A balanced diet consisting of unlimited grass hay complemented by a Timothy-based pellet and fresh veggies is important. There’s no doubt about that. But guinea pigs are natural foragers. In the wild, small animals don’t eat the same thing day after day. They eat a tidbit here and a morsel there, based on what is available seasonally. Without this variety, they can suffer a lack of trace minerals and other nutritional components. Plenty of safe herbs and flowers can be offered regularly to help a guinea pig thrive, and there are other supplements that may be useful for certain health problems or during recovery periods.
You may have heard that guinea pigs, like us, can’t make their own vitamin C. Fresh vegetables add variety to the diet and ensure your guinea pig is getting all the vitamin C she needs. Bell peppers in particular – any color - are packed with vitamin C but still low in calcium, sugar, and acid. Do you have a picky eater on your hands? High-quality guinea pig pellets with stabilized vitamin C can provide extra assurance your pig is getting the nutrients she needs.
Guinea pigs recovering from illness, injury, or surgery and those that aren’t eating normally are most at risk for vitamin C deficiency. Being deprived too long can lead to scurvy. A guinea pig with scurvy will generally look unwell and lethargic with poor body condition, a dull coat, and sunken eyes. They may show signs of pain or tenderness when touched. Scurvy is treatable, but prevention is ideal when it comes to a guinea pig that’s already under the weather.
When vitamin C supplementation is required, stay away from putting drops in the water. Vitamin C will degrade quickly in water; the next day it’ll already be less than half as potent. In addition to being an unreliable way to dose, adding anything to the drinking water can change the taste. If it isn’t your guinea pig’s cup of tea, this could cause them not to drink as much as they should. As an alternative, the drops can be given via syringe. Or, you can quarter a 100 mg children’s chewable tablet and offer the 25 mg portion as a treat. Just make sure it’s a vegan formula without a lot of added sugar or sweeteners like xylitol, artificial colors and flavors, or hard-to-pronounce preservatives.
Vitamin C may tend to steal the spotlight when it comes to supplements for guinea pigs, but Echinacea offers some immune system-boosting powers as well. One of the most trusted go-to herbs for immune support, Echinacea helps the immune system work to its full potential. It can also act as a mild pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. While not a replacement for piggie-safe antibiotics, this superpower herb makes a nice complement for those recovering from a URI or other infections. The stalks, stems, and leaves are safe for guinea pigs to consume. Try sprinkling on some hay a few times a week as a forage surprise.
Did you know those long, shiny fibers peeking out from the husks of ears of corn have health benefits? Corn silk, which can act as a natural diuretic, has been used for centuries in humans to help treat everything from urinary tract problems to congestive heart failure. While the benefits of corn silk haven’t been specifically studied much in guinea pigs, we know it can’t hurt. Plus, they usually gobble it right up!
These banana imposters don’t get enough credit. A solid source of vitamins K, A, C, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and folate, the cut and sifted herb makes a great topper on veggie platters. It’s known for having great fiber content, making it awesome for the teeth and gut. Plantain can especially help guinea pigs that have ongoing digestive problems or are prone to respiratory or urinary tract infections.
Shi Lin Tong
Shi lin tong is a Chinese herbal supplement that in recent years has been investigated by cavy slaves in the fight against bladder stones. In humans it is thought to be useful in maintaining a healthy urinary tract. Also known as Gold Coin Herb, it’s thought to relax the urethra so crystals can pass through before accumulating to form larger stones in the bladder. Coupled with dietary changes, it’s a great preventative for guinea pigs prone to bladder stones.
Linden leaves and flowers are a secret weapon for high-strung small animals. Known for its calming properties, linden is a great treat to give before stressful events like a car ride or vet visit. It’s also a great detox herb, anti-inflammatory, and mild anti-spasmodic – a good supplement for guinea pigs with sensitive tummies or prone to bloat.
Glucosamine may be useful to line the bladder walls and sooth irritation in those piggies that suffer from interstitial cystitis or bladder sludge. About 100 mg of a vegan formula is a good dose to start. Try sprinkling the powder directly on some moist veggies like cucumber. Scientific studies (in guinea pigs!) have shown that glucosamine also reduces the destruction of cartilage and slows down the progression of osteoarthritis. That’s pretty cool news for our senior friends. Keep in mind that unlike fast-acting prescription pain medications, glucosamine is a supplement that takes effect over time and it may take a few weeks to start seeing results. Guinea pigs suffering from arthritis may still need to see the vet for a safe pain medication like meloxicam to keep comfortable in their golden years.
As small animals get more attention from the veterinary and nutrition communities, there is an increase in knowledge about just how much variety these little friends need to stay truly healthy. But remember, whole foods are the way to go. Multivitamins should not be used because of the potential for toxic overdose of certain vitamins. While some supplements in excess will safely exit the body through the urine (like Vitamin C), a heavy dose of other vitamins and minerals can make your guinea pig sick or cause long-term health problems. And please, always talk to your exotic vet before adding a regular supplement to your guinea pig’s diet.