Feeding

It is very important to give your guinea pigs an interesting and balanced diet for a variety of reasons, including their inability to produce Vitamin C as a species, the need to wear their teeth down, and the requirement for roughage as herbivores to contribute toward a healthy gut.

Guinea pigs also become bored with the same selection of feed every day and variation is one of the keys to a mentally stimulated and happy pet.

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Vegetables

Guinea pigs require vegetables as part of their daily diet for two very good reasons. Firstly, guinea pigs are herbivores, and as a species, vegetation makes up a large part of their natural diet. Secondly, just like humans, they are unable to produce their own Vitamin C and they require vegetables containing Vitamin C as part of their diet to stay healthy.

All of the vegetables for your guinea pigs should be bought fresh from the market, wholesaler, or supermarket - not tinned or bottled - and then stored in the fridge.

Before offering any vegetables, remember to wash them to rinse away any soil or agricultural chemicals that may be present, and also remove all seeds and pips. Importantly, make sure the vegetables are fresh and not withering, limp or rotting.

The best combination you can offer is one that is varied and interesting and includes many different types of vegetable. Like humans, guinea pigs do become bored with the same diet day in and day out. As part of their daily vegetable diet, ensure you are offering at least one vegetable that contains Vitamin C on a daily basis.


Fruit, Vegetable and Herb Nutritional Guide

How to read the table

This is a very simple nutritional table designed to help you create your weekly menu at a glance. The menu should be varied and balanced according to the recommended frequency of feeding, marked with different colours in the table below.

For example, cabbage (spring greens) can be eaten up to 4 days a week. If cabbage (spring greens) are offered 4 days a week, you should not offer other vegetables also in this category. If you feed cabbage (spring greens) 2 days in a week, you could offer broccoli for 1 day and brussel sprouts another.

  • Vitamin C: Guinea pigs do not produce their own Vitamin C, so they require a good amount of vegetables containing Vitamin C in their diet. Some vegetables high in Vitamin C can be given regularly throughout the week, however others will appear elsewhere in this section as being high in phosphorous or calcium, and therefore should be given in moderation.

  • Calcium: Some calcium in the diet is essential for healthy bones and teeth, but too much calcium can cause problems. Bladder stones are calcium deposits that form when there is too much calcium present in the diet.

  • Phosphorus: Too much phosphorous in the diet can cause guinea pigs to feel bloated and gassy.

What does "feed in moderation" mean?

When a fruit, vegetable or herb is listed as "feed in moderation" it means you need to give extra consideration to the quantity you feed it in. For example, vegetables also high in fat, sugar or that have a high water content should be balanced with others that don't.

  • Acid: A high acid content in the diet can cause mouth sores.

  • Fat: Too much fat can cause unnecessary weight gain.

  • Sugar: Too much sugar can upset the balance of flora in the gut, leading to the improper digestion of other foods.

  • Water: A high water content in the diet can cause mouth sores and diarrhea.

