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Guinea Pig Care: What Can Guinea Pigs Eat

Guinea Pig Care: What Can Guinea Pigs Eat

Guinea pigs are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants and plant-based foods. Your pet guinea pig’s diet should be based on high-quality hay, commercially available pelleted food made specifically for guinea pigs and limited amounts of fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. An imbalance in nutrition can lead to chronic diarrhea, obesity and even dental disease. When introducing new foods into your guinea pig’s diet, do so gradually——abrupt or significant dietary changes may cause your guinea pig to stop eating and potentially develop life-threatening gastrointestinal problems.

Feed your guinea pig on a consistent schedule—twice a day, morning and evening. Because guinea pigs will overeat if given the chance, be sure not to overfeed pelleted food, as it is predominantly carbohydrate and can lead to diarrhea and decreased appetite. Hay contains healthy fiber and should be made available at all times. A small quantity of fresh vegetables—and occasional high-fiber fruit, such as apples or pears—should be offered daily to help keep guinea pigs hydrated. Discard fresh fruits or vegetables that are left uneaten after 10-12 hours so they don’t spoil. Fresh water must be constantly available, especially during warmer weather, as guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stroke. Some guinea pigs like to drink from a bottle, while others prefer a bowl. If using a bottle, rinse your guinea pig's water bottle out daily and clean with hot water and a bottle brush weekly.

What guinea pigs can eat

Safe food for guinea pigs

Hay is an essential part of your guinea pig's diet and should be available at all times. Hay provides the fiber that guinea pigs require for proper digestion and gastrointestinal health. Chewing on hay also helps your guinea pig wear down their continuously growing teeth. Make sure you offer 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.

Commercial guinea pig food is specially formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition along with  essential nutrients, including vitamin C. Unlike many other mammals, guinea pigs cannot make vitamin C in their bodies and it must be supplemented. Choose pelleted food that has been specifically formulated for guinea pigs and follow the feeding instructions on the packaging as a guide to how much to offer your pet each day.

Guinea pigs can also have fresh vegetables each day. The amount of vegetables to offer your guinea pig each day depends on what your pet likes and will tolerate. Some guinea pigs get diarrhea when offered large amounts of fresh produce, while others can eat it without a problem. Similarly, some guinea pigs prefer fresh veggies to everything else and will ignore their hay if offered unlimited amounts of vegetables. As long as your guinea pig eats hay and an appropriate amount of pellets every day to ensure they are getting adequate fiber and vitamin C, they can be offered vegetables daily. New vegetables should be introduced one at a time to see whether your pet likes them and will tolerate them. Fresh, organically grown greens are the best option. Vegetables that your pet guinea pig can eat include:

  • Romaine lettuce (never iceberg lettuce, which is nearly all water and no nutrients)
  • Green, red, yellow or orange bell peppers (a great source of vitamin C)
  • Carrots and carrot tops (limit the carrots, as they are high in carbohydrates)
  • Broccoli (a great source of vitamin C) 
  • Spinach (in limited amounts, as it contains calcium, which can contribute to bladder stone formation)
  • Artichokes
  • Kale (in limited amounts, as it contains calcium, which can contribute to bladder stone formation)
  • Tomatoes (remove any stems or leaves) 
  • Squash 
  • Cucumbers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Other dark green, leafy veggies (such as arugula, endive, chicory, radicchio and basil) 

These veggies 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 offer appropriately sized pieces that are manageable for your pet to eat.

Because fruits are high in sugar and can upset their GI tracts, guinea pigs should not be offered fruits as often as vegetables. Small, bite-sized portions of fruit a few times a week will delight your guinea pig and may provide essential vitamin C. Fruits guinea pigs can eat in small quantities include:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Strawberries 
  • Blueberries
  • Kiwi
  • Bananas
  • Papayas 
  • Peaches
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges (in small quantities, as they are quite acidic)

Thoroughly wash all fruits before serving them to your guinea pig and offer them in bite-sized portions. 

Treats—including fruit—should not exceed 10% of your guinea pig's total daily caloric intake. Some commercially produced treats contain artificial sweeteners and excess sugar or salt, which are not healthy for guinea pigs to eat. Carefully read labels when selecting healthy treats for your pet. 
Since guinea pigs’ teeth grow continuously, provide them with a variety of fun chews—including commercially available applewood sticks, wooden toys, balls and blocks made especially for small animals—to help wear down their teeth as they grow. These items not only are fun for your guinea pig to chew on but also help relieve boredom. 

Nature has provided guinea pigs with an unusual method for supplementing their unique nutritional needs. Cecotropes are fecal pellets that are softer and lighter colored than typical fecal pellets and contain nutrients absorbed from plants during digestion. They pass out the anus from the large intestine and are consumed by guinea pigs almost immediately. While this process sounds bizarre or even revolting, ingesting cecotropes is critical in helping guinea pigs get the nutrients they need.

Foods guinea pigs cannot eat

There are several foods that guinea pigs should not be offered—for various reasons. Some foods can be toxic or upset the GI tract, while others are too high in fat or sugar, may be a choking hazard or have no nutritional value. Consult your veterinarian as to which foods are unsafe for guinea pigs.

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
  • Dairy products
  • Bread
  • Meat

Never offer your guinea pig any plants, flowers or grass from your yard or garden, as they may contain pesticides, molds or other infectious agents. Many houseplants are also toxic. Consult your veterinarian about what plants are potentially toxic to guinea pigs before bringing a plant home, and always supervise your little pet when they are out of their habitat.

Scurvy in guinea pigs and the need for Vitamin C

Since guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C in their bodies, they are at risk of developing a vitamin C deficiency—also called scurvy. To combat scurvy, your guinea pig needs to ingest 30–50 mg of vitamin C daily. Pellets and treats fortified with vitamin C can provide some of this vital nutrient, but guinea pigs need more vitamin C than that. You can provide additional Vitamin C in liquid or tablet form directly into your guinea pig’s mouth—rather than in their food or water—to ensure they are getting what they need. Vitamin C in water breaks down and may alter the water’s taste, discouraging pets from drinking it, so this form of vitamin C is not recommended. If you ever notice anything out of the ordinary with your guinea pig, take them to their veterinarian right away. Signs of possible illness include sneezing, crusty eyes, weight loss, decreased appetite, decreased stool production, lethargy, hair loss and diarrhea. With proper care, guinea pigs can live up to eight or nine years. Like any other pet, your guinea pig should get annual check-ups so your veterinarian can detect problems earlier and begin any necessary treatment sooner. Consult with your veterinarian to ensure that your guinea pig is getting the proper nutrition they need.