Guinea Pig Diet
Guinea pigs do not tolerate dietary or environmental changes well. Food preferences are established early in life, and they can refuse to eat if their food changes in type or even presentation. A good idea is to expose new pets while still young to different types of food so that they become accustomed to variety. Any change in food or water containers should be introduced gradually. Sudden changes in diet can also affect the balance of bacteria and protozoa in the large intestine, resulting in digestive problems. Avoid foods that contain sugar, salt and fat, such as crisps, peanuts, biscuits, sweets and chocolate.
Unlike most other mammals, guinea pigs lack the enzyme needed to manufacture vitamin C from glucose in the body. A lack of Vitamin C results in a condition known as scurvy, causing symptoms such as dry, crusty skin, hair loss, abnormalities of bones and teeth and inflamed gums. Vitamin C is required in the diet in order to prevent a deficiency and must be supplemented in commercial guinea pig foods and vegetables and fruit rich in Vitamin C. Extra Vitamin C is not harmful as excess is excreted in the urine.
Guinea pigs are by nature grazing animals and in the wild they forage throughout the day, eating large quantities of vegetation, including leaves, stems and roots of plants.
The recommended diet for guinea pigs in captivity is an unlimited supply of grass hay, a small amount of commercial guinea pig food and / or pellets, and fresh vegetables and fruits.
1) Unlimited Supply Of Grass Hay (for example Eragrostus hay): Guinea pig's teeth grow continuously throughout life. Roughage is necessary in the diet to help keep the teeth worn down and prevent dental problems. Grass hay is important for this purpose and provides necessary roughage for digestion. Good quality grass hay is dry, but still a little green and smells fresh. Avoid hay that is soiled, damp or mouldy. Do not feed grass clippings as they can cause bloat and diarrhea, and may contain pesticides.
2) Commercial Guinea Pig Food And / Or Guinea Pig Pellets: Check that the food you buy contains at least 18 to 20% protein, 3 – 4% fat, 13 – 16% fibre and at least 1 – 3g of vitamin C per kg of food. Remember that Vitamin C in the feed can lose 50% of its potency within 6 weeks of milling, so buy small packets of food, check the manufacture date and keep the packet well sealed.
3) Vegetables: Give leafy, dark green vegetables for example kale, parsley, rocket, watercress, chicory and carrot tops. Other vegetable favourites are red and green peppers, broccoli and carrots. Avoid cabbage as it can cause bloating. Lettuce can cause digestive problems and it is advisable to buy mixed salad with a variety of green leaves instead of just lettuce leaves.
4) Wild Plant Leaves: Take care when feeding wild plants as some are poisonous, for example Sorrel, Rhododendron, Buttercups (Ranunculus) and Ragwort (Senecio). Wild plants that are suitable are dandelion, blackjack and clover.
5) Fruits: A small amount of fruit can be given, for example oranges, grapes, kiwi fruit, strawberries, peaches, melons and apple.
6) Water: Guinea pigs need access to fresh water at all times. Guinea pigs have a habit of jumping into bowls and contaminating the contents with droppings, so water in a drinking bottle is often preferable. Check that the water bottle is not plugged and is functioning properly. Clean the bottle regularly as poisonous algae can build up inside it.