Just like humans, guinea pigs require a varied and balanced diet to maintain good health. Cavies can’t thrive on a diet on solely commercial guinea pig food – they also need hay and fresh vegetables too.
Before I got my piggies, I did a lot of research on guinea pig nutrition to ensure I knew exactly what they needed to be healthy.
I also found a lot of misinformation out there, which you might not pick up on if you’re new to keeping cavies.
So, to help you understand more about guinea pig nutrition and select the best foods, here’s everything you need to know about guinea pig diet.
Nutrients That Guinea Pigs Need
Guinea pigs need a range of nutrients in their diet to thrive, but some are more important than others.
Let’s take a look at the nutritional requirements of cavies so you can ensure your pet’s food contains everything they need.
Fiber and Protein
Fiber and protein should make up the bulk of your guinea pig’s diet. Protein and fiber is found in pellet food.
Grass hay also contains a high amount of fiber, which is why it’s so crucial to your pet’s nutrition.
Guinea pigs require around 16% to 18% protein and 35% of fiber. Their diet should be low in sugar, carbohydrates, and fat.
Most guinea pigs require roughly 10mg of vitamin C each day, but pregnant sows and pups will benefit from more (around 20mg).
Cavies can’t make their own vitamin C, which is why you need to offer them foods that contain this compound.
Make sure you select pellets that contain vitamin C, and offer your cavy a variety of vegetables daily.
Fruits like kiwi and tomato are also excellent sources of vitamin C that you can give your pet every now and again.
You can give your guinea pig vitamin C supplements, but consult a veterinarian beforehand for advice.
Avoid adding vitamin C drops to your guinea pig’s water as the compound can dissipate quickly.
The taste can also be off putting for some cavies, which could lead to dehydration if they don’t drink enough water.
Food for guinea pigs should contain a bit of calcium to maintain healthy teeth and bones. However, too much calcium can lead to bladder stones.
GUINEA PIG FACT
Did you know that guinea pigs are lactose intolerant?
Although milk is a good source of calcium for humans, cavies lack the enzymes in their GI tract to digest dairy products.
If you spot white deposits in your piggy’s urine, then they might be getting too much calcium.
Take a look at the pellets and the type of hay you’re feeding your cavy to see where you might be going wrong.
Timothy hay is the best type of hay for your guinea pig as it’s high in fiber and low in calcium.
Phosphorus and magnesium are also important in your guinea pig’s diet.
They should already be included in your guinea pig pellets, as well as specific fruits and vegetables like kale, spinach, and kiwi.
That said, too much phosphorus can lead to bladder issues and digestive upset.
Your guinea pig needs a small amount of fat in their diet, but only around 3% to 5% as too much can lead to obesity, an upset stomach, and other health issues.
Your guinea pig’s pellets should only have roughly 1% to 2% of fat.
What Guinea Pigs Can Eat
Hay is a vital component of your guinea pig’s diet as it provides them with fiber and essential nutrients that keep their digestive system healthy.
It also helps wear down their teeth, which grow continuously throughout their lives.
Guinea pigs need constant access to hay, so you’ll need to ensure you give them an unlimited supply each day.
In fact, 80% of your guinea pig’s diet should be hay.
Keep your guinea pig’s hay in a rack or a large bowl to prevent your pet from soiling it.
High-quality hay for guinea pigs should be fresh with a green color and sweet odor.
The hay should also be additive-free and be as dustless as possible to prevent respiratory problems.
Check the quality of your hay for the above aspects to ensure you’re giving your guinea pig the best nutrition.
Additionally, never give your guinea pig chemically sprayed products as it can be lethal.
Types of Hay
There are two types of hay: grass hay and alfalfa hay.
Grass hay is rich in fiber while also being low in calcium, protein, and calories. This is the best type of hay for your guinea pigs.
Timothy Grass Hay
Timothy hay is the preferred grass hay option for guinea pigs, but Orchard hay, Bermuda hay, and Meadow hay are also suitable.
Oats hay contains a high amount of fat, fiber, and protein, so it should only be fed once in a while.
Alfalfa hay, on the other hand, should not be given to your guinea pigs often as it contains a lot of fat, which could contribute to obesity and urinary stones.
Pregnant sows, pups, and sick/elderly piggies can benefit from alfalfa hay every now and again for some extra nutrients.
Guinea pig pellets or nuggets should also be offered to your pet every day.
Adult piggies need around ⅛ cup of pellets per day, but pregnant/nursing sows and piggies under 6 months old should have constant access to pellets.
