We all know that the way to a guinea pig’s heart is through their stomach, but what food exactly contributes to their happiness and good health?
Any responsible piggy parent only wishes the best for their furry friends, and this starts with choosing the right diet. From everyday meals to treats, understanding which foods should be fed in moderation and which others to avoid can be a head-scratcher.
In this blog, we’ll look at everything that makes up a balanced diet for guinea pigs, which foods are safe or unsafe, and some other food-related considerations. Before you know it, you’ll have become the best chef for your piggies!
Frequency of Eating
As any experienced piggy pawrent will tell you, piggies love to eat! You can expect a guinea pig to graze on hay, grass, and leafy greens all day long. While you might think this is just greed, their constant eating is actually good for their health as it keeps their teeth and gut in check.
However, overeating can still be a concern. To make sure your piggy doesn’t become overweight, you can simply monitor their health by weighing them regularly. This can also help you spot if they’re suddenly losing weight and need a visit to the vet ASAP.
Balanced Diet for Guinea Pigs
To start, it’s important to know that guinea pigs are herbivores. These little floofers thrive when munching on foods similar to what they would normally enjoy if they lived in the wild. Let’s walk you through all of the important components that make up a balanced diet for guinea pigs.
Hay and Grass
Fibre is the most important nutrient for guinea pigs, as it helps maintain good gut and dental health. To satisfy this need, make sure that your piggies have access to an unlimited supply of hay and grass. In fact, piggies tend to eat a daily amount of hay as big as their body!
Do watch out if you decide to hand-pick the grass you feed to your floofers. You’ll need to make sure that it contains no pesticides or chemicals, and that it hasn’t been contaminated by other animals.
Leafy Greens and Vegetables
Fresh leafy greens and veggies provide guinea pigs with much-needed nutrients. Ideally, you should give your piggies about a teacup full of these every day, and alternate between different types of safe veggies and greens.
This level of moderation and variety is what ensures that your guinea pigs eat all the nutrients they need to thrive without overeating them, as that can potentially cause health issues (more on this later!).
Pellets should never make up the majority of a guinea pig’s meal but can greatly complement a balanced diet. Grass-based pellets are the best type, but always make sure to check that the pellets you buy are suitable for piggies.
Ideally, you should give guinea pigs no more than one tablespoon of pellets a day. As these can quickly fill up their tummies and stop them from naturally grazing!
Foraging for Guinea Pigs
In the wild, guinea pigs would spend a good chunk of their time foraging for fresh grass and tasty plants. Even if they’ve now become homebodies, your piggies will still benefit from both foraging and eating these nutritious wild plants.
While we don’t expect every piggy parent to venture into the wilderness looking for safe plants, there are plenty of ways you can try to encourage foraging. Including simply hiding your piggy’s favourite treats within their cage to make mealtime more fun!
Whether you’re growing the plants yourself, hunting for them, or buying them, these are some of the safe plants you can get for your piggies and their benefits:
There are more safe plants you can find in the wild, but one thing you should always remember is to avoid picking them from areas busy with animals and people, or that have been treated with pesticides.
Best Treats for Guinea Pigs
Whether it’s to celebrate their Gotcha Day or reward them for being the best furry companions, a tasty treat is sure to make your piggy’s day. But what are some of the safe and healthy treats that you can hand out when needed?
Safe Veggies and Fruits
Vegetables and fruits can make a great addition to a guinea pig’s diet as they’re rich in many health-boosting nutrients. These should always be given in moderation (especially fruit as it’s high in sugar!) and introduced slowly to avoid upsetting their tummies.
Here are some of the safe vegetables and fruits you can try as a guinea pig treat:
- Swiss Chard
If you’re unsure whether a veggie or fruit that you have at hand can be fed to your piggy - and what health benefits they have - we recommend you check this nutrition chart by Guinea Linx.
A variety of herbs also make great treats for your guinea pigs. They’re rich in many important nutrients but as always, moderation is key. Herbs should only be fed a few times a week and in small amounts.
Here are some of the herbs you can feed to guinea pigs:
Unsafe Foods for Guinea Pigs
There are certain foods that every piggy should steer clear of as they are either toxic, a choking hazard, or more likely to cause an upset tummy. Here are some examples:
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Nuts & Seeds
If you’re ever unsure about a specific food, don’t hesitate to ask your vet or check its safety on trusted sources.
Common Health Concerns for Guinea Pigs
The right diet and correct portion sizes are key to ensuring that your piggy assimilates all the important nutrients. If they eat too much or not enough of a certain food, they could become more prone to develop the following health issues.
Vitamin C Deficiency
Guinea pigs can’t produce any Vitamin C, and so rely on you to supplement their diet with foods rich in this nutrient. A lack of Vitamin C can lead to ‘scurvy’, and cause symptoms such as swollen joints, difficulty healing wounds, and dental issues.
The simple solution is to regularly feed piggies with foods that are rich in Vitamin C like bell peppers, spinach, and parsley. You can check this chart to better understand which foods can give a Vitamin C boost to your piggies (as always, ensure it’s in moderation!).
One of the most worrying health conditions in guinea pigs is ‘gut stasis’, where a piggy’s gut slows down so much to the point that it stops working completely. There are a few things that can cause this, including dental issues, stress, or a lack of fibre in their diet.
The main way to prevent gut stasis is to ensure your piggies get an unlimited supply of hay and grass to support their high-fibre diet.
A guinea pig’s teeth grow continuously and there is no better way to prevent dental issues than by feeding your piggy the right diet. In fact, it’s by chewing on grass and hay that they can naturally trim down their teeth.
Without this essential food, their teeth will overgrow and cause discomfort to your piggy, potentially stopping them from eating. Another reason why a balanced diet is so important!
Guinea pigs are prone to developing bladder stones, a condition where small stones of buildup form in the bladder. While there is no clear cause for this, a diet with a high intake of calcium is more likely to cause bladder stones.
So take care to avoid overfeeding your piggies with foods that are rich in calcium. This is an important nutrient for the diet of your guinea pig but should only be fed in moderation.
Upset Stomach and Diarrhoea
Any new foods should be gradually introduced to your piggies across 2 to 4 weeks to avoid upsetting their stomach. Ideally, you should stick to small portion sizes and mix them with their old food to make it easier for them to get used to the new flavors.
If it wasn’t clear already, your piggies are really sensitive to what they eat! Any imbalances in their diet (such as too many carbs or treats) can cause diarrhoea. This can also be caused by feeding your piggies a ‘muesli’ style mix or foods that have expired.
But keep in mind that an upset tummy and diarrhoea can also point to other issues, and should always call for a vet visit.
If it was up to your piggies, they would munch on everything that gets close to their faces without a hint of hesitation. That’s why it’s so important that as a responsible piggy parent, you take control of your guinea pig’s diet.
Picking the right foods and correct portion sizes are what significantly contribute to the happiness and health of your piggies. Whether it’s treats or food to forage, your piggy’s tummy will thank you for being so careful in your choices.
We hope that this guide has helped you better understand what should make up your guinea pig’s diet. A great way to ensure many more excited wheeks and cuddles!