To keep your guinea pig happy and healthy, you should keep an eye on its diet. Guinea pigs are very special pets, while their teeth continue to grow for most of their lives. They digest their food using hindgut fermentation and they stress easily.
Seventy-five per cent of the diet should consist of good quality hay or grass. Timothy hay, Eragrostis hay, Ryegrass or Teff are good options, and should always be available in large quantities. A lack of fibre can predispose a guinea pig to bloat and to a dangerous condition known as gut stasis, where the intestines stop contracting in a normal manner. Lucerne is not hay and should only be used as a treat in small quantities. Lucerne is too high in calcium and can predispose the guinea pig to bladder stones and bloat. It also does not contain sufficient fibre for keeping the tooth short and intestinal health.
It is important to supply a high-quality nutritious pellet (15% -20% of diet) Guinea pig pellets in a limited amount are an important part of the diet. The pellets should preferably be a complete pressed pellet. These complete pellets prevent the problem of selective feeding. Make sure that the pellet contains various vitamins and minerals. Examples of good quality pellets are Burgess Excel pellets, Versele-Laga Nature Pellets or Science Selective Pellets. Large quantities of pellets can cause bloat or diarrhoea, therefor always follow the feeding guidelines on the pack. Avoid mixes that contain nuts, corn, seeds, and dried fruits, while they are too high in fat.
Guinea pigs love fresh vegetables and these can safely make up 5-10% of their diet. Like humans, guinea pigs can not produce their own vitamin C. Therefore they do require to get their daily requirement in from their diet. Normally good quality pellets will have Vitamin C added. However Fresh vegetables and fruits can help to prevent Vitamin C deficiencies. Remember to introduce new vegetables slowly and one at a time to avoid upsetting the stomach.
You can feed your guinea pig; Kale, Bell peppers (not more than 1 tsp per day), Spinach, Broccolini stems, Broccoli leaf, Beet greens, Carrot tops, Dandelion greens, Turnip greens. They love to eat fresh herbs, such as Mint, Basil, Watercress, Coriander and Parsley. Grated carrots, apples, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Strawberries, Honeydew melon, Raspberries, Cabbage and Orange can also be given. The ideal way is to feed a variety of vegetables in small quantities.
Do NOT feed Lettuce, rhubarb, tomatoes, onions, avocado, beans, and potatoes.
Nature snacks and treats should only be given in small amounts (0-5% of diet) Treats can be used to bond with your guinea pig. Look for low sugar, high fibre treats such as Burgess Excel treats or Versele-Laga Nature treats. Never feed nuts, seeds, popcorn, crackers, or yoghurt drops, while they can cause serious health problems. Guinea pigs are very prone to intestinal tract upset, which can result in life-threatening disease. If your guinea pig is not eating, take your guinea pig to the veterinarian as quickly as possible.
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Written by Dr Tessa Brouwer, BVSc, MSc, BSc and Dr Lizahn Henning, BVSc.