Select a high-quality pellet based food that is rich in vitamin C.
The pellets shouldn’t contain seeds to prevent selective feeding.
In addition, hard seeds like sunflower and pumpkin seeds could get stuck in your piggy’s teeth and cause them to choke.
Vegetables are another key element to your guinea pig’s diet, particularly vegetables that are high in vitamin C.
As I mentioned earlier, guinea pigs are unable to produce their own vitamin C, which is why they need it to be supplemented elsewhere.
The best way to do this is via vitamin C enriched guinea pig foods, vegetables, and fruits. Guinea pigs should be offered a variety of vegetables each day, around 1 cup per adult.
Types of Vegetables
Leafy greens like kale, parsley, cilantro, and romaine lettuce should make up the bulk of your piggy’s daily vegetable intake.
Other great vegetables to include in your guinea pig’s diet include bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, and spinach.
Zucchini and broccoli can be fed every day as they’re high in vitamin C.The rest can be offered a couple of times a week.
Remove any uneaten vegetables within 24 hours as you don’t want your cavy to eat spoiled foods.
Many guinea pigs love fruits, but they shouldn’t be given very regularly.
Think of fruits as a treat – they’re fine every now and again.
Fruits are high in sugar, which can contribute to diarrhea and bladder problems in guinea pigs if given in excessive numbers.
Only feed your guinea pig a small portion of fruit (a couple of tiny slices) once or twice a week at most.
That said, fruits are an excellent healthy snack for your cavy – some can even aid in weight loss.
Rather than feeding you cavy commercial diet guinea pigs treats, offer them a slice of fruit instead.
Types of Fruits
Preferably choose fruits that are high in vitamin C like tomato and kiwi.
Orange is also loaded with vitamin C, but it should be fed very sparingly as it can cause mouth sores.
Some other good fruits you can feed your cavy include apple (take the seeds out first), mango, papaya, melon (any type), blueberries, strawberries, and cucumber.
Cucumber, although often considered a vegetable, is actually a fruit.
Its high water content makes it a fantastic refreshing snack for your cavy on a hot day.
Treats for Guinea Pigs
Although fruits make excellent healthy treats for guinea pigs, you can also feed them commercial treats suitable for guinea pigs.
Avoid overly sugary or fatty treats, and try to find ones that contain Timothy grass.
Don’t feed your cavies yogurt drops or any treats that contain dairy products as they are unable to digest dairy.
Additionally, seed sticks are very fatty and can be a choking hazard, particularly if they contain pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
My guinea pigs love chew sticks made from Timothy grass, which not only provides them with fiber, but it also acts as a boredom breaker due to its crunchy texture!
When Should I Feed My Guinea Pig?
You should feed your guinea pig twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening.
To ensure your piggies stay at a healthy weight, stick to a consistent feeding schedule. Don’t be tempted to feed them more than the recommended amount each day.
What Should I Feed My Guinea Pig Every Day?
Guinea pigs should be given Timothy hay (or another type of high quality grass hay), guinea pig nuggets, and leafy greens every day.
They should also have constant access to fresh water (changed at least once per day.
What Is a Guinea Pig’s Favorite Food?
Every guinea pig has their own favorite food – no piggy is the same!
That said, the majority of guinea pigs adore carrots, dandelion leaves, cucumber, and carrot tops.
My piggies can’t get enough of kale – every time I feed it, they squeak excitedly before greedily munching it down.
In contrast, my guinea pigs cannot stand brussel sprouts (can’t say I blame them, to be honest!) and simply refuse to even go near this veggie.
Every cavy is different, so offer yours a variety of guinea pigs foods to see what they like the most.
Food Guinea Pig Need to Avoid
- Meat and insects – Guinea pigs are herbivores, so they are unable to digest meat and insects. Feeding your guinea pig meat-based foods can make them severely unwell.
- Dairy products (such as cheese, milk, eggs, and yogurt) – Guinea pigs cannot digest dairy as they lack the enzymes in their GI tract to do so. Yogurt drops should also be avoided, even if they’re targeted for small animals.
- Bulb foods – Garlic, white potatoes, onions, and other bulb foods are poisonous to guinea pigs.
- Leeks, onions, chives, and shallots – Anything from the onion family is toxic to cavies and can result in blood disorders.
- Rhubarb – All parts of this vegetable is poisonous to cavies. It’s also high in oxalates, which can be harmful to guinea pigs in large amounts.
