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Calcium:phosphorus Ratios And Diet Advice For Bladder Piggies

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Laura-CCC4

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#1
Addendum on behalf of Laura-CCC4:
To the best of the original authors knowledge, the current relevance and accuracy of these dietary calculations is unknown. While the diet has served her own animals well, the author feels it is time that this thread is passed by and better sources be sought out. Therefore it would be recommended that the latest advice on calcium: phosphorus ratios be sought and followed, as the advice and calculations may well have changed over recent years.


For a very long time, I was utterly confused by the calcium: phosphorus ratios, and never understood how to create a diet that achieved the correct balance of these. In short, it seemed like (and turns out to be!) something of a science.
To make it easier for others (and to better my own pigs diet!) I finally sat down and studied it, figuring out how it all worked. Having got a grip on it myself, I hope to explain it in the simplest way possible to others in order to move our diet advice 'forward'. Owners of guinea pigs with bladder issues or similar health concerns in particular may find this interesting and worthwhile reading due to the relevance of "low calcium diets".

What is the ideal calcium: phosphorus (Ca: P) ratio for guinea pigs?

The ideal ratio for guinea pigs is 1.3:1. This is to be achieved through the entire fresh fruit and vegetable diet; it is a ratio that is achieved by the overall fresh diet, not individual foods.

A diet too low in calcium can be as bad as a diet too high in calcium. Too little calcium, the guinea pigs bone and dental health can suffer; too much and the renal system may be overrun by unnecessary, excess calcium.

Why is this ratio relevant to guinea pigs with bladder stones and similar issues?

Stones aren't just formed by excess calcium sitting in the bladder; excess phosphorus can also contribute to the formation of stones. In truth, unless a stone is analysed, it shouldn't be assumed to be a calcified substance, as many can turn out to be phosphate stones. To advise a "low calcium diet" (as I, admittedly, have done many a time) is actually incorrect. The advice should to be to address the ratio.
A diet that is as close to the advised Ca: P ratio as possible could, in many cases, reduce the chances of stones developing or recurring, and may help in cases of recurrant cystitis and other renal problems.

How do you know what the ratio of individual fruits and vegetables are?

By analysing nutritional charts for each of the fruits and vegetables guinea pigs can have, you have access to the levels of the calcium and phosphorus in the foods. You need to be consistent in the weights though - there is no point getting a ratio for 50g of one food and 100g of another - all foods need to have the ratio worked out based on equal weights (all 100g, or all 50g etc.). To find the Ca: P ratio, divide the calcium by the phosphorus.

e.g.
100g of carrot contains 33mg of calcium, and 35mg of phosphorus.
33 divided by 35 = 0.9.
The Ca: P ratio for carrot is approximately 0.9:1

How do you add up the individual ratios and work out the correct overall ratio?

When you give a variety of fruit and vegetables to your guinea pigs, the Ca: P ratio changes. If you were to feed five different foods daily, you would add up all the figures, then divide by the number of foods you are giving.

e.g.
Carrot - 0.9:1
Cucumber - 0.7:1
Kale - 2.4:1
Broccoli - 0.7:1
Apple - 1.0:1

Add all the calcium numbers up (0.9 + 0.7 + 2.4 etc) and all the phosphorus (1 + 1 + 1 etc.).
The total for the above diet is 5.7:5.

Now divide by five - the number of different foods given.
5.7 divided by 5 = 1.14.

The Ca: P ratio for the above diet is 1.14:1.

This all sounds pretty complicated just for a guinea pigs salad. Can you simplify it?

In short, yes. To a degree, a small bit of science still has to be involved. For the owner, this comes in weighing form. Giving equal amounts of each vegetable will keep the Ca: P ratio the same. Most pigs take 5g - 10g of each food daily, so giving 5g - 10g of all the foods should keep things simple for you. In time, you will recognise how many sprigs, how many leaves, or how large a slice constitutes the right weight, and weighing will not always be necessary.

