Administering medicines – Guinea Pig Healthcare

One of the bones of contention between myself, and many other people who have found it necessary to treat their own rodents, and the veterinary profession, is in the administration of medicines.

The biggest bone of all is that of the matter of putting of medicines in water bottles or sprinkling over food. That the drug companies do not seem to care about this method of administering their products convinces me that they are either complacent or far too fearful of upsetting their prime customers, the veterinary surgeons.

Both the veterinary authorities and the drug companies constantly justify the high price of animal medicine because of the high cost of testing each drug for individual species. One of the main factors of this is in getting the dosage correct. Yet how many times are owners advised to put the medicine in the drinking water of sprinkle it over the food by their veterinary surgeons!. You don’t need professional qualifications to see the utter stupidity of this practice, or perhaps you do!. It is glaringly obvious to any average person that there is no way that the animal is going to get the measured amount of drug that all this research and money was expended upon to work out.

Perhaps, if you watched the patient for twenty four hours a day, checking it’s intake of both water or food and them somehow managed to measure it coming out the other end in urine and pellets, you could get some where near working out if it had taken the proper dose, but I’d like to see anyone try it!.

The only time I add anything to the water is perhaps if the vegetable matter I am feeding is not up much or is in short supply, say in winter if there is a freeze up. I supplement the vitamin C with Rodoxen, effervescent, one tablet per litre of water.

I shall therefore explain just how each type of medicine is administered as I go.

Most tablets and pills can be powered down with a pestle and mortar and mixed with a small amount of water then syringed into the mouth. Very small tablets can be put into the mouth, well back onto the back teeth, if the jaws are held open, see photo. Be sure to have a syringe of water, or a nice juicy piece of cucumber handy to follow it up with to ‘help the medicine go down.’

A general point. When syringing fluid to a guinea pig. Put syringe well into the mouth, about an inch, but at an angle, push plunger slowly and give a little at a time. However, if the animal is very weak, or has difficulties swallowing, only put tip of syringe into front of mouth and dribble in.

WHENEVER GIVING MEDICINES, OR EVEN NEW FOOD FOR THE FIRST TIME, ALWAYS CHECK DROPPINGS WITHIN A FEW HOURS AND IF THERE IS THE SLIGHTEST SIGN OF DIARRHOEA STOP THE MEDICINE OR FOOD.

Abnormalities – Guinea Pig Healthcare

Abnormalities are more likely to occur as the result of inbreeding, a practice I, and any true animal lover must regard as inexcusable.

In the wild, particularly amongst pack animals, as soon as a young male becomes fertile he is hounded out of the family group by the dominant male. His motive is to defend his right to mate with the females, but the effect is to avoid the risk of inbreeding, a fundamental requirement for the health of future generations.

We only have to look at the British Bull dog, the squashed nosed Pekinese or the German shepherd dog to see the disastrous results of humankind’s intervention in animal breeding to it’s own particular specifications. In these cases, appalling respiratory problems, poor immune systems and weak hips are the result.

The kind of abnormalities seen in guinea pigs, caused by inbreeding are weak immune systems and in the main, problems in the head. Undershot jaws, maloccluded teeth and cataracts being the most common, the latter being most common of all in the Abyssinian breed. Cleft pallets can occur but are less usual and crook feet. Do not confuse the last problem with quite a few young who are born with these feet, which are usually twisted inwards at the ankles, as a result of laying in an awkward position in the womb. You can soon tell the difference by gently manipulating the feet a day after birth. Those that are deformed will be firmly set in that position while the others will be quite flexible and can be made to straighten by lightly binding them in micropore tape for a week.

There is nothing that can be done to correct deformed feet, including euthanasia!. Many vets are keen to go down this path when any animal is not perfect. These animals cope very well and have as good a quality of life as their straight limbed companions. I am certain than an animal’s abilities to cope with disabilities are far superior to human being’s for the simple reason that they cannot asked the pointless question, ‘Why me?.’

Where euthanasia is the only merciful answer is in all cases of cleft pallets for I have never known an animal to survive for more than a few months with this problem and those months could not, in any way, be regarded as of good quality. Most young with cleft pallets die within a week. Either because they cannot suckle properly or the milk finds it’s way into their lungs

Abcesses – Guinea Pig Healthcare

An abscess is a pocket of pus which is formed from dead tissue cells after an injury which becomes infected by germs.

