Long Term Balanced General And Special Needs Guinea Pig Diets

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Wiebke

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Overview:
1 The recommended ratio of food groups
2 Hay and grass

3 Vegetables, fresh herbs and fruit with an illustrated balanced sample diet
4 Special dietary needs
- Urinary tract infections, bladder stones and sterile IC (non-bacterial interstitial cystitis)
- Diabetes and long term digestive problems
- Impaction in boars
- Pregnancy and nursing dietary tweaks (only visible to registered members who have accepted our no intentional breeding policy)
5 Common veg list: How much and how often?
6 Pellets
7 Water
8 Treats and forage - safe and unsafe
9 Weighing weekly
10 Coronavirus advice


Sadly for new guinea pig owners, we do not have the ultimate ideal guinea pig diet yet! New insights will lead to new recommendations and trends. There is as yet not as much research into guinea pigs as into other pet species; so things are bound to change as more is becoming known. Currently there is a lot of contradictory information around which can be very confusing. We are trying to keep abreast of developments and also include our own long term experiences.

This thread is aiming to help you develop your own diet that is based on your guinea pigs’ individual tastes and preferences and the availability/practicalities of what you can buy, grow, store and use up within reason.


1 The recommended ratio of food groups
- ca. 80% or more hay and fresh grass
- 10-15% preferably green veg and fresh herbs (ca. 1 cupful / 50g / nearly 2oz)
- 5-10% pellets (1 tablespoon)
- plenty of plain fresh water daily



2 Hay and fresh grass
Unlimited fresh hay should make the bulk of a guinea pig diet. It is vital for good gut and general health and to keep the all-important grinding back teeth ground down evenly.

Guinea pigs have evolved by eating grass in its fresh and dried form with supplementing their diet with some forage and any rare fruit they come across. What most people are not aware of is that fresh growing grass is actually high in vitamin C and that even hay contains it. this is the reason why they have never had the need to make their own vitamin C. Because hay and grass are not part of a human diet, it has been generally blended out and been treated as if it didn't contribute any nutrients to the overall diet. The opposite is in fact true - hay and fresh grass are by a very long margin the mainstay of the diet and should make around 80% or more of what a guinea pig eats in a day. This can really add another 1-2 years to a healthy guinea's life and take it from the bottom of the average life span to the higher end and beyond.

Please always offer unlimited hay to your guinea pigs at all times (even when they have access to the lawn); too much fresh feed can cause digestive problems. It is the one food group you really can't do without!
The more your diet resembles the natural diet of guinea pigs, the better for them. Too many treats and fruit while well meant are actually having the opposite effect on your guinea pigs' health and longevity. With a good diet, you also don't have any need for artificial supplements as they are getting it all in their food.

Hay
Whether you feed timothy or meadow (UK)/orchard (US) hay doesn’t make a huge difference. Timothy hay is less high in calcium and is processed a little bit better in the guts, but it is harder and coarser in texture. Your piggies may like an occasional change or a mix of both, especially when the timothy hay is not looking very appetising!

Soft meadow/orchard hay is generally preferable for bedding/digging into and timothy hay for being fed from a hay rack in order to minimise the risk of eye injuries.

Alfalfa hay: alfalfa/lucerne is a legume, not a grass. It is high in calcium and protein and should only be fed as a supplement to normal hay during a pregnancy and the following nursing period (one handful per day to compensate for limited pellets before birth; see our pregnancy diet information thread at the top of the pregnancy section).
Young guinea pigs on plenty of alfalfa based pellets (which include most available brands) do NOT need any extra alfalfa hay!

Please do not feed hay that smells mouldy or fusty when you open a bag!
Do not feed or bed on straw. It is too rough as fodder and too dangerous as a bedding (high risk of eye pokes and skin scratches that can become infected).

Much more information on available varieties, a comparison chart of nutrients, lists of suppliers for the UK, US and Australia as well as tips for storage etc. in this comprehensive hay guide here: A Comprehensive Hay Guide for Guinea Pigs (incl. providers in several countries)

Grass
Fresh grass varies in quality over the course of a year, especially in its water and nutrient content.
For this reason fresh, fast growing green spring and autumn grass counts more towards your daily veg allowance (leave out some watery veg like lettuce or cucumber) while dry and brown grass that has stopped growing counts towards hay and you want to add more watery veg to your diet.

