What Can Guinea Pigs Eat? (Plus What NOT to Feed Them)
You may be thinking of adopting a guinea pig and want to know what they can eat, or perhaps you already have a guinea pig and are wondering if a certain food is okay to feed them.
We will discuss:
- What guinea pigs can eat.
- Which foods can make them sick.
- Guinea pig favorites that may surprise you.
- Safe foods for picky eaters.
- What to do if you worry you've fed your pet the wrong thing.
These suggestions for different foods, kibble, hay are based on my own experiences.
Fruits and Vegetables
Guinea pigs love fruits and vegetables, which is great because fruits and vegetables are an important part of their diet and keep them happy and healthy!
Different guinea pigs have different preferences, but generally, they love to sample a variety of different fruits and veggies. Carrots, peppers, and dark lettuces are a surefire hit with my guinea pigs. If you encounter a picky eater who won't eat fresh produce, ask your veterinarian about different types of Vitamin C-fortified pellets to make sure your little friend gets the right nourishment.
Here is a list of just some of the many fruits and vegetables that guinea pigs eat and that give them the best nutritional benefits. Fruits are high in sugar, so it's best to view them more as treats. Also, avoid any sudden major changes in your pet's diet until you know how their tummy reacts to things.
- Red, green, or yellow pepper: Red has the highest Vitamin C concentration.
- Carrots: Both the roots and green tops are perfectly safe to eat.
- Apples: Just make sure they don't have any seeds.
- Leafy greens: These include red lettuce, Romaine, and Boston lettuce. Offer leafy vegetables in moderation to avoid diarrhea. Feed spinach a bit sparingly to avoid potential kidney problems.
- Broccoli: Offer in moderation since it can cause gas pain.
- Green beans
- Dandelion greens
- Cherry tomatoes: Offer in moderation.
- Parsley: Guinea pigs love either curly or flat parley and it smells delicious when you're tearing sprigs off the bunch!
Never Feed These Foods to Your Guinea Pig
While guinea pigs do enjoy a variety of flavors and types of fruits and vegetables, there are some that you shouldn't offer. They are not all poisonous, but should be avoided because they're either low in nutrients or produce gas and other tummy troubles. A few, however, are very poisonous to your piggie.
As with the good foods list, this list is also not comprehensive, so if you're unsure, wait until you've either talked to a vet or asked someone who might know (like me!) before feeding your piggie.
Do Not Feed:
- Iceberg lettuce: It won't kill your guinea pig if you give him or her a little piece, but it has virtually no nutritional value, and it is quite fibrous and watery. It's been known to give guinea pigs diarrhea. With the great selection of other more leafy, dark lettuces available, just avoid this one and go with one of the others.
- Any type of cabbage: Like iceberg lettuce, a small piece is not likely to severely harm or kill your guinea pig, but it's very gassy and not good for their little systems. Stay away from it if you can.
- Cauliflower: Also very gas-producing. Again, not poisonous.
- Potato peelings: Toxins can exist in potato skins, particularly if they've begun to turn green, and can be poisonous.
- Raw beans: This doesn't mean green beans. It means things like raw, hard kidney beans, split peas, pinto beans, etc.
- Shelled nuts or seeds: Particularly things like sunflower seeds or 'bird seed' type mixes, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, etc.
- Rhubarb: The leaves of the rhubarb plant are poisonous, and the stalks are very, very sour.
- Any type of meat
- Dairy products: While many stores will offer yogurt drops and other "treats," dairy is not healthy for guinea pigs and can actually cause problems. Feed natural treats like veggies instead of store-brand treats. It's less expensive and your piggie will be much happier.
- Chocolate, coffee or other products containing caffeine
- Alcohol: This should go without saying!
- Hamster, gerbil, rabbit, or any other non-guinea pig food
- Corn kernels: Popcorn isn't a very good idea either. Guinea pigs choke easily.
- Sugary foods
- Ice cream
- Processed or fried foods: Includes potato chips, nachos, or French fries.
- Anything spicy: Jalapeño peppers and anything with cinnamon.
The Best Hay for Your Guinea PIg
Why do guinea pigs need hay in their diet? Guinea pigs have unique digestive systems that require a constant supply of fiber to help them digest their food and prevent impactions. Their stomachs go through a double digestion process. They eat once, digest their food, create soft fecal matter in a pouch in their rump, eat those, and digest it again. I know that sounds gross, but this is an important part of your piggie's health!
