Feeding guinea pigs

What do guinea pigs eat?

Guinea pigs need a large amount of fibre in their diet as their digestive systems are unable to function without it. Marie Channer, head of small animal welfare at Wood Green, says: “Hay makes up 85 per cent of a guinea pig's diet and should be absolutely everywhere. Look to buy hay that is green: green hay is generally good hay as it should be reasonably fresh and full of nutrients.”

Spread hay all around your guinea pigs environment, place it in paper bags, plant pots and on top of furniture — you even use it as your guinea pig's bedding. This saves buying a different product for bedding and is less likely to cause skin irritations in your guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are grazing animals and should have access to grass to graze in their run at all times. They will also need other fresh greens including parsley, grass, dandelion leaves, kale and vegetables — remember to keep the greens and vegetables varied to avoid boredom. Blackberry leaves, raspberry leaves and even rose heads are also popular. Remember to wash all greenery and vegetables before feeding, and introduce new foods slowly to avoid dietary upsets.

Your guinea pig will love eating:

Asparagus, basil, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe melon, carrots and carrot tops, cauliflower leaves and stalks, celery, chicory, Chinese parsley, coriander, cucumber, dill, garden cress, grapefruit, gooseberries, honeydew melon, kale, kiwi fruit, mangoes, oranges, parsley, parsnips, peas, red cabbage, red chard, romaine lettuce, Savoy cabbage, spinach, strawberries, tangerines, turnips and water cress. These should only be given in small amounts and as a treat. Hay must always make up 85 per cent of their diet.

Your guinea pig should never eat:

Apples (they can cause serious mouth scabs) potato and potato tops, rhubarb and rhubarb leaves and tomatoes / tomato leaves.

Other foods for guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are unable to produce their own vitamin C so ensure you feed vegetables that are rich in vitamin C including curly kale and even the odd orange to ensure he is receiving the correct amount. Fresh leafy greens and vegetables should also be offered every day - vegetables including spring greens, broccoli and herbs can also be given, remember though to keep it varied and interesting. A small amount (no more than one to two tablespoons) of fruit like grapes can be fed, as can a carrot. These are all quite high in sugar so should be fed in small amounts.

You can also buy vitamin C supplements for guinea pigs, which can be added to their food or drinking water. Guinea pigs also need a small handful of pelleted, complete guinea pig food in order to ensure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need. Pelleted food is preferable to muesli types, which guinea pigs can sometimes selectively feed on. Follow the feeding guidelines on the food's packaging.

Water is essential and should always be fresh and available. Guinea pigs are often more confident drinking from a heavy-bottomed bowl rather than a gravity-fed drinker as it feels more natural. Ensure that the water is changed and the water bowl cleaned out every day.

Providing stick or logs from natural wood like willow, beach or hazel will provide both entertainment for your guinea pig and help to stop his teeth from over growing.

How often should I feed my guinea pig?

As a foraging animal a guinea pig will need feeding twice daily, in the morning and again in the evening. You can hide some of the vegetables you are feeding amongst your guinea pig's hay to encourage foraging and provide your guinea pig with entertainment.

When re-filling the feed bowls, remove all the uneaten food, clean out the dish and replace with fresh food. Ensure you remove any uneaten vegetables and greens too, to ensure that the food on offer remains fresh and does not rot in the hutch. Use a heavy-bottomed bowl for feeding as these are less likely to be knocked over.

How can you tell if your guinea pig's diet is correct?

It's all in the poo! Guinea pigs produce two different types of faeces. The softer, moist pellets they produce are re-ingested directly from their bottom, this is an essential part of their digestive process. The second type of droppings, which are hard and dry, are not re-eaten.

Poisonous plants and your guinea pig 

Certain plants are poisonous to guinea pigs; if you are in any way unsure about which plants are harmful to your guinea pig — do not feed them.

Poisonous species include: anemone, azalea, bittersweet, bryony, caladium, cyclamen, columbine, dog mercury, figwort, deadly nightshade, woody nightshade, poppies, ragwort, buttercups, daffodils, bluebells, foxglove, hemlock, spurges, kingcup, marsh marigold, monkshood, meadow saffron, mistletoe, St. Johns wort, Leyland cypress, fools parsley and hellebore.

Cultivated plants that are dangerous to your guinea pig: dahlias, lupins, chrysanthemums, delphinium, lily of the valley, tulips, iris, morning glory, antirrhinums, lobelia, fig, Jerusalem cherry, juniper, hyacinth, privet, yew, laburnum, lords and ladies, ivy, philodendron, rhododendron, wisteria, clematis, holly and most evergreen trees.

Do not feed your guinea pig lawnmower clippings as these can upset a guinea pig’s digestive system and make them ill.

Pet care advice