Please introduce fresh grass gradually on an unaccustomed gut and be careful to acclimatise your guinea pigs to the outdoors in order to avoid digestive problems and illness. Also do not feed very damp grass or clippings from the lawn.
Don't graze your guinea pigs in an area where dogs pee or get your grass from a verge that is used by lots of dog walkers. Fresh dog pee can kill a guinea pig!
More tips (including how long to wait after lawn treatment and when it is safe to put indoors guinea pigs on the lawn) in this guide here: Feeding Grass And Preparing Your Piggies For Lawn Time
Hot weather tips and information on heat stroke: Hot Weather Management, Heat Strokes and Fly Strike

You can always grow your own grass in a window sill box or a seed tray. Even if you haven't got access to safe grass, it makes a great treat and a wonderful enrichment for your piggies!
 

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3 Vegetables, fresh herbs and fruit

Key to a good balanced diet is to feed variety in rotation, but everything in moderation!
Ideally you arrive at a daily varying mix of about 3-7 different veg and/or a fresh herb. It is admittedly easier to feed a larger number of guinea pigs on a more varied diet than just two, so you need to take not only personal guinea pig tastes into consideration but also practical aspects.

For a healthy guinea pig, you are looking at a low to medium high calcium diet.
Vitamin C and magnesium mainly occur in veg that also contain a higher amount of calcium, so you are aiming to achieve a sensible balance. By going on extreme diets like a very low calcium diet without medical reason, you may be in danger of depriving your guinea pigs of vital nutrients and instead of avoiding one problem you can create others in the long term.

Please include one high vitamin C veg, herb or fruit into your daily mix as guinea pigs cannot produce their own. Ideally you feed fresh foods in chunks, slices, strips or sprigs.

The daily amount of veg is about 30-50g / 1-1/2 ounces per guinea pig. If you want to rather measure by volume, it comes to about 1 cup full of veg.
Recommendations of how much veg to feed are trending down, not up! There is also a strong trend for not feeding certain food groups like root veg and fruit much or at all anymore.

Single guinea pigs can be very choosy and capricious with their preferences as they lack the powerful “I want what you have” incentive. It often helps to re-introduce a food after a suitable period that they have gone off on previously.

Please introduce only one new veg at a time in a smaller quantity, especially when you are not sure whether your piggies have had fresh food in their diet before in order to prevent tummy upsets/diarrhoea.

It is up to you whether you feed fresh food once daily or more often. The same goes for your feeding time(s), depending on your own working day; but it helps if you create a regular routine. The overall amount of fresh food should stay the same irrespective of how many times a day you are feeding. If you want to use little bits of favourite veg or herbs as a treat to train or lure your piggies, you will also have to factor that into the daily allowance.


A balanced sample diet
This here is an example of how a balanced daily veg mix for one guinea pig can look like.
You can split the mix up. By feeding twice daily, you have the advantage that you can check on your guinea pigs mornings and evenings, and there is no food hanging around that can attract pests.

DSCN4338_edited-1.jpg
The plate contains: 1 slice of sweet pepper/capsicum, 1 sprig of coriander/cilantro, one chunk of celery, 1 slice of spring greens (UK lower calcium relative of kale), 1 green/snap bean, (optional) one leaf of gem lettuce - which can be replaced by another veg of your liking.

This plate here is aiming for a mix of vitamin C rich veg (like pepper, but there are alternatives if your piggy doesn't like them), 1 herb that is rich in minerals and trace elements (which can vary; cilantro/coriander is the mildest and can be fed most often), 1 slice of a cabbage type veg for magnesium and vitamin C (spring greens is again the mildest and most suited for a daily diet, as it is not as high in calcium as other cabbages and brassicas, including kale), and some 'green stuff' in the bowl. The leaf of salad can be varied with something else that you don't feed daily.
The plate is pretty much the mainstay of what I feed my own guinea pigs, with seasonal changes and the occasional special treat to keep things interesting.

A list of how often you can safely feed which veg, herbs and fruits as well links to further information on edible and inedible veg can be found in the next post.


