Guinea pigs are natural herbivores and would spend their time foraging and grazing in small herds in the wild. They need to be fed the types of food they have adapted to eat. Their teeth are continuously growing, which is one of the reasons why they need plenty of roughage to chew; this wears down their teeth and helps prevent serious dental problems. Providing sufficient fibre in their diet is also very important for both their gastrointestinal system and general health.
Feeding guinea pigs
What to feed guinea pigs
A guinea pigs diet is very specific and is essential to their health. Please remember that any new foods should be introduced gradually to allow your guinea pigs’ digestive system to adjust, so they don’t get sick. Mix any new food into the existing diet in small quantities, slowly increasing the amount over two weeks.
Provide clean fresh water at all times. Multiple water dispensers should be available and enclosures should be fitted with a water bottle and a small water bowl should be available as well.
Grass or grass hay
Ensure that your guinea pigs have a constant supply of grass and/or grass hay (such as Timothy, Oaten, Barley, or grassy hay). Guinea pigs should not be fed Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover hay, as these are too high in protein and calcium.
The hay that you feed should be available 24 hours a day and of good quality; dry, sweet smelling, and not contain any mold, mildew or fungus.This is paramount in providing a complete diet and encourages the guinea pigs to chew for long periods of time.
This chewing helps to wear down their continuously growing teeth and is very important in maintaining dental and gastrointestinal health. The hay should ideally be contained in a hayrack or basket to prevent it sitting on the enclosure floor and getting contaminated by your guinea pigs’ waste and becoming damp, dirty, and mouldy; this is unhygienic and could make your guinea pigs sick.
Fresh leafy green vegetables and herbs
Offer a variety of fresh leafy green vegetables & herbs daily. Some examples of these include dark leafed lettuce varieties such as rocket, dandelion greens, snow peas, and herbs such as marjoram, borage, marigold, nasturtium, rosemary, parsley, coriander, basil, and dill. Other foods that are good to fed guinea pigs a few times a week include broccoli, cabbage, endive, carrot tops, Brussels sprouts, kale, silver beet, mint, and fruits such as apples (but with no seeds), mango, and papaya.
Guinea pigs need vitamin C
Provide your guinea pigs with a dietary source of vitamin C because (like humans), guinea pigs cannot synthesise vitamin C from other food substances. Vitamin C rich foods such as leafy green veggies and capsicums (green, orange, and red) should be fed to your guinea pigs daily. Foods like carrots, kiwifruit, berries, and pineapple are also great as a source of vitamin C and a tasty treat for your guinea pigs but only feed them a few times a week, not every day, as these foods have quite a high sugar content.
Keep treats to a minimum
High quality commercial ‘Guinea Pig’ pellets (minimum 16% fibre content) may be offered in small quantities, but these should not form the main part of the diet. Although many contain adequate levels of Vitamin C when fresh, this is only when the food is very fresh and within just a few months these foods no longer contain Vitamin C.
What not to feed guinea pigs
It is important to also know what not to feed guinea pigs, as there are plenty of items that might seem harmless but can in fact cause significant health issues.
Make sure you do not feed your guinea pigs the following foods (this is not an exhaustive list): cereals; grains; nuts; seeds; dried beans, corn, and peas; buttercups; garden shrubs (such as hemlock or privet); lilies of any kind; sweet peas; nightshade; oak; avocado; onion grass; onions; potato tops; mushrooms; daffodils; foxglove; rhubarb leaves; and human foods such as breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, dairy products, chocolate, pasta, crackers, or pickled foods.
Letting your guinea pig graze
Providing the opportunity for your guinea pig to graze on grass is also important to their wellbeing. If they do not have an areas where they can graze safely (for example, free roaming in a safe enclosure), then offering cut grass is another alternative (however, they should not be fed lawn trimmings, as these can cause digestive upsets). When you harvest grass to feed to your guinea pigs you need to make sure it is safe. Ensure that the grass has NOT been sprayed with any herbicides or pesticides, don’t harvest grass from the roadside as it may be contaminated with exhaust fume toxins or from areas where it might have been soiled by other animals (e.g. livestock or dogs).