Guinea pigs are adorable little critters that love food. They know when it's time for a meal, and they often squeal or whistle with excitement when they realize they are getting their favorite veggies or treats.
Deciding what to offer your guinea pig can be daunting.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
With such good appetites, you must offer them a healthy and balanced diet in the right proportions.
Food that does not meet their nutritional needs may cause serious health issues. Therefore, it is essential to make sure the food you serve your pet is healthy, safe, and nutritious.
To make your job as a responsible pet parent easier, we have gathered this list of foods guinea pigs can and can't eat. But first, let's have a look at the overall diet your piggy should be following.
What Do Guinea Pigs Eat?
Your guinea pig should primarily eat hay supplemented with vegetables, commercial pellets, and some occasional treats like fruit or commercial guinea pig treats. The correct proportions are as follows:
- 80% hay
- 15% vegetables
- 5% pellets
Hay makes up the majority of your guinea pig's diet. Adult guinea pigs should eat grass hay such as timothy hay, while young piggies under the age of six months can be offered alfalfa hay. Your pet should have unlimited access to fresh hay throughout the day.
Pellets are also important for your pet because they provide healthy nutrients and ensure sufficient intake of Vitamin C. Sometimes, pet owners replace guinea pig food with fresh produce, but this may lead to wet stools and tummy upsets.
The main take-away point is to ensure your pig has clean, fresh water and good quality grass hay available at all times.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
In addition to hay and pellets, your cavy should also be given veggies, leafy greens, and fruit. We'll talk about that next.
Remember, your guinea pig should have fresh and clean water available at all times. They may drink up to 300ml a day, so make sure you have a water bottle large enough.
What Can You Feed Guinea Pigs?
So, about 15% of your guinea pig's daily food intake should consist of veggies, leafy greens, and a tiny amount of fruit.
Before we get into which foods are safe for your pet, let's look at the correct proportions they should be fed in.
- You should offer about half a cup of fresh produce daily. The bulk of these fresh foods should comprise leafy greens with some vegetables added into the mix.
- Mix about 5-6 different leafy greens and vegetables daily. A varied diet of different foods will ensure your guinea pig gets all the nutrients it needs.
- Fruits should be offered only as a small treat a couple of times a week.
What Vegetables Can Guinea Pigs Eat?
About 85-90% of the veggies you feed your piggy should be leafy greens, with 10-15% of other vegetables making up the rest.
These foods are essential to you cavy because they offer essential nutrients and antioxidants. They are also healthy because of their low sugar and starch content. Root vegetables can be offered, but they should make up only a small proportion of the everyday veggies you provide for your pig.
New foods should always be introduced gradually because although they are healthy and an important part of your guinea pig's diet, they may cause tummy upsets when the transition to a new food is too quick.
Let's have a look at some foods you can feed your guinea pig.
Best Leafy Greens for Guinea Pigs?
Here are some of the best leafy greens for you to offer to your pet. Remember that plants in your garden or local grocery store may contain pesticides, and you should avoid feeding them if you're not sure they are free of chemicals, choose organic where possible. Mix the veggies up to ensure a varied diet with a balance of nutrients.
Your guinea pig will surely love some of these:
- Leafy green or red lettuce (not iceberg)
- Mustard greens
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
- Dandelion greens
- Clover greens (small amounts only as they're high in calcium)
- Chicory (small portions only)
- Raspberry leaves
- Carrot tops
- Bok Choy
- Dill leaves (small amounts only as it's relatively high in calcium)
Best Veggies for Guinea Pigs
There are many veggies your guinea pig can enjoy safely. Still, it's good to mix them up to ensure your pig's diet has the correct balance of all nutrients. Also, remember to wash all the veggies before feeding and check the serving size and instructions.
Some of the vegetables your guinea pig can eat are:
- Bell peppers
- Cucumber (small amounts as it has high water content and can cause an upset tummy)
- Parsnip (contain oxalates which can contribute to bladder stones so offer sparingly)
- Brussel sprouts (high in oxalates, so feed as a treat only in small amounts)
- Cabbage (high calcium, so don't feed every day)
- Tomatoes (ripe tomatoes only)
- Baby corn
What Fruits Can Guinea Pigs Eat?
Guinea pigs should only be given fruits as occasional treats. Many fruits contain too much sugar and may cause diarrhea or weight gain when offered too often or in servings that are too big for your little pet.
Before feeding any new fruits to your piggy, check the recommended serving size and if there are parts of the fruit that are not edible.
Some of the fruits your guinea pig may enjoy are:
- Apples (remove the seeds)
- Pears (remove the seeds first)
- Kiwi (remove the skin first and feed only occasionally as high in sugar)
- Papayas (remove the seeds first)
- Grapes (high in sugar, so not too much)
- Watermelon (high sugar, only small amounts should be offered as an occasional treat)
What Can Guinea Pigs Not Eat?
In addition to foods guinea pigs CAN eat, we also have foods you should avoid feeding your pet. Some of the foods on the list below are not healthy options, while others are plain toxic.
Never offer your guinea pig anything from a bulb (onion, garlic, leek, potato) as these are toxic to guinea pigs.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
What should guinea pigs not eat? Let's find out.
- Meat (cavies are herbivores)
- Dairy (guinea pigs are lactose intolerant)
- Iceberg lettuce (can cause diarrhea)
- Avocado (too high in fat and skin is toxic)
- Onions, leeks (may cause blood disorders)
- Garlic (poisonous for guinea pigs!)
- Nuts (too high in fat)
- Chocolate or candy (too sugary, some may contain toxic substances)
- Tomato leaves and stems (toxic!)