4 Special dietary needs

Urinary tract issues, bladder stones and IC
For guinea pigs with urinary tract issues like bladder stones, sludge or interstitial cystitis (IC) you can feed the sample diet mix safely, just minus the lettuce and without any variations.
The tweaked sample diet cuts out root veg, grain (including sweet corn) and cabbages/broccoli high in calcium but still provides a wide range of trace elements for long term health. The dropped food groups may contribute to IC flare ups or the formation of stones.

Very important: filter your water even if you live in a soft water area, as minerals also contribute to the formation of stones. Filtering is a must of you live in a high water area.
If possible, please switch to no/low calcium and no/low grain timothy based pellets. Stay off alfalfa hay and feed readigrass only in pinches as an occasional treat. It is too rich for regular feeding.


Diabetes and long term digestive problems
The sample diet minus the lettuce and red peppers (green pepper is not as sugary) also works for diabetic guinea pigs. Again, it is important to cut out veg high in sugar, starch and fat like root veg and grains/sweet corn.
Switch to grain-free timothy pellets if possible.

The same tips also work if your guinea pig is prone to bloating or diarrhea.
Digestive Disorders: Diarrhea - Bloat - GI Stasis (No Gut Movement) And Not Eating


Impaction in boars
About 10% of mostly older boars struggle push out their redigested poos as the muscles at the back gradually weaken. A limited, very regular diet high in fibre can help to revert the effect in the early stages although impaction is an incurable progressive problem. Some extra vitamin B12 can also help to replace the nutrition from the hal-digested fibre that is not making a second run through the gut.
More information on impaction and dietary recommendations via this link here: Impaction - How To Help Your Guinea Pig.


Pregnancy and nursing dietary tweaks
A good general grass hay based diet like the one we recommend is the most important dietary measure you can give your mother-to-be. The healthier and fitter the mother, the healthier any pups and the greater their overall survival chances. We do not see any difference between well kept piggies on a pregnancy watch and those that have surprise babies but we see massive difference in results between sows coming or living on a less than ideal diet; the worse the background/neglect the more alfalfa hay should be given. Well cared sows only need about a handful per day in addition to the normal grass hay in the last stages of a pregnancy.

Please keep in mind that you are already covering over half of the extras in a normal diet and that the actual amounts are minute. Don't be tempted to overdo things and throw the kitchen sink at your sow. It can do more harm than good as you unbalance her nutrition.

It is important that you do NOT overfeed in the latest stages of a pregnancy (the last 2-3 weeks) when most of the nutritients are going straight towards the babies and not toward the mother. You are aiming for healthy, ideal sized babies for a smooth, problem-free birth and not for whopper at risk of getting stuck during birth with usual fatal consequences for both any babies still inside and often the mother, too.
It is crucial that you do not overfeed on pellets (no more than 2 tablespoons of pellets or 1/4 cup max for mothers around 4 months and 1 tablespoon or 1/8 cup for any older sows). Also don't overfeed on fattening high sugar veg like carrots or sweetcorn. The more hay your mother eats, the better. Make sure that she has access to fresh cool water at all times.
Once the babies are hopefully safely out, your mother and the babies can eat as much as they want during the first 4 weeks. Please ensure that unlimited grass hay is still the mainstay of the diet.
You can find more detailed diet advice in our pregnancy and nursing information, which is only visible to registered members that have accepted our strictly enforced no intentional breeding policy.
Pregnancy, Mother & Baby Care Guides
 
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5 Common veg list: how much and how often?

Even though many veg and fruits are perfectly edible or high in vitamin C doesn't necessarily mean that they should be eaten all the time. Nor should calcium rich veg and herbs be completely missing from a normal piggy diet, especially as magnesium is tied to a high calcium content but is not specially added to pellets. If fruit is fed too often or in too large quantities, it can cause potentially fatal lip infection.

In fact, working out all the pros and cons is a rather confusing minefield. In order to make it a bit easier, the following list groups veg, herbs and fruits in categories as to the frequency and the quantities in which they can be fed to help you work out your own diet.


Veg that can be feed daily
1 slice of any colour bell or sweet pepper (Aus: capsicum)
1-2 chunks of celery
1 chunk of cucumber
1-2 sprigs of fresh coriander/cilantro herb (vary with other herbs. If you want to feed more in a meal, leave out the greens)
1 slice of greens (UK lower calcium relative of kale) or a pinch of kale
1 leaf or the equivalent of romaine/cos or gem lettuce
1 treat veg of your choice (example: green bean)

Most veg and fresh herbs: 1-2 times a week in rotation
Please feed any veg and herbs in similar quantities as indicated above or shown in the sample diet.
(See the link to the full list of edible foods at the end of this chapter)

Dandelions are medium high in calcium, but can be part of a mixed diet; make sure that they are free of poisonous dog or fox pee. All parts are edible.

