Wheek! Ah, it’s the delightful sound of guinea pigs demanding food. From 2001-2013, I was the proud owner of guinea pigs. In brief, guinea pigs need pellets, hay, vegetables, fruit, maybe a Vitamin C supplement, and of course water. What follows is an elaboration of that information based on my research and experience.
The majority of pet owners provide a pellet feed to their guinea pig. Pellets are a convenient way to ensure your guinea pig is getting necessary nutrients. Each guinea pig should have available approximately 1/8 cup of pellets a day when also fed adequate hay and fresh vegetables.
When I bought my first guinea pigs, my brand of choice for pellets was Oxbow. The company, which is located right here in Nebraska, received high praise not only for its hay but also for its pellets. Right on the company website, I also discovered that alfalfa pellets are suitable for young, growing, and pregnant guinea pigs, but not so much for adults. After your guinea pig is about a year old, you might switch to a timothy based pellet, which provides fewer calories and calcium and protein.
A little research turned up additional recommendations. For example, be sure to select a pellet specifically formulated with Vitamin C for guinea pigs. Also, choose a plain pellet that avoids mixes with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dyed pieces, which pose choking hazards. You should also avoid pellets with animal or corn products, beet pulp, rice bran or flour. My current research suggests that purchasing pellets in small quantities and storing in a dry cool dark place is the best way to preserve the potency of the Vitamin C. I personally stored my pellets in the refrigerator and have yet to find anything to negate that idea. By following the above guidelines, you are sure to choose a top quality pellet to promote the good health of your guinea pigs.
Many people don’t seem to know that guinea pigs NEED hay. It’s essential for their digestive systems, and it’s the best way to keep their molars ground down and healthy. Many of those who provide their pigs with hay tend to buy it from pet stores. The hay commonly found in pet stores is alfalfa hay. As with pellets, alfalfa hay should only be given to young, growing, and pregnant guinea pigs. When it comes to adult guinea pigs, alfalfa hay has too much calcium and other nutrients that can lead to bladder stones. Timothy hay, on the other hand, is lower in calcium and other unnecessary nutrients. Thus, it is healthier for your adult guinea pigs. As a side benefit, hay contains so few calories, guinea pigs are unlikely to get fat from it.
As with the pellets, I got my hay from Oxbow. At first, in order to purchase in bulk, my husband and I used to take the drive out to Murdock to buy 25 pound boxes. Eventually, the company stopped selling directly to the public and so we had to place orders for Oxbow hay through a local retailer. The company’s website notes that not only is Timothy hay high in fiber, but it’s also widely recommended by veterinarians.
Actually, Oxbow Animal Health was the first pet food company to introduce Timothy hay as a staple in the small animal diet. Timothy hay is now considered an industry standard. Oxbow offers the following sizes: 15 oz, 40 oz, 90 oz, 9 lb, 25 lb, 50 lb. I still have one of the 25-pound boxes, minus the hay. J
About a cup a day of fresh vegetables are an important additional source of vitamin C and other nutrients. All vegetables should be rinsed thoroughly before feeding to your guinea pigs. Also, my recent research turned up this sensible idea: Never give veggies to guinea pigs right from the fridge. Instead, fill up a bowl with warm water, place veggies in the water, and keep them there for about five minutes to warm up a bit before giving to your guinea pig.
At the top of any list of vegetables for guinea pigs should be lettuce. However, do NOT feed guinea pigs ICEBERG lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is low in nutrients, high in calories, high in nitrates, and can even cause diarrhea if given in excess. Romaine lettuce is much better for guinea pigs. Also, to prevent spoiling and rotting, be sure to remove uneaten lettuce from your guinea pigs’ habitat. However, unless your guinea pig is sick or you are giving him too much lettuce at once, he is unlikely to leave any lettuce uneaten.
To add variety, you may also choose from a number of other vegetables. Green leafy vegetables should be the primary source, but there are other options. Ones I tried included: carrots, cabbage, celery, corn, pepper, and tomato. For a time, I even kept a vegetable garden, which was almost strictly for my guinea pigs.
My first guinea pig in particular loved carrots, and I’d often buy a bag of baby ones for her. But be forewarned that carrots contain a lot of sugar, and too much sugar isn’t good for your small pet. Also, carrots are high in oxalate, a buildup of which can cause bladder stones. After learning this info, I began giving carrots to my guinea pigs only on the weekends as treats.
Having grown up eating lots of cabbage, when I started looking for vegetable options for my guinea pigs I immediately considered cabbage. The good news is that cabbage does contain an ample amount of Vitamin C. The bad news is cabbage doesn’t provide guinea pigs with a lot of nutrients. In addition, it can make them gassy and even develop bloat—which sadly can threaten their life.
I didn’t give my pigs much celery. Some guinea pig experts caution that the high water content of celery can cause diarrhea. In addition, strings of celery can very easily get caught in their teeth and throats and intestinal tracts; cutting up celery into small bites can prevent this. Also, you might just feed your pigs the celery leaves.