Most of the abscesses that guinea pigs are prone to occur in the neck and jaw area and providing that they are monitored, and at the appropriate time, lanced and drained, they are seldom, if ever, life threatening.

Wounds from bites can cause abscesses but the majority that are seen in guinea pigs are caused from tissue tearing beneath the surface of the skin and becoming infected.

The stage at which an abscess becomes detectable is dependent upon just where it is situated. Those in the neck, well down under the jaw are seldom noticed until they are fully ripe, for they tend to hang down and get lost in the folds of the flesh of the neck. In that position they seldom cause the animal pain, for they are not pushing up against muscle or bone and seldom interfere with the mastication of food.

Most of those that occur just beneath the lower jaw line, right up to just below the ear, usually take a little longer to detect. The first symptom, uneven tooth growth, which obviously shows in the way the animal eats, can appear a long time before there is any detectable inflammation or abscess-like swelling. These abscesses can take anything up to a couple of weeks before they ripen, and then most of them suddenly fill out within thirty six to forty eight hours.

To carry out a proper examination you will need to wrap the guinea pigup in a towel like a babe in swaddling clothes with just it’s head poking out above the edge of the towel. Then lay it on a flat surface, on it’s back. Forget any nonsense you may have heard about guinea pigs having an ‘attack of the vapours’ like some kind of Victorian Miss every time it is laid on it’s back. It can happen but very rarely.

I prefer to work standing with the guinea pig at about table height. However, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to where these examinations are carried out. Some people find it easier to sit down and have the guinea pig on their laps. So long as the animal is secure either method will suit.

If you have a very observant owner, and most caring owners are, the animal will probably have been brought to you because it has begun to lose weight, or it has been noticed that it has not been chewing it’s food with as much vigour as it used to. One owner told me that it looked as though her guinea pig was trying to chew glass, which is about the best description of this symptom.

First check the incisor teeth. You will probably find that they impinge at an angle when looked at face on. The abscess is invariably sited on the high side of the angle. See illustration.

Check the premolars and molars, see Dental problems, you will usually find that the pattern of wear is reflected in these teeth. What has happened is that the animal has been favouring one side to chew it’s food because the other is painful.

Don’t be surprised if after palpating in the area where you suspect the abscess to be,there is nothing to feel, for most of these things are on the brew a long time before there is anything noticeable. I have come to the conclusion that the pain is more intense before the abscess has developed, this is why you get the wearing down of the teeth one sided.

Other than trimming the teeth back down to aid mastication, it then becomes a waiting game. The use of antibiotics to treat these kind of abscesses seldom succeed and in my opinion are unnecessary. It simply becomes a waiting game until the abscess ripens and then has to be lanced and drained for about three days. This is not a job for those without experience but it also no where near as risky as most veterinary surgeons will tell you it is.

I, and many people whom I have taught how to lance abscesses of their own animals have had a near enough ninety nine percent success record and we never use antibiotics. I use hydrogen peroxide to thoroughly clean the incision after the puss has been expressed and then spray with the anti microbial solution, colloidal silver.

Introducing your guinea pig to a new friend

We get many enquiries from readers on how to introduce a friend to their guinea pig. Here we’ve reproduced some of our frequently asked questions on the subject:

I have a guinea pig who lives on his own. Should I get him a friend as he looks lonely?

Yes. We always try and rehome animals in pairs. No matter how much love and attention you give your pet, in most cases, it is better for your pet to have a friend. However, despite what many pet shops still say, rabbits and guinea pigs should NEVER be kept together. All it takes is one just kick from a rabbit, and it could be fatal.
We see many guinea pigs at CavyRescue who have been injured by a rabbit – they may have a broken pelvis or broken legs from where the rabbit has got ‘over-friendly’. Guinea pigs are very nervous creatures and there have been several incidences where a piggie has literally died of shock when their rabbit friend starts getting boisterous.

At CavyRescue, we never rehome a guinea pig to a home where they will be sharing a hutch with a rabbit.Guinea pigs should only ever live with other guinea pigs.

