Guinea pigs are natural herbivores and should get all their nutrition from plant matter. There aren't any guinea pigs left in the wild, but if there were, they'd be snacking on grasses, seeds, twigs, berries, and even some roots.
Your furry pal doesn't have much to worry about in the comforts of your home, but his diet is still very important. To keep him healthy and living longer, you should try to mimic his natural diet as best as possible.
Cabbage sounds like it would be a good fit, but is it? Not all veggies are safe for guinea pigs, and for many veggies, it's all about how much you feed.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Cabbage?
Yes, guinea pigs can eat cabbage, but not every day. Cabbage contains calcium, which may cause urinary stones when fed in excess. Also, cabbage may cause stomach upsets like bloating and indigestion, which can be dangerous for cavies. Follow our vet-approved recommendations on feeding to avoid health problems when feeding cabbage.
Plenty of people don't like the taste of cabbage, and guinea pigs can feel the same. Some will happily snap it up while others will take a sniff and push it aside. But if your guinea pig likes cabbage, it's safe to feed a little bit at a time.
Which cabbage, you might ask? Good question, as different cabbages have different nutritional profiles. There's green cabbage, which is the most common. Then there's red, savoy, and Chinese cabbage.
At the end of the day, a small quantity of any of the four types should not harm your pet. But as we said, the four varieties are nutritionally different. Red cabbage is the best for your guinea pig, and Chinese cabbage is the least suitable for reasons we will discuss shortly.
Health Benefits: Is Cabbage Good for Guinea Pigs?
There are a few things that all cabbage types have in common when it comes to health benefits for your pet.
When selecting cabbage to feed to your guinea pig, red is the best.
1. Rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is extremely important in a guinea pig's diet. The reason for this is very simple: unlike most other animals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture vitamin C in their bodies.
This vitamin is essential to maintaining your guinea pig's overall health. It maintains a strong immune system, helping your pet fight off diseases and infections. Vitamin C also promotes wound healing, helping your pig recover faster from any cuts and scrapes.
It's also very important to know that a severe lack of vitamin C can cause your guinea pig to develop scurvy (hypocalcemia). This condition can put your pal through severe pain and discomfort, and if left untreated, can even be fatal.
So with all this information, it's clear that vitamin C is a very important part of your guinea pig's diet. When it comes to quantity of Vitamin C, red cabbage has the most, while Chinese cabbage has the least. This is why when selecting cabbage to feed to your guinea pig, red is the best.
2. A Good Source of Vitamin A
Red cabbage is the no-contest winner over the rest when it comes to vitamin A content as well. It has the highest amount of vitamin A of all the cabbage types, with ten times the amount that the more common green cabbage has.
Vitamin A is another essential nutrient for your guinea pig's body. In red cabbage, it comes in the form of beta carotenoids. Working to keep your guinea pig's vision healthy well into old age, vitamin A also supports a healthy immune system and good skin.
3. Excellent Source of Vitamin K
Another good reason to feed your guinea pig some cabbage is its high vitamin K content. Vitamin K is actually a collection of fat-soluble vitamins that play a significant role in keeping your pet's body healthy. One key activity of vitamin K is in assisting with proper blood clotting in case of an injury, however small or big.
As with vitamin C and vitamin A, red cabbage contains more vitamin K per unit measure than the other cabbage types, making it more nutrient-dense. Just as a reminder, though, don't feed your guinea pig too much cabbage. There are several benefits, but too much is not a good idea. We'll look at why in a moment.
Health Risks: Is Cabbage Bad for Guinea Pigs?
With all the benefits of feeding red cabbage to your guinea pig, you might be wondering why we recommend feeding it in moderation. There are a few important reasons for this, and we look at them here.
1. High Calcium Levels
Now, calcium in and of itself is definitely not a bad thing. It is an essential mineral that your guinea pig requires to maintain healthy bones and teeth, among other bodily functions. But there's one thing about guinea pigs and calcium that you need to know.
Unlike most mammals, guinea pigs cannot regulate how much calcium they absorb into their systems. Most other mammals absorb only what they need and pass the rest out, but guinea pigs absorb almost everything.
With guinea pigs, when there is too much calcium in the system, it binds with compounds known as oxalates to form painful kidney and bladder stones. It is a serious condition that requires veterinary attention, and if your pet has suffered from it once, it will remain prone to developing it again.
