cavymadness: guinea pig care and gifts
 

care links:    home    food    habitats    health    boys & girls    cavy life
These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.

food

pelleted food
hay

a variety of veggies

nutrients, vitamin C and calcium

water

 

The most common mistake made by new guinea pig people is feeding their guinea pig(s) a pellet-based food and miscellaneous vegetables without thinking about the dietary requirements that are specific to guinea pigs. I have received many emails that ask, "what does it eat?" My first guinea pig, Basil, patiently endured a diet of iceberg lettuce, carrots, and cheap pellets for a year until I learned how to properly feed him. Boy, did he go crazy for good food.

pelleted food

Pelleted food is a readily available source of food for guinea pigs, providing a good source of nutrients and fiber. Pellets should be a staple in your guinea pig's diet, along with hay and fresh foods. Only use feed formulated specifically for guinea pigs.

Unfortunately, many of the bags on pet store shelves lack adequate nutritional value. Several brands contain added nuts and sunflower seeds, which are way too high in fat and pose a serious choking hazard. Look for a pelleted food that is timothy-hay based, and one that does not have nuts, seeds or other silly bits.

Check for a "milled" date. The fresher the pellet, the more vitamin C will be present. As I will discuss below, vitamin C degrades rapidly, so a fresher pellet is a better pellet for your piggy. But assume that you'll need to supplement your guinea pig's diet with C, just the same.

highly recommended:

Pellet food can be left in the cage for your guinea pig to eat as needed, but you should know how much your guinea pig is eating. Provide a sturdy, heavy container, to prevent your guinea pig from tipping it over. Guinea pigs will eat more out of boredom; pregnant piggies may eat like crazy. Some people advocate feeding hay and veggies as the main part of your guinea pig's diet, with pelleted food only as a supplement. This is a viable approach, but feeding a balanced diet of pellets, hay, and veggies is the easiest, most efficient way to ensure a good nutritional base for your piggy.

hay

A steady supply of hay will keep teeth honed and digestive systems running smoothly. Guinea pigs need a diet rich in fiber to help digestion. A constant supply of hay provides fiber that guinea pigs need without a lot of calories. Hay satisfies the guinea pig's natural grazing instinct and helps to keep the teeth from overgrowing (cavies grind their back teeth to break down the hay). It is wise to buy a hay rack to hang on the side of the cage; hay left on the cage floor will easily become soiled (and moldy) from urine. You can basically feed a guinea pig as much hay as it will eat.

Timothy hay is the best hay to feed to your guinea pig, as is any sort of grass hay. Alfalfa hay is good, although it contains a high level of calcium, which is suspected to lead to bladder stones. Feed alfalfa hay only occasionally; even though it's not necessarily bad for your guinea pig; it should be considered more of a treat than a staple in your piggies' diet. Alfalfa-based products are recommended for very young guinea pigs, elder pigs needing extra nutrition, and nursing sows in order to provide them with a lot of extra protein.

Tried-and-true hay:

  • Oxbow (Nebraska) has a range of hays ideal for guinea pigs
  • Small Pet Select (WA) offers FREE shipping with code 'CAVYMADNESS'
  • Sweet Meadow Farm (MA) has excellent grass, eastern Timothy, and certified organic hays.
  • Check out regional farms in your area to inquire about timothy and grass hay. Support your local farms!

Grasses can also provide a welcome treat for your piggy, but take care to ensure they are free of chemicals. Many organic stores will sell wheatgrass flats, which are yummy! GuineaPigFun.com has some simple instructions for growing your own wheatgrass for your piggies.

a variety of veggies

In addition to hay and pelleted feed, provide your guinea pig with fresh vegetables daily. These will provide the essential vitamin C that your piggy needs, along with variety in his or her diet. Tend toward feeding more vegetables, with fruits more sparingly; the natural sugars in fruits make them more of a treat than staple.

Generally, the rule of thumb is a generous handful of veggies per pig, per day. Start with small amounts, and see what your piggy prefers. Guinea pigs will not eat what they do not like. Remove any uneaten fruits or veggies after about an hour so that you don't have an icky, moldy mess in your guinea pig's home. Many fresh foods have a high water content, so your guinea pig may drink less water than you'd expect. That is normal. However, if you notice diarrhea or loose stools, cut out some of the "wetter" fresh fruits and veggies until the poo returns to normal, and then feed a smaller amount of "wet" fresh foods each day.

Experiment with different fruits and vegetables; this is by no means an exhaustive list. Consider it a starting point, and then ask other guinea pig people what foods their guinea pigs like. ALL fresh foods must be washed and free of pesticide residue. If you're picking dandelion greens or grass from outside, ensure that the area is/was free of chemicals and animal droppings, which are lethal. Even car exhaust fumes can leave traces of poison; recently-mowed grass will still have toxic fumes from the lawnmower on it.