Hay is a staple in a guinea pig's diet. They can honestly never have too much hay. When guinea pigs are babies, they can have some alfalfa hay, which has a different balance of nutrients than the timothy hay that adult guinea pigs eat, but by the time they're full-grown guinea pigs, they should have mostly timothy hay—and lots of it!
You can find Western timothy hay in most pet stores, but you want to make sure that you find a bag that looks nice and fresh. Sometimes when I go to the pet store, I find bags of timothy hay that look more like straw. It pays to find a nice, fresh, green bag of hay. Your piggie will be so happy!
A great brand to go for is Oxbow. I discovered it online and then found that my vet used it, too, so it's definitely the cream of the guinea pig crop! Some of their products are carried in pet stores, and your vet may also carry these supplies, but it's very simple and affordable to order right through a website like Amazon. I found some of the products and have listed them below for you!
Guinea pigs will eat it nonstop, but you don't have to worry because it will not make them fat. No amount of hay will put weight on a piggie because it's not actually fully digested into their body. It's used by their digestive system to "move things along." In addition to Western timothy hay, there are other varieties with different nutritional properties, textures, and flavors.
You can seriously smell the difference when you open the bag of Oxbow (hopefully you don't have hay allergies!). Our veterinarian uses this brand, so I'm confident that it's the best one. This is a really big bag, sure to last you awhile!
The Importance of Guinea Pig Pellets
It's completely possible to sustain your guinea pig solely on fruits, vegetables, and hay, but you want to make sure that you're feeding them enough vitamins and minerals. If you are thinking of skipping pellets altogether, speak with your vet about it first.
Assuming that you go the more traditional route of combining pellets with fresh vegetables and hay, here's what you need to know:
- Don't feed your guinea pig anything with seeds. Even though there are "treats" marketed to guinea pigs on the shelves of pet stores, it's best not to buy them. These are unnecessary to a pig's diet and guinea pigs are prone to choking, so if it looks like birdseed or hamster food, move along to the next choice.
- Most pet stores will carry a variety of brands. Even if a bag of pellets says that it's fortified with Vitamin C, do not take this as a replacement for vitamin-rich vegetables. We will cover Vitamin C in the next sections.
- Guinea pigs cannot eat hamster, rabbit, or gerbil food. The nutritional balance isn't the same.
- The best brand of pellets I've found so far is. once again, the Oxbow brand. My guinea pigs seem to like the taste the best, and this formula has a special type of Vitamin C that is meant to last a long time. My veterinarian has said in this case with the Oxbow brand. You could technically omit the other vitamin supplements in vegetables and the guinea pigs would be fine. But you want to feed them those anyway because they love them so much!
- Unlike hay, too many pellets will make your guinea pig overweight. Some piggies will pick at their food and others will clean their plate! If you notice your guinea pig gaining weight, there are a number of things you can do to make sure it doesn't get out of hand, while still keeping them satisfied.
If you have a baby guinea pig, the Cavy Performance pellets are the ones to go for. For healthy young to adult guinea pigs, Cavy Cuisine is the one to buy. They're made out of some of the high-quality hay that I talked about in the previous section, along with the right balances of vitamins and long-lasting vitamin C, unlike the other brands at the mega pet marts. In this case, convenience isn't a fair trade for quality.
Guinea Pigs Need Vitamin C
Scurvy's not just for pirates anymore! We've established that guinea pigs love fruits and veggies. This is a wonderful thing because guinea pigs, like humans, are one of the few species of animal whose bodies aren't able to generate Vitamin C. If guinea pigs don't get enough in their diets, they can contract a condition known as scurvy. This can make a guinea pig very sick or even die, so it's important to get at least 10mg of Vitamin C into their systems each day.
You or I might drink a glass of orange juice, eat a packet of fruit snacks, or take a multivitamin.
Guinea pigs can get their vitamin C needs through fresh vegetables. You may wonder whether crushing up a small amount of a Vitamin C pill into their water would be good for them, but this isn't advisable. Vitamin C is incredibly light sensitive, meaning it will lose its potency quickly when exposed to light. The best ways to deliver this vitamin are:
- Red pepper: These vegetables contain an immense amount of Vitamin C. Since some guinea pigs won't really take fondly to an orange, they're almost always ravenous for peppers.
- Pellets: Some claim that they have "long-lasting vitamin C," but you have to be aware that the bags will have been sitting on a warehouse shelf for a long time before purchase. The Vitamin C may have been exposed to enough light and been sitting long enough to have been mostly if not completely depleted.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.