Cabbages and cauliflower/broccoli stems and leaves can be fed if introduced slowly and in small quantities as part of a mix, like about a 1 inch leaf strip, a chunk of the stem or a broccoli floret. Spring greens are the mildest of the cabbage plants; a strip of spring greens can be fed daily, especially if your guinea pig is on a restricted low calcium diet.
Cabbages should ideally be fed as part of a mix; the trick is to get the guts used to them first by introducing them slowly in small quantities and never alone. Most cabbages and crucifera are medium high in calcium, but they are also a good source of vitamins and especially magnesium. Magnesium seems to be bound up with calcium-rich veg, so you need to strike a certain balance in your long term diet.
Please stop feeding any brassicas (cabbages) and crucifera (broccoli, cauliflower) instantly if you have a guinea pig with bloating issues or a tender digestion!

Fruit and tomato - sparingly no more than once a week
Fruit (including tomato) should not be fed more than once a week at the most!

Whatever fruit (including tomato) you feed, fruit should be on the menu no more than ideally once a week in a small quantity.
Please note that you can also feed strawberry greens and that organic banana skins contain the same amount of nutrients as the fruit and are often preferred by guinea pigs!
Please stay off any stone fruit and most exotic fruits; the latter can in some cases cause a really bad reaction.
Fruit fed too much or too often can lead to painful fungal or bacterial mouth and lip sores (cheilitis); advanced cases of this can be fatal.

High sugar or fat veg - feed as rare treat but not as part of a regular diet

Carrots and sweet corn; any other root veg (beetroot/beet, parsnip, swedes/rutabaga, turnip); edible pumpkins and marrows; grains.

High calcium veg that should only be fed occasionally
Kale, spinach and all Asian cabbages like bok/pak choi etc.
Please be aware that these veg are not only high in calcium but also oxalates, which influences the calcium absorption by the body and makes it less effective, meaning that more is excreted via the urinary tract where it can build up.

Please also be aware of high calcium leaves like kale relatives (rocket, butterhead lettuce etc), baby spinach etc. in many salad mixes. Do not feed a salad mix containing these more than once weekly and if possible stick to plain lettuce!

When computing how often you feed these, please take into account whether you are feeding low calcium pellets or not and in which quantities you are feeding pellets - whether just a tablespoon or a bowl full.
Equally important is also whether you are living in a hard or soft water area, whether you filter your water or whether you are using low calcium bottled water. You can feed more veg high in calcium if your water is very soft or filtered and you only feed a reduced amount of pellets. Ideally you feed high calcium veg in combination with high watery veg to help any calcium being flushed out from the bladder.

A long term diet high in calcium can lead to the formation of bladder stones if you get the correct ph : ca ratio just wrong, which is unfortunately very easily done, as member experiences have shown. Any computation of the correct ph : ca in your diet is rather likely to fall short if you leave out the considerable amounts of calcium that come with water (hardness as well as individual average intake), pellets, hay and you only concentrate on the veg, which is only about 10-15% of the daily food intake! Unfortunately that is a lot of individual and very local variables to get right...
Our forum sample diet is balanced for a hard water country like most of the UK. If you live in a soft water area and feed low calcium pellets then you can replace greens with kale to the diet accordingly.


Please take any piggy with bloating, soft poos, splodgy cow pads or full diarrhoea off all fresh food and introduce it only slowly and carefully 24-48 hours after the system has stabilised again. You will need to see a vet if things have not stabilised again within 24 hours; in case of acute bloat or acute runny diarrhoea you will need to see a vet asap as an emergency, as both conditions can kill.

Digestive Disorders: Diarrhea - Bloat - GI Stasis (No Gut Movement) And Not Eating


More information on the range and nutrition values of edible veg, herbs and fruit
Edible and inedible vegetable, fruit and herb list: Edible And Forbidden Veg And Fruit List With Vitamin C Grading
Sortable veg, herb and fruit chart: Guinea Lynx :: Nutrition Charts
List of name differences between the UK and the US: the big list of vegetables

Please do not feed any dried, frozen, defrosted or tinned foods. Also throw away any fresh food that is spoiled and that you wouldn't want to eat yourself!
 
