A Balancing Act

A Balancing Act

There is a saying that ‘goodness goes in at the mouth’. This is particularly true of guinea pigs. Several elements of the digestive system can affect guinea as a whole if the diet is deficient in anything.

The Teeth:

Teeth grow continuously and need a diet containing plenty of Fibre to wear them correctly. Fibre is found in hay and grass, a variety of which can be bought online but a good meadow hay can be bought from the local farm shop (see your Yellow Pages). Short chopped dried grass is good too and can also be bought from your farm shop. At Planet Guinea we feed Readigrass daily in addition to a selection of hays. Readigrass is high in fibre at 32%, but is also quite high in Protein at 15% so is not a hay replacement. Guinea pigs that don’t receive enough hay in their diet are having the risk of unnecessary dental problems increased. Added to this is the unfortunate lack of vets that can do dental work without anaesthetic, we are fortunate in Berkshire to have two.

The Gut:

The gut runs on Fibre (one of the most important components of the diet). Diets high in Fibre ensure fast movement of food through the system. It is vital that the gut is kept moving or there is a real danger of Bloat occurring. Stuffed hayracks provide plenty of fodder to munch on overnight without the danger of it heating up or going mouldy. Your veterinary nurse should be aware of the need for constant movement of the gut too. Sometimes post op guineas are uncomfortable and unwilling to eat, a good nurse will step in and syringe feed with Oxbow Critical Care often making the difference between life and death. Take a few of guineas favourite vegetables in a container marked ‘post op’ to tempt guinea into eating.

The Caecum:

The Caecum contains beneficial and harmful bacteria. A guinea pig that is fed a diet rich in excess sugar and starch is probably providing fuel for the harmful bacteria. This may cause them to multiply and produce toxins that can cause a fatal diarrhoea. A Probiotic, such as Avipro probiotic should be given and only Astringent plants such as Yarrow, Plantain and Shepherds Purse, and good quality often help. Sugary and starchy foods include fruits and roots, many of which are culprits of having an unbalanced Calcium to Phosphorus ratio.

Overall Wellbeing:

In order for the body to function well it is essential that vitamins, minerals and trace elements are provided through their food. This can be done by offering a selection of vegetables to guinea as well as grass and herbage. Some vitamins help with the absorption of others, e.g. vitamin D is needed to help the body metabolise Calcium.

Vitamin B Complex and Vitamin C cannot be stored by guinea pigs so must be provided in the diet daily. Guinea pigs require 10-15mg of vitamin C per day for maintenance, pregnant sows need more. A diet containing a variety of vegetables, grass and herbage will provide the vitamin C needed. It is also present, in varying amounts, in dry foods. As the level of vitamin C differs greatly from one food to the next it should not be relied upon as a provider. Where extra vitamin C is needed eg illness (seek a vets diagnosis before supplementing), SPH Supplies stock tablets that are easy to feed to guinea.

Vitamin B will be provided by coprophagy, if for any reason guinea is unable to perform this then it must be supplemented. This can be by feeding guineas own soft pellets (in cases where he is unable to extrude them due to impaction or dental problems) or by texting the Cambridge Cavy Trust for advise. CCT can be reached on: 07721 026401. Whilst guinea may be able to eat after having dental work done there may be sharp edges that make coprophagy uncomfortable. Sunflower Greens contain seven of the B vitamins and most guineas enjoy them. In addition they are incredibly easy to grow.


Calcium is a necessary part of a guinea pigs diet, being essential for those continuously growing teeth. A lack of Calcium may show in discoloured or fragile teeth .The actual Calcium absorbed depends on the Calcium to Phosphorus ratio (Ca:Ph) of the food. Any excess is excreted in the urine. This is sometimes referred to as ‘sludgy bladder’/’bladder sludge’, which can lead to cystitis, Bladder stones or kidney stones. Special attention to be paid to guineas who are susceptible to these. Food that has an unbalanced Ca:Ph ratio should be carefully balanced with foods that have the inverse ratio. Calcium foods that are balanced but contain high levels of Calcium should be fed sparingly and once again balanced with foods that have a higher level of Phosphorus. This includes Alfalfa products and ‘hays’ and Clover hays. Read Chrissie’s article about Marbles’ experience with bladder stones .


Water is a necessary part of the diet too and helps greatly with moving food through the gut and generally flushing the system through and getting rid of toxins. Clean, fresh water should be available all the time, whether guinea is a drinker or not. Guineas with ‘sludgy bladders’ will need to be encouraged to drink more.

Whilst feeding guinea pigs isn’t rocket science it can get very complicated and mathematical if you so want it to. However, at the end of day the rule of thumb has to be to feed a diet that is balanced correctly to meet specific guinea pig needs. This should ensure the body gets all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements it needs, conditions such as bladder stones will tell you if there are alterations that need to be made.

See Ratewatchers for more complete diet information.

Copyright (c) www.planetguinea.co.uk 2007

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