Up to 6 days a weekUp to 4 days a weekUp to 2 days a weekRare treat

Vegetable/Fruit/HerbVitamin CCalciumPhosphorus
Feeding Notes
Apple (Granny Smith)
LowLowLow
Remove the pips and stalk. Feed in moderation; acidic.
Banana
LowLowLow
Feed by the slice.
Beans (runner)
LowLowLow
The pod and beans can be eaten.
Broccoli
HighMediumMedium
The entire vegetable can be eaten.
Brussel Sprouts
HighMediumMedium
Cut into manageable pieces.
Cabbage (pak choi)
HighMediumMedium
Feed one/two small leaves.
Cabbage (spring greens)
HighMediumMedium
Feed one small leaf or half of a large leaf.
Carrot
HighLowLow
The leaves can be eaten, but feed them in moderation (no more than twice per week); high in calcium.
Cauliflower
MediumLowMedium
The entire vegetable can be eaten.
Celery
LowLowLow
Cut into chunks and trim away stringy bits. The leaves can be eaten.
Chard (swiss)
MediumMediumMedium
Corn (on the cob, yellow)
HighLowHigh
The leaves, silks and corn can be eaten. Feed in moderation; high in fat.
Corn (baby sweetcorn)
HighLowHigh
Feed in moderation; high in fat.
Cress (garden)
MediumHighHigh
Cress (water)
MediumHighMedium
Cucumber
LowLowLow
Feed by the slice. Feed in moderation; very watery.
Grapes (white seedless)
LowLowLow
Feed in moderation; high in sugar.
Kale (curly leaf)
HighHighMedium
Feed half a small leaf only.
Lettuce (cos, romaine)
LowLowLow
Lettuce (round)
LowLowLow
Orange
HighMediumLow
Peel before feeding, offer occasional segments. Feed in moderation; acidic.
Parsley (curly leaf)
MediumHighLow
The leaves and stalks can be eaten. Feed only a couple of sprigs at a time.
Parsley (flat leaf)
MediumHighLow
The leaves and stalks can be eaten. Feed only a couple of sprigs at a time.
Parsnip
HighLowLow
Pepper (bell)
HighLowLow
Remove the seeds and stalk.
Pumpkin
LowLowLow
Remove the seeds and trim away stringy bits.
Radishes
LowLowLow
Trim off the root. The leaves can be eaten.
Rocket
LowHighLow
The leaves and stalks can be eaten.
Spinach
LowHighMedium
Feed half a small leaf only.
Strawberry
LowLowLow
Remove the leaves before feeding. Feed in moderation; high in sugar.
Sweet Potato
LowLowLow
Peel before feeding and feed raw. Feed in moderation; high in sugar.
Tomato (cherry)
LowLowLow
Remove the vine and leaves, as the leaves are believed to be poisonous.
Tomato (vine)
LowLowLow
Remove the vine and leaves, as the leaves are believed to be poisonous.


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Dry Feed

Dried feed made especially for guinea pigs should contain Vitamin C (as guinea pigs can't produce their own) and provide a good source of fibre (an essential part of the herbivore diet). Dried rabbit mix does not contain Vitamin C and is unsuitable for guinea pigs (with the exception of Chudleys Rabbit Royale, however it doesn't contain Vitamin C, so extra care should be taken to ensure that Vitamin C appears elsewhere in the diet). A bowl of dried feed should always be available in the hutch or cage and topped up where necessary - they will pick at it throughout the day.

Choosing a brand of muesli mix or pellet feed largely depends on your local availability (however, I personally recommend feeding a pellet/nugget feed rather than a muesli mix, as pellets/nuggets offer a more balanced diet). The larger brands such as Burgess, Wagg, and Supreme Petfoods are commonly stocked in pet shops and garden centres up and down the country, while others may need to be sourced online. Pets At Home have their own brand of muesli mix and pellet feed, while Pets Corner ("Great&Small") have their own brand of muesli mixes, available both online and in their stores.

Please note: If your guinea pig suffers from bladder stones or grit in the urine (caused by too much calcium in the diet) I recommend feeding Wagg Guinea Pig Crunch as it has a low calcium content compared to other brands.

There are two categories of dried feed:

Muesli Mix

These bags contain a combination of seeds, biscuit, dried corn, alfalfa, and various other ingredients, not all of which are essential in the daily diet. The variety of ingredients encourages picky eaters to eat only the bits they like best ("selective feeding"), however a muesli mix can be advantageous to guinea pigs who become easily bored with a pellet feed.

The brightly coloured parts of the mix can contain artificial colours so read the bag carefully to check - if in doubt, pick it out! One colouring in particular called "Sunset Yellow" (E110) is suspected of contributing to bladder stones and cystitis in guinea pigs, so use great care when choosing a feed with artificial colours in it.

Here are some UK brands:

Pellets/Nuggets

This is a bag containing one type of feed - usually referred to as biscuit, nuggets or pellets. A pellet feed like this stops picky eaters from taking the bits they like and leaving the rest ("selective feeding"). With this type of feed guinea pigs get a balanced level of nutrition in every piece they eat. There are usually no artificial colours or additives in these bags, although it always pays to check the ingredients on the bag to make sure.

