This Little Piggy Went to Market: What should I feed my guinea pig?
When I was in elementary school I owned several guinea pigs who were some of the best pets I've ever had. They are gentle, smart, and engaging little creatures who can bring you and your family much joy (and entertainment!) for many years. How can you use your guinea pig's diet to maximize the quality and quantity of their life? Read on, fellow guinea pig enthusiasts!
Introduce your guinea pig to grass hay right away. Many guinea pigs have only been introduced to pellets as weanlings and this is not adequate for their long term health or mental enrichment. Grasses provide critical fiber that helps wear down their teeth, promote normal gastrointestinal motility, and allow normal metabolism in their cecum (where amino acids and vitamin B are obtained). Guinea pigs have teeth that never stop growing, so if they don't chew sufficient tough fibrous materials like grass, their overgrown teeth can lead to serious malnutrition and even starvation. Keep good quality hay (such as timothy or orchard grass brome) available at all times. Beware, alfalfa hay is too high in calories, calcium, and protein, and should be used only sparingly or as a treat.
Guinea pigs cannot synthesize their own vitamin C and rely on their diet to obtain this critical nutrient. Dark leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens, parsley, and dandelion greens are high in vitamin C (1/4 cup packed of these greens provides the daily requirement). Total fresh food should be limited to 1/4 to 1/2 cup per day. Your guinea pig may enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables - try rotating treats such as sweet peppers, apples, oranges, pears, berries, broccoli, and cucumber. Wait 3 days between trying new foods to avoid upsetting your guinea pig's digestive system. Remove any uneaten fresh foods from the cage daily. I strongly recommend avoiding high-starch treats such as peas, beans, corn, nuts, cookies, cereal, pasta, and breads. These foods at best can cause your guinea pig to neglect their hay and fresh foods, and at worst can create severe gastrointestinal illness.
Many guinea pigs enjoy pellets and a small amount (1/4 cup) daily is fine. Check the production date on the bag and try to purchase pellets that are less than 3 months old. This is because vitamin C degrades over time and the benefit is lost in older pellets. Look for guinea pig pellet brands that are made from timothy hay (rather than alfalfa hay) and monitor your guinea pig's weight. An overweight pig is often eating too many pellets and can suffer from various diseases as a result.
Finally, always have plenty of fresh clean water available for your pig to promote normal kidney and urinary health.
A balanced diet is key to the health and happiness of your guinea pig. In summary:
1) Offer unlimited grass hay daily
2) Add in up to 1/2 cup of fresh fruits and veggies daily
3) Offer up to 1/4 cup pellets (if desired)
4) Always provide plenty of fresh clean water
Call your veterinarian with any questions or concerns about your guinea pig's diet and health. Prevention and early detection of diseases related to nutrition is important for your pet's well-being and longevity!