I have divided the range of ratios of our usual choices of guinea pig veggies into 6 categories. To maintain a good ratio, you will need to pick a number of foods from certain categories. This method won't give you a perfect ratio, but it will get as close to it as possible without getting heavily involved in the science yourself!

I have found/worked out as many ratios from the Shopping List as I could. Finding the data on some of them proved impossible thus far; I have got the large majority so hope you can find your piggies favourites in here.

VERY HIGH CALCIUM (ratio 2.5:1 + )
Basil
Beet Greens
Collard Greens
Dandelion Greens
Dill
Figs
Mint
Orange
Pak Choi
Papaya
Rocket
Thyme

HIGH CALCIUM (ratio 2.0:1 to 2.4:1)
Cabbage
Chicory
Kale
Mustard Greens
Parsley
Spinach
Watercress

HIGH-MID CALCIUM (ratio 1.0:1 to 1.9:1)
Apple
Blackberries
Broccoli Rabe
Celery
Chard
Chives
Coriander / Cilantro
Crabapple
Endive
Escarole
Garden Cress
Grapefruit
Lime
Pear
Pineapple
Radishes
Raspberries
Red Cabbage
Round lettuce / Butterhead / Boston / Bibb
Tangerine
Turnip
Winter Squash

LOW-MID CALCIUM (ratio 0.6:1 to 0.9:1)
Apricot
Baby Carrot
Belgian Endive
Blueberries
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cantaloupe Melon
Carrot
Cherries
Cranberries
Cucumber
Currants
Dates
Feijoa
Gooseberries
Grapes
Honeydew Melon
Kiwi
Mago
Peas in Pods
Romaine Lettuce
Rutabaga
Savoy Cabbage
Strawberries
Summer Squash
Sweet Onions
Sweet Potato / Yams
Watermelon

LOW CALCIUM (ratio 0.5:1)
Cauliflower
Kohlrabi
Parsnip
Peppers - red, yellow, green
Persimmon
Pumpkin
Raisins

VERY LOW CALCIUM (ratio 0.01:1 to 0.4:1)
Artichoke
Asian Pear
Asparagus
Banana
Beetroot
Celeriac
Courgette / Zucchini
Guava
Nectarine
Passion-fruit
Peach
Plum
Radicchio
Sweetcorn
Tomato

Now what do I do? I have the categorised list, how do I choose foods to achieve the correct ratio?

The optimal selection method is to choose 3 foods from the high ranges, and 2 from the low ranges. Want to add more foods? Choose from the Mid charts, these are the foods that will least impact on the Ca: P ratio.

Be sensible in your choices. Don't choose three very high calcium foods, go with a wider variety. Choose something like:

1x Very High
2x Mid-High
2x Low

You do not need to get the ratio perfect - unless you have a pig with chronic, long-term or severe health issues.
For healthy piggies, you may find it simpler to refer to the last section of this post for the daily/occasionally/rarely groupings.

What about the Vitamin C in these foods? Surely that is as important as the Ca: P ratio?

The Vitamin C content is as important - if not more important - than the Ca: P ratio. However it is far easier to get the required 10-30mg of Vit C into a piggie with a good variety of foods. Most of the foods high in calcium are also high in Vitamin C - parsley, orange and broccoli being prime examples from the higher calcium categories. Generally speaking, giving plenty of variety, and choosing veg that are known to contain good levels of Vitamin C, should be enough to ensure that this element is taken care of.

What about the more usual "daily/weekly/monthly" type charts? I don't feel my guinea pigs need as much detail paid to their diet as you have described.

I have been working on a few more aspects of this since originally posting this. I have not grouped the foods prior to now as I needed to find out about the effects of the three nutrients which should not be fed in excess.

Sugar - we all know foods high in sugar should not be fed daily. All high sugar foods are listed in the Occasionally group.

Vitamin A - it is thought that too much vitamin A fed over a prolonged period can eventually lead to liver and/or kidney damage. Foods high in Vitamin A are listed in the Occasionally group.

