Guinea Pig Nutritional Requirements

It can seem rather overwhelming when you do a simple online search for what to feed your guinea pig. We remember when we first researched guinea pig nutritional requirements. We were fairly shocked to read you feed them three times a day. It seems like a huge amount but after owning guinea pigs a numerous years now you can see why they need it!

Helping-your-guinea-pigs-settle-in

Guinea pigs do not eat meat, high amounts of carbohydrates or fatty foods. They are very strict herbivores.They should never be fed meat or diary products! When it comes to feeding your guinea pig, its useful to remember that in the wild they live in the hills and mountains of the Andes, Peru. They spend their days grazing on fresh grass and other plant materials. 

We will cover the basics of guinea pigs nutritional requirements in this article.

Vitamin C

Guinea pigs are rather like humans in the sense that we both can not make our own vitamin C. Guinea pigs, like us rely on getting their daily recommended allowance of vitamin C from their food alone. In order for a guinea pig to intake vitamin C you need to provide suitable vegetables and a small amount of pellet food to ensure they do not suffer from disease.  Most experts agree that at least five milligrams per kilogram of body weight is the requirement on Vitamin C for your guinea pig but as a rule of thumb twenty milligrams a day is preferred. 

Whilst this may sound a large quantity in comparison to your fairly small guinea pig, it is actually easily obtained by feeding your piggie a supply of fresh vegetables (along with the occasional sweet fruity treat.) Liquid drops of Vitamin C are also available to be added to water. We recommended speaking to a vet before administrating to your pet. 

Grass and Hay

Guinea pigs LOVE grass and hay! If your guinea pig lives outside or has access to an outside space then you are safe to let them graze on it all day! A word of caution: if your guinea pig does live outside, remember they shouldn’t be kept on wet grass. Guinea pigs little furry bellies lie close next to the ground. If walking on wet grass, it will make their tummy wet and can cause colds and pneumonia. 

happy-guinea-pig

If your guinea pig doesn’t live outside, don’t worry as there are still ways of providing them with grass. We cut our lawn with a pair of scissors and bring it in for them. We place it in hay racks and various containers for them to graze on.

Grass hay can also be purchased. Hay is such an important part of a guinea pigs diet and it is crucial for  their survival. Guinea pigs love hay – sleeping in it, eating it, digging in it and of course leaving their droppings in it too.  It provides a nutritional requirement as well as being good fun for guinea pigs. Grass hay aids proper digestion along with the constant chewing action serving to wear down teeth ensuring they don’t become overgrown. The best type of hay is Timothy hay.

Guinea pigs should have hay on the floor of their cage for sleeping in. Since they do leave droppings in it, it is also essential to get a hay rack to ensure they are eating clean hay. A guinea pig will often refuse to eat hay that has been soiled on. A hay rack is really important to ensure they are eating enough hay. A constant supply of clean hay should be provided daily. 

A cost effective way to manage your money whilst also providing unlimited hay for your guinea pigs is to buy a cheaper hay for ground cover and the more expensive Timothy Hay to put into various racks around the cage. This also saves on wastage.

Pellets

Guinea pigs also need to eat dry pellets as part of their daily nutritional needs. It is important to buy pellets that are made specifically for guinea pigs. Do not to use those intended for rabbits as they do not have the same nutritional needs. Guinea pig pellets have Vitamin C added to them. Avoid feeding your guinea pig brightly colored pellets as these rarely contain any nutritional benefits. Guinea pigs tend to leave the most nutritious pellets to the end. 

Guinea pig pellets often come fortified with vitamins, minerals and calcium.  Calcium is required to keep teeth and bones healthy, however too much can be dangerous to your guinea pig. Its useful to watch out for any white deposits in your piggies urine. This can be a sign that the food has too much calcium in it. A high intake in calcium can lead to formation of bladder stones. 

According to the RSPCA, the recommended amount of guinea pig pellets per day is one handful.