- Avocado – Due to its high fat content, avocado should not be given to your cavy as it can slow down their digestive tract. The skin and pit are also poisonous.
- Cauliflower and cabbage – Both of these can cause bloat in cavies. Other veggies that are known as being gassy should also be avoided.
Can You Overfeed a Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs will overeat if given the chance, so it’s up to you to ensure they are given the right portion of food.
Your cavy’s nutrition should be 80% hay, 15% fresh vegetables/herbs, and 5% pellets.
How Long Can Guinea Pigs Go Without Food?
Guinea pigs will rapidly deteriorate without food within 2 to 3 days.
Even going a single day without food can be harmful, so make sure you stick to a regular feeding schedule.
If you’re going away and unable to feed your guinea pigs, ask a friend or family member to feed your cavies and check up on them until you return.
Can Guinea Pigs Drink Out of Bowls?
Guinea pigs can drink out of bowls, but they can get dirty quickly due to them being positioned on the floor.
You’ll need to ensure you clean your guinea pig’s drinking bowl each day and remove any hay, bedding, or feces that might be floating in it.
Additionally, opt for ceramic bowls as they’re less likely to be knocked over than plastic ones.
Guinea Pig Health Issues Caused By Nutrition
Diarrhea can occur in guinea pigs for a number of reasons, including improper nutrition, dental issues, and bacterial infections.
If your guinea pig’s diet is too low in fiber, too low in vitamin C, or includes too many fruits/leafy greens, then they can get loose stools as a result.
That’s why it’s important you feed your cavy Timothy hay or another one high in fiber, offer them vitamin C enriched pellets, and keep their intake of fruits/vegetables to the recommended amount.
Changes in the diet such as switching to another brand of pellets can also give your cavy an upset stomach. If you’re planning on changing your guinea pigs food, then do so gradually.
Mix their old pellets with their new pellets for at least a week to help your guinea pig become accustomed to their new food.
Guinea pigs with dental problems can suffer from diarrhea as they are unable to chew their food and pellets properly.
A guinea pig with poor dental health might also have symptoms like drooling, poor appetite, and mouth sores.
If you think your piggy is having problems with their teeth, take them to a vet as soon as possible.
Lastly, diarrhea is a common sign of a bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal tract.
Salmonella is normally the cause, but E.coli, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, and clostridium can also contribute to gastrointestinal infections.
A guinea pig with a bacterial infection will need immediate veterinary care.
A lot of these bacterial diseases can be passed on to humans, so be very careful when handing your guinea pig and cleaning their cage if you think they are sick.
Wear gloves, change their bedding, and scrub their habitat down with 10 percent bleach solution or a household disinfectant.
Rinse the cage well afterwards to prevent any skin, paw, or respiratory irritations.
If guinea pigs don’t get enough vitamin C in their diet, it can increase their risk of developing scurvy.
Scurvy affects your cavy’s ability to produce collagen, which is a critical part of bone and tissue formation.
This condition can result in blood clotting issues, as well as skin and joint problems.
Some cavies can become deficient in vitamin C despite getting plenty of this compound in their diet.
This can occur if there are other health issues that are causing your guinea pig to eat less or impacting their ability to absorb vitamin C.
Signs of scurvy in guinea pigs include:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Lethargy and weakness
- Swollen joint and difficulty walking
- Rough coat
- Spots or subcutaneous bleeding under the skin surface
- Cuts or small wounds may be slow to heal or bleed excessively
- Internal bleeding in the muscles, brain, intestines, membranes around the skull
- Sudden death (if left untreated)
If your guinea pig has any of these symptoms, take them to a vet as soon as possible to get a diagnosis.
Vitamin C deficiencies caused by poor diet can be treated (and prevented) by feeding your guinea pig pellets that are high in vitamin C, alongside vegetables and fruits rich in this component.
Vitamin C supplements can also be used, but speak to your vet first.
So, to sum everything up, guinea pigs require timothy hay, pellets, fresh leafy green vegetables/herbs every day.
Your guinea pig’s nutrition isn’t something you can cut corners on – it’s crucial for their health and wellbeing.
My guinea pigs look forward to meal times every day, and always seem to know when they’re about to get fed.
Watching them squeak and run circles in delight when I bring over their food dish always puts a smile on my face.
Not only are they happy piggies, but they’re healthy too!
What’s your guinea pig’s favorite food?
Do they have any dislikes? Let me know on social media, and take a look at our other guides if you want to know more about guinea pig care!