All cabbage types contain high levels of calcium, so it doesn't matter which cabbage type you feed to your guinea pig; if you feed too much cabbage, you'll be feeding too much calcium, putting your pet at risk.
2. Bloating and Indigestion
Cabbage has some great nutritional benefits for your guinea pig, but elevated calcium levels aside, there's another reason it needs to be fed in moderation; cabbage is known to cause indigestion, even in human beings.
Guinea pigs have sensitive digestive systems, and it's easy to upset them. Too much cabbage may do exactly that, leaving your pet with an uncomfortable tummy full of gas. A mild case will clear on its own in a few hours. But a more severe case may result in diarrhea and require assistance from your vet.
3. Pesticide Contamination
Cabbage is a very popular vegetable, and most cabbage we buy in the supermarkets is commercially grown. Cabbage also happens to be popular with snails, slugs, and a host of other pests. This means it is frequently sprayed with pesticides.
Cabbage is not toxic to your pet, but many of the chemicals that may remain on it are. To be on the safe side, always wash the cabbage you're planning to feed to your pet thoroughly under running water or buy organic.
Serving Size and How to Feed?
The trick with feeding your pet cabbage is to feed small quantities at a time. Wash thoroughly before cutting and serving any cabbage to your pet.
Once or twice a week is plenty.
Your guinea pig may not even like the taste of cabbage, and if it doesn't, that's okay. There are many other good veggies you can feed. If it does like it, slice off a couple of one-inch cubes for your pet. Some people like to leave the woody core in, and that's okay too.
Don't Feed Too Frequently
Cabbage is not a great idea if given too frequently. It may cause gas and bloating, but the biggest danger is the high amount of calcium. Once or twice a week is plenty.
Be sure not to feed with other high-calcium veggies (like kale or spinach) at the same time.
It's hard to be precise here, as there are several different types of cabbages, and each has its own nutritional profile. But because red cabbage is overall the best for guinea pigs, we'll focus on that.
You already know that cabbage is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin K. It also contains several of the vitamins in the B complex in smaller amounts and contains most of the essential minerals, too, in lower quantities.
To round it all off, cabbage is high in fiber and low in sugar. It is an excellent digestive combo that will help keep your guinea pig's tummy functioning well, so long as it's fed in small quantities.
Cabbage, especially the red variety, has some great benefits for your guinea pig. It's a good source of vitamin C, which is an essential addition to every guinea pig's diet. It also contains several other essential vitamins and minerals and has good fiber content.
On the downside, all cabbages contain high amounts of calcium, an excess of which can lead to painful bladder stones. It can also cause indigestion and bloating. Small amounts of fresh (not cooked, as this reduces the vitamin content) red cabbage is good for your guinea pig, but moderation is key.
Can cabbage kill guinea pigs?
No, cabbage can not kill guinea pigs if fed in moderation. Cabbage may, however, cause bloating or gas and other digestive upsets like diarrhea. Cabbage also contains a lot of calcium, which may lead to painful blabber stones on guinea pigs if not fed in moderation.
Can guinea pigs eat red cabbage?
Yes, guinea pigs can eat red cabbage. It contains phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamins A and K. It is healthier than other cabbages because of higher levels of Vitamin C but follow our feeding guidelines as the calcium in red cabbage may cause urinary stones when cabbage is overfed. Also, too much cabbage may lead to gas, indigestion, and bloating.
Guinea pigs develop their diet preferences very early in life and don't adapt easily to change, so try to expose your pet to a variety of foods (including cabbage!) while they're young.
If your guinea pig likes cabbage, remember to feed it in moderation, and always introduce new foods gradually to your guinea pig to avoid an upset stomach.
Try to feed your pet about 1 cup of fresh vegetables per day. Make sure they have access to good quality hay all the time, and you can also offer a small number of pellets (no more than 1/8th of a cup) daily. As vitamin C is so important, you should also give your pet a vitamin C tablet every day.
- Dr. Leonie McKinlay, DVM
Dr. Leonie McKinlay has always had a special fondness for animals and knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Calgary and then her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. Since graduation, Dr. McKinlay has been working at the same small animal practice, caring for dogs and cats.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your guinea pig's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.