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6 Pellets
The vast majority of readily available pellet brands worldwide is alfalfa based; this needs to be taken into account for an overall diet.
If possible, please opt for timothy based, grain-free low calcium pellets. They are more expensive but you need to feed only a small quantity, so the cost is actually balancing out.
Here is our current UK pellet brand chart: Nugget Comparison Chart

Please feed pellets and not dry mixes/mueslis, which lead to selective feeding and long term health and teeth problems. Mueslis and dry mixes have now being scientifically proven to be detrimental to rabbit health if fed long term; while there is no comparable study for guinea pigs, the same can be assumed for them.
Pellets Or Muesli / Dry Mix?

Pellets and shop treats often account for overweight, so do not be too generous. If you suspect overweight, reduce the amount of pellets and stop any treats. Don’t do it in one fell swoop, though, or you will have a riot on your hands! Overweight guinea pigs are at a higher risk in operations as well as in the development of long term health issues, so by spoiling your piggies with food – as tempting as it is – you are doing them no favour!

The current recommendation is to please not feed more than 1 tablespoon or 1/8 cup of pellets per adult piggy per day (15 ml by volume, ca. 15-20g by weight).

It is also often better to feed your pellets and veg in as many bowls as you have guinea pigs or sprinkled over the cage (sprinkle feeding) for extra stimulation so pellets and veg are eaten in one go. Feed once or twice in a day.
This means that all your pigs have an equal chance at eating their allotted portion; you are less likely to have a greedy food hogger/overweight problem; the pellet bowl doesn't get peed/pooed in or attract mice etc. as you can remove the bowls in between meals.

Since unlimited hay is making the bulk of the diet, your guinea pigs won't go hungry in the meantime and can concentrate on what they should be eating most!

It is also worth noting that even low calcium pellets contain more calcium than the same weight of the highest calcium containing veg, kale. This is another important reason to not overfeed pellets. Compared to hay, pellets contain a lot less fibre but more empty fillers which go soft in contact with saliva and do not help with keeping the constantly growing molar teeth ground down. Overfeeding on pellets can in the long term contribute to dental overgrowth.

A pellet free diet is entirely possible. Ideally you supplement with some daily fresh and dry forage in this case.


Fast growing young guinea pigs up to 4 months old
1 tablespoon of young guinea pig or alfalfa based pellets per piggy per day
1-2 tablespoons of timothy based adult pellets

Please be aware that the extra amounts needed are in fact very small and that they are fully covered by our recommendation.
Youngsters do frankly not need special pellets; that is simply a selling gimmick due to the mistaken assumption by worried owners that any pet species needs special food. Guinea pigs shift to eating a normal adult diet in the second week of their life. They do perfectly fine on a good general hay based adult diet with a good balance of nutrients.

Please do not leave a constantly filled pellet bowl in the cage. Young piggies often pee (and poo) into the bowl, so you want to empty and clean it daily or with very scatty piggies twice daily if you leave it in the cage all day.
If one your piggies is very greedy or dominant, you may want to sprinkle the pellets around the cage or use one bowl per piggy (spaced at at least a body length apart) and remove the bowls in between meals.


Teenagers and adult guinea pigs over 4 months
1 tablespoon of pellets per piggy per day is all that is needed to keep your piggies trim and healthy!
A healthy adult weight can be between 700-1500g depending on the individual size; the average weight for fully grown pet piggies at the peak of their lives at 2-3 years old seems to be about 900-1300g.

Older guinea pigs (4 years plus) tend to slowly lose the condition of their prime (2-3 years) and become a bit more bonier. You still need to check with your vet that there is no underlying treatable problem and you need to see a vet quickly if any weight loss is sudden and large (over 2 oz/50g).

Experienced owners measure their piggies' ideal adult size less in weight than in 'heft' or (if you'd rather) by feeling for the body mass index.
A healthy piggy should have a ribcage that can still be felt, but where not every single rib is standing out. If you can't feel any ribs at all, then your piggy is likely overweight and you may want to reduce the pellet intake and cut down severely on any treats or cut any fatty/sweet treats out completely.
The individual body shape, especially in sows, can vary a lot, so a big bum end is not necessarily a sign of overweight.