Here are some UK brands:

Changing over from one feed to another

This should be done over time, preferably over one to two weeks, to allow the guinea pig to adjust to the new feed and reduce instances of stomach upsets. My timeline suggestion for changing over your feed is as follows:

  • Days 1-3: 1 part new feed to 3 parts old feed
  • Days 4-6: 2 parts new feed to 2 parts old feed
  • Days 7-9: 3 parts new feed to 1 part old feed
  • Day ten onwards: You should be using the new feed

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Hay

Guinea pigs require hay as part of their daily diet. In fact, hay should make up the larger part of their diet, and therefore they need a constant supply of hay. This means you will have to replenish their supply once they have eaten it. As grazing herbivores guinea pigs require hay as roughage in their diet to keep their guts in good working order. Hay is also a useful method of wearing down teeth.

There are a few different types of hay designed to be given to guinea pigs in different situations. Unfortunately, a lot of pet shops currently give out incorrect advice when selling hay and this leads to an incorrect diet.

  • Alfalfa - To be on given on a regular basis only to pregnant sows and pups. Older guinea pigs must not be given this hay as part of a regular diet because the level of calcium in this particular hay is very high, although some extra calcium is an advantage for pups and pregnant sows. Too much calcium can cause bladder stones, which in turn can cause urethral blockage, pain, infection and bleeding. Adults may have alfalfa as an extremely occasional treat.

  • Meadow Hay - Meadow hay should make up the bulk of your guinea pigs' diet. This hay is commonly found in bags and bales in pet shops, garden centres and equestrian suppliers, and is suitable for all guinea pigs from a young age. As a general rule, the greener the hay the more tasty it is to your guinea pig!

    At certain times of the year, such as high summer when the heat is great and there is very little rain, meadow hay can sometimes be in short supply. If you have a small amount of guinea pigs, or just one or two, this shouldn't be a problem. However if you keep many guinea pigs, it pays to have more than one supplier you can turn to should a hay shortage occur.

    Meadow hay can take a few different forms, usually depending on the time of year and the location of your supplier. Usually your meadow hay will be just like you imagine hay to be, while other times it may be almost like straw, rather brown, or even extremely similar to grass. My guinea pigs enjoy the grassy meadow hay more than any other variety.

  • Timothy Hay - Given in the same way as Meadow Hay, Timothy Hay is another excellent part of a regular guinea pig diet and is also very tasty. I find Timothy Hay to be more expensive than Meadow Hay and only available in bags, so I tend to give it as a treat rather than a dietary requirement.

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Grass and Wild Plants

Guinea pigs love to graze outside on fresh grass when the weather's nice. When allowing your guinea pigs to enjoy the grass, make sure you have checked for any wild plants that may be growing in or near to the grazing area as some of them may be poisonous.

You should only allow your guinea pigs to eat fresh grass. Don't give them dried or brown grass, grass clippings from the lawnmower, or ornamental grasses. Ensure the grass has come from your garden and not somewhere where it may have been contaminated (car fumes, agricultural chemicals, animal excrement or urine, etc).

When picking grass to feed to your guinea pigs, remove the roots and soil clump if you pulled up too much! An easy method of picking grass for your guinea pigs is to use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim long grass without pulling the roots from the ground.

In addition to the very tasty fresh grass growing in your garden, guinea pigs can eat some of the wild plants too. When providing an outdoor play area for your guinea pigs, you must check the area thoroughly to pull up any poisonous plants before allowing your guinea pigs out to play.


Safe Plants
Poisonous Plants
Dandelion flowers
Dandelion leaves
Clover
Beech
Buttercup
Chrysanthemum
Clematis
Crocus
Daffodil
Deadly Nightshade
Foxglove
Holly
Hyacinth
Hydrangea
Ivy
Poppy
Ragwort
St John's Wort


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Treats

Many people like to give their pets a treat. This is great as long as you know what you're actually giving them. A treat intended to bring together guinea pig and owner may actually be having a negative affect on the health of your pet.

Fruit and vegetables

The best treats you can give to your guinea pig are fruit and vegetables. Fruit should generally be given as a treat and not as part of a regular diet. This is mainly due to the sugar (too much sugar can upset the flora in the gut and interrupt the normal digestion of other foods) or high water content present in fruit (very watery foods given too frequently can cause moth sores and diarrhea). Remember, these are treats you can give, not foods you should give. Please see the nutrition table above for more information.

