Guinea pigs are herbivores, which means they eat a plant-based diet. Similar to other rodent species, their teeth are continuously growing - so they need plenty of roughage in their daily diet to wear down their teeth and prevent dental problems. To keep your guinea pig happy and healthy, their diet should consist of unlimited guinea pig hay, pelleted guinea pig food, fresh vegetables and greens, along with the occasional healthy fruit treat.
What should my guinea pigs be eating?
- Hay: Roughly 80-90% of your guinea pig's diet should be hay. Quality hay is a vital part of your guinea pig's diet, so it's important to make sure it is freely available at all times.
- Fresh vegetables and greens: 5-10% of your guinea pig's diet should be fresh greens and vegetables (serve about a cup of vegetables/greens per guinea pig daily).
- Pellets: 10-15% of your guinea pig's diet should be quality pellets to ensure they get all the minerals they need.
- Treats: You can feed your guinea pig an occasional healthy treat (e.g. fruit). It's important to feed your guinea pig fewer fruits than vegetables, due to the higher sugar content.
Selecting the right hay
Quality hay is essential for a good diet and general health in guinea pigs. It’s important that your guinea pigs have an unlimited supply of hay to keep them healthy. Hay should be offered fresh daily and should make up approximately 80-90% of their daily diet.
What is hay?
There are many different types of hay but, essentially, hay is dried grass or dried legumes. We can divide hay into two main categories in terms of feed for small herbivores – grass hay which is high in fibre (recommended for guinea pigs) and legume hay (which should not be fed to guinea pigs).
Grass hay is a rough, high-fibre hay that is great for maintaining teeth and encourages natural behaviour like foraging and chewing. High-fibre hay is also critical for a healthy and functional digestive system. Common types of grass hay for guinea pigs include timothy hay, oaten hay, meadow hay and paddock hay. Timothy or meadow hay are the recommended types whereas luecerne hay is too high in calcium for guinea pigs.
Luecerne hay (also known as alfalfa) and clover hay are high protein hays that are made from dried legumes, not grass. They are more fattening than grass hay so they should not be fed to your guinea pig. These hays also have a higher concentration of calcium which can lead to the formation of urinary stones.
Guinea pigs require 30-50mg of Vitamin-C per day for optimum health. To ensure your guinea pig gets enough Vitamin C in their diet, they should be fed a high-quality pellet specific for guinea pigs (rabbit pellets are not suitable). Choose vitamin C-fortified pellets (with no seeds or dried fruit added), such as Science Selective or Burgess, which should be supplemented with Vitamin-C rich leafy greens.
It’s important to be aware that not all pellets are made equal – some poor-quality pellet varieties contain coloured seed mixes which provide poor nutritional value for your guinea pig. We recommend you avoid feeding your guinea pig these types of pellets.
Note: We do not sell this poorer-quality variety of guinea pig pellets at our stores.
Fresh vegetables, greens and fruit
Little herbivores love variety. Try mixing up the diet with a small amount of vegetables (mainly leafy greens) and herbs can be given fresh daily and discarded if uneaten. Be careful to not overfeed your guinea pig vegetables and greens; an average adult guinea pigs should receive no more than one cup of varied leafy greens and herbs per day, although this may vary dependent on life stage, body condition and whether the guinea pig are also on grass/grazing.
When feeding your guinea pig vegetables, avoid iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is low in nutritional value and high in nitrate content which can cause diarrhoea and lead to dehydration.
Fruit should be used as an occasional treat (once a week) and citrus fruits should be avoided. Due to the higher sugar content, aim to feed fewer fruits than vegetables. Small, bite-sized portions of fruit served daily will delight your guinea pig and provide much-needed Vitamin C. Remember to also thoroughly wash all fruits before serving them to your guinea pig and avoid serving fruit cold.
To bond closely with your guinea pig and increase hand-feeding interaction levels, you can try rewarding your guinea pig with the occasional treat during playtime. For example, our Selective Naturals Woodland Loops Dandelion and Rosehip are a great choice for guinea pigs - these delicious snacks are rich in natural ingredients and high in fibre. With no added sugar and no artificial colours, you can ensure this reward is a healthy and fulfilling one your furry friend will love. Just remember, treats should be fed in moderation, so make sure you read the feeding guidelines on the packaging.
Foods your guinea pig shouldn't eat
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 bloat. These foods to avoid include:
- Grains, cereals, seeds and nuts
- Lawn clippings (these can cause gastrointestinal blockages and make your guinea pigs very sick)
- Rhubarb or rhubarb leaves
- Pink clover
- Chocolate, coffee (or anything else containing caffeine)
- Garlic and onions
- Iceberg lettuce
- Chili peppers
- Bok choy
- Corn kernels
- Peanut butter
- Dairy products
Cecotropes (a.k.a. guinea pig poop)
Did you know guinea pigs eat their own poop? Nature has provided guinea pigs with an unusual method for supplementing their unique nutritional needs. Guinea pigs will eat their own poop and digest it a second time to get vital nutrients for their health. But these aren’t regular piggie droppings – guinea pigs only eat special faeces called ‘cecotropes’ or ‘night faeces’ produced through the fermentation of food created in the guinea pig’s gut.
While this process may look seem strange, you must not discourage it as cecotropes are a necessary part of your guinea pig's diet.
Fresh clean water should always be available and changed daily. It is recommended to use a water (sipper) bottle rather than a shallow bowl; as they can get messy and are very easily tipped over. Fresh clean water should always be available and changed every day. It is best to use a water bottle or a heavy bowl to avoid contamination and spillage. If using a sipper bottle it is best to have two available as a precaution. Bottles should be checked regularly to ensure they are working properly, and not freezing over winter.
Scurvy in guinea pigs and the need for Vitamin C
Vitamin C is of utmost importance to guinea pigs, as they are unable to manufacture their own (much like humans). Without enough vitamin C in their diets, guinea pigs can become very ill with scurvy. To combat this, pellets and treats fortified with Vitamin C should provide your guinea pig's daily needed intake, but there are also additional options. 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 fulfilment that comes from a well-balanced diet.
If you ever notice anything out of the ordinary with your guinea pig’s health, take them to your local Animates Vetcare clinic right away.
Your local Animates has a fantastic range of foods and accessories to help keep your little herbivore healthy and happy. And if you have any questions, don’t forget to ask your friendly Animates team members for advice and information.