Diet: An overall view.

In 2008 Planet Guinea sent out diet sheets to be filled in so that we could get a picture of the average pet guinea pig diet. Having had a few pigs with bladder problems here, diet has been an interesting and topical subject. Those who took part in the survey were all feeding diets too high in Phosphorus but all had adequate amounts of Vitamin C in their diet which is the vitamin that concerns many people.

The answer to a good diet is easy: feed a mature grass and hay one, this should contain everything guinea needs. But it is harder to achieve this all year round so a compromise has to be made or substitutes made available when mature grass is not available (spring and winter being the obvious times).

Where many guineas are kept it can also be difficult to feed just mature grass and hay…

In the wild guinea pigs eat dried grasses almost constantly, apart from when they are at rest of course. This aids digestion and promotes the side to side chewing action that only hay and grass can do. The grass has very little nutritional content but is high in long indigestible fibre, needed specifically for the correct dental workout and continual digestive movement. Therefore, to mimic this, domestic guinea pigs should have good hay available to them at all times.

Their hay intake should be at least the same as their body mass, to roughly measure this take some Meadow Hay and make a guinea pig sized bunch, find a container that holds this amount (i.e. hay rack, Chube or Bag of Fun) and put in enough hay for the occupants. A Large Party Bag of Fun is the right size to provide two guinea pigs with enough Meadow hay for 24 hours.

The fresh food part of the diet should consist mostly of leafy greens, as opposed to fruits and roots which are higher in Phosphorus than they are in Calcium which is the reverse of what is needed. Herbs such as Dill, Parsley and Coriander as well as Spring Greens and Kale are good sources of Calcium and lighter than the heavy Phosphorus foods so more of these are needed to achieve the correct balance. There is no such thing as bad or good foods, but there are badly balanced diets. Foods high in Calcium need to be balanced (correctly) with foods high in Phosphorus. So when high Calcium foods are fed they need to be balanced with the correct weight of a high Phosphorus food.

It is a common misconception to feed a low Calcium diet when a guinea pig has had a bladder stone operation, however, unless the stone has been tested to see if it is a ‘Phosphate’ one or a Calcium Oxalate or Calcium Carbonate one this is pointless, and unless the diet that was being fed when the stone/sludge occurred is known, again this is pointless. Stones can be the result of a high Calcium diet and also the result of a Calcium deficient diet (or high Phosphorus one). Diets deficient in Calcium can also lead to bone demineralisation (a condition seen in some Satins too, that have a problem metabolising Calcium). Dental problems can also be caused by this, if not tended to quickly and correctly dental problems remain with guinea pigs for a long time.

Protein must also be taken into consideration, a prime example of a high Protein food that is correctly balanced are the dried grasses that sold for horses. Unlike hays these grasses should be fed in measured amounts, approximately 1 handful between two guinea pigs. In some cases guinea pigs will adjust their hay intake to less when eating these grasses which are not hay replacements. As many guinea pigs suffer with kidney problems this makes it an important factor to consider when feeding.

Water can mean the difference between bladder stones forming or not. A high fluid intake (approximately 40+mls daily) will flush the bladder through well. The bladder is thought to be around 10mlsin capacity; therefore in order to flush it through 10-15mls of liquid must be given at any one time. Guinea pigs do adapt to being given water by syringe, and if only one thing can be done for a post op bladder stone guinea pig it should be to increase the fluid intake. Not all stones/sludge are diet related but all will be helped by being given 10-15mls of water at a sitting. Vegetables with high water content are no substitute for 10mls of water syringed directly and often they are high in Phosphorus- cucumber and melon being prime examples. It would take 100g/4oz of greens that are 95% water, per guinea pig at least to achieve the desired water intake on top of this they will need to be balanced with Phosphorus foods! This method of giving fluid doesn’t achieve the desired ‘flushing’ that overfilling the bladder does. It is also much less accurate.

Never give guinea pigs bottled water, these contain other vitamin and minerals leading to more imbalance. Mineral Water contains minerals as well as other ingredients; spring water contains minerals and nitrates. For more information on what is in bottled water click here.

A preparation called Uriflow has been used with success in some guinea pigs but like all treatments it is not a ‘cure all’. Contact for more information on using Uriflow. Chrissie has had some success using it on one guinea pig in particular… Read about Marble’s experience with it and his diet which, like Ratewatchers, contained no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, he ate a varied diet that was balanced correctly- i.e. varied so as to contain the correct amount of Calcium to Phosphorus.

Tinctures have also been used for guinea pigs in large doses. However it is not clear whether the prolonged use of such a large dose that is currently being recommended in some cases is curing one ailment and slowly causing death by damaging vital organs. Tinctures are alcoholic extracts (i.e. of herbs or plants) or a solution of a non volatile substance e.g. of Iodine. In order to qualify as a tincture the alcoholic extract is to have an Ethanol percentage of at least 40-60%. Ethanol is a type of alcohol. In order for someone to be legally able to recommend tinctures they must firstly be a vet and then they MUST have been trained in their use. If complimentary therapies such as this might be useful the following procedure should be followed:

Step one:

See your vet and get a diagnosis.

Step Two:

Your vet should discuss all the available treatment options with you. This may include complimentary therapies such as the use of tinctures or herbal preparations. A reputable vet will refer you to a qualified therapist if they are not qualified themselves (despite being a vet they still need to be qualified in complimentary therapies too).

Or… if you know of a qualified and recognised therapist discuss this with your vet and if they think it will be helpful they will refer you.
A veterinary diagnosis must always be sought