High-quality food for guinea pigs is not that easy to find. While the selection for dogs and cats has grown significantly in recent years, small animal owners have to choose from a comparatively small range. Or, similar to the BARFers among the dog and cat owners, they take over the mixing of the food themselves. In any case, species-appropriate and good guinea pig food are mandatory. Small animals can also get sick from improper nutrition. In the worst case, nutritional errors can even be fatal. That is why we clarify: Which feeds are unsuitable for guinea pigs and which foods are perhaps even poisonous?
The Physiology of the Guinea Pig
The guinea pig is originally from Peru. Although the now domesticated piglet differs significantly from the “wild guinea pig” (for example in terms of coat length and color), its digestive tract is still designed for a purely plant-based diet. In contrast to hamsters and pet rats, guinea pigs are herbivores, i.e. pure herbivores, and do not need any animal protein in their feed. The animals obtain essential amino acids from high-quality, plant-based food sources. Caution: While people with a vegan diet can use legumes as a vegetable source of protein, they are not suitable for guinea pigs and must not be fed.
Guinea pigs have a long intestine with little peristalsis (muscle contraction). This means that so that the feed can be transported in and through the intestine at all, new, crude fiber-rich feed must be constantly “pushed in”. The term “stuffing stomach” is often used for this. While a dog can get by without food for a day, this can have life-threatening consequences for a guinea pig. If there is not enough food in the intestine, it can ferment and put the guinea pig in mortal danger. That is why the animals must have enough guinea pig feed at their disposal at all times.
The Original Diet of the Guinea Pig
In the Andes, the wild representatives of the guinea pigs mainly eat grass but also feed on kernels, seeds, and fruits. Our house guinea pigs are also fed on grass and herbs at best. Commercially available guinea pig food is usually adapted to the needs of the animals in terms of the nutrient ratio, but it does not correspond to their original eating habits. Grass pressed into squiggles no longer has much in common with fresh meadow.
Indispensable for a Species-appropriate Diet of Guinea Pigs: Hay
Hay should be the main part of the diet. Despite being dry, it contains important vitamins and minerals. In addition, with its high crude fiber content, it is essential for the digestion of guinea pigs. For this reason alone, a wooden hay rack belongs in every guinea pig enclosure. The hay should be changed daily so that the animals always have fresh food available and can choose from all the components of the hay. Old or damp hay leads to digestive problems and should therefore be removed.
The quality is also important: good hay hardly produces any dust, is not damp, and smells pleasantly spicy. Some types of hay (for example alpine meadow hay) contain a lot of calcium. These varieties should have been given only rarely or in alternation with others.
The Calcium-phosphorus Ratio in the Diet for Guinea Pigs
A calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 1.5: 1 is ideal for healthy guinea pigs. If the pigs take in too much calcium with their food, it is absorbed by the small intestine and it has to be excreted renally, i.e. via the kidneys. This increases the calcium concentration in the urine, which in turn can lead to diseases or health problems.
This is Why You Should Rather Avoid Conventional Dry Food
Dry food from the pet shop often has nothing to do with species-appropriate nutrition. In the worst case, it contains completely unsuitable ingredients or inferior ingredients. Food that corresponds to the animals’ natural diet is particularly healthy.
Unfortunately, hay is not always enough to meet the animals’ needs. After mowing and packing it usually does not contain enough kernels and seeds, which are essential for the fat metabolism of guinea pigs. Pellets can be an alternative. They are fed in addition to the hay and contain all the important nutrients. In the case of pellets, however, you should definitely pay attention to the composition and make sure that the ingredients they contain meet the needs of the animals or are not significantly higher. Among other things, pellets offer the advantage that the animals cannot select at will and can pick out the most delicious food components.
Checklist: Dry Food for Guinea Pigs
If you absolutely want to feed the commercially available dry food, you should consider the following things:
- Do not buy feed without a detailed and informative declaration of the ingredients (an inaccurate declaration is, for example, “vegetable by-products”, this does not necessarily mean that it is a bad feed, but you also do not find out what exactly is in it Feed of your animals is located).