What sex shall I choose?

If you have an adult male, you should be able to introduce a baby male piggie as a friend without any problems – in NO circumstances should you introduce two adult males to each other as they will fight until one dies.

If you have an adult female, introducing a baby to an adult is the easiest option. However, you can normally introduce two adult females with a bit of patience.
If your adult male is neutered, you can easily introduce a female (or more) piggie, regardless of age. The cost of neutering a male is around Ј30. A single neuteured male can live in a colony of females with no problems, but you can never have two or males living with a female or females as they will fight literally, to the death.

If you introduce an entire (ie not castrated) male to a female piggie, she will get pregnant. Not only will this add to the already huge piggie population, but if the female is over 6 months old and has never been pregnant before, she could well die due to complications.

Have you got any tips for when I introduce them? Or do I just pop them into a clean cage together and stand back?! If they are a bit funny with each other, how long should I leave it before I get worried that it’s not working?!

You need a neutral space, away from other animals, small children and other distractions. If your piggie lives indoors, try the kitchen or a small room where they will have space but not enough to run and hide from each other. For outdoor piggies, get out the run in the garden.

Put some food in the middle of the run/neutral territory – they’ll probably ignore each other and start tucking into the food.

There may be a bit of teeth chattering and bottom smelling, but you’ll know in the first five minutes if it’ s going to work out. However, you really need to supervise them for an hour or so just to gauge how it is going.

If they don’t bite or attack each other, it should be the start of a beautiful friendship!

In rare cases, it may not work out (for example, you may experience problems introducing two adult females, or your piggie really DOES prefer his own company! ) and you may have to take a more softly, softly approach. This would mean keeping them in separate cages/hutches for a few weeks, but putting them out together in a split run; swapping their cages over so they get used to each other’s smell etc.

A month down the line, when you see them curled up asleep together or sharing a bowl of food quite happily, you’ll realise all the hard work was worth it!

Read on to find out what happened when Billy met Bully..

Billy, a black piggie, had lived on his own for two years and his owners, Richard and Denise, wanted to find him a friend. We found him a perfect friend in little 5 week old Billy, who came to us as a rescue piggie.

Richard recounts their first night together: “We let them run around together in a big, open space for an hour or so, with no problems. Billy was making a big fuss of the rather bemused Bully and there was alot of bottom sniffing going on.

“Bully is about four times the size of little Billy and, although they were getting on really well, we weren’t sure about leaving them together for the night…we thought it best if we placed Billy’s cage in front of Bully’s cage so that they could still see each other.

“Anyway, as soon as they were separated, Billy was calling out from inside the cage, and Bully was pacing up and down on the other side of the bars, calling back. We watched for a while, then we opened the cage door, and straight away Bully climbed in, without any prompting. They both had a little celebration together and a chat, before they quietened down for the night…”

A few weeks on, we are pleased to report that the boys go everywhere and do everything together. Denise says: “Getting a friend for Bully was the best thing we ever did, he’s so much happier now and we adore little Billy!”

Guide to Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs make lovely pets, they are easy to handle and will become quite tame. They will live for 4 – 5 years, and some may live as long as 8 or 9 years.

Guinea pigs are sociable creatures and love company – that of humans and as well as other piggies. Females can be kept together or in groups, and two males may also live together. An adult male can be introduced to a very young male i.e. 4 – 10 weeks, but you cannot put together two adult males of a similar age, as they will fight for dominance.

A male and female will obviously produce more guinea pigs, however males can be castrated from 5 months of age, and then they can be kept with females.

Housing

Guinea pigs usually live in hutches outside, but can be kept in indoor cages. Those that live indoors tend to be friendlier as they are more integrated into the family. If the Guinea pigs are housed outside over the winter period the hutch must have plenty of hay for them to burrow in, and it will be necessary to cover the hutch at night to keep it warmer.

In the summer the guinea pigs can be put out in runs on the lawn as they make excellent lawn mowers! (However, if you have treated your grass recently, your guinea could ingest poisons, so do be aware).

