Unlike puppies, kittens and baby rabbits, baby guinea pigs are born fully formed and eat solid food almost straight away. So, what do they need from their diet?
Did you know that baby guinea pigs are delivered fully formed with hair, their eyes and ears open and the ability to eat solid food from the day they are born? Although they require feeding from their mother, guinea pig babies are very independent from day one.
Guinea pig pups are usually fully weaned at around three weeks, and nutritious hay, guinea pig pellets and very small amounts of vegetables can be offered from birth. Information about the best food for young guinea pigs is shared by their mother – attentive young piggies will watch adults eating to learn what is safe.
A guinea pig lifespan is typically around five to seven years, and these timid but curious rodents are considered to be guinea pig adults when they reach around eight months.
A guinea pig’s independence and feeding habits are quite a contrast to many new-born animals.
- Puppies are born unable to see, hear or regulate their body temperature, and go through great periods of growth and development throughout adolescence (which lasts until they’re around 18 months to two years, depending on the breed) before they become adult dogs.
- Kittens are born blind and deaf with eyes closed and ears folded. In the first week of life, kittens stay close to their mother and do little more than sleep and eat. They don’t begin to eat mashed up kitten food until around five weeks, remain kittens until they’re 12 months old and are classed as ‘adult’ when they reach three.
- Rabbit kits are born hairless, blind and deaf and remain in their nest for about three weeks (well-hidden by their mother who ignores them most of the day, feeding them just once every 24 hours to avoid attracting predators) before emerging fully furred and able to eat solid food. Like kittens and puppies, baby rabbits go through various life stages of growth and development – from junior, to adult (at around 18 months) to senior buns (from around age seven onwards).
Dogs, cats and rabbits can benefit from life stage foods
In fact, because of the many different stages they go through – from newborn to junior, adult to senior – pet animals such as dogs, cats and rabbits can benefit from being fed what’s known as ‘life stage’ foods – essentially, food that’s tailored to meet different nutritional requirements at each stage of their life.
For example, puppies and kittens need extra energy and other nutrients to support rapid growth. Young bunnies need high nutrient levels that suit their high metabolism. As the growth phase slows, and if the pet is neutered, calorie intake needs to be reduced. Likewise, senior diets help support ageing pets with useful supplements, such as added glucosamine, for optimal joint mobility.
When it comes to guinea pigs, however, rather than needing life stage foods, these small rodents have very specific nutritional requirements that remain the same throughout their whole life.
Guinea pigs have long enjoyed the status of being one of the most popular pets. However, in order to help them live their best guinea pig lives, it helps to see things from their perspective. Find out what your guinea pigs want you to know >>
How to care for guinea pigs – what do they need from their diet?
Right from the day they are born, guinea pigs require a number of things from their diet.
- VITAMIN C Guinea pigs can’t make their own vitamin C, so they need extra in their diet for healthy skin, joints and blood vessels. If they don’t get enough, they can suffer from vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, which can cause blood clotting problems, and issues with their skin and joints. Good quality guinea pig nuggets will contain the correct levels of protected vitamin C.
- HIGH LEVELS OF FIBRE Wild guinea pigs naturally eat a diet of grasses, plants, vegetables and crops. To stay healthy, guinea pigs need to keep their digestive systems busy with a mix of two kinds of fibre(called digestible and indigestible fibre) moving through the gut at all times. Guinea pigs get this fibre mainly from good quality feeding hay. What’s more, without essential fibre, guinea pigs’ teeth can become overgrown, and they can suffer from dental disease. The fibre found in feeding hay helps to wear down their teeth and keep them healthy.
- TO EAT THEIR OWN POO It may seem rather strange to us humans, but guinea pigs need to eat their own poo – and in fact it’s healthy for them! As they can’t get enough nutrition from the fibre as it passes through them the first time, they first excrete something called caecotrophs. These are soft, sticky-type droppings that they re-eat to get the rest of the vital nutrients. The second time they are digested, they are excreted as round, hard droppings.
Can guinea pigs eat bananas? Can guinea pigs eat apples? Can guinea pigs eat grapes? Can guinea pigs eat celery? What about strawberries, tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers? And what fresh foods should you never give to your guinea pigs?
The ideal way to feed guinea pigs of all ages
To ensure your guinea pigs get everything they need from their food, your guinea pigs’ diet should consist of:
- 85% -90% unlimited grazed grass (not grass cuttings) orhigh quality feeding hay. As a guide, provide each piggy with at least their own body size in fresh feeding hay every day.
- A small handful of guinea pig-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs – around a teacup-sized amount a day per guinea pig. Greens and veg high in vitamin C are especially good, such as a small bunch of parsley, half a curly kale leaf, one small floret of broccoli or 1/8th of a green bell pepper.
- Pelleted guinea pig food – around one egg cup a day per guinea pig. Guinea pig nuggets help ensure your piggies get all the vital vitamins and minerals they need. You can split their daily ration between morning and evening feeds.
Your guinea pigs must also have access to plenty of fresh water at all times, supplied in pet drinking bottles which feature a solid sipper tube.
Feeding your guinea pigs – 6 top tips
- SWITCHING DIETS If you need to change your guinea pigs’ pellets or introduce any new fresh greens, this has to be done carefully. Any sudden changes can result in digestive issues which can become serious if not treated. It is going to take time to get your piggies used to their new diet, so allow 14-28 days for a full and safe transition.
- MOVE AWAY FROM MUESLI Muesli-style foods may seem like a healthy option for small pets such as guinea pigs, but this is actually not the case. Muesli-based diets encourage selective feeding, where guinea pigs eat some high starch/sugary components of the muesli mix, while rejecting the more fibrous pellets, leading to an unbalanced diet.
- CHOOSE HIGH QUALITY FEEDING HAY When it comes to selecting hay for your piggies, avoid cheap bedding hay, which has poor nutritional value. Instead, go for deliciously nutritious dust-free hay such as Timothy Hay, Meadow Hay, Green Harvest Hay, Hay with Dandelion & Marigoldor Hay with Hedgerow Herbs – all nutrient-rich options that have been grown and harvested specifically as feeding hay.
- CREATE SOME FORAGING FUN Guinea pigs love to search out titbits, so rather than putting their food in a bowl, place it around their enclosure, in their tunnels, in paper bags, cardboard loo rolls or under some hay, to encourage their natural urge to forage for food.
- FOLLOW THE EXCEL FEEDING PLAN The best way to ensure your guinea pigs are getting the correct diet is to stick to the Excel Feeding Plan, which was developed in conjunction with one of the world’s leading small animal vets, and will provide your piggies with the perfect daily balance of fibre and nutrition.
- KEEP A CLOSE EYE If your guinea pigs are refusing to eat their food this could be a sign something is wrong. Not eating can be a symptom of illness, including gut stasis, a serious condition where the gut slows down and stops moving. If you notice this, seek advice from your vet immediately.