Christopher Columbus, the Spanish explorer, discovered sweet potatoes on one of his New World excursions. And we immediately fell in love with this exotic veggie. Today, we use sweet potatoes in many dishes, both sweet and salty.
"Can guinea pigs eat sweet potatoes?" piggy owners are often wondering. The veggie is delicious and crunchy. It is readily available in most grocery stores all year round.
So what does it come down to? Should you slice your piggy a sweet potato slice or eliminate this veggie from the menu? Can it be fed daily, or are there any feeding limitations and restrictions?
Read this article to learn all you need to know about safely treating your guinea pig with sweet potatoes.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Sweet Potatoes?
Yes, guinea pigs can eat sweet potatoes. They are good sources of vitamin C which helps prevent scurvy, and their crunchy texture keeps the guinea pig's teeth well-trimmed. Still, it would be best not to overuse them and follow feeding guidelines, as they are high in fats and sugars, which pose health risks like obesity, diabetes, and tummy aches.
Sweet potatoes are safe and healthy when used as occasional snacks.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
So, how do sweet potatoes fit the guinea pig's menu? Well, when it comes to nutritional needs, your guinea pig is pretty simple. It needs 80% hay, 15% vegetables and leafy greens, 5% store-bought pellets formulated for cavies, and of course, unlimited fresh water. The hay, pellets, and water part are pretty much standard. The veggies part allows you to be creative and add various delicious options to your guinea pig's plate.
Simply put, sweet potatoes make excellent and healthy treats. They are not toxic in any way, and luckily, all parts of the veggie are edible for guinea pigs, including skins, leaves, and vines.
However, there is one tricky bit – the peel usually contains pesticide residues as commercially grown sweet potatoes are heavily treated with chemicals. This means peels are edible but not safe unless washed thoroughly.
Do guinea pigs like sweet potatoes? Yes, most guinea pigs love the sweet potatoes' sugary taste and crunchy texture. However, just like people, every piggy has different taste buds and prefers different foods. So, simply stated, while guinea pigs usually love sweet potatoes, some could not care less.
Although guinea pigs can eat sweet potatoes, and there are definitely several health benefits in this nutritious veggie, it also comes with some health risks – especially if fed in large amounts or too often. Basically, it is all a matter of achieving balance and following the feeding guidelines explained below.
Health Benefits: Are Sweet Potatoes Good for Guinea Pigs?
Before we review the health risks and feeding guidelines, let's have a look at the health benefits sweet potatoes offer for guinea pigs.
Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A and beta-carotene, which makes them ideal eye health boosters. They help prevent eye infections, boost overall eye health, and promote the production of new light-detecting receptors.
Guinea pigs have 20 constantly growing teeth that need to be kept in shape by munching on hard-textured foods. Sweet potatoes have the ideal teeth-friendly texture.
Munching is not only beneficial for the teeth but also stimulating for the guinea pig. Guinea pigs enjoy nibbling, and when the nibbling involves a sweet-tasting veggie, that is even better.
High anthocyanin levels
Anthocyanin is a potent antioxidant from the flavonoids family. This antioxidant has several important health benefits, including:
- Offers protection from free radicals
- Boost the immune system
- Prevents and manages inflammatory processes
- Promotes healthy and well-functioning brain
Sweet potatoes are rich in three heart health-promoting nutrients – vitamin A, dietary fiber, and potassium.
Vitamin A acts as an antioxidant, thus preventing heart damage. The dietary fibers keep the blood cholesterol levels low. Finally, potassium lowers blood pressure and promotes heart muscle relaxation.
Sweet potatoes are exceptionally rich in vitamin C, which is particularly important for guinea pigs as they cannot synthesize this vitamin on their own.
Sweet potatoes are a super-food packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and beta-carotene
If lacking vitamin C in their diet, guinea pigs can develop scurvy – a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that manifests with skin lesions, hair loss, painful joints, weight loss, lethargy, eye infections, and diarrhea.
