For many Australians, a guinea pig is their first pet – the first little ball of fluff we learn to care for and love as part of our families. While guinea pigs are popular with parents as a ‘lower maintenance’ pet than a cat or dog, they still require the right environment and the right food to make sure they’re healthy and happy.
Guinea pigs are natural herbivores, who would spend their time foraging and grazing in small herds in the wild. Their teeth are continuously growing, which is one of the reasons why they need plenty of roughage to encourage chewing, which wears down their teeth and helps prevent serious dental problems.
For your guinea pig to be happy and healthy, they need plenty of the following in their diets:
- A constant supply of grass and/or grass hay (such as Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays). Guinea pigs should not be fed Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium.
- Fresh leafy green vegetables & herbs. Some examples of these include broccoli, cabbage, celery, endive, carrot tops, bok choy/other Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties, parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint.
- A dietary source of Vitamin C because (like humans), guinea pigs cannot synthesize Vitamin C from other food substances. This is usually supplied sufficiently by the fresh leafy green veggies, but it is safer to supplement this with small quantities of Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus or kiwi fruit, which are also a tasty treat for your friend!
- High quality commercial ‘Guinea Pig’ pellets (minimum 16% fibre content) may be offered in small quantities, but these should not form the main part of the diet.
- Access to clean fresh water at all times
It’s important to also know what not to feed a guinea pig, as there are plenty of items that might seem harmless but can in fact cause significant health issues.
Make sure to not feed your guinea pig: cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate, buttercups, garden shrubs, lily of the valley, onion grass, onions, potato tops, raw beans; beetroot, spinach and rhubarb leaves; pickled foods.
Guinea pigs are very social animals, and are happiest when kept with other guinea pigs.
Ideally, your guinea pigs should be desexed, but if not it’s a good idea to keep two females or two males to avoid unwanted breeding.
Grooming your guinea pig will keep its coat healthy, and is especially important for long-haired guinea pigs. You should also regularly check the length of their toenails and have your vet clip them if needed.
Guinea pigs should have as large an enclosure as possible, ideally with the right amount of lined, covered space and soft grass hay to provide cushioning.
Sawdust or wood shavings can cause respiratory issues and should be avoided.
Make sure to clean out the hutch regularly and dispose of any waste.
Providing the opportunity for your guinea pig to graze on grass is also important to their wellbeing.
- The RSPCA relies on donations to protect and care for animals and educate humans.