However, if your guinea pig is overweight, please reduce the amount of pellets and veg you feed and be honest about whether you have fallen into the treat trap!
Weight - Monitoring and Management
 
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7 Water
Please change the water daily. Do not use additives or medications in the water, as you can’t control the intake; it is usually noticeably less than with just plain water! Any additives also promote the quick growth of algae in the water.

If you are living in a hard water (high calcium/high mineral) area, you may want to filter the water. This can help quite a lot to minimise the build-up of bladder and urethral stones.

The individual water intake can vary enormously from hardly drinking at all to drinking a lot, and it can also change depending on the amount of fresh food/weather/heating/air conditioning. See a vet if any piggy is drinking more than 300ml in a day.

Please remember to clean and disinfect your water bottles regularly. You can use rice grains with a little bit of water to scour the bottles on the inside (make sure that you completely cover the bottle opening when shaking!) and a baby bottle disinfectant.

More information here: All About Drinking And Bottles


8 Treats and forage
Remember, treats should be just that and not a regular major part of a diet!

Shop treats like yoghurt drops, seed sticks etc.
Anything that contains fat, dairy (including yoghurt) or sugar (including honey and molasses) is not recommended; they are simply junk food for guinea pigs!

This junk food chart applies to guinea pigs just as much as to rabbits!
- Recommended herbs for guinea pigs are: coriander/chilantro, parsley, dill, mint, lemon balm, basil.
- Mediterranian herbs strong in essential oils should only ever be given in very small quantities.
- Apple and pear tree wood is great, but the leaves are rather too high calcium for a regular diet.
- Dandelion is high in calcium and can be problematic for guinea pigs if fed daily or on a regular basis. They are however fine as an occasional treat for healthy guinea pigs.
- Weaned guinea pigs are lactose intolerant, so no yoghurt!
- Please do not feed any treats or pellets that contain any form of sugar including honey, molasses, glucose etc.
Rabbit junk food chart (RSPCA).jpg


Salt and mineral licks
Licks are not needed on a good balanced diet. You know when your piggies are on a good diet because they will simply ignore any licks!

Healty treats: Dried forage, fresh and dried herbs, readigrass
These make good treats if fed sparsely in pinches as an occasional special treat. All dried food is generally much higher in calcium and richer than fresh food, so too much can contribute to overweight (like too much rich readigrass) or even bladder stones.

Safe garden and wild forage:
Here are some links to safe garden and wild forage for guinea pigs:
- Wild UK forage for guinea pigs
- Guinea pigs: your day-to-day guide | Wood Green - The Animals Charity
- Safe wild weeds/plants you can feed your piggies


9 Weighing weekly
We strongly recommend to weigh your guinea pigs weekly throughout their whole life; preferably at the same time in the feeding cycle for comparable results (like before feeding breakfast or dinner) as the weight can fluctuate 30-40g in a day.
Weighing weekly is a vital health monitoring instrument in combination with an all over body health check and a check whether your guinea as well as check of the heft (size/weight ratio).

You can find all the necessary tips and information in this guide here: Weight - Monitoring and Management
For a body check: Guinea pig body quirks - What is normal and what not?

Seeing a piggy chew can be very deceptive as to their true food intake, especially their hay intake. Loss of weight is often the first indicator that there is a health problem in the making, whether it is a sudden major weight loss or a slow steady loss over a longer period of time. The daily variance between a full/empty bladder/tummy can be 30g/1 oz or even more.

Any weight loss over 50g/2 oz needs to be investigated and seen by a vet; if the loss is as much as or more 100g/3 oz, as a matter of urgency. Weigh any piggy that is ill or that you suspect of not being quite right daily at the same time of day.

A weight loss of 100g/2 1/2 oz in 24 hours means that your piggy has not eaten or drunk at all in that time and is in urgent need of hand feeding/rehydration to keep the guts from closing down as well as emergency medical care.

Complete Syringe Feeding Guide


10 Coronavirus advice

If you have concerns about what to feed your guinea pigs if you have problems accessing shops/internet deliveries during lockdown or in the wake of it, here are tips how you can work around problems temporarily.
COVID-19 - Worried about Covid-19 (coronavirus) transmission risk to your cavies and care during illness?
 
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