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Feeding Guinea Pigs
Where Guinea Pigs Originate From
The Best Diets For Guinea Pigs
What are guinea pigs?
Guinea pigs are small rodents and originate from South America and the Andes mountains of Peru where they used to live wild. Despite their name they are not related to the pig family and they are not from Guinea. Their scientific name is Cavia Porcellus and known as ‘Cavies’.
They have fur but no tail and come in a variety of colours and breeds. Some have short hair, long hair or ‘rosette’ hair (where it grows in little rosette shapes over the guinea pig). Colours tend to be black, brown, white or a mixture.
They like the grassy areas and forest edges of their native homeland and burrow underground to make their home. They tend to be more active at night coming out to find food.
Guinea pigs live in groups of around 10 and are considered to be quite social animals. They tend to have a good nature, making ideal pets in a domestic setting. They live for around 4 – 8 years making them ideal for (responsible) children to keep.
They were first domesticated in 2000 BC and bought to Europe in the 1700’s. They have been used as pets or by those who show them professionally, as well as in laboratories to test human medicine and cosmetics. The term ‘guinea pig’ is often used by those experimenting something for the first time.
How to Keep Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are best kept in a spacious cage or hutch, where they are safe and maintained. You can keep them indoors or outdoors as long as they are not too hot. They can handle cold temperatures quite well but anything above 25 degrees centigrade may give them heat stroke.
Keep them in a large cage or pen with wire mesh around it so they can see out but can’t get out. Hutches are great as they can have a bed compartment with a solid wood door on that side. Guinea pigs like to hide away as they are nervous animals, and this is somewhere for them to go.
Some hutches are one or two floors, with a ramp for them to run up. They like toys to nibble on to keep their teeth in good condition and tubes to hide in.
Keep their hutch or cage clean and fill with layers of newspaper, sawdust and hay or straw. They will find one or two areas which will be their main toilet place, so layer with sawdust for absorption. The hay and straw will be where they like to sleep, but they will also eat the hay.
Keep your guinea pigs in pairs or more depending on your space. Let your guinea pig have lots of fresh air and a good run every so often. Make sure you don’t lose him though!
Basic Guinea Pig Diet
It is important that guinea pigs have a nutritional balance of food. They need vitamins, especially vitamin C, as they cannot produce their own like other animals. If a guinea pig becomes deficient in vitamin C, they can develop scurvy.
Adult guinea pigs need around 20 – 25 mg of vitamin C, 30 – 40 mg if they are pregnant.
The basic diet for a guinea pig is water in a water bottle (less messy!) attached to the side of the hutch. You can add a vitamin supplement to the water if you feel they may not get enough vitamin C, but observe them. If they don’t like the taste in the water they will not drink it, so ensure your guinea pig doesn't become dehydrated.
You can purchase dried food and pellets and put them in a low bowl. Make sure the bowl is heavy so it doesn't tip up as they climb onto it.
Some pellets are enriched with vitamin C. Ask your vet or go to a good pet store for advice on the best brand.
It is also a good idea to give them foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables as the vitamins in the pellets perish after around 90 days.
Hay is great for your guinea pig as its good for teeth and a healthy digestive system. Fresh grass is also good as long as there are no pesticides or chemicals.
Fruit and Vegetables to give Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs can have virtually any vegetable but try not to give them cooked veg. This can lead to lower nutritional value. As you introduce new foods, do it slowly as they have a sensitive digestive system. Too much will give them an upset stomach and diarrhoea.
What to Avoid
Do not give guinea pigs iceberg lettuce as it has high water content and can upset their stomachs. Collard greens can also upset them and potatoes are poisonous.
Other Food to Avoid:
- Apple Seeds
- Nuts and Seeds
Never feed your guinea pig on chocolate, dairy, junk food, meat, bread or eggs.
What can I Give to my Guinea Pig?
Here is a list of some of the foods perfect for your furry friend:
- Leafy Greens, such as green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, Romaine Lettuce
- Red or Green bell peppers, with seeds removed
- Dandelion Leaves
- Baby Tomatoes (with the green top removed)
- Large Tomatoes, with seeds removed
- Parsley (high in calcium)
- Small Slices of Apple (core and seeds removed)
- Pear (core and seeds removed)
- Broccoli – any part
Would You Consider Guinea Pigs as Good Pets?
Some food is higher in nutritional value than others. For example, cucumber is a nice refreshing treat but is high in water and lower in nutrients.
The foods high in nutrients include:
- Red Peppers
Oranges and satsumas are a nice treat once a week, but take out the pips. Too much of the citrus fruit can give them sore mouths.
Always give your guinea pig fresh fruit and vegetables, as bad food can give them stomach ache. Too much cabbage can bloat them, and too much fruit will overload them with sugar.
Give two to four small portions of fruit and veg a day (more veg than fruit) along with their hay and pellets.
Avoid giving them food you think is not agreeing with them, and remember to cut the pieces up small to avoid choking.
Then hopefully you will have a happy pig!