Corn is a vegetable that I personally find bland. However, when my third guinea pig began to lose interest in food and I needed more tantalizing food options, I brought corn for her. The husks and silk can be eaten on a daily basis. So can the leaves, but discard the outer ones that have been directly exposed to pesticides. The kernels themselves are quite starchy and so these should only be given in small amounts. Guinea pigs can eat corn on the cob, but only if it’s not cooked. Also, to my surprise, guinea pigs can even have cornflakes as long as they’re not offered with milk.
Both red and green peppers are extremely healthy for guinea pigs, due to their high Vitamin C content. Be sure to remove the seeds. Also, as a matter of convenience, keep in mind that the colors might bleed onto the bedding in your guinea pig cage.
I didn’t personally give many tomatoes to my guinea pigs. Apparently, all tomato varieties are safe for guinea pigs; however, their leaves and stalks are poisonous. For that reason, I tended to err on the side of safety, and mostly avoided tomatoes. Also, due to their juicy nature, they tended to leave a big mess in the guinea pig cage.
A golden rule when it comes to vegetables and fruits for guinea pigs is everything in moderation. Nowhere is this more true than with fruits. Although fruits offer the benefit of Vitamin C, they also have their drawbacks. For example, while the vitamin C is high, so is the sugar. For that reason, too many servings of fruits can lead to problems, such as excessive acid, high blood sugar levels, and even obesity. Fruit should be fed sparingly, no more than a few times per week.
A favorite fruit of all three of my guinea pigs was apple. An apple a day might be healthy for humans, but there are some considerations to keep in mind for your small pets. Foremost, never give them a whole apple, as this could prove a choking hazard. Even with all their nutritional benefits, apples are still considered acidic; heavy consumption of them can lead to mouth sores. Also, too much fiber will cause diarrhea in guinea pigs and lead to dehydration. As the fiber of an apple is found in its skin, you might just leave off the skin. You could also consider turning apples into sauce; just be sure to make your own because then you can control the amount of sugar used.
Beyond this, my guinea pigs all had their individual tastes. Other fruits I fed my pigs were: bananas, oranges, and watermelon. Having guinea pigs does tend to encourage their owners to eat healthier! Although I never tried to grow any fruits for my guinea pigs, I did develop a fondness for fruit salads that has lasted to this day.
The result of offering bananas, one of my favorite fruits, to my first two pigs was a pulpy mess. Neither showed any interest in having banana, beyond stomping all over it. My third, however, surprised me one day by grabbing at a banana I was eating. Actually, she grabbed at the skin. This immediately led me to my computer, where I discovered that washed peels are apparently safe in moderation for guinea pigs. The same goes for the actual banana, which has the down side of being high in sugar. And mushy.
Most of the same cautions exist for oranges as for apples. From personal experience, I’ll add that only one of my guinea pigs ever showed much interest in oranges. I thought that was just as well, because oranges like peppers and tomatoes tend to turn the cage into a mess. Sometimes the juice even got on the toes and hair of my guinea pigs. In other words, oranges made for quite the clean-up time!
As my guinea pigs tended to show less interest in fruits than vegetables, I experimented a lot less with options. Adding fruit variety wasn’t worth the effort. However, when my third guinea pig took sick, I was willing to try anything. That included watermelon, which personally causes me stomachaches. Thanks to its high water content, watermelon is great for keeping your guinea pigs hydrated on hot summer days. They can eat both the rind and the flesh. The irony about watermelon is that a reason ones advise moderation for guinea pigs is that too much of it can cause obesity, but the main reason I was even considering watermelon is that my third guinea pig was wasting away and needed the extra calories.
If you’re properly feeding your guinea pigs, Vitamin C shouldn’t be an issue. Yet Vitamin C is so important to their health that I used a supplement. You might make that choice too.
Why do guinea pigs need vitamin C? Ascorbic acid is essential to good growth and health. Since guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C, it must be supplied in the food they eat. The average guinea pig needs between 10 and 30 mg/kg daily for good health. Certain biologic oxidation and reduction systems depend on it for proper functioning. In its absence, bone and blood vessel abnormalities develop, and enlarged adrenal glands, bleeding in the limb joints, rib muscles and intestines result. Young animals are more likely to exhibit bone deformities.
Vitamin supplements should only contain ascorbic acid. Chewable flavored C can be found in 100 mg tablets, which when quartered will add 25 mg to a guinea pig intake. Some people, such as myself, prefer liquid vitamin C. Do not add vitamin C to drinking water! Besides not knowing how much they’re getting, when added to water exposed to air, half its strength will be lost in as little as a day. Also, multivitamins should not be used because of the potential for toxic overdose of vitamins other than C.
Wheek! Ah, I miss the delightful sound of guinea pigs demanding food when the fridge opens. To end my article, I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite photos of my guinea pigs. When my first guinea pig celebrated her eighth birthday, my husband and I put birthday hats on our three pets at the time. Then I treated our pigs to a salad with all the vegetables and fruits they might desire.
GUINEA PIGS: GENERAL
GUINEA PIGS: FOODS