Guinea Pig Hay, Leafy Greens, and More: The Importance of a Balanced Diet
A healthy guinea pig diet is essential to give your piggy the nutrients they need. Like rabbits, guinea pigs are herbivores. This means that their diet is 100% plant-based. Hay makes up the biggest part of their diet. Leafy greens and fruit also play a big role in a healthy, balanced diet. These adorable munchkins have a unique gastrointestinal system that requires a careful balance of foods that promote healthy teeth, coats, tummies, and weight. Developing food preferences young in life, guinea pigs don't like having their diets changed up. Introducing foods that look or taste different can result in piggies turning up their noses at food and refusing to eat. This means that you will need to make changes very slowly and carefully.
What are the most important elements in a guinea pig diet? The most important things you'll need to feed your piggy are vitamin C and lots and lots of hay. In the wild, guinea pigs eat everything from fruit and leaves, to root vegetables and high-fiber grass. Pet guinea pigs are often fed pellets that are low in fiber and high in carbs. Hay is needed to keep teeth in good condition and also maintain gut health. As for vitamin C, this is needed as it is a nutrient that is not produced on its own. It is good for healthy skin, joints, and gums. It also helps with wound healing and warding off disease.
In this guide, we share some of the best things to feed your guinea pig, to ensure a healthy, balanced diet.
Guinea Pigs. They’re funny. Complex. They’re all sorts of things. But one thing’s for sure: no two piggies are built alike. But even though no two piggies are built alike, generally, healthy diets for these little guys are similar. A diet rich in guinea pig hay, leafy greens, veggies, and some fruits, can set your guinea up to have lots of happy piggy years.
HEALTHY ON THE INSIDE = HEALTHY ON THE OUTSIDE
Small animals are a lot like us (lucky us!). When we’re healthy on the inside, you can tell on the outside. And when we’re not, well, it usually shows, too. A nutritious, balanced died plays a humungous part in our health (both inside and out). The same goes for guinea pigs. So it’s our job as loving piggy parents to give our kids what they need to keep them healthy. Guinea pig hay, and other healthy, nutrient-rich food.
A diet with lots of guinea pig hay is so, so, so necessary to the digestive tract. High fiber content guinea pig hay reduces soft stools, helps with bloating, stimulates the digestive system and helps prevent obesity. It also aids in maintaining the health of the urinary system… and all of those are just magical things!
Sometimes it’s tough to tell if your guinea pig is overweight… they tend to run on the chubby (and so CUTE!) side. Even so, it’s important for piggy parents to understand the negative effects of obesity. Problems with mobility, inability to reach the backside to eat their cacotrophs (soft droppings packed with nutrition and eaten as soon as the exit the body), diabetes and ketosis are all potential issues an overweight guinea can have. And we don’t want that! So, if you feel like your cuddly cavy is becoming more of a roly poly, take them to your exotic vet for a specialized diet plan.
Incisors and cheek teeth in guineas never stop growing. So, they have to have plenty of guinea pig hay to keep on chewin’ and wear those chompers down. Overgrown teeth can cause tons of problems and pain, so make sure you’re keeping a close eye on any signs that your cavy is uncomfortable. With the right diet, though, most dental issues can be avoided.
All but one breed of guinea pig (the skinny pig) require daily or weekly brushing. But did you also know that when your piggy has access to lots of fresh guinea pig hay, leafy greens, veggies and pellets (optional), they’re probably gonna have the shiniest coat in town. (And bonus - healthy skin under it!)
HOW AGE AFFECTS DIET
We know it’s tough, guys, but your guinea pig will eventually grow up, and so will their diet needs. Cavies under six months old should always have unlimited access to alfalfa hay; it’s richer in nutrients and fat percent, and for a growing piggy, that’s what we want. Slowly switch that 6ish-monther to Timothy hay, which has a lower fat content and even more fiber.
As your guinea pig ages and slows down (we don’t want to talk about it, but have to), so will their metabolism. They may be catching more z’s and eating less. But, access to Timothy hay, orchard grass, leafy greens and veggies should help perk that pig up.
