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NUTRITION BASICS FOR GUINEA PIGS

Guinea pigs are herbivores who will eat just about anything that smells and tastes like a plant. However, this doesn't necessarily simplify your responsibility in providing a proper diet for your pet. Remember that proper nutrition is not what the animal will eat, but what he should eat.

For a guinea pig, the proper diet should be one based on hay, supplemented by pellets, fresh vegetables and fruit in proper proportions. An imbalance in nutrition can cause chronic diarrhea, obesity and diseases of the heart, liver and kidneys.

A guinea pig must have a daily intake of about 6% to 10% of his body weight. If a guinea pig weighs 2 pounds (approximately 1 kg, which is average for an adult), he needs to eat around 2-3.2 ounces per day (60-100g/day). This is roughly one-fourth to one-third of a cup of food per day. This amount must contain 20% protein, 4% fat, less than 20% fiber and 30-50 mg of Vitamin C.

Water intake should be at least 150 ml a day. Water must be constantly available, especially during summer, because guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stroke.

Foods for Your Guinea

Hay: A handful daily. Guinea pigs require this kind of fiber for proper digestion, therefore it must be available at all times. Make sure you purchase good, clean hay from a pet store. It should be dry, free from molds and sweet smelling. Store the hay where it won't get wet and moldy. A good quality meadow hay such as Timothy hay is recommended, but a legume hay like clover is acceptable. Alfalfa can be used, but it promotes obesity. Never substitute with hay cubes used for horses.

Vegetables: A small amount of fresh, organically grown greens is the best. Romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, carrot tops, broccoli spears, spinach, artichokes and any other dark green veggies, eaten daily, provide the all-important Vitamin C and many other vitamins and minerals beneficial to your guinea pig's health. Remember to wash all produce thoroughly to remove traces of harmful pesticides.

Pellets: Use the instructions on the packaging as a guide. Commercial brands of guinea pig food are specially formulated to provide the proper balanced nutrition with the ideal daily dosage of Vitamin C and other essential nutrients. Choose pellets that have been veterinarian tested and approved. Remember, pellets should not be the guinea pig's sole diet. Fresh vegetables and hay are daily essentials.

Fruits: A small amount daily. Guinea pigs love oranges, apples, pears, strawberries and peaches. They should be given in moderation, as a supplement to their regular diet.

Treats: Cereals, tomatoes, carrots and prepared guinea pig treats may be added occasionally. Avoid giving treats that contain sugar or salt. Nuts and seeds should be offered sparingly because of their high fat content, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

Salt lick: To help maintain mineral balance, provide a salt lick for your guinea. Keep it elevated to prevent contamination.

Feed your guinea pig on a consistent schedule, twice a day, morning and evening. Guinea pigs will overeat if given the chance, so, to prevent obesity, remove food that remains uneaten one hour after it was presented. Never add new food, including hay, before cleaning out the old food.

Presentation

Racks: Use two racks, one for hay and one for greens. The rack keeps the food clean and accessible.

Bowl: The feeding bowl should be large and sturdy to avoid spillage. Keep it clean to avoid bacterial growth. Discard leftover pellets and serve only fresh mixes.

Bottle: You should have a good supply of fresh water. Make sure it never runs dry. Choose a water bottle with a metal (or other hard material) spout, otherwise the guinea pig will chew off the tube. Clean the water bottle regularly.

Temperature: Serve food at room temperature. Cold food could cause digestion problems.

Vitamin C

The most important thing to remember about guinea pigs is they are unable to synthesize Vitamin C and are very susceptible to a deficiency. To prevent your guinea pig from contracting scurvy, he will need 30-50 mg per day. Although vitamins and minerals abound in fresh vegetables and fruits, and correct proportions are provided in commercial mixes, supplements may be beneficial. Consult our Dietary Supplements Section for products and information.

Food Sensitivity

Your guinea pig may be sensitive to certain foods, particularly greens. One symptom is diarrhea. If this occurs, start by cutting back on the greens. If the symptoms continue, omit one food at a time to isolate the irritant, then refrain from serving that particular food.

Cecotropes

Nature has provided guinea pigs with an unusual method for supplementing their unique nutritional needs. Cecotropes are small, soft pellets that contain nutrients absorbed from plants during the digestive process. They pass from the large intestine, out the anus and are consumed immediately. While this process may look bizarre or even revolting, you must not discourage it. Cecotropes are necessary for your guinea pig's survival.