Guineas love to eat and as soon as it is feeding time they will start ‘wheeking’ at you to tell you to get a move on and get their breakfast/lunch/ dinner/snack!
If yours are indoor piggies, they can be in another part of the house, but as soon as that fridge door opens or you rustle a plastic shopping bag, they will start wheeking at you, demanding some cucumber!
You may be surprised to learn that an ideal diet for a piggie should consist of 70% good quality hay such as Timothy Hay; 5% commercial guinea pig food and 25% fresh fruit and vegetables.
This almost mimics the diet that your guinea pig’s ancestors would have had in the wild and will help keep your piggie in the optimum of health.
The diet you feed your guinea pig is of the utmost importance. Feed them incorrectly and they could face obesity, severe dental problems and death.
While there are a number of dried guinea pig foods on the market, do try and limit your piggies’ intake to about one large handful of food every other day per guinea. While these commercial foods provide all the right nutrients, they do not have enough dietary fibre.
A lack of dietary fibre in the diet can not only lead to obesity, but to nasty dental problems, both of which can shorten your guinea pig’s life considerably.
Dust-free hay provides lots of dietary fibre and your guinea should always have plenty of fresh hay daily. Ideally it should be kept in a hayrack to avoid the hay getting contaminated by faeces on the floor of their hutch or cage.
Always feed your guineas good quality hay. Timothy Hay is ideal. Dried grass products, available from equestrian centres or pet shops, are also packed with dietary fibre and piggies love it!
If your guinea starts to chew his fur and the vet has checked him out for mites, it could be because he is not getting enough fibre in his diet.
Going back to trying to mimic what guinea pigs would eat in the wild, they’d be continually gnawing all day which would wear their teeth down. Like chinchillas and degus, guinea pigs have open rooted back teeth. They grow continually and so need to be worn down.
If the upper back teeth down aren’t worn down adequately, they grow up into the skull. The root can puncture the sinuses, causing respiratory problems or it can grow towards the eyeball, causing eye infections.
The lower molars also grow downwards through the jawbone. Painful abscesses can form.
Both sets of molars will also continue growing into the mouth and it can get to the stage where your guinea is unable to shut his mouth. He will not be able to eat or swallow properly. (Try swallowing with your mouth open and you will see how hard it is).
Guineas with this problem may show signs of having a continually wet chin. This is caused by excessive saliva known as ‘slobbers’ (see pic). Your guinea will also lose weight quite dramatically as he will be unable to eat properly. Other symptoms include chronic wasting and small or no faeces. If the guineas grind their teeth, this could be a sign that they are in a great deal of pain.
An x-ray of the skull is usually the only way to determine if your guinea is suffering from this and sadly the long-term prognosis is not good.
A diet consisting purely of dried food is not healthy. As these dried foods are full of protein, excessive feeding can cause kidney stones, leading to kidney failure.
Also, never buy rabbit food to feed your guinea pigs. Some commercial rabbit foods contain pellets that are toxic to guinea pigs. Also, guinea pigs need vitamin C and rabbit foods do not contain sufficient vitamin C for them.
Piggies cannot make their own vitamin C and will have problems if they don’t get enough. They can get scurvy, a weakened immune system and an alkaline imbalance in their kidneys.
While fresh foods can provide it, it is always a good idea to supplement their diet with it, especially if they are ill as vitamin C helps the immune system.
You can do this by putting a quarter of a soluble vitamin C 1000mg tablet (for humans) into your guineas’ water bottle once a week to keep them healthy. They love the taste too!
As Vitamin C is a mild acid, it can react with a lot of metals and is subsequently destroyed. If you use vitamin C in a water bottle, ensure that the spout is made of stainless steel.
You can also get commercial vitamin drops from pet shops.
Guinea pigs who are old, sick, pregnant or feeding young guineas will need more vitamin C than a healthy adult guinea pig. You vet may prescribe some vitamin C tablets that can be crushed over their food.
What to feed
Apart from loads of hay and a tiny bit of dried food, guineas love fruit, vegetables and other plants.
Obviously, grass is great. If you have a guinea pig, you don’t need a lawn mower! However, never put your guinea on wet grass as this can cause him to catch a cold. And never put him on grass that has been treated with anything (e.g. weed killer or lawn treatments). This will be toxic to your guinea pig and he could die.
Foods that are good to feed include cucumber, melon, cabbage, carrots (including leaves), cauliflower (including leaves), celery, broccoli, parsley, green and red bell peppers, and strawberry leaves
Go easy on apples as they can cause mouth ulcers and blistering around the mouth due to the acid in them.
Avoid tomato, tomato leaves and potatoes which are poisonous to guineas,
lettuce (which can cause diarrhoea which can lead to death), and obviously, meat, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and dairy products.
If you feed your guineas dandelions ensure that the dandelions have not been picked from an area near the roadside – otherwise your guinea can be poisoned by exhaust toxins.
The best of health
Now that you know the correct diet for your guinea pig, there are other ways to ensure that he is kept in the best of health.
First of all, using digital kitchen scales, weigh your piggies once a month and keep a note of their weight. Seeing them every day, you will not notice any weight loss, which can be the first sign of illness.
Make sure that you have twice yearly veterinary checks ups that include a dental check.
Wet chins, small or absent faeces and weight loss need immediate treatment, so see your vet as soon as possible.