Many nutritional charts break foods down into nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Too much of one nutrient can cause deficiences in other nutrients, so variety is really key when feeding your guinea pig(s) fresh foods. Too little vitamin C in the diet can cause scurvy; too much calcium in the diet can cause bladder sludge and stones. More about these nutrients below.

 

veggies and fruits to feed daily:
(mix it up! variety is key)

  • greens! NOM NOM NOM
    • romaine
    • endive
    • dandelion greens
    • red or green leaf lettuces
    • parsley
    • cilantro
    • swiss chard
    • (see note about dark greens
      in the next list)
  • bell peppers: green, orange, red
  • cucumber
  • grass, free from chemicals
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes (a small amount, since they contain a lot of water, and can be acidic)

veggies and fruits to feed sparingly:
(a few times a week, but not every day)

  • apples: some piggies have an allergic reaction to the acids. Do not feed if you notice any mouth sores or scabs on your guinea pig's lips. Oranges also have a high acid content, so don't feed too much.
  • bananas: great for piggies recovering from surgery, since Critical Care can be mashed into them. But generally known for a higher sugar content.
  • berries: blueberries, raspberries. feed a few times a week, but not quite every day, due to high sugar content.
  • broccoli: should be a RARE treat, since it can cause gas.
  • carrots: some feed a small bit of carrot every day to their piggies, which is fine. Keep in mind that carrots, while GREAT for vitamin C, have a high sugar content. Carrot tops (the green bits) are great to toss in the mix every now and then.
  • celery: little nutrition and high water content. cut into small pieces because "strings" can be a choking hazard. Celery is a good source of water on car trips, but not recommended as a daily food
  • corn husks: cut into small pieces for the same reason as celery
  • dark greens: kale, mustard/turnip greens, and spinach: contain a lot of oxalates, which can be dangerous in large amounts. This is a debated point, but it's better to just play it safe.
  • grapes: a popular treat, so feed a few times a week.
  • melons: feed in small amounts, since they have a high water and sugar content: cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon.

avoid completely:

  • cabbage, bok choy and collard greens: can cause problems with guinea pigs who are susceptible to gas
  • dairy products of any kind
  • iceberg lettuce: no nutritional content. best to avoid.
  • mushrooms of any kind
  • nuts and seeds: serious choking hazard, and way too high in fat to be part of your guinea pig's diet
  • onions
  • potatoes: any kind of potato can be too risky, so best not to feed them to your guinea pig
  • raw beans and lentils: many are poisonous, so best not to feed any of these

nutrients, vitamin C and calcium

Guinea pigs need vitamin C, as they cannot manufacture it on their own. Too little vitamin C in their diet can cause scurvy; signs include loss of movement in the legs. Vitamin C degrades rapidly once added to water, so most liquid supplements are useless. Guinea pig pelleted food should have C milled into the pellet, but the pellets MUST be fresh.

Vitamin C can be added to water via ascorbic acid in powder form. Ascorbic acid is found in whole food and nutrition stores. If you use this method, though, you must refresh the water daily.

Vitamin C tablets (stabilized) are another great way to supplement C in your pig's diet. Daily C by Oxbow is a tablet that guinea pigs enjoy, and it has no added sugar.

Just as we should ideally get all our nutrients from food instead of vitamin supplements, the ideal way to provide enough vitamin C in your guinea pigs' diet is to feed veggies high in C.

Calcium in your guinea pigs' diet is a good thing, but TOO much calcium can lead to bladder sludge and stones, which can be fatal. Avoid giving vegetables that are high in calcium to your guinea pig every day, and make sure that alfalfa is not a main staple in your guinea pigs' diet. Signs that your piggy may have bladder or urinary tract issues include squeaking while using the bathroom, or rearing up slightly to poop. This is discussed a bit more in the Health section. Keep in mind that avoiding calcium completely is not a solution, either; the lack of calcium will cause your guinea pig's body to leach calcium from the bones. Moderation in the diet is key to providing a stable, nutritious diet for your piggy.

water

Water must be constantly available to your guinea pig. Don't provide water in a dish; you'll have a wet piggy, wet bedding and poop in the water. Get a sipper bottle with an aluminum tube, since guinea pigs nibble the end. They may also play with the bottle, which leads to dribbling and wet bedding. It is very important to change the water daily, and clean it weekly. To clean, use a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water; don't use commercial cleaners, since they are toxic to guinea pigs. Make sure to remove mold from inside the bottle if it forms. Many smart cavy companions will buy two bottles, so that one can be cleaned and dried thoroughly while the other is being used. Very smart.

I cannot stress this enough: If you supplement your water with Vitamin C, it must be changed daily. Vitamin C degrades very rapidly in water. Ascorbic acid in powder form works beautifully, as does any water-soluble (but not in liquid form) C vitamin. Don't crush children's vitamins or orange drink powder (such as Tang) into the water; they contain sugar and are harmful to your guinea pig.

 

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care links:    home    food    habitats    health    boys & girls    cavy life
These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.

 

 
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