Oxalic Acid/Oxalates - oxalates can bind to calcium, which can lead to stones if foods high in oxalates are fed too much. For this reason, I have listed all foods especially high in oxalates in the Occasionally or Rarely group.

Daily
High Calcium Ranges
Basil
Blackberries
Cabbage
Celery
Chard
Chicory
Coriander
Dandelion Greens
Dill
Endive
Escarole
Pak Choi
Parsley
Red Cabbage
Rocket
Round Lettuce
Watercress
Winter Squash

Low Calcium Range
Apricot
Artichoke
Asparagus
Baby Carrot
Beetroot
Belgian Endive
Blueberries
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Carrot
Cauliflower
Celeriac
Cherries
Courgette
Cranberries
Cucumber
Gooseberries
Grapes
Peas in Pods
Peppers - red/yellow/green
Pumpkin
Radicchio
Romaine Lettuce
Rutabaga
Savoy Cabbage
Strawberries
Summer Squash
Sweetcorn
Tomato
Watermelon

Occasionally - 2x a week
High Calcium Ranges
Apple
Broccoli Rabe
Chives
Figs
Garden Cress
Grapefruit
Kale
Lime
Mint
Mustard Greens
Orange
Papaya
Pear
Pineapple
Radishes
Spinach
Tangerine
Thyme
Turnip

Low Calcium Range
Asian Pear
Banana
Cantaloupe Melon
Currants
Dates
Honeydew Melon
Kiwi
Kohlrabi
Mango
Nectarine
Parsnip
Passion-fruit
Peach
Persimmon
Plum
Raisins
 
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Laura-CCC4

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#2
Rarely- as a special once-in-a-while treat, or fed in small amounts once or twice a month
High Calcium Ranges
Beet Greens
Collard Greens
Crabapple

Low Calcium Range
Feijoa
Guava
Sweet Onion
Sweet Potato

Choose your usual three from the high and two from the low on the daily, these will be the staples for the week. If you want to add variety, choose anything from the High-Mid or Low-Mid range. The ratios of these foods are 1.0:1 - 1.9:1, so tend to affect the ratio less than foods from the other ranges.




As a note to follow on from this, I include details of my own guinea pigs' diet. I have eight pigs, two of whom have mild bladder/cystitis issues. I have had all my pigs on a "low calcium diet" for well over a year now, I thought the diet was a good one, but once I got the hang of the deal with the Ca: P ratio, I was shocked to see just how bad things actually were.

Old Diet

Romaine Lettuce
Coriander
Cucumber
Tomato
Red Pepper
Green Pepper

The ratio for this diet was a very long way off - just 0.6:1 ! Seems my pigs were actually being given a diet too low in calcium and were far more at risk of problems relating to some deficiency than anything else.

I tried tweaking just one or two foods - adding kale to the above list, and even that brought in a ratio very low at 0.9:1.
To attempt to redress this balance, I kept in the kale but removed one of the lower calcium foods - green pepper. The ratio ended up a little closer at 1.0:1.
I then tried removing another low-ish calcium food - romaine - and this brought it up a fraction, but nowhere near enough.

It seems more drastic measures were needed - a total overhaul of some of the veg, not just some tweaking and fine-tuning. Through trial and error, I came up with six different diets. There is some difficulty in rotating variety, hence so many complete diet varieties. However there are some foods with equal Ca: P ratios that can easily be interchanged, to give variety within each individual diet.

The Humphreys' Guineas new shopping lists read as follows:

Week One

Parsley
Kale
Round Lettuce
Green Pepper
Cucumber
Tomato

Week Two

Dill
Romaine Lettuce
Baby Carrot
Red Pepper
Lettuce mix (usually containig escarole, endive etc.)

Week Three

Parsley
Romaine Lettuce
Coriander
Tomato
Cabbage

You will notice that the next three weeks include small but significant variations on a couple of the foods. This variation will not only keep the pigs interested, as well as lower the price we pay for the vegetables, but the ratio stays the same.