SO, WHAT DOES AN IDEAL DIET LOOK LIKE?
Guinea pig hay. Lots of guinea pig hay. Give the guineas all of the hay! All of the hay in the whole world!
Kidding… kinda. We talked about pellets being optional. They are… thinking they’re not is a misconception. If your small animal has enough forage and greens, pellets aren’t necessary.
Actually, the majority of diet should be guinea pig hay. A guinea pig should eat about three ounces per day, about six pounds per month. Woah! I want to eat more than my body weight in food!
But, while the bulk of diet should be guinea pig hay, we should also feed our pig lots of leafy greens and veggies to make sure they’re getting those micronutrients. They need those too.
If you choose to feed pellets, make sure they’re high quality, Timothy-based (fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C), and try giving them about 1/8 cup. And no junk food from big-box pet stores, please! It’s seriously packed with fattening, choke-hazard ingredients. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to choke on my food.
Why Vitamin C?
Did you know that guinea pigs are at risk for scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C. Like their humans, they can’t create or store their own, so they need 10-30 mg through their diet. Deficiency can result in fragile blood vessels which equal bleeding in the gums, skin muscles and internal organ surfaces. Scary. Abnormal cartilage and bone formation at the joints (ouch), and malocclusion are all also based on vitamin C deficiency.
If you feed your guinea pig pelleted food with stabilized vitamin C, that’s probably all they’ll need. But if they either 1. don’t receive pellets or 2. don’t like them, try some bell pepper or a children’s chewable tablet (vegan, if possible).
Leafy Greens, Veggies and Fruit
All three are perfect complement to a diet rich in guinea pig hay. Guinea pigs are allowed up to one cup of veggies per day, but watch that calcium intake. Too much can lead to bladder stones and other health issues.
Some favorite leafy greens? Try these: mustard greens, parsley, romaine, clover greens, dandelion greens, cilantro, butter lettuce, radicchio, raspberry leaves, mint, fennel, basil, dill, lemon balm, and bok choy. You know, just to name a few.
Some favorite veggies? Check these out: cucumber, bell pepper (1/2 times per week; can cause gas), tomato (remove the stem, it could be poisonous!), beets (for the leafy tops, of course), and radishes (also for the leafy tops).
Looking for a few fruits to try? Here ya go: blueberries, strawberries (with the green), kiwi and cranberries.
Piggies are at risk for being overweight, so here are some quick facts about that waistline. Guinea pigs stop growing around 12-14 months, males weighing in at 1.98-2.26 pounds, and females 1.52-1.98 pounds. Buying a digital scale is a great way to keep their weight in check. Piggies are Jedi masters at hiding illness, so insight into weight loss or gain is super important.
But, as your guinea becomes a senior, weight loss becomes common. Key an eye on them, to make sure the loss isn’t something more serious than old age. You and also offer guinea pig hay: 3rd cutting Timothy, which is low in fiber but high in protein and fat. Or an herbal blend. Try Young At Heart, which offers anti-inflammatory and mild analgesic to help soothe aches and pains.
IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT FOOD AND WATER
Information overload, right? It can be confusing to know what to feed your guinea. I will tell you, though, that most brick-and-mortar pet stores do NOT carry quality food and guinea pig hay that your pet requires. And that they deserve, too. Please. Source the highest quality food possible.
Avoid pet store pellet mixes, treats and foods that have fillers, artificial colors, seeds, sugars, and pesticides. Yuck! Rather, provide natural, Timothy-based pellets, tons of fresh quality hay, leafy greens, veggies and some fruits.
Guinea pigs should never ever ever ever go without fresh food and water. Access to fresh water in a suspension bottle is a must.
Your pet’s life depends on their diet. Don’t be overwhelmed with all of the options. Keep it simple when it comes to food. Your piggy’s needs and preferences will change. Just like yours.
And if this is the first time you’ve had a guinea pig or you’re re-evaluating your current set up, try our starter pack with guinea pig hay, bedding, and pellets!
Good luck, piggy parent!