- Seeds (choking hazard, can cause intestinal blockage)
These are foods that are not a part of a proper and balanced diet for your guinea pig. To keep your pet healthy and safe, avoid them altogether.
What You Should Know About Feeding Your Guinea Pig
- Before you feed any new foods to your pet, you should always check if they are safe.
- Also, many foods are considered safe but may be dangerous if not fed in moderation.
Sometimes the fruit or vegetable itself is safe, but the leaves, stems, skin, or seeds may be harmful. Always be sure to check the correct serving size and how often the food should be fed. Also, find out which parts are edible.
Here are a few other factors to consider:
Always wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly before serving them to your guinea pig. Chemicals may harm your pet, and you should be careful with rinsing or peeling the foods. The safest option is to buy organic produce if you can.
Guinea pigs can not produce Vitamin C in their bodies, which is why they should get about 10-50 mg of this vitamin with their daily intake of food.
Vitamin C deficiency can cause scurvy in guinea pigs. Symptoms include lethargy, pain in the joints, weight loss, dental problems, hemorrhaging, and diarrhea. Your vet will be able to help your pet with Vitamin C injections, but if left untreated, the disease may be lethal.
To prevent scurvy, you should feed your guinea pig pelleted food that has been fortified with Vitamin C. If your pet is a picky eater, vitamin C supplements may be a good idea, discuss this with your veterinarian first. Many fruits are also a good source of Vitamin C and can benefit your cavy.
Foods high in oxalic acid are not good for your guinea pig and should be offered in moderation. The oxalates in these foods bind with calcium causing painful stones in the urinary tract. Often, these stones need to be surgically removed by a vet.
Calcium and Phosphorus
Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, which is why guinea pigs should get adequate amounts of it in their diet. However, cavies absorb almost all the calcium they consume, but their kidneys can filter only so much, and the excess calcium may form urinary stones that can cause significant problems for your cavy.
Calcium and phosphorus imbalance is another thing you should look out for. Phosphorus needs calcium to bind with, and if the balance is not right, calcium may be drawn from the teeth, making them brittle.
Foods with less calcium than phosphorus include cucumber, carrots, and romaine lettuce. If you're feeding these veggies to your piggy, then you need to balance them out with foods that have more calcium than phosphorus. Cilantro, celery, lettuce, and kale are examples of such foods.
Guinea pigs are used to a high-fiber diet consisting mainly of hay. Therefore, you should also choose fresh foods that have high fiber content. It helps your piggy produce healthy stools, prevents obesity, and keep their digestive system healthy.
Fibrous foods will also help keep your pets constantly growing teeth trim and promote dental health.
Guinea pigs are prone to obesity, which is why they should be offered sugary treats only in strict moderation. Remember that many commercial treats contain a lot of sugar, and many fruits can be considered high-sugar foods too.
Seeds, skin, stems, and leaves
Often the stems and leaves of veggies or fruits are edible and may even be healthier options than the food itself. For example, banana peel contains less sugar than the flesh of the fruit, and carrot tops can be even healthier than the vegetable itself.
Still, you need to be careful and make sure you know the facts before you feed anything to your guinea pig. For example, tomato leaves and stems are toxic, and apple seeds should be avoided because they are harmful when chewed up and may pose a choking hazard when swallowed whole.
There are many veggies and fruits you can safely feed your pet; you just need to ensure you know which parts and how much is ok.
Symptoms of a Poor Diet and Malnutrition
If your guinea pig doesn't get all the nutrients they needs from their diet, they may become malnourished and suffer from health problems.
Some of the most common issues guinea pigs face due to poor nutrition, are scurvy, bladder stones, obesity, and dental problems.
Symptoms of malnutrition caused by poor diet include
- Joint pains
- Dental issues
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Coarse coat
- Loss of appetite
If your suspect your guinea pig may be suffering from malnutrition, contact a vet to help you plan a healthy diet for your pet.
Although it may sound like feeding your guinea pig is a bit complicated with all the rules and restrictions, it's straightforward once you figure out which foods your guinea pig likes and what are the right proportions between different foods.
Some foods are entirely off the list, but there is also a lot of variety in the veggies, leafy greens, and fruits you can offer. Feeding just one or two different foods every day may cause malnutrition, so the key is to mix things up to ensure your pet gets plenty of all nutrients.
A diverse diet in the correct proportions is guaranteed to keep your pet happy and healthy.
Deciding what to offer your guinea pig can be daunting, but the main take-away point is to ensure your pig has clean, fresh water and good quality grass hay available at all times.
Timothy based commercial pellets should be offered to ensure your pig is receiving a balanced diet with enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy. Check the product for feeding instructions, but most average at around 2 tablespoons per guinea pig per day. Fresh pellets should be offered each day as vitamin C oxidizes, and thus there may not be sufficient levels to keep your pet healthy if not offered fresh pellets daily.
Fruit and veggies can be offered as treats, with fresh greens making up around 10% of your pig's daily diet. Collard greens, green and red leafy lettuce, and herbs such as cilantro, parsley, or dill should comprise most of these but ensure you mix up the variety each day to prevent nutritional deficiencies or overdoses.
Small amounts of cabbages, brussels sprouts, and starchy root vegetables can also be offered. Never offer your guinea pig anything from a bulb (onion, garlic, leek, potato) as these are toxic to guinea pigs. Nuts and avocadoes should also be avoided due to their high fat content, and avocado skin is also toxic to guinea pigs.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
Edele Grey, BSc, MVB, PGCertESM, MRCVS was born and raised in Ireland on a farm, so she was destined for veterinary-related work from a young age. Dr. Grey attended the only veterinary university in Ireland, the University College Dublin, and graduated in 2013. Since graduation, Dr. Grey has worked with a range of exotic, companion, and production animal species.
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.