Commerical treats

Like fast food in humans, a lot of commerical treats are the junk food of the guinea pig world. Most brightly packaged commercial treats you can buy in pet shops are unsuitable to give to a guinea pig due to the ingredients they contain, including sugar, fat and large amounts of calcium. Some treats (such as berry sticks) contain seeds which can get stuck in the teeth and pose a choking hazard, and these are usually bound together with honey, which is also unsuitable.

If you want to treat your guinea pig to something from a pet shop, I highly recommend giving them "Excel Nature Snacks" (Burgess). Each stick contains dried grass, vegetable oil, and either dried dandelion, mint or nettle. The ingredients are basic and there are no additives or unnecessary items listed in the nutritional information on the packet.

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Watering

Guinea pigs require a constant clean water supply. You can give them either a water bowl or a water bottle, largely depending on the health and habits of your guinea pig. In some cases a water bowl is required over the use of a water bottle.

A water bowl should always be used if:

- Your guinea pig doesn't appear to enjoy using a water bottle

- Your guinea pig has broken their incisors (front teeth) and can't work a water bottle spout

- Your guinea pig has arthritis; use a low rimmed bowl to stop them needing to step up


If you want to give your pigs a water bowl you need to give them a big, heavy ceramic bowl to stop them tipping it up when they put their paws on the rim (with the exception of arthritic guinea pigs that need a low rimmed ceramic bowl). Water bowls need to be changed very frequently because some guinea pigs have a habit of using their bowls as a toilet and they often drop pieces of feed, bedding or hay in there too.

Vitamin C drops

Vitamin C has a very short shelf life and is almost worthless when added to a water bottle or bowl. Contrary to popular belief, you should never need to put Vitamin C supplements in the water unless instructed to do so by your vet. Your vet may give you Vitamin C drops for sick or convalescing guinea pigs to aid recovery.

If your guinea pigs are getting a good diet of hay and vegetables they should be getting all the Vitamin C they need. Please see the nutrition table above for a list of Vitamin C rich fruit, vegetables and herbs.

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Bad Foods

The following foods are unsuitable to feed to your guinea pigs, however some exceptions are noted.

  • Beetroot Leaves
    These are poisonous and can cause heart problems because of the high level of folic acid.

  • Cat and Dog Foods
    Meat based and intended for canines and felines only.

  • Chillis, Garlic, Hot Peppers and Onions
    These are far too strong to give to your guinea pig.

  • Chocolate
    Quite simply not intended to be given to guinea pigs.

  • Dairy Products (cheese, cream, etc)
    Most dairy products are unsuitable for consumption by guinea pigs, however as guinea pigs are not born lactose intolerant there may be exceptions. These exceptions are bread soaked in milk which may be given to weaning pups and mothers (see The Guinea Piglopaedia book, page 159, section 4), and Actimel probiotic yoghurt for tummy upsets to be given during the course of antibiotics (however a probiotic powder, such as Biolapis or Avipro, should be sourced first).

  • Human Beverages
    All beverages intended for human consumption (e.g. fizzy drinks, fruit juice - except for pure cranberry juice that can be given as a diuretic, coffee, tea, milkshakes, etc) should never be given to guinea pigs.

  • Human Junk Food
    Burgers, hotdogs, chips/french fries, crisps/chips, sweets, etc are all completely unsuitable to feed to your guinea pig.

  • Human Sandwich Spreads
    Do not give jelly, jams, fruit preserves, Marmite, Vegemite, patés, honey (often found in some commercial treats), peanut butter, butter, margarine, etc.

  • Iceberg Lettuce
    This has no nutritional value and is high in water so may cause loose droppings and diarrhea.

  • Meat or Fish
    Guinea pigs are herbivores. They do not eat any types of meat or fish, or anything with meat or fish in it.

  • Mushrooms
    Poisonous. Don't give any type of mushroom under any circumstances.

  • Nuts and Seeds
    High in fat, can get stuck in teeth and are a choking hazard. Seeds are often found in some commercial treats.

  • Rabbit Feed
    Never give dry rabbit mix to a guinea pig (with the exception of Chudleys Rabbit Royale). Rabbit feed is rumoured to contain rabbit antibiotics, consists of pellets formulated exclusively for a rabbit diet, and does not contain the essential Vitamin C that guinea pigs require. Give dry feed that is intended to be eaten by guinea pigs.

  • Rhubarb
    Poisonous. Don't give any part of rhubarb under any circumstances.

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