- Compare the nutritional values of the feed with the real needs of the guinea pigs.
- Do not buy feed that has additional sugar added to it.
- Hay should continue to be available at all times and be the guinea pigs’ staple food.
- Pay attention to whether a feed is declared as complete or supplementary feed (the complete feed contains all the important nutrients, while the supplementary feed contains only a certain part). In principle, every dry feed should be understood as an addition to hay, fresh vegetables, herbs, and grasses.
- The feed does not contain any artificial colors and contains many natural components.
- The calcium-phosphorus ratio and the vitamin C content are correct.
Guinea Pigs Have to Slowly Get Used to Grass and Herbs
When purchasing the guinea pigs – whether from the breeder, privately, or from the animal shelter – you should always inquire about the previous feeding. Because an abrupt change in feed can lead to severe digestive problems in the animals. Guinea pigs must be slowly accustomed to each new food ingredient. This also applies to types of fruit and vegetables that were previously unknown to the pig, but especially to fresh grasses and herbs.
If the guinea pig eats a lot of fresh meadow grass for the first time and is not used to it, incorrect fermentation can occur in the stomach. A life-threatening consequence, for example, is drum addiction, which is also known to rabbit keepers. In order to slowly get the animals used to the new food, small amounts should first be given. If these are well tolerated, the amount can be increased gradually.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Need Vitamin C?
Since they cannot produce it on their own, guinea pigs, like humans, have to ingest vitamin C through their diet. That is why fresh vegetables, herbs, and small amounts of fruit are indispensable for the appropriate guinea pig nutrition. There are also vitamin supplements that can be added to the water, but such products should only be administered on the express recommendation of the veterinarian. They can easily be overdosed, which will not help your pigs’ health any more than a vitamin deficiency. Species-appropriate and well-balanced guinea pigs do not need any vitamin supplements.
Depending on the season, vegetables and fruit are imported and sometimes stored for a long time. Always keep in mind that long storage times can have a negative effect on the nutrient content. Therefore, give your guinea pigs a varied diet and consult a veterinarian if you suspect deficiency symptoms.
Signs of Deficiency Symptoms in Guinea Pigs
Dull or shaggy fur can be the first harbingers of deficiency symptoms. However, the symptoms can also be traced back to parasites, stress, or other diseases. Even so, diet is an important factor. You should always pay close attention to shaggy hair, dandruff, or other changes in the coat. A daily health check is therefore mandatory for every guinea pig. Other signs of illness (teeth that are too long, tumors or abscesses, wounds, etc.) are also immediately apparent and can be treated.
Drinking Behavior of Guinea Pigs: Drinker or Bowl
Guinea pigs cover a large part of their fluid requirements with food. A varied fresh food is therefore essential for species-appropriate guinea pig nutrition. However, freshwater, which is available to the animals around the clock, is just as important. Water can be offered in a water bowl or a so-called nipple drinker. The advantage of the drinker is clear: it is the more hygienic variant since dirt cannot get into the water. Hay, litter, and, in the worst case, droppings can end up in a water bowl.
However, the animals have to move into a relatively unnatural position if they want to drink from a nipple trough. Some owners also fear contamination of the metal tube from which the water comes. Regular cleaning is mandatory anyway: Otherwise, algae can form in the bottle or bowl.
When using water bowls, heavy bowls made of clay or ceramic that stand on a solid surface are recommended. The water should be changed several times a day, depending on the degree of pollution, but at least once, even better twice a day.
Conclusion: This is What Makes a Good Guinea Pig Food
If you want to feed your guinea pigs appropriately, you should above all pay attention to high-quality and natural feed ingredients. Quality is very important, especially with hay. Do not save in the wrong places and do not endanger the health of your guinea pigs through malnutrition. Food available in specialist shops is often unsuitable, so guinea pig farmers must be particularly careful when buying and reading the list of ingredients. Fresh ingredients should not be missing when giving dry food either. But keep in mind that dry food is actually just a dietary supplement. Good guinea pig feed is a mix of hay, meadow, fresh herbs, and fresh food.