Guinea pigs: your day-to-day guide

Guinea pigs have been a firm favourite as a family pet for many years now. They are sociable creatures who depend on the companionship of other piggies but also enjoy interacting with their owners.

Your home will never be quiet again and opening the fridge door or rustling a bag will achieve as much excitement from your guinea pigs as saying “walkies” to a dog! Here are some day-to-day tips on how to care for these lovable and charming little animals.

What to feed your guinea pigs

To help your piggies live a long and healthy life, their diet should be as natural and varied as possible. Guinea pigs are herbivores who require a full belly of fibre at all times. A healthy diet should include the following:

  • Hay makes up 85% of their diet. Your guinea pig will need a constant supply of soft, long, green, sweet-smelling hay added fresh in their enclosure for them to graze on. Offer a mixture of varieties such as bales of mixed meadow hay, forage treat hay by Burgess and small amounts of timothy hay or Readigrass. Avoid short, brown or yellow, dusty smelling hay as this may harm your piggies
  • 10% of their diet should be made up of a daily ‘5 a day’ selection of safe plants and vegetables. See the list below for all the healthy fresh foods you can pick and grow
  • The remaining diet is made up of a good-quality, guinea pig pellet food

Daily fresh water is extremely important. Many guinea pigs prefer to drink from a bowl – bottles are suitable but can often leak and be tricky to clean.

Foraging wild and garden plants for your guinea pigs

Foraging for your piggies is a cost-effective and organic way of feeding them. Some forage, like stinging nettles and rose petals, can be dried out and given as treats later in the year. Other plants such as fruits, vegetables or soft leaves like mallow can be fed on the day.

How to forage safely:

  • Use suitable secateurs and garden gloves for the prickly ones!
  • Take a plant ID or forage book with you so you don’t pick dangerous plants
  • Don’t pick from areas close to roadsides or areas likely to have been toileted on by dogs and cats
  • Only pick from gardens and areas you know are free from chemicals
  • Introduce new foods slowly to avoid a bad reaction to the sudden change.

Safe wild plants:

  • Blackberry bramble
  • Burdock
  • Campion (red and white)
  • Chickweed
  • Clover
  • Cow parsley
  • Common agrimony
  • Cranesbill
  • Dandelion
  • Dead nettle (white or red)
  • Dog rose
  • Golden rod
  • Good King Henry
  • Goosegrass
  • Grass
  • Greater stitchwort
  • Ground elder
  • Groundsel
  • Hawksbeard
  • Hawkweed
  • Herb bennet
  • Herb robert
  • Mallow
  • Meadowsweet
  • Nettle
  • Nipplewort
  • Plantain (rib and broad leaf)
  • Prickly lettuce
  • Shepherd’s purse
  • Silverweed
  • Speedwell
  • Sow thistle
  • Willowherb
  • Yarrow

Safe garden plants and herbs

You can feed your guinea pigs plenty of different garden plants and herbs when they’re in season. Here are some examples:

  • Buddleia
  • Calendula
  • Hollyhocks (leaves)
  • Lavender
  • Nasturtium
  • Roses
  • Sunflowers
  • Wallflowers
  • Wild geranium
  • Basil
  • Bay borage
  • Catnip
  • Thyme
  • Chamomile
  • Chervil
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Lemon balm
  • Lovage
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary

Twigs and shrubs

The twigs and branches of several trees are a great source of enrichment for your guinea pigs. You can put large branches inside their run and bundle up the smaller twigs and tie them to the sides of the run. Here are some examples:

  • Apple
  • Beech (not the nuts
  • Blackthorn (not the fruits)
  • Crab apple
  • Hawthorn (but remove the thorns for piggies)
  • Hazel (not the nuts)
  • Pear
  • Willow

Safe fruit and vegetables to grow or buy:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot tops
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Courgette
  • Curly kale
  • Fennel
  • Blackberries (in moderation)
  • Peppers
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomato (in small pieces)

Plants, fruits and vegetables to avoid:

Dry mixes made with lots of colourings, dried fruits and cereals can have a negative effect on your guinea pigs’ health. If the mix is made with lots of dried soft fruit or peas your guinea pigs are likely to suffer with dental or urinary problems.

Colourful treats, sticky honey based treats, salt licks and mineral blocks can all be harmful to your guinea pigs. If you’re feeding them a good quality natural diet, you won’t need any form of supplements.

Handling your guinea pigs

Most guinea pigs will wriggle or try to run away when you want to pick them up – this is completely natural. Although you can socialise with them, feed them from your hand and have them sit on your lap, they’ll always remain slightly wary of you – a potential ‘predator’.

Guinea pigs can be suitable for children, but make sure you supervise at all times to prevent the piggies being squeezed or dropped.

When choosing your guinea pigs, consider going for mature adults that are used to being handled by young children rather than starting with babies. Young guinea pigs can be extremely fast and easy to squeeze or drop, whereas a mature adult will sit happily on your lap eating some treats.

Never allow a child to carry or walk around with your guinea pig in their arms. Encourage them to sit on the floor with a blanket on their lap for the guinea pig to sit on. This way, if your guinea pig moves, there’s no risk of a fall injury.

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