How to Feed Your Pet Guinea Pig
If you are just about to get your first guinea pig or want to know what is safe to feed your pet guinea pigs or how to feed a pregnant guinea pig you have come to the right place.
The two most crucial things to know about guinea pigs dietary requirements are:
1) They are vegetarian.
2) Like humans they need dietary sources of vitamin C.
Most other pet mammals like dogs, rabbits and gerbils do not need dietary sources of vitamin C because they can synthesise their own.
The essential components of a guinea pig's diet are:
- A quality guinea pig mix or pelleted food
- Meadow hay
- Vegetables such as kale and tomato and/or wild food such as dandelion and chickweed
Guinea pigs are very enthusiastic foodies and it is endearing to hear them squeaking with excitement when feeding time comes around. Guinea pigs kept inside often get to know the sound of the fridge door opening too - especially if you keep producing tasty salads out of it for them!
Vitamin C requirement of a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs need approximately 10 mg of vitamin C per 2.2lbs (1 kg) of body weight daily for maintenance. (Merck Veterinary Dictionary 2011) An average adult guinea pig weighs 2.2lb (1kg).
If your guinea pig is a selective eater you might choose to feed a pelleted food, like this one, rather than a mix
Guinea Pigs and Vitamin C
The most difficult part of feeding guinea pigs is making sure they get enough vitamin C.
It is important to feed them a good quality guinea pig food rather than a rabbit mix, because food mixes intended for guinea pigs will have added vitamin C. The problem is that the vitamin C content of the food starts to reduce as soon as the food is made. Depending on what sort of food it is, how it is stored and what the storage conditions are like it could lose up to 50% of its vitamin C within 90 days of being made (Merck Veterinary Dictionary 2011). Even if you use up packets of guinea pig food quite quickly you can't account for the amount of time it might have been stored in the pet shop.
Vitamin C is needed by guinea pigs every day. It isn't a vitamin they can store, any excess will be excreted in their urine so you don't need to worry that you might overdose them on vitamin C either. It is important to supplement their cereal mix with daily offerings of greens and other vegetables such as dandelions, cabbage, sweet pepper and tomatoes. If your guinea pig is under extra stress because it is unwell, pregnant, you are introducing it to new guinea pigs or perhaps because you are moving house with it you may decide to add vitamin C to their water. Soluble vitamin C tablets produced for humans are ideal. Follow the instructions on the packet, offer water using a water bottle and completely replace the water and Vitamin C solution at least every other day because water quite quickly loses vitamin C.
What Happens if my Guinea Pig doesn't get enough Vitamin C?
Signs that your guinea pig isn't getting enough vitamin C include, hair loss resulting in bald patches diarrhea, a generally thin and out of condition appearance and joint pain leading to lameness or a reluctance to move.
Unfortunately some of these symptoms could also be a result of other conditions too, so it is worth taking a guinea pig with these symptoms to the vets for a check up as well as increasing the amount of vitamin C they are getting.
Good Greens and Veg for Guinea Pigs
small amounts of clover and dandelion
well chopped celery
sweet pepper, rocket
grass - ideally grazed by the guinea pig. If you pick grass for them, give small amounts and remove any which isn't eaten within an hour as it can start to ferment.
Hay is essential for guinea pigs unless they have access to grass for grazing 24 hours a day
Other Dietary Considerations for Guinea Pigs
Excess calcium, phosphorus or vitamin D
Occasionally guinea pigs can develop a condition called metastatic calcification whereby mineral deposits form in muscles and even in organs such as the heart. It is caused by an imbalance of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. It shouldn't occur if your guinea pigs are eating a good quality guinea pig mix.
However it might occur if you feed alfalfa hay rather than ordinary meadow hay, so if you feed alfalfa hay just give it occasionally or a little at a time. It might also occur if you supplement the guinea pig with a general vitamin supplement rather than purely a vitamin C supplement. Although guinea pigs can excrete excess vitamin C in their urine, they can't excrete excess vitamin D. Only give a general vitamin supplement if advised by your vet.
Some guinea pigs are selective eaters if they are fed a guinea pig mix. This can mean they miss out on vital nutrients because different parts of the mix have a different value and it is the mix as a whole which provides the balanced diet. If your guinea pig is a selective eater, you can solve this problem by feeding them a pelleted food - each pellet is exactly balanced nutritionally.
Just like rabbits, guinea pigs practice coprophagy. If you're wondering what that is, it means eating poo. Don't worry though - this is a good thing for the guinea pig and they don't eat any old poo. They produce two types of droppings: one type, produced mostly during the night is soft and still contains lots of nutrients, so the guinea pig will eat a lot of these to give their digestion a second go at getting the nutrients. The other type is much more fibrous and hard containing waste products rather than useful nutrients, so these don't get eaten.
Vitamin C Requirement for a Pregnant Guinea Pig
Pregnant guinea pigs need 30 mg of vitamin C per 2.2lbs (1kg) body weight daily (Merck Veterinary Dictionary). Bear in mind that your guinea pig will be heavier than usual especially in the second half of her pregnancy.
Feeding Pregnant Guinea Pigs
If you have decided to breed guinea pigs there are 2 major things to take into consideration food wise. Although your guinea pig will need some extra food whilst she is pregnant it is important that she starts her pregnancy not overweight and that she doesn't overeat during the pregnancy either.
Overweight sows are more likely to suffer from pregnancy toxemia late on in the pregnancy whereby the sow will initially be depressed and stop eating. This is a serious condition and she must be taken to the vets for treatment if you suspect she has it.
Otherwise you should continue to feed your guinea pig on the same diet she is used to, but be aware that her requirement for vitamin is now 3 times the amount that a guinea pig normally needs, so you may need to add a supplement to her water.