Good Nutrition -- Cornerstone of Good Health
Our goal as pet owners should be to maintain good health by providing proper nutrition. How does the diet you provide stack up? Check the vegetable and fruit charts on this site for calcium and ascorbic acid content. For a quick overview of dietary recommendations, read Diet page.
There is no greater service you can do your guinea pigs than to provide them a proper diet.
Providing proper nutrition is essential to good health. Vicki of JPGPR notes that diet affects, "coat, skin, growth, energy, appetite, teeth, reproduction, organ effectiveness, immunity and ability to fight off disease/infection". Fresh water, quality pellets and hay make up the backbone of a good diet. A variety of fresh vegetables supplement their requirements for vitamin C and other micro nutrients.
Nutrition is a vast and complex subject. We all have our own thoughts on what to feed our pets; ideas shaped by preconceptions, tradition, cultural beliefs, and our own views on human nutrition. Cost, availability and convenience also come into play. A few people will strive to provide an all natural diet, but the majority of us will include a pelleted feed specifically designed for guinea pigs, along with grass hay and fresh vegetables.
Researchers rely on The National Academy of Sciences' Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals for specific nutrient recommendations.
The author's personal bias is to offer a high quality pelleted feed, abundant hay, familiar vegetables (and some fruits), and fresh forages.
While the Diet page is an excellent and thorough overview of a basic cavy diet (fresh water, high quality plain pellets, unlimited grass hay, and a cup or so of vegetables per day per pig), you may want more detailed information. Read also:
Pellets: What to Look For in a Quality Pellet
Grass Hay: Selecting Hay and Hay Nutrition
Chart: Nutritional Analyses of Vegetables and Fruits
Favorite Foods: Suggested Vegetables and Fruits
Forages: Grass and Plants as Food
Remember, guinea pigs are herbivores!
Avoid these foods:
Don't fall for commercial treats marketed for cavies (like yoghurt drops) which can even be detrimental to their health. Consuming these empty calories (many contain fat, sugars and even excess calcium) can result in decreased consumption of the basic foods they really need.
Do not feed mixes or treats with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dyed pieces.
Do not use mineral wheels.
Do not feed meat.
Do not feed rabbit pellets (they do not contain Vitamin C and some may even include antibiotics toxic to cavies).
Do not feed dairy products.
On Dairy Products:
Harkness and Wagner in The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents describe cavies as strict herbivores. They have this to say about milk:
"They [guinea pigs] require specific amounts of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, and therefore recommending feeding table scraps (and vitamin D-fortified cow's milk) or other animals' feed may promote metastic calcification, acidosis, ketosis, or skin disease from vitamin A or D toxicity...."
The 1992 edition of Richardson's Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs compares cows milk with guinea pig milk, and in cases of loss of the mother, recommends getting the young off a replacer as soon as possible. Another reason not to use cows milk:
".....encourage the orphans to eat solid foods as early as possible as a high percentage of orphans which receive too much milk replacer develop cataracts and become blind. The development of cataracts is thought to be associated with the intake of too many complex sugars which are dissimilar to those found in natural guinea pig milk."
Elizabeth Hillyer, DMV in her chapter on guinea pigs describes them as being "completely herbivorous" (with the exception of placentophagy). No specific mention of what not to feed, only of what is appropriate. Milk is not listed.