Vegetables 

Guinea pigs love vegetables! Vegetables are a crucial part  to a guinea pigs diet. The best type of vegetables are romaine lettuce and spring greens. Ensure you feed your guinea pig a variety of vegetables daily to ensure they have a good mixture to snack on all day. Guinea pigs can also eat small quantities of fruit and herbs as a treat but due to the high sugar content of fruit, this shouldn’t be happening daily. The RSPCA have a wonderful food chart that helps form the basis of your guinea pigs meal plan:

Water

guinea-pig-water-bottle

Its important to ensure your guinea pig has a constant supply of fresh, clean water. It can be provided in with a water bowl or water bottle. Ensure you clean the water and bottle / bowl daily to prevent the build up of bacteria that could make your piggy ill.

Cecotropes (soft feces)

Yeah unfortunately we are talking droppings! You may have noticed that your guinea pig produces two types of dropping: A hard type and a dark, shiny one. The latter is the one they eat and usually straight from the source (IE their bottom.) Whilst its slightly odd to us humans, guinea pigs practice coprophagy which is the eating of this special type of dropping. 

These special types of droppings are actually full of Vitamin B and Vitamin K which is essential to a guinea pig’s good  health. Studies have shown that guinea pigs prevented from eating these special droppings develop malnutrition and die. 

A complete guide to handling guinea pigs

We can all agree how difficult it can be to catch a cute little guinea pig in order to groom, stroke and move it. Guinea pigs are timid creatures and surprisingly fast runners! Since guinea pigs are prey animals they are more likely to run and hide than other pets, plus with most guinea pigs weighing no more than two to four pounds they are pretty speedy once they start to run!

It can be tempting to simply reach in and grab or pin your piggy in order to pick them up but this is very dangerous since they have delicate bones. If you fail to pick up your guinea pig correctly they could get seriously hurt plus it makes the whole experience for your furry little guinea pig friend rather terrifying.

How you should pick up a guinea pig

The correct way to pick up a guinea pig is to place one of your hands underneath its middle, around the stomach region. Ensure you approach your guinea pig from the front and are talking to them calmly throughout the picking up process.Then you support its back or hind legs with your other hand.

Guinea pigs do not like to have their feet left unsupported plus dangling legs can easily be injured due to being caught or bumped against other objects. Guinea pigs that are picked up correctly feel safe and happy. If you have an extra wriggly guinea pig, then its important to ensure you don’t squeeze your piggie around the tummy region.

Reluctant piggies that really don’t want to be picked up can be persuaded with some of their favorite food. Our guinea pig Orange is rather fast and defiant when it comes to being picked up and even she can’t resist some tasty spinach. Remember to always hold your guinea pig with two hands to ensure they are correctly supported and can’t attempt to wriggle free or jump as they will injure themselves.

Walking when holding a guinea pig

In a perfect world, everything we need for our guinea pigs would be located in close proximity to each other! Since these items aren’t, then its possible you will have to walk whilst carrying your guinea pig especially if they live outside and come indoors for lap time. In order to help your guinea pig feel safe and secure whilst your walking with them, pick them up as described above but instead of cradling them in your arms similar to how you would a baby, instead hold them upright against your body.

Still keep one hand under their legs and then other can be moved to their back. This ensures they don’t fall backwards plus its a great way to sneak a few extra strokes in! Ensure you walk slowly and avoid making any sudden movements. The majority of guinea pigs will happily snuggle into your body when held in this position and will feel safe and secure.  The upright position in which you carry your guinea pig whilst walking will often mimic the one your piggie climbs into during laptime!

Children and handling guinea pigs

Guinea pigs make excellent pets for children however its important to teach them how to hold the guinea pigs correctly to ensure the guinea pig and the child do not get injured. Very young children should not be tasked with picking up or walking with guinea pigs. The guinea pigs should instead be brought over to the child who should be sitting down comfortably on a comfy chair or coach. The guinea pig can then be placed safely on the child’s knee without any harm coming to the guinea pig or child. We always put a thick towel or blanket on our children’s knee so they don’t complain about feeling the claws through their clothes. Ensure you stay with the child and supervise the interactions to ensure they child isn’t being too rough. It can be rather difficult to teach a very young child about being gentle especially if they haven’t fully developed their cognitive skills.

