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

3 Vegetables, fresh herbs and fruit with an ilustrated balanced sample diet
4 Special dietary needs
- Urinary tract issues, bladder stones and IC (interstitial sterile cystitis)
- Diabetes and long term digestive problems
- For impaction diet please see our impaction guide for boars: Impaction - How To Help Your Guinea Pig.
5 Common veg list: How much and how often?
6 Pellets
7 Water
8 Treats
9 Weighing weekly


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 much research into guinea pigs, 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
- 10-15% veg and fresh herbs (ca. 1 cupful / 50g / nearly 2oz)
- 5-10% pellets (amount depending on the age)
- plenty of fresh water daily



2 Hay
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 back teeth ground down evenly. Guinea pigs have evolved to live on a nutritionally rather poor diet; spoiling them with lots of fresh and rich treats is not doing them any favour!

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!

Please 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)
 

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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.
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 pepper, 1 sprig of coriander/cilantro, one chunk of celery, 1 slice of spring greens, 1 green 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), 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.


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.

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.
 

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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
A slice of Red/Green/Orange/Yellow bell or sweet pepper colour
1-2 chunks of Celery
1 chunk cucumber
1-2 sprig of coriander/cilantro
1-2 slices of greens
1 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.

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
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 calcium veg that should only be fed occasionally
Kale, spinach and all Asian cabbages like bok/pak choi etc.

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.
A long term diet high in calcium can lead to the formation of bladder stones. Any computation of the correct ph : ca in your diet will inevitably fall short if you leave out water and pellets and just concentrate on the veg.
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 add kale to the diet more often.

Fresh grass
If your lawn is full of fresh juicy rich grass, then it counts mostly as veg. Dry grass that has stopped growing counts more as hay.
Please introduce fresh grass slowly to guinea pigs that have not had access to grass ever or for a good while, otherwise it can cause diarrhoea or bloating. Do not feed grass that has been peed on by dogs or foxes; the pee is poisonous to piggies. Rip or cut any grass for indoors feeding with your hand or with scissors and feed straight away; freshly mown grass ferments very quickly and can cause bloating.
You can grow your own grass and fresh herbs in seed trays and windowsill boxes.
More tips for the grass season here: Feeding Grass And Preparing Your Piggies For Lawn Time

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.


More information on the range 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
Full sortable chart of veg and fruit with calcium, vitamin C etc. grading: http://www.guinealynx.info/chart.html


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 is alfalfa based; this needs to be taken into account for an overall diet.
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!

It is also often better to feed a limited amount of pellets and veg in as many bowls as you have guinea pigs, ideally a couple of times in a day, so pellets and veg are eaten in one go (about half to one handful per serving per piggy, i.e. 10-20g). This means that all your pigs have an equal chance at eating their allotted portion, you are less likely to have a greedy 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. As 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!


Fast growing young guinea pigs up to 4-6 months old
2 tablespoons of pellets in order to account for the slightly raised need of more calcium, protein and vitamin C. Please be aware that the extra amounts needed are in fact very small and that they are fully covered by our recommendation.

It is advisable to feed pellets in smaller portions more than once daily or to sprinkle them around the cage rather than just topping up a big bowl. 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 feed smaller portions of pellets or veg in bowls that are spaced at least a body length apart.


Teenagers and adult guinea pigs over 4-6 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. 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!


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
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.


RSPCA junk food chart.jpg


Salt and mineral licks
Licks are not needed on a good balanced diet and will be ignored by healthy, correctly fed piggies.

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.


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


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
 
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