Guinea pigs are easy to care for, as long as they’re fed properly. They’re not necessarily picky eaters, but they do eat A LOT and need to do so in order to stay healthy.
Maintaining a good health means unlimited access to high-quality hay, fresh vegetables, and pellets fortified with vitamin C and other nutrients.
In this article we’ll introduce you to the fundamentals of guinea pig food and how they maintain a good health.
Understanding guinea pig’s eating habits
Guinea pig’s daily food intake can be broken down into three main categories:
- Hay (appx. 80-85 % of daily intake)
- Vegetables (appx. 10-15 % of daily intake)
- Pellets (appx. 5 % of daily intake)
Hay: Guinea pigs need an unlimited supply of fresh, high-quality hay to aid their digestive system and prevent their teeth from overgrowing. They can’t live without hay, not even for a few days, as it could potentially spark digestive problems and cause mild overgrowth of their teeth, that are only fixed by visiting a veterinarian.
A lot of people buy their hay on Amazon, which is a great option, but if you live near a farm you can try your luck there as well.
Vegetables: A rule of thumb says one cup of fresh vegetables daily per pig. We usually do a bit more than a cup, just to make sure they have a proper mix of vegetables to choose from. The main goal of providing vegetables, is to ensure a source of vitamin C, but also other nutrients that aren’t found in hay. Vitamin C is the single most important thing though – guinea pigs cannot store vitamin C, and therefore need a constant intake from their food to keep their needs covered.
Make sure you provide a good mix of vegetables every day, so they have a variety of things to choose from.
Pellets: As an addition to the vitamins found in fresh vegetables, pellets are usually fortified with vitamins and therefore act as a great source of nutrients for your guinea pigs. Pellets should be uniform and based on hay/grass, with vitamin C added to them. Some people don’t offer pellets for their pigs at all, but we like to stay safe and offer 1/8 cup of pellets daily per guinea pig.
Best practices when feeding your guinea pigs
As we already stated, guinea pigs are easy pets to care for, as long as their dietary requirements are met.
Below are some best practices, when it comes to feeding your guinea pigs:
1. Don’t stock up on pellets
This is an important point. We’ve stocked up on pellets regularly, but later we found that pellets are best when they’re fresh, because vitamins degrade with time. Make sure you look for the “best before” or “use by” dates on the outside of new packages of pellets.
2. Get fresh vegetables frequently
Although this could cause some problems from time to time, guinea pigs really don’t do well with vegetables that are somewhat old. They prefer fresh, crisp vegetables, just like humans do. We usually do a veggie run twice a week, to make sure we always have fresh veggies on stock.
3. Forage for edible plants and save money
There’s a ton of edible plants outside, that your guinea pigs would love to have. Grass can be offered all the time, but also dandelions, cleavers, chickweed, and plantain are great alternatives to produce bought from a grocery store. Just make sure they are collected from an area without pesticides, and be aware that some woods are poisonous for your pigs.
4. Never go down on hay
Hay is the single thing that you should never cut corners on. Make sure you store it properly in a dry, ventilated container (preferably a bag made of cotton or similar), and you can stock up on it so you have a generous supply that will last you a few months.
While hay racks are loved by many people, we think it’s better to offer your guinea pigs easy and unrestricted access to the one food item they need the most – and they really love to burrow in their hay and munch for hours every day.
5. Forget about salt licks and snacks
Salt licks are often sold by pet stores wanting to make an extra profit, but truth is guinea pigs don’t need these and they can actually do a lot of harm.
Guinea pigs get their minerals from other sources, and if they eat too much minerals it can cause bladder stones that are quite painful and require extensive treatment.
Unhealthy snacks such as nibble sticks often contain things like animal products and/or honey to bind the ingredients together, and these things are extremely bad for any guinea pig. If you insist on giving your guinea pigs an occasional treat, they’ll be just as ecstatic if you offer them a few basil leaves, parsley, or similar tasty herbs.
List of recommended foods for guinea pigs
If you’re looking for some specific recommendations of foods that are generally considered healthy for guinea pigs, these are all great picks:
Timothy hay is high in fibers and low in calcium, making it a great choice for your guinea pigs all-time staple food. You can get it on Amazon, but some stores may have it in stock as well.
When you’re shopping for hay, look for one of these types of hay:
- Timothy hay (most common type of hay across the US)
- Meadow hay
- Orchard hay
- Bermuda hay
Offer at least one cup of fresh vegetables daily per guinea pig. We’ve come across a ton of misconceptions when it comes to what types of vegetables guinea pigs should have, but the general rule of thumb is: Don’t feed them too much of one vegetable – mix it up and offer lots of options every day.
Here are SOME of the best vegetables for guinea pigs:
- Peppers of all colors (great source of vitamin C)
- Carrots (tops as well)
- Kale (must be introduced gradually in the beginning)
- Dill weeds
- Check out the full list of best fruits and vegetables
Note that these are just a few recommendations out of many, so make sure you search for more options to give your guinea pigs a varied selection of vegetables.
Pellets should be hay-based and fortified with vitamin C. The general recommended daily amount is 1/8 of a cup per guinea pig, as it’s just a supplement rather than an actual food.
High-quality pellets from trusted brands like Oxbow, Small Pet Select and Kaytee are recommended. These are all available on Amazon.
Make sure you get pellets in small bags good for a month’s use, as the vitamins will degrade over time.