Dietary Needs of Guinea Pigs
“What do your parent’s say before you get your desert?. That’s right, eat up all your greens.’ This is my follow up to the question I always put to the children I talk to at schools I visit with my guinea pigs. The question is of course, ‘What do we and guinea pigs, and only very few other animals have in common. It is of course, the fact that we have to eat vegetable matter to take in the essential vitamin C we need while most animals, particularly carnivores, do not.
I am against adding this in the form of a supplement unless, A, the guinea pig has been off it’s green food through illness for some time, or B, good quality green fodder is in short supply.
It is a simple matter to ensure the sickly ones get their supply, for invariably they are having to be syringe fed, see Nursing. I simply put a small portion of a vitamin C Redoxen tablet in the food as I’m mixing it.
The need for lots and lots of roughage, in the shape of hay, I put down as the secondary next most important dietary need. No, there isn’t a great deal of nutritional value in it but that’s just the point.
Guinea pigs are herbivores, grazing animals. Like all animals, their digestive systems have evolved down the ages through the way they have had to forage for their food in the wild. There are no scientifically formulated dry trough feeds out in the wild with lots of lovely protein, minerals and vitamins in them. To get the equivalent nutritional value as they can they can get from handful of Gerty Guinea pig, in the wild a whole heap of grazing would have to be done!
This is why guinea pigs, like all herbivores, have constantly growing teeth, because of the hard load they have to take on. If they were fitted with the kind we come equipped with they would quickly wear down to their gums. Depriving guinea pigs of the work they have to do to get their food is not doing them a favour and is one of the main reasons for dental problems in the domestic variety.
Yorkshire Ings Hay, from meadows with no chemical fertilizer or sprays applied
While I thoroughly approve of the most modern dry feeds that are available in this country, I most certainly do not approve over feeding guinea pigs with them. Don’t refill the food troughs until you can see the bottom of them is the general rule. It cost much more to keep them brimful and it can make guinea pigs lazy in their grazing activities. The corollary to that of course, is to make sure that there is plenty of good dust free meadow hay available. I bed mine on it and get my supply by the bale from a company which differentiates between hay for general use and that for small animal use.
When it comes to cultivated vegetables the best rule of thumb is that any that humans like guinea pigs like as well, and the same goes for root crops with the exception of the potato. As a good bulker for syringe feeding sick animals the old spud is brilliant, and so is the powdered variety, but I have yet to see an guinea pig take a bite out of a raw one!
There are a couple of vegetables to be wary of such as lettuce and spinach, but in my experience guineas are pretty shrewd when it comes to working out what is not god for them in large amounts. I give mine lettuce as a treat and spinach just for a change now and again but more often than not they’ll tear into both when it is first placed before them but invariably they leave some. The only rider I would add was avoid these when very young guinea pigs are about for like little children they are more don’t seem to have such discerning pallets and are more likely to pig out and upset their tums!.
I’m all for the occasional proprietary nibbles and baked seedy sticks providing they are nice and hard and give the teeth plenty of work to do, but don’t over do them for they are very rich fare