Feeding Your Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs are herbivores rather like rabbits although the physiology and function of their gastrointestinal system is less well understood than that of the rabbit, which has been well investigated. The critical area of dietary science in guinea pigs of which you should be aware is their requirement for vitamin C. Apart from that, the key to a healthy diet in a guinea pig is variety and fibre.
In the guinea pig (as in man) one key essential nutrient is vitamin C. The vast majority of other animals can produce their own vitamin C from their intestinal bacterial flora but for some reason guinea pigs and primates are not able to do this. This is why eighteenth century sailors developed scurvy when not able to eat fresh fruit.
Vitamin C is vital in the normal development and maintenance of skin and mucosal surfaces like gums. It is also important in the healing of wounds. As well as predisposing to skin problems, a lack of vitamin C seems to make the body more prone to other diseases, infections and poor condition.
A guinea pig that is reluctant to walk, has swollen feet, or haemorrhages and ulcers on its gums or elsewhere is likely to be deficient in vitamin C.
If you are giving only a dry mix with old hay, most of the vitamin C will have decomposed by oxidation as vitamin C is rather unstable.
If your guinea pig develops a deficiency, it is much better to give a crushed tablet by mouth rather than in drinking water, since the vitamin breaks down in water and loses its potency.
A guinea pig mix or pellet cannot be relied on to provide all of the necessary vitamin C due to the rate at which it degrades.
To ensure vitamin C in the diet, frequently feed greens such as cabbage and broccoli as they have very high levels of the vitamin, and provide a high quality feed.
What else to feed?
Given that guinea pigs are adapted to a diet of fibrous vegetable matter good quality hay is important. Fibre encourages
- a healthy weight
- healthy teeth
- a healthy digestive system.
Pure dried grass, another high fibre food, may also be fed if the guinea pig does not have every day access to grass for grazing. A high quality guinea pig feed should be fed in addition to this as another source of vitamins and minerals.
A pelleted type feed such as Burgess Excel Guinea Pig is ideal, as many guinea pigs will feed selectively when given a dried mix and tend to leave the most important pieces of the feed behind.