Week Four

Parsley
Kale
Coriander
Green Pepper
Cucumber
Tomato

Week Five

Dill
Romaine Lettuce
Carrot
Red Pepper
Lettuce mix

Week Six

Parsley
Romaine Lettuce
Round Lettuce
Tomato
Spinach

The most common foods that can be interchanged for variety each week are the ones where the ratios are the same. These include:

- Parsley & Kale
- Cabbage, Spinach & Watercress
- Coriander & Round Lettuce
- Cucumber & Broccoli
- Carrot, Baby Carrot, Summer Squash, Brussels Sprouts
- Peppers of different colours

I am starting the new diet tonight - beginning Week One - and I suspect the HGs will love munching on the tastes they love every day.
 
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#5
Wow - I've read it a few times, and now feel totally inadequate!

My piggies definitely eat better than I do :))

I didn't know about any of this stuff before... would be interesting to see what long-term effects ( benefits) are to the pigs. Look forward to hearing how yours do on it!

Sophie
x
 

MemberY

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You have obviously worked hard on this, thank you for sharing! I agree, stickying this would be most useful.

I am pleased to see that my lot get a pretty balanced diet, more by accident then design though :))
 

andic

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#8
Wow! Well done you for studying all of this!
I, like you, was so baffled by it all and was so worried - but I think my piggies may be getting a diet which may be TOO LOW in calcium instead of the right balance.
I;m going to print this off and stick it to the fridge door:)

Thank you ever so much for speaking in layman's terms!
xx
 

pelicano

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#9
Thanks v much for doing this - I've printed it all off so I can sort out my shopping list. I don't think my piggies were doing too bad (although most of their regular food was in the 'mid' range), but they have long term bladder problems, so would definitely benefit from getting it exactly right.
 

Laura-CCC4

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#11
Glad it has turned out so useful. I wanted to explain it step by step, since nobody elsewhere has actually detailed each step and why it is relevant etc. Something in-between. :)

Thought I would update on my lot, since they are moving onto shopping list #2 tonight. After one week of daily parsley, kale, green peppers, round lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber...there have been no calcium spots at all. No squeaking from my 'bladder girls'. The pigs love it - as do I!
 

Wiebke

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#12
I wish I had come across this three years ago when Minx was battling bladder stones and chronic cystitis!
 

Ryli

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#13
Help, I am so worried I am feeding my piggies wrong.

They have most days, carrots, cucumber, celery (leaf too), red and yellow pepper, on occasions they have cabbage, tomatos, grapes, melon, rocket, romaine.

Does this sound ok?

Thanks CCC4 for making it easier to understand.
 

tanya1

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#14
This is very useful i have a bladder pig and have been trying to get the calcium phospherous ratios right rather than going low calcium like my vet originally told me.

I have been using the exel calcium phospherous ratio calculator to work them out which is good(link below) but i love the weekly menu plans! fab,thank you!

http://www.guinealynx.info/charts.html
 

Laura-CCC4

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#16
Wow, thanks for stickying it! I feel honoured. ") :)

If anybody wants help working out a diet with what foods are available to you/that you can afford, just let me know.

*Updated 11.20pm*
Ryli, I will get onto yours tomorrow, I'm sorry I didn't get it sorted today. At a glance it looks pretty fair, one or two high calcium foods should be enough to even it out. Will check the ratio of the current staples and see which foods would best even it out.
 
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pelicano

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#17
I'm currently struggling a bit to get mine to eat anything in the low/very low calcium range (fussy tikes!) They rejected courgette yesterday and they hate peppers. Will try something else...
 
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:):)p Thanks so very much for that very, very helpful info. I have always wondered if I am giving my piggies enough of everything they need. Looking at the info. I am probably not:..., will try harder now:). Whilst we are on the subject of food, could anyone tell me what is best for a elderly piggies stiff back legs? apart from walking a bit stiff she is fine and runs around outside on the grass and enjoys herself. I thought perhaps some food she should avoid? like us humans, some things make arthritis worse.:)p
 
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