Do not put them out if the grass is damp or the weather is unfavourable. Inside the hutch we usually put a layer of biodegradable litter such as Biocatolet or supreme carefresh, (DO NOT use Wood shavings as this can lead to respiratory problems and ultimately death) and cover with a good quality hay, which should be shaken to remove the seeds. Hay is preferable to straw as straw can injure their eyes.

Never house Guinea pigs with rabbits. While you may see them together in pet shops, this is not a good idea. When the rabbit is mature it will try and mate the Guinea pig regardless of the rabbit’s sex. We have seen piggies with broken pelvises as a result of living with a rabbit as well as ones that have died from shock due to being kicked or mounted by a rabbit.

Also, if it feels threatened, the Guinea pig will inevitably bite the Rabbit causing abscesses. There are many cases of rabbits killing or seriously injuring guinea pigs if they live together.

So please do not consider this an option.

Diet

Guinea pigs are never happier than when they are eating! They can eat a wide variety of food. They should be given good quality hay to wear their teeth down and fresh food preferably twice a day. This is because they cannot produce their own vitamin C. Guinea pigs will eat almost any fruit or vegetable, if the Guinea doesn’t eat a particular food remove it and do not feed this again.

A Guinea pig will rarely eat food that is harmful to it. Potato should not be given; and lettuce and apples should only be given in small quantities. Apples can cause ulcers in the mouth, lettuce can cause diarrhoea.

Guinea pigs also enjoy a variety of wild plants, the commonest being dandelions, shepherd’s purse, plantain and chickweed – and of course grass.

Any fruit or vegetable should be clean and fresh. Grass clippings from the mower should not be fed as they rapidly heat up and ferment.

While there are a number of guinea pig foods on the market, do try and limit our piggies intake to once every other day. Hay should from 80% of their diet, fresh fruit and grass 15% and then dried food just 5%. This is because they can suffer from overgrown back teeth if they do not get enough wear (which will lead to death) and also kidney problems.

Health

If kept in clean, warm hutches, and fed a good diet, guinea pigs rarely become ill. They do not need any vaccinations but they may need their nails cut occasionally. Also it is important to look at their coats regularly, as mange (caused by a burrowing mite) is very common. This looks first like scruffiness, and loss of hair, and then the guinea pig develops open itchy sores.

The sooner this is treated the better. Long coated breeds need regular grooming at least once a day. It is advisable to have your Guinea pig shampooed and conditioned one a month during the summer months to prevent mites from laying eggs and to keep the coat nice and healthy.

Guinea Pig FAQs

Basic Care

Before you start reading this, you should note that I’ve covered off nearly every eventuality concerning pig healthcare and welfare. It is not meant to scare you – piggies are hardy little creatures who rarely get ill – but this is a guide so you have a good idea of what to do and what to look out for.

Most importantly, piggies need lots of cuddles, fresh air and love!

Diet

We feed dried food in the morning, sometimes with readigrass (a dried grass product that you can buy in bulk from equestrian centres) or good quality hay.

In the evenings, they have fresh food – their bodies absorb the vitamins better at this time of day.

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.

FOODS TO FEED PLENTIFULLY

Cucumber
Melon
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celery – this is good for their kidneys
Broccoli – full of protein

GO EASY ON
Apples (can cause mouth ulcers)

AVOID
Potatoes (poisonous)
Lettuce (can cause diarrhoea which can lead to death)

If you feed them cut grass or dandelions, make sure the grass has not been treated and that the dandelions are not near the road otherwise they can be poisoned by exhaust toxins.

Hay

We only use good quality, dust free hay normally a bale costs about £6. We also use readigrass (or similar) which is a dried grass product that the piggies love. This is available from Pets At Home (£2-£3 a small bag) or a bale is around £7 from an equestrian centre. We favour the equestrian version as it is cheap and designed for horses who are very susceptible to respiratory disease.

Hay can sometimes carry mites, but these are not visible to the human eye. Never use straw, the ends are sharp and can damage the piggies’ eyes.

Kidneys

Piggies cannot make their own vitamin C and can have problems if they don’t get enough. Fresh foods provide it but once a week we put a quarter of a soluble vitamin C 1000mg tablet – the ones you buy for humans – into their drinking water to keep them healthy. They love the taste too!