If you suspect your piggy may be suffering from scurvy or having a diet that is lacking in Vitamin C, contact a vet for assistance in a proper diet, possible supplements, and veterinary treatment when needed.
In addition to preventing scurvy, vitamin C gives the immune system a good boost and promotes tissue and cellular regeneration.
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Health Risks: Are Sweet Potatoes Bad for Guinea Pigs?
After explaining all the pros of serving sweet potatoes to your guinea pig, you probably wonder why you cannot offer them more frequently. Here are the risks associated with serving your guinea pig sweet potatoes too frequently or in excessive amounts.
Sweet potatoes are loaded with starches and fats, which may cause obesity in guinea pigs with inactive lifestyles.
Risky sugar and starch combo
Sweet potatoes are high in both sugar and starch. More specifically, the sugar content is not much higher than in other guinea pig-friendly fruits and veggies, but the combination of sugar and starch is what makes sweet potatoes a tummy trouble risk.
In addition to digestive upsets, the high carb content may lead to problems like obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes. All of these conditions are dangerous and require veterinary attention.
Bladder sludge risk
Sweet potatoes are relatively high in oxalic acid. When in small amounts, this acid is harmless, but in more significant amounts, it increases the risk of bladder stones and even kidney damage.
A guinea pig with bladder sludge or stones will have trouble passing urine. Urination will be extremely painful and the produced urine tinged with blood. In more severe cases, the only solution is surgical removal of the stones.
Again, if you notice your pet's pee is not normal, ask a vet for advice to ensure your piggy is not sick and is being fed a nutritionally sound diet.
Guinea pigs have a sweet tooth and can be voracious eaters when it comes to devouring sweet-tasting treats. This increases the risk of choking.
To minimize the choking risk, you must always serve the sweet potato treat sliced into small cubes.
It is a well-known fact that commercial fruits and veggies are heavily treated with pesticides. Even small amounts of these chemicals can be devastating for your piggy's health.
Buying organic eliminates the risk of pesticide leftovers, but if organic sweet potato is not available, proper washing before serving minimizes the risk of harmful chemicals.
Feeding Guidelines: Sweet Potatoes for Guinea Pigs
So now we know the benefits and risks of serving your guinea pig sweet potatoes. We also know that you should not feed them too much or too frequently if you want to avoid the risks we mentioned. But how much is too much? And how often is too often? Let's find out.
Can guinea pigs eat sweet potato peelings/skin, leaves, or vine?
Nutrition-wise, the sweet potato peeling or skin is loaded with nutrients and completely edible in terms of digestibility. However, considering that sweet potatoes, just like all commercially grown veggies, are heavily treated with pesticides, and most of these pesticides concentrate in the peel, its safety for guinea pigs is questionable.
When adding sweet potatoes to your piggy's menu, add them raw
Namely, there are two ways of ensuring the skin is safe for your guinea pig – buying organic sweet potatoes or giving them a good washing, even scrubbing, before serving.
The leaves and vines are perfectly safe for guinea pigs. This may come as a surprise considering the leaves and vines from regular potatoes are highly toxic.
To indulge your piggy's delicate palate, you can mix some vines and leaves into its salad bowl once or twice a week. Just remember – the vines and leaves must be fresh. Wilted or fermented alternatives can cause dangerous bloating.
Can guinea pigs eat raw, baked, or mashed sweet potatoes?
Cooked foods, both baked and boiled, are not part of the guinea pig's natural diet. Therefore, they need to be avoided.
Not only are they unfit, but cooking makes the nutrients scarce, thus defeating the purpose of feeding the veggie in the first place.
When adding sweet potatoes to your piggy's menu, add them raw and sliced into tiny, bite-sized chunks or cubes.
What about sweet potato fries or chips?
Sweet potato fries and chips are a huge no-go for guinea pigs. Both sweet potato versions are heavily processed – deep-fried and enriched with salts and seasonings.
