Guinea Pig Nutritional Requirements
By Israel Swann
Guinea pigs can make great companions for anyone, from a first time pet owner to a seasoned pocket pet enthusiast. They have playful and curious personalities, each one distinct and when handled and socialized appropriately, they will recognize and bond with their owners. While they are fairly easy to care for, cavies (as guinea pigs are properly called) do have special nutritional requirements unto themselves which must be met in order for them to maintain optimal health and thrive.
Unlike most other species, guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C so it must be supplemented in their diet on a daily basis in order to prevent them from developing scurvy. Most experts agree that at least 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of vitamin C should be supplemented into the daily diet to maintain the animal in a good healthy state, and 20 milligrams is preferred. Because most guineas are fairly small, this is easily obtained by supplying fresh fruits and vegetables. Many cavy diets are fortified with vitamin C and these diets are a preferred feeding choice over pellets that are not fortified. Liquid vitamin C drops are available to be added to their drinking water as well; be cautious though as these drops are unstable when exposed to light and become mostly inactive within 24 hours. Therefore, water with vitamin C supplement should be changed daily. Guinea pigs can also be offered Vitamin C fortified treats.
There are many types of cavy feed diets. An 1/8 of a cup of pellets daily per guinea pig is usually sufficient, provided that the diet is also supplemented with hay, fresh fruits and vegetables. As discussed previously, most commercial guinea pig foods are fortified with vitamin C but the potency of minerals and vitamins in the pellets diminishes quickly as the food becomes stale, therefore, food should be replaced daily. Many diets have dried fruits, vegetables and seeds mixed with the pellets, and most guinea pigs seem to enjoy these added treats.
Guinea pigs should have free and continuous access to Timothy hay as it aids in proper digestion and the grinding action while chewing helps keep their teeth healthy and prevents overgrowth. They also often enjoy orchard grass mixed in with the hay. Alfalfa hay is very high in calcium and should not be fed solely as a hay source as it can lead to health problems in cavies with certain medical illnesses.
An array of fresh fruits and vegetables can be fed daily to help supplement vitamin C as well as other minerals. About 1 cup per day per guinea pig is usually sufficient. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, apple wedges, and orange slices are all good sources of vitamin C. It should be noted that iceberg lettuce is not a good choice for feeding, as it is mainly water and does not provide adequate vitamins or nutritional support. It can also cause gastrointestinal disruption and lead to diarrhea.
Like all animals, guinea pigs should always have access to fresh, clean water. Water placed in a dish is usually polluted rather quickly by the animals themselves, as they kick bedding and feces into it, so generally a small animal water bottle hung on the cage is the preferred watering method. Water bottles can be a source of bacteria growth so they should be washed and scrubbed often.
Certain foods should be avoided as they can be toxic to cavies. These include:
- Tomato plants (leaves or stalks)
- Potatoes or peels
- Iceberg lettuce
- Processed foods high in sodium
- Pickled or brined vegetables
- Fruit pits
- Weeds or grasses of unknown type should not be fed as many of these can be toxic
Proper care and nutrition is vital to keeping your guinea pig happy and healthy. Providing fresh hay, fruits, vegetables and a high quality fortified pellet diet can help keep your furry friend happy and healthy for years to come.
Guinea Lynx: A Medical and Care guide for Guinea Pigs.
The Humane Society of the United States. http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/guinea_pigs/tips/guinea_pig_feeding.html
Guinea Pig Connection