Claws

Check the piggies claws regularly – they need trimming normally once a month in the Summer, less in the Winter. Your vet can do this.

Weight

Using 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.

Skin / Fur conditions

Mites is a horrible affliction that, left untreated in piggies, can have devastating effects and can lead to death. If the piggie starts to lose its fur, scratches a lot, or their skin looks red or “pin-pricked”, get them to the vet asap. It may be mites or it may be a fungal infection, but whatever it could be, the earlier you see your vet, the better.

Bedding

Any piggies adopted from CavyRescue are adopted on the terms that they are not put on sawdust or wood shavings. Dusty products can cause respiratory problems and – before we got into rescuing and were simply pet owners – one of piggies died as a result of being on dusty shavings.

We recommend you use EcoPetBed (which you can buy online from www.earthlyenterprises.co.uk at around £17 a bale ) or Carefresh Pet Bedding, from Supreme and available in most pet shops.

Newspaper, changed daily to stop the ammonia causing breathing problems, is an OK stop gap and, despite what people say, we’ve never heard of a piggie dying from being on newspaper.

Heatstroke/ The Cold

Piggies can die of heatstroke. In very hot weather, bring them indoors and put them in a cool room with a fan on. Place a bowl of water near the fan to help humidity. If the air is too dry, over a period of time, lung damage and respiratory problems can occur.

Summer

Hutches should always be in a shaded in the Summer and can be kept cool by:

  • putting sun umbrellas over them
  • pouring water on the roof and down the sides to cool the air
  • putting a frozen bottle of water in the hutch (make sure the piggie doesn’t get frost bite, so use a bottle that is rounded and the piggie cannot lay on it)
  • use existing trees and shrubs as shade

Winter

Piggies also are susceptible to the cold – piggies can freeze to death. In the Winter, put bubble wrap across the wire part of their cage on the outside (secure with drawing pins). They can still see out but have their very own double gazing.

Make sure they have plenty of bedding to keep them warm and check that the water bottle hasn’t frozen. An old sock with the end cut off slipped over the bottle will help stop it freezing.

Shock

Piggies are timid and can die of shock. Never startle them; NEVER put them with rabbits – we have seen so many fatal injuries where rabbits and piggies have been kept together – for example, where a rabbit gets scared and kicks out and the guinea takes the brunt of the powerful kick; and keep them away from where foxes can get to them.

Flystrike

Flystrike is a horrible illness that can cause terrible pain and distress to an animal and can even lead to death. However, there are simple, easy steps you can take to help prevent it.

What is it?

Flystrike happens when adult flies lay their eggs in faeces-soiled fur around a rabbit’s or guinea pigs bottom. Within as little as 8-10 hours the eggs hatch into rapidly-multiplying maggots which feed on the animal by burrowing into its flesh.

This causes extreme pain and distress for the animal and eventually, they will go into shock and die. While flystrike most commonly occurs in rabbits and guinea pigs, debilitated cats and dogs who are unable to groom themselves properly, can be affected too.

Pet hygiene and prevention

It is imperative that you give any pet a daily hygiene check twice daily during hot and humid weather, when flies are particularly active.
Examine your pet every morning and evening and check that their fur is clean, dry and not matted. If their bottom is not clean, use cotton wool and warm water or fragrance free baby wipes to clean it for them.

In the case of rabbits and guinea pigs, change their bedding daily and ensure the rest of their home is clean and dry. Be particularly vigilant if the pet has loose droppings, as they will be more at risk.

To keep the flies away, use a suitable pet-friendly fly repellent available from your vet or pet store, and hang a fly strip close to the hutch. (The safest fly strips to buy are available from equestrian centres some traditional fly strips or fly killers may be suitable for household use, but can be lethal in close proximity to small pets).

There is also a product called Rearguard that is suitable for rabbits and promises to keep them free from maggot infestation for up to 10 weeks.

Speak to your vet for further help and information on preventative measures.

Finally, if you think your pet may be suffering from flystrike or you can see maggots, treat it as an emergency and get your pet to a vet immediately. Prompt treatment can save your pet from unnecessary suffering and even death.