Even if prepared plain, they would not be a good fit as guinea pigs have sensitive stomachs that are not designed to digest heavily processed and oil-immersed foods.
The mentioned spices are an additional concern as they can harm the guinea pig's tummy at a moment's notice.
How much sweet potatoes can I give my guinea pig?
The recommended serving size of sweet potatoes for guinea pigs is considerably tiny and measures one 1" cube or four ½ inch cubes.
This applies to guinea pigs that are familiar with sweet potatoes and can handle them. If feeding for the first time, offer a smaller amount – one ½ inch cube and wait for signs of tummy trouble. If there are no symptoms, you can gradually increase the serving size until reaching the full four cubes portion size.
The recommended portion size for baby guinea pigs is none – sadly, babies will have to wait until adulthood before they try sweet potatoes. This is because babies have more delicate tummies and are incredibly prone to digestive upsets.
How often can a guinea pig eat sweet potatoes?
Guinea pigs are allowed to feast on sweet potatoes once a week or, ideally, once every two weeks. And there is one more catch – you should not feed them on the same day as other high-sugar and high-starch veggies or any fruits.
For example, if serving sweet potatoes, forget about carrots, apples, grapes, or cantaloupe. Always pair sugary veggies like sweet potatoes with low-sugar foods like lettuce, cabbage, cilantro, or kale.
How to give sweet potatoes to your guinea pig?
1. Start by shopping smart – visit the local grocery store or supermarket and choose sweet potatoes that are fresh and free from molds and other decaying signs. If possible, it is always recommended to shop organic.
2. Wash or peel. Once you have the sweet potatoes in your kitchen, you have two options – giving them a thorough washing or peeling them. In both cases, the goal is the same – avoiding pesticide residues on the skin.
3. Store in an airtight container. After the sweet potatoes are clean or peeled, you can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or serve them.
4. Slice into small cubes. Before serving, it is important to slice them into small cubes.
5. Remove uneaten pieces. Keep in mind that you should not leave the served sweet potatoes in the enclosure for more than a couple of hours. If your piggy fails to eat its entire portion, discard the leftovers before they spoil and start spreading bacteria.
One cup of sweet potatoes (124 grams) offers the following nutrients:
- 98.7 g water
- 10 kcal
- 2 g protein
- 3 g fat
- 1.24 g cholesterol
- 18.7 carbohydrates
- 6.77 sugar
- 2.48 g fiber.
The same amount of sweet potatoes offers these vitamins and minerals:
- 823 mcg vitamin A
- 9470 mcg beta-carotene
- 12.8 mg vitamin C
- 7.44 mcg folic acid
- 14.4 mg choline
- 5.1 mcg vitamin K
- 306 mg sodium
- 0.7 mg iron
- 50.8 mg calcium
- 19.8 mg magnesium
- 50.8 mg phosphorus
- 259 mg potassium
- 0.9 mcg selenium.
This short nutritional analysis shows that sweet potatoes are a super-food packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and beta-carotene, thus preventing scurvy and promoting good eyesight.
However, sweet potatoes are also rich in carbs and fats, which means they should not be offered in larger amounts.
Since sweet potatoes are healthy and readily available, they would be an excellent treat for guinea pigs – or would they? Well, it depends on how they are served.
Sweet potatoes are healthful and offer many nutrients guinea pigs need to stay well. However, they are also loaded with starches and fats, which may cause obesity in guinea pigs with inactive lifestyles.
All in all, you need to ensure your guinea pig is given unlimited hay, an adequate serving of store-bought pellets, veggies, leafy greens, a small number of fruits, and of course, fresh water.
Sweet potatoes are safe and healthy when used as occasional snacks. It is interesting to mention that sweet potatoes can be used for training guinea pigs and promoting physical activity.
You can hang a small chunk of sweet potato in the enclosure. That way, your piggy will go up and down and try to nibble on the piece while standing on two feet. This may not seem like much, but for a small creature, it is quite an exercise.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com 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.