The Guinea Pig Diet: What Do Guinea Pigs Eat?
Your guinea pig may be small, but his appetite is large—and it’s important to feed him nutritious, wholesome foods.
“The right guinea pig diet keeps your cuddly pet happy and healthy,” says Dr. Amy Kurowski, a small animal veterinarian. Dr. Kurowski explains that guinea pigs are herbivores, meaning they don’t eat meat or dairy, and are hindgut fermenters, which means they are specially equipped to break down hard-to-digest plant material. Guinea pigs possess an enlarged cecum, a pouch in the intestine that contains lots of bacteria to aid in digestion of hay and other tough plants.
The Link Between Guinea Pig Teeth and Hay
Your guinea pig’s four front teeth never stop growing, which means a guinea pig must nibble and gnaw on things to keep his teeth at a manageable length. The overgrowth of these teeth is called malocclusion, and if left untreated, it can lead to malnourishment and starvation. Chewing also helps keep guinea pigs mentally stimulated and fulfills their natural desire to burrow and build.
“The desire to chew is one reason your guinea pig needs access to fresh hay,” says Dr. Kurowski. “Chewing on fresh hay is a low-calorie, high-fiber option that aids in digestion and prevents his teeth from overgrowing.”
“Young guinea pigs can eat alfalfa hay, but you should switch to timothy hay as your guinea pig becomes an adult,” says Dr. Kurowski. “Timothy hay offers the right amount of protein and calcium in a guinea pig diet; high calcium levels in the diet can predispose them to the development of bladder stones.” Timothy hay is lower in protein and calcium, so it supports urinary tract health and provides your guinea pig with plenty of fiber to help maintain a healthy digestive tract.
In addition to timothy hay, you should feed your guinea pig grass-based pellets. Guinea pigs typically need 2-4 tablespoons of pellets per day.
Kaytee Fiesta Gourmet Variety Diet Guinea Pig Food contains a blend of ingredients, including sun-cured alfalfa hay, corn, sunflower, peas, carrots, peanuts and bananas. Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health Guinea Pig Food contains sun-cured alfalfa meal to aid in the digestion process, as well as protein from grains like oats and wheat. It is fortified with DHA and omega-3 for brain, heart and eye health, and prebiotics and probiotics to support digestion. Oxbow Essentials Adult Guinea Pig Food is made with grass-based pellets designed for an adult guinea pig’s changing nutritional needs.
You will want to make sure that your guinea pig always has access to fresh and clean water. “Water is important in digestion and bladder health, so be certain to offer the hay and pellets along with fresh water. The best way to serve a guinea pig water is via a dripping water bottle on the side of the cage,” says Dr. Kurowski.
It’s important to clean your guinea pig’s food bowls and cage daily. “These cute little critters can be messy,” says Dr. Kurowski.
Guinea Pig Treats and Supplements
Treats are a great way to bond with your pet, encourage interaction and provide healthy, fun mental stimulation. “It’s absolutely crucial that you feed your guinea pig the right type of treats—guinea pigs should never be offered pastas, meats or dairy products,” says Dr. Kurowski.
For a healthy treat, you can try Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health Healthy Bits. These crunchy, fun-to-eat treats are made with corn, sunflower, peanuts, field peas, papaya, carrots, honey and apples. They contain DHA for heart, brain and visual health, as well as sun-cured alfalfa meal, which is an excellent source of fiber. Oxbow Simple Rewards Freeze-Dried Strawberry Small Animal Treats are also a great option. They are made from 100% freeze-dried strawberries and contain no added sugar or artificial colors or preservatives.
Guinea pigs are not able to produce vitamin C, so they will need to get it through the food they eat. To get your guinea pig the vitamin C they need, you can either give them supplements, like the Oxbow Natural Science Vitamin C Small Animal Supplement, or you can mix up your guinea pig’s diet by offering fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables and fruits are a great source of antioxidants and vitamins, including vitamin C. Your guinea pig may enjoy foods like kale, celery, beets, bell peppers and apples for their vitamin C fix. “Fruit has a much higher sugar content and should only be given occasionally as a treat,” says Dr. Kurowski. It is always best to check with your veterinarian before introducing a new food to your guinea pig to make sure they are getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need to stay happy and healthy.