Guinea Pig Basic Care

Before you start reading this, you should note that I’ve covered off nearly every eventuality concerning pig healthcare and welfare. It is not meant to scare you – piggies are hardy little creatures who rarely get il – but this is a guide so you have a good idea of what to do and what to look out for.

Most importantly, the piggies need lots of cuddles, fresh air and love!

Diet

We feed dried food maybe twice or three times a week. Their main diet is readigrass (a dried grass product that you can buy in bulk from equestrian centres or Burgess Supa Forage Excel) and good quality hay.

In the evenings, they have fresh food – their bodies absorb the vitamins better at this time of day.

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 feed dried food designed for rabbits as some contain pellets that are poisonous (and fatal) to GPs.

FOODS TO FEED PLENTIFULLY

Cucumber
Melon
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celery – this is good for their kidneys
Broccoli – full of protein

GO EASY ON
Apples (can cause mouth ulcers)

AVOID
Potatoes (poisonous)
Lettuce (can cause diarrhoea which can lead to death)

If you feed them cut grass or dandelions, make sure the grass has not been treated and that the dandelions are not near the road – otherwise they can be poisoned by exhaust toxins.

Hay

We only use good quality, dust free hay – normally a bale costs about £6. We also use readigrass (or similar) which is a dried grass product that the piggies love. This is available from Pets At Home (£2-£3 a small bag) or a bale is around £7 from an equestrian centre. We favour the equestrian version as it is cheap and designed for horses who are very susceptible to respiratory disease.

Hay can sometimes carry mites, but these are not visible to the human eye.

Scurvy and Alkaline balance in the Kidneys

Piggies cannot make their own vitamin C and can have problems if they don’t get enough. Fresh foods provide it but once a week we put a quarter of a soluble vitamin C 1000mg tablet – the ones you buy for humans – into their drinking water to keep them healthy. They love the taste too!
Claws

Check the piggies’ claws regularly – they need trimming normally once a month in the Summer, less in the Winter. Your vet can do this.

Weight

Using 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.

Skin / Fur Conditions

Mites is a horrible affliction that, left untreated in piggies, can have devastating effects and can lead to death. If the piggie starts to lose its fur, scratches a lot, or their skin looks red or ‘pin-pricked’, get them to the vet asap. It may be mites or it may be a fungal infection, but whatever it could be, the earlier you see your vet, the better.

Bedding

Any piggies adopted from CavyRescue are adopted on the terms that they are not put on sawdust or wood shavings. Dusty products can cause respiratory problems and – before we got into rescuing and were simply pet owners – one of piggies died as a result of being on dusty shavings.

We recommend you use EcoPetBed (available online from www.earthlyenterprises.co.uk at around £20 a bale, Carefresh Pet Bedding, from Supreme and available in most pet shops. Or, Financard, another cardboard bedding.

Newspaper, changed daily to stop the ammonia causing breathing problems, is OK and, despite what people say, we’ve never heard of a piggie dying from being on newspaper.

Heatstroke

Piggies can die of heatstroke. In very hot weather, bring them indoors and put them in a cool room with a fan on. Place a bowl of water near the fan to help humidity. If the air is too dry, over a period of time, lung damage and respiratory problems can occur.

Summer

Hutches should always be in a shaded in the Summer and can be kept cool by:

  • putting sun umbrellas over them
  • pouring water on the roof and down the sides to cool the air
  • putting a frozen bottle of water in the hutch (make sure the piggie doesn’t get frost bite, so use a bottle that is rounded and the piggie cannot lay on it)
  • Use existing trees and shrubs as shade

Winter

Piggies also are susceptible to the cold – piggies can freeze to death. In the Winter, put bubble wrap across the wire part of their cage on the outside (secure with drawing pins). They can still see out but have double gazing.

Make sure they have plenty of bedding to keep them warm and check that the water bottle hasn’t frozen. Cut the end off an old sock and put it over the bottle to insulate it.

Shock

Piggies are timid and can die of shock. Never startle them; never put them with rabbits; and keep them away from where foxes can get to them.

Feeding your guinea pig the correct diet

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.

Dietary fibre

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.

Teeth

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.

Dried foods

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.

Vitamin C

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.