Hay, glorious hay, is the staple of the ideal guinea pig diet, but guinea pigs do not live on hay alone! Alexas_Fotos/pixabay.com
Ah, guinea pigs. These adorable companion pets often have their owners wrapped around their little paws. Who can resist the soulful stare of a guinea pig or the wheeking noise made when they suspect food is on the way. But what food should you feed your guinea pig? You love them as family, but you can’t feed them the same food you eat.
Guinea Pigs Food Basics
What to feed your guinea pig is a question that arises the moment your new friend enters your life. The first guideline is to find out what your guinea pig was being fed before he or she joined your home. Drastic changes in diet can cause digestive upset, so find out what your guinea pig was eating and continue it. If you wish to make changes to your new family member’s diet, do so gradually. Over the course of a few weeks, offer more of the foods you want your guinea pig to eat and less of those you want to discontinue.
Guinea pigs are herbivores, which means they eat plants. Your guinea pig’s diet is all about freshness. Fresh hay and fresh, leafy vegetables make up the bulk of guinea pig daily eating.
Specific Dietary Demands Of Guinea Pigs
Besides being nutritious, guinea pig food needs to fulfill two unique needs of guinea pigs: tooth wear and vitamin C supplementation.
Guinea pig teeth grow continuously, so the teeth regularly need to be worn down by the guinea pig chewing on nutritious, fibrous food — and that’s the cue for plenty of hay. Guinea pigs should have access to clean, fresh hay all of the time.
The second thing that guinea pig food must do is to provide daily vitamin C. Guinea pigs are unable to make vitamin C like many other mammals, so they must get it in their food. Without daily vitamin C, guinea pigs could suffer scurvy, which can cause numerous health problems. Some signs of vitamin C deficiency include not eating, sensitivity to being touched, diarrhea, lethargy, and more. Consult your veterinarian for the best way to offer vitamin C to your guinea pig and to determine the correct amount, as the dosage can vary depending on age and overall health. Note that healthy guinea pigs do not require any other vitamin supplement.
Heap On That Hay For Guinea Pigs
Grass hays are the best type to offer healthy, adult guinea pigs. Timothy, orchard, and oat are a few types of grass hay to offer. Alfalfa hay is also available, but this is a legume rather than a grass. Because of this, alfalfa contains too much calcium and calories to be a daily food for healthy guinea pigs, although it can be a good diet for guinea pigs that are young, pregnant, or suffering from certain ailments.
Besides offering the right type of hay, the most important thing is that the hay is fresh and free from mold. Store hay in a cool, dry place and give a new batch to your guinea pig every day.
Pouring Pellets For Guinea Pigs
In addition to hay, a guinea pig’s daily diet should include a small quantity of high-quality pellets formulated specifically for guinea pigs. Many of these contain added vitamin C and, if stored in a cool, dark place and used by the freshness date, pellets can be the source of your guinea pig’s vitamin C needs. Opt for plain pellets and follow manufacturer instructions for portions. Offering plain pellets prevents your guinea pig from picking through a mix of things and eating only the parts he or she likes, which can sabotage your attempts to provide proper vitamin C and nutrition.
The Yes And No Of Fruits And Vegetables For Guinea Pigs
True or false: All fruits and vegetables are healthy for guinea pigs. If you chose false, give yourself a pat on the back. Many fruits and vegetables are OK, but some are not. And even those that are OK to offer can cause problems if the portions are too large. Your veterinarian can guide you on which to offer, but some points to keep in mind include the fact that the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center warns against feeding the following foods to our pet companions: avocado, grapes, raisins, coconut, onions, garlic, and chives. Some good fruits and vegetables to offer include: parsley, romaine lettuce, tomato, green pepper, banana, cantaloupe, strawberries, watermelon, and blueberries. Fruits should be offered more sparingly than vegetables.
Consider fruits and vegetables to be snacks for your guinea pig. Limit what you offer to small portions and only offer once or twice a day. Prepare them as you would for yourself, washing thoroughly. Freshness rules, as always, so be sure to clean up any leftover fruits or veggies daily.
Treating Your Guinea Pig
Offering treats to your guinea pig adds variety to your pet’s life, increases the bond between you and contributes to training success. It’s a win-win-win! The only trick to offering treats is keeping your guinea pig’s health in mind. Treats should be safe foods fed in limited amounts. Introduce new treats gradually, one at a time during about a week so your guinea pig’s digestive system gets accustomed to them. Don’t be surprised if your guinea pig shows likes and dislikes to treats. Just like you, they have favorites!
Hey!Berries is a manufactured treat that is safe and nutritious for guinea pigs. An added bonus is that it promotes foraging behavior. Safe fruit or fresh veggies are other treats. You can even use a portion of your guinea pig’s daily pellets or hay as a treat if you hand-feed. A normal food that is hand-fed suddenly becomes a treat!
Guinea pigs drink water, and they need access to clean, fresh water at all times. Whether you offer it in a non-tip bowl or a water bottle, monitor your piggie to be sure he or she easily drinks from the bowl or bottle. Knowing your guinea pig’s drinking habits helps you detect possible illness earlier, as a sudden change in drinking habits can signal health trouble. Clean the bottle or bowl regularly and inspect the water bottle stopper daily for clogs. Just like you, guinea pigs won’t last long without water.
Guinea Pigs’ Secret Snack
Something guinea pigs eat that you don’t offer and might never see are night feces. As part of guinea pig digestion, two types of feces are created. Firm pellets that contain mostly waste products, and a softer pellet that is nutrient-rich. It’s normal for guinea pigs to expel and eat these as part of their diet, usually at night. It might sound odd, but it’s the guinea pig way. Rabbits also do this.