A Variety of What?

Grass is the natural food of guinea pigs, but grass comes in many nutritional stages meaning it has differing benefits too. The ancestors of our domesticated guinea pigs grazed on mature dry grasses.
Popular and common advice is to ‘feed a variety of foods’ or ‘feed a varied diet’, but a variety of what and why?
  • Guinea pigs have nutritional needs, as do humans. Whilst meeting these needs is a challenge even if we meet every need we cannot easily influence how the body will metabolise (or use) what we give it. Similarly we have little or no control over any congenital conditions such as bladder stones or Osteodystrophy, but we can do our best to provide a well balanced diet.
  • The bulk of the diet must be unlimited good hay. Hay keeps the digestive system moving, promotes the correct chewing action to wear down the Molar teeth and is behaviouraly stimulating. Therefore giving hay meets 2 of the 5 Freedoms outlined by DEFRA: ‘A proper diet, including fresh water’ and ‘The ability to express normal behaviour’. Guinea pigs like nothing better than foraging in a large pile of good hay! Guinea pigs should be eating their body mass in hay daily.  ‘Good hay’ does not mean expensive, hay baled and stored for horses to eat is reasonably priced at under and around £5 a bale meaning that guineas get the maximum benefit. Any hay can contain fungal spores, the moment it is opened (if bagged) it is exposed to the environment around it and if that contains fungal spores it won’t be long before the hay does- regardless of origin. Change hay daily at least so there is plenty available to eat as well as forage in.
  • <>Leafy greens are the next important dietry component, they contain many vitamins, minerals and trace elements needed. Leafy greens should be fed in the correct ratio to root vegetables, with fruit being rarely or never fed. Feeding the correct balance and variety of fresh foods is important for maximum bladder health. It is probably the balance between the Phosphorus (fruit and roots in general) and Calcium (Leafy greens generally) high foodstuffs that is most instrumental in bladder health. Ratewatchers D.I.Y. Diet for guinea pigs is an easy to follow diet that takes these facts into consideration. A number of trace elements are also important and appear to be responsible for the intereactions among Calcium and Phosphorus, thus the importance of also providing a variety of balanced yet different foods where a mature grass and hay diet isn’t being fed. The Vitamin C levels needed are easily met and were the least of any concern in the diets that Planet Guinea looked at. No food is considered a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ food. Feeding a ‘variety’ of vegetables that are only Phosphorus high is not as beneficial (and may be detrimental to the health of) as feeding a variety of Calcium and Phosphorus high foods. Similarly restricting one ‘variety’ is equally unwise. For example, by restricting Calcium high foods the diet may be Phosphorus high and a different type of stone can result. A good rule of thumb is to feed a diet that is correctly balanced with Calcium and Phosphorus foods and to include a wide variety of foods within this diet.
  • Of least importance to the diet is dried mix or pelleted foods. Many guinea pig owners choose not to feed a commercial pellet or mix and their guinea pigs maintain good health with no issues caused due to the lack of a dry food diet. Where a dry food is being fed it should be as part of the overall diet as opposed to looking at it on its own, for example feed less of a high Protein pellet than low one. Other factors to be taken into consideration are here : http://www.guineapigwelfare.org.uk/guinea-pig-care/diet/dry-food-facts/
  • Water is very important to the diet and a guinea pig that does not have access to fresh water may not be eating enough. Fresh water, changed daily, must always be provided.