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What Do Guinea Pigs Eat?

By Madeline Dyer

Guinea pigs (or cavies as they are often called) are fun, lovable, popular pets for so many people. If you are thinking about getting a cavy you’ll need to know what their dietary requirements are in order to provide the correct guinea pig care and guinea pig food that these animals need.

Firstly, guinea pigs eat a range of things – you can’t just give them one food type for the whole of their life, they need variety.

Perhaps the most obvious food that they need is grass – after all guinea pigs in the wild will be eating this food type for the majority of the time. Grass has lots of fibre in which is an important element in the guinea piggie’s diet as it helps to keep the digestive system healthy and the bowel fully functional. Cavies are grazing animals, like sheep and cows, so in the wild they’d consume a lot of grass; this needs to be replicated in your pet’s diet. Ideally your pig should have the option to eat grass every day, however if the grass is wet, avoid feeding it, or only feed it in small amounts, as it can cause some cavies to be ill. Be careful of where you get the grass from, it should be chemical free (no weedkiller should have been used around it, on it or near it, or other similar products). The grass should also not be from a place where other animals may have soiled on. Remember this grass is your pet’s food and should be good quality. When picking grass check that you have not picked any other plants a long with it – as these may be poisonous.

Hay – This is a good alternative to grass in the winter when grass may be too wet to feed to your guinea pigs. Hay should always be readily available to your pig, throughout the year, although more should be given in replacement of grass. Again, like grass, hay contains a lot of fibre and is an essential part of the pig’s diet. A lot of owners feed their pets timothy hay, as it is soft and is often grown especially for guinea piggies.

Many guinea pig experts advise feeding some sort of dried or supplementary food that has been designed especially for them. This is because it contains lots of vitamins, nutrients and minerals that your pet may not get with other foods. It is vital that the dried food given to any guinea pig is especially for cavies, and so contains Vitamin C. Unlike other animals, such as rabbits, cavies can’t make their own Vitamin C and so need to eat it to obtain enough. If there is a Vitamin C deficiency, the cavy will often contract scurvy which in some cases can be fatal. There are many different types of dried guinea pig foods, the two most common being the muesli type and the pellet form. Both have their advantages: Muesli-like dried food gives the pig more variety and many like it more than the pellets, however some pigs will leave a certain part of the muesli food – if this is the case your pet could be missing out on an essential vitamin or mineral, so the pellet style food should be given as each pellet is likely to contain all, or most of the vitamins that the muesli variety has.

Fruit and vegetables – On the whole, vegetables are better for cavies than fruit, as the latter can sometimes be too rich and give the guinea pig diarrhea. There are of course some fruit and vegetables which should never be given as they can poison and seriously harm your pet. Many owners also say that you shouldn’t feed vegetables everyday, as this again can result in diarrhea, although guinea pig-safe root vegetables (such as carrots) appear to be fine for most guinea piggies when fed daily in small amounts). Most owners settle for feeding their pigs fresh food about 3, 4 or 5 times a week. The fresh foods given to your pet shouldn’t be the same each time; guinea pigs prefer variety and are more likely to get all the vitamins they need with a wide range of foods. A list of some of the common safe fresh foods are: carrots, broccoli, cabbage (only in small amounts), kiwi and cucumber (both in small amounts), celery and kale. Cavies also like baby tomatoes and beetroot (although this can stain fur and cause their urine to turn a reddish colour).

Some fruit and vegetables to avoid are: rhubarb, lettuce (although small amounts of Romaine lettuce appear to be ok with most pigs), raw beans, potatoes, peaches, coconut and cauliflower. This is because, especially in the case of lettuce and cauliflower, these foods can cause gas production in the digestive tract.

Some owners feed small amounts of brown bread toast and apple twigs once a month as it can help keep the length of the pig’s teeth down.

Manufactured sugary treats should be limited to special occasions. Why not try natural treats such as dandelion leaves (not the flowers) and small chunks of carrots? Many cavies are likely to appreciate these treats a lot more than the sugary ones.

You should always make sure that your guinea piggie has a plentiful supply of fresh water available.

Remember you should never feed your guinea pig meat as they are 100% vegetarians and need to be fed the right guinea pig food to be healthy cavies.

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