How to deal with really reluctant guinea pigs

If you have a really reluctant guinea pig that just wont be caught don’t chase it around the cage. The majority of guinea pigs will have a quick dash for cover and then eventually slow down enough to be caught. If you have a guinea pig that is especially timid and stays in its hideout, then resist the urge to remove all the places it has to hide. Instead ensure you have a box or tunnel with a top and bottom and transport your guinea pig inside that. Simply place one hand either at each end or over the one opening with the other hand holding the bottom. Ensure your transportation container isn’t flimsy or will break under the weight of a guinea pig. You can then transport the guinea pig to either its hutch, cage or run. You can use this same technique for lap time. Just transport your guinea pig inside the container and place it on your lap and a treat a little further away. This will help encourage the little piggie to come out and play! Remember not to take it personally as well! Guinea pigs are timid and cautious by nature.

Handling pregnant guinea pigs

If one of your guinea pigs are pregnant then its important to avoid handling her. Lap time is pretty much out for a pregnant guinea pig since they are very prone to stress plus the added risk of injuring mummy and babies through holding. She should only be handled if you feel there is something wrong with her. Obviously you will need to move the mummy piggy in order to clean her bedding and the best way to do this is using the transportation method detailed above. The only difference is to ensure you have a very sturdy container for transporting. A shoes box or other sturdy structure works well for supporting the addition weight of the mummy and babies.

How long should lap time be

It is recommended that you hold your guinea pig for a maximum of ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Ensure you have a blanket or towel on your lap or nearby since guinea pigs naturally need to go to the bathroom. Our guinea pigs always seem to need the bathroom after ten minutes. If your guinea pig leaves droppings or urine on you, be calm and clean it up without making sudden movements. Its fairly common for guinea pigs to leave droppings on you and less common for urine although it does happen! Its easy to tell when your guinea pig is ready to go back inside its cage since it will start getting restless, nibbling at clothes and make a whining sound.

When guinea pigs shouldn’t be handled.

We’ve already covered pregnancy (above)  as a time when guinea pigs shouldn’t be held above. Other circumstances when you shouldn’t hold your guinea pigs are if they are unwell or injured. Your vet will be able to advise when your able to start holding them again. Another time they shouldn’t be held is when they have just been born as they are too fragile.

Where to touch and not touch on guinea pigs

Every guinea pig is different however its common that most guinea pigs do not like their bottom or tummy to be touched! They all seem to love having their head in between their ears stroked. In fact this is a common technique used by vets to calm scared guinea pigs down. Several guinea pigs also like to have their neck rubbed, just under the chin.

happy-guinea-pigs-outside

Is it best to keep guinea pigs inside or outside?

This is a question we are often asked by those new to keeping guinea pigs. Keeping guinea pigs outside can make them vulnerable to predators whilst keeping guinea pigs inside can be tricky due to their sensitive hearing. We have learned through our experience that the best way to decide which one is right for your guinea pigs decides on a few factors:

Your home environment

Is your home a quiet, peaceful place or a busy hive of activity? Guinea pigs have very sensitive hearing so if you have a lot of noise in your house and no quiet room to keep them in, then its likely they will be happier outside in a large predator proof wooden hutch and run like this or this.

Guinea pigs don’t like sudden loud noises and can become startled easily. If you’re lucky enough to have a fairly peaceful house then your guinea pigs should be perfectly happy in a large cage inside. They still to be able to run about and explore so its worth investing in a suitable indoor cage.  Keep the cage away from electrical wires and cables as guinea pigs love to chew!

If you do keep your guinea pigs inside, don’t forget they are social creatures so they will love to be in a room that is quiet and also visited frequently. This is so they can get used to you and have some social interaction. Don’t ever put guinea pigs in a garage which is used as the car fumes can kill them.

Your outside environment

Our new home is located in the countryside and is frequently visited by foxes and other guinea pig predators so keeping our little piggys outside was an automatic no no. We gave them a try outside during the day the first summer we got them but they really didn’t seem to settle. You can tell if your guinea pig isn’t happy outside as they will stay inside their hidey holes and won’t really eat the grass. We tried our guinea pigs outside over two weeks and they seemed more startled and scared after they have been outside. If you have a private garden that is sealed off from your neighbors and away from the road then your guinea pigs can live outside safely.

