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Guinea Pig Care: Diet and Feeding Tips
Guinea pigs are herbivores, so their diet should be one based on high-quality guinea pig hay, pelleted guinea pig food and limited amounts of fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. An imbalance in nutrition can cause chronic diarrhea, obesity and diseases of the heart, liver or kidneys. Gradually introduce new foods to your guinea pig's diet as abrupt or significant dietary changes can cause problems (such as diarrhea).
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 pelleted food that is left uneaten after one hour and discard fresh fruits or vegetables that are left uneaten after 24 hours. Never add new food, including hay, before cleaning out the old food.
Fresh, filtered, chlorine-free water must be constantly available, especially during warmer weather, as guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stroke. Their water intake should be at least five ounces daily. Rinse your guinea pig's water bottle out daily and clean with hot water and a bottle brush weekly.
Foods for Your Guinea Pig
Hay: Hay is a vital part of your pet's diet. Guinea pigs require this kind of fiber for proper digestion; therefore it must be available at all times. Chewing on hay also helps to wear down your guinea pig's teeth, which grow continuously. Make sure you purchase fresh, high-quality, clean hay that is dry, sweet-smelling and free of mold. A high-quality meadow hay such as Timothy hay is a great choice.
Pellets: Commercial guinea pig food is specially formulated to provide balanced nutrition with the ideal dosage of Vitamin C and other essential nutrients. Choose pelleted food that has been veterinarian-tested and approved and follow the feeding instructions on the packaging as a guide.
Vegetables: The Humane Society of the United States recommends up to one cup of vegetables each day, introduced gradually, one at a time. Fresh, organically grown greens are the best option. Romaine lettuce (never iceberg lettuce), carrot tops, peas, cucumbers, broccoli spears, spinach, artichokes, kale and other dark green veggies are also great choices. These vegetables provide vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your guinea pig's overall health. Wash all produce thoroughly to remove traces of harmful pesticides, and avoid serving vegetables cold.
Fruits: Generally speaking, aim to feed fewer fruits than vegetables, due to the higher sugar content. Small, bite-sized portions of fruit served daily will delight your guinea pig and provide much-needed Vitamin C. Guinea pigs especially love oranges, apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, papayas and peaches. Again, thoroughly wash all fruits before serving them to your guinea pig, and avoid serving fruit cold.
Treats: It's recommended that treats (including fruit) not exceed 10 percent of your guinea pig's total food intake. In addition to small amounts of fruit, which are a definite delight for your guinea pig, you can occasionally offer tomatoes (not the stems or leaves though), carrots, green and red bell peppers and guinea pig treats. Some commercially produced treats contain artificial sweeteners, sugar or salt, so carefully read labels when selecting healthy options for your pet.
Since your guinea pig's teeth grow continuously, you should provide a variety of fun chews, including sticks, toys, balls, blocks and treats made especially for small animals. Not only are they fun for your guinea pig to chew on, they also help to relieve boredom. Another treat option is a small animal salt lick, which is a rich source of healthy minerals and is a healthy way to satisfy your guinea pig's desire for salt.
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 a necessary part of your guinea pig's diet.
Foods to Avoid
There are a several types of foods that you should avoid giving your guinea pig, for various reasons. Some foods can be poisonous, some are too high in fat or sugar, some are a choking hazard, some have no nutritional value, some can cause gas and some can cause bloat. You can refer to books on guinea pig care or reputable websites (such as the ASPCA), but ideally, you should consult an exotic animal veterinarian or a veterinarian that specializes in small animals for nutritional guidelines.
A short list of the foods to avoid feeding your guinea pig includes chocolate (or anything else containing caffeine), onions, garlic, mushrooms, iceberg lettuce, avocados, nuts, potatoes, seeds, corn kernels, peanut butter, rhubarb, cabbage, bok choy, dairy products, bread and meat. You should never offer your guinea pig any plants, flowers or grass from your yard or garden as they may contain pesticides or other hazards; many houseplants are also toxic, so always supervise your little pet when he's out of his habitat.
The Importance of Vitamin C
Guinea pigs have an increased risk of developing a Vitamin C deficiency due to their inability to synthesize this vitamin. To combat scurvy, your guinea pig needs 30–50 mg of Vitamin C daily. Pellets and treats fortified with Vitamin C should provide your guinea pig's daily intake, but may not be enough. While you can provide Vitamin C in liquid or tablet form, these options are less-commonly used. Supplementing with treats in the form of citrus fruits and vegetables allows you to provide Vitamin C from natural sources, while still giving him the opportunity to enjoy the diversity and fulfillment that comes from a well-balanced diet.
If you ever notice anything out of the ordinary with your guinea pig, take him to the veterinarian right away. Signs of possible illness include sneezing, crusty eyes, weight loss, hair loss and diarrhea. With proper care, you can expect your guinea pig to live up to eight years. Like any other pet, it's important for your guinea pig to get annual check-ups. Consult with your veterinarian to ensure that your guinea pig is getting the proper nutrition needed for a long, healthy life.
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