.

Feed only a little new treat or new fresh food at a time to be sure your guinea pig won’t get sick. A sudden change in diet can get them sick, much like a sudden change in a dog’s diet can get them sick.

Guinea pigs are individuals, and not all will like what other guinea pigs readily beg for. Part of the fun of owning guinea pigs is finding out their individual quirks.

Bon appetite!

References

“Guinea Pigs.” Nancy Ferris, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2005.

“Guinea Pigs: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual.” Katrin Behren. Barron’s Educational Series; 1998.

ASPCA: Food to Avoid Feeding Guinea Pigs.” http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/ask-the-expert/ask-the-expert-pet-nutrition/foods-to-avoid-feeding-guinea-pigs.aspx

Guinea Lynx. “Nutrition.” http://www.guinealynx.info/nutrition.html

Author’s own experience