An outside guinea pig eating grass

Ensure you buy the best quality and biggest hutch you can afford as guinea pigs need a lot of space so they can run around and explore. It needs to be rodent proof to stop not only them escaping but also other rodents such as rats from chewing their way into your little guinea pigs house. Ideally the guinea pigs sleeping areas should be away from direct contact with the ground. This avoids the guinea pigs getting cold and damp overnight. In our experience when the sleeping area is located on the ground it provides easier access for rats and other predators to gnaw their way into the hutch whilst the guinea pigs are sleeping. Another common issue we have found with outside cages and runs is that foxes are able to dig underneath some of the wire to the floor designs and get inside the hutch/run. When buying a new cage and run give it a quick check over and identify if there are any inside or outside sharp corners and work out how you will be able to cover them. This will ensure no one (piggy or you) gets hurt.

Their outside hutch and run needs to be placed over grass that doesn’t contain any of the plants that are harmful to them. Guinea pigs often eat harmful substances that can make them ill and die.  Similarly keep their hutch away from flowerbeds and herbicides/pesticides as these are poisonous also. Ideally chose a run or hutch that you can move easily so you can provide your guinea pigs with fresh grass several times a week – they make excellent lawn mowers!

Your memory


An odd point but a busy household can often forget about outside guinea pigs when your number one focus in the morning is getting the kids up and going out to work whilst also planning dinner and paying the bills. We’ve heard from friends of ours about people often forgetting about their dear little guinea pigs whilst rushing about with busy lives. If you think you are likely to forget about your little furry friends then bringing them inside to a quiet peaceful house may be the best solution to your guinea pigs problems. Once they are inside they get used to your routines and ours squeak very helpfully at meal times to give us a gentle nudge that they want some food.

Similarly if your family spend a large amount of time outdoors particularly over summer doing activities such as gardening or playing with the children then they guinea pigs are more likely to enjoy spending the majority of their time outside too. This way they will get the social interaction that they need from you whilst you’re also concentrating on your hobbies.

Where you bought them

A surprising factor but we have found it really does make the difference. Our latest piggies where purchased from Jolleys pet store and lived in a very calm and quiet cage with each other. Rather surprising for a pet store I know! The pet store was located fairly out the way of busy foot traffic and the staff were very knowledgeable and caring towards the piggies. This means that our guinea pigs are rather calm and wary of sounds. It’s the reason they just didn’t like being outside.

Your desire to be flexible

An interesting point is even if you do decide on having your guinea pigs outside, then its very plausible that you will be bringing them in when there are extreme fluctuations with the weather such as when it is very hot and very cold. You will either need an outside hutch that is fine for bringing in like this one or a separate cage to have inside when needed. I personally think having a separate dedicated indoor cage is really useful when you have to split them up due to fighting or if one is unwell.

If you have indoor piggies then a separate cage outside isn’t really needed. Whilst guinea pigs do need a lot of grass, you don’t have to have a dedicated outside run to accommodate this. We cut the law with scissors and bring the grass in for our piggies to eat!

Remember the temperature!

Whatever you chose remember that guinea pigs are very sensitive to hot and cold weather. They ideally like a temperatures of between 18 – 23 degrees Celsius. Any hotter than this and your guinea pig can get heatstroke but any colder and they may get a chill. Temperature control is much easier to do inside as there are already these controlling systems in place with central heating, heaters, fans and air conditioning. This doesn’t mean that guinea pigs aren’t happy outside, it just takes some extra work on your part to ensure they stay at a nice happy temperature.  Guinea pigs use blood flow to help to control their temperature. When they are cold, the blood flow to the skin is reduced to lock the heat in and when they are hot, this blood flow increases in an attempt to cool them down. Interestingly enough guinea pigs can not sweat as they don’t have any eccrine sweat glands on their body!

Remember even if you decide to keep your guinea pigs outdoors, if the temperature drops to below 15C they should be moved indoors until the temperature rises.m