Choosing the best pellets for your Guinea Pigs

Choosing the best pellets for your Guinea Pigs

Choosing the best pellets for your Guinea Pigs

This week I went on a mission – to find the best pellets on the Australian market for our beloved guinea pigs. I am just like you (an Aussie fur-parent) who often walks into a pet shop or supermarket, and feels overwhelmed by all the different options available on the shelf! Ask yourself, have you ever picked up a bag of piggy pellets, looked at the nutritional information and ingredients on the back, become very confused and unsure, and put the bag back down? Does the one with the bright colours, cute photo on the front, or variety of textures help decide which one makes it home?

We all want what is best for our piggies, providing them with all the nutrients they need to keep them happy and healthy, whilst also keeping it tasty and affordable. Let’s go and have a look at the options available in my local area and break down Guinea Pig Nutrition.

 

LET’S START WITH SOME ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY

Guinea pigs are herbivourous animals with a very complex gastrointestinal system. They are one of the few animals who are Hindgut fermenters, which means most of their digestion occurs in the lower part of their digestive tract known as the caecum and colon, as opposed to the stomach and small intestine like many other species - Other animals who are also hindgut fermenters, include rabbits, horses, koala’s and even rhino’s! The reason why digestion occurs in the hindgut of these animals, is due to the exceptionally high fibre content of their diet – generally speaking, grains and sugars are digested by the enzymes in the foregut (stomach and small intestine) and fibre such as grass and hay is fermented by the enzymes located in the hindgut (caecum and colon). Understanding the basic anatomy and physiology of our guinea pigs is really important when considering what food we need to provide them for their optimal nutrition and digestion!

WHAT SHOULD I BE FEEDING MY GUINEA PIG?

Generally speaking, about 70-90% of a guinea pigs diet should be hay or grass, providing them with a large amount of fibre. We always recommend feeding a hay with long strands as opposed to chopped chaff as the natural chewing motion guinea pigs will do whilst eating the longer strands will aid in keeping their teeth worn to an appropriate length and avoid overgrowth and long term dental disease. Approximately 10-20%  should consist of fresh and leafy vegetables which supplies a large portion of their vitamins and minerals (check out our veggie table here). The remaining 5-10% of their diet should consist of a good quality pellet to supplement additional fibre and nutrients, and finally a small portion <5% of their diet can contain treats and fruits.

THE PELLET CONTENDERS:

First off I visited two of my local supermarkets to have a look at their range. To be honest, the range of small pet food was very limited, with a total of 3 choices:

  • BLACK AND GOLD GUINEA PIG AND RABBIT MIX
  • DUX BREEDERS RABBIT AND GUINEA PIG MEAL
  • PETERS FORAGERS FEAST

Next I visited one of our local large chain pet shop stores. Their range was much broader and included the following brands:

  • OXBOW ESSENTIALS ADULT GUINEA PIG FOOD
  • SCIENCE SELECTIVE ADULT GUINEA PIG FOOD
  • PECKISH GUINEA PIG AND RABBIT PELLETS
  • VETAFARM CAVY ORIGINS
  • WATSON AND WILLIAMS GUINEA PIG AND RABBIT PELLETS

And finally I wanted to add in an additional three types of popular pellet brands that are available for purchase online or through select retailers:

  • BURGESS EXCEL INDOOR GUINEA PIG PELLETS
  • BUNNY NATURE DREAM - ADULT
  • JACK RABBIT RABBIT AND GUINEA PIG PET MIX

WHAT WE NOTICE AT A FIRST GLANCE

When we look at choosing a pellet, the first and easiest thing to look for is what the food actually contains and looks like – as we know guinea pigs require high fibre in their diets, so if we see a food full of seeds and grains, this is an immediate no-no!!! These diets are often very high in fats, sugars and carbohydrates, and lack a lot of the important nutrients including fibre and vitamins that guinea pigs require for helathy digestion. High fat diets can also lead to obesity and a menagerie of other health conditions including cardiac or respiratory disease, urinary stones, bumblefoot and diabetes to name a few.

WHAT IS SELECTIVE FEEDING?

Selective feeding is when guinea pigs are offered a ‘mix’ type of food, which contains numerous different textures and ingredients, such as hay, lucerne, pellets, seeds, treats, and other ‘foraging’ type ingredients. When offered foods like this, guinea pigs (like us) will tend to pick out their favourite bits and the more tasty parts, leaving the less desirable ingredients behind. Unfortunately the ‘tasty’ parts are often higher in fat and sugar, and can often lead to various nutritional deficiencies as they are potentially leaving behind a lot of the important and more nutritional parts.

Ideally we want a pelleted diet where each pellet is uniform in size and texture, to ensure our guinea pigs are not selective feeding, and therefore receiving a balanced diet and preventing nutritional deficiencies.

WHAT SPECIES IS THE FOOD MARKETED TO?

As mentioned above, guinea pigs have a very complex digestive tract and should be provided with a food specifically formulated for them. One of the big things I noticed with the various pellet brands is a lot of them were marketed to BOTH guinea pigs and rabbits (some of which even said they were suitable for chickens and goats as well!). Even though guinea pigs and rabbits are often grouped together as similar animals and are both hindgut fermenters, they are still completely different species, and do have very different nutritional requirements.

We definitely want to choose a food that has been specifically formulated for guinea pigs with their individual species specific (and even age specific) nutritional needs in mind. Foods that are marketed to multiple species is definitely not recommended.  

LET’S LOOK AT THE NUTRITIONAL GUARANTEE

The next thing we need to do is turn the bag over and have a look at the nutritional analysis provided. Most of the higher quality foods will have a very detailed nutritional analysis, outlining the concentration of each nutrient and ingredient, including fibre, protein, fat, calcium, phosphorous, and various vitamins including Vitamin C.  

A major red flag I noticed on a lot of the different foods, was the clause ‘contains one or more of the following ingredients’, ‘may contain the following ingredients’, or ‘ingredients vary upon seasonal availability’. A lot of these foods also don’t provide as detailed of an analysis. This is extremely concerning as it means that the manufacturing of these foods and the ingredients included vary upon what is likely the cheapest and most available at the time of processing – meaning that the nutritional analysis of each bag varies each time, you will not be getting the same product each time, and there are no guarantees that certain concentrations of vitamins and minerals are provided due to the ever changing ingredients.

Manufacturing food using seasonally available ingredients generally reduces the purchase cost and makes a more affordable product for the consumer, and we can also see why those with a guaranteed nutritional analysis are slightly more expensive due to using the same recipe of ingredients each time, regardless of season and manufacturing expenses.

THE INGREDIENT LIST

Now lets turn our attention to the actual ingredients listed. Generally speaking, what we are looking for is for the first few ingredients listed to be hay or grass based and high in fibre.  What we don’t want is food that primarily contains a high cereal/grain/seed based diet.

VITAMIN C

One of the interesting nutritional facts that is specific to guinea pigs, is like humans, they are unable to make their own Vitamin C, therefore relying 100% on dietary supplementation. Guinea pigs receive most of their vitamin C through fresh vegetables and pellets. It’s important to note that Vitamin C is a very fragile vitamin and can be easily destroyed by heat, light and oxygen, and deteriorate over time, so it is important to store your pellets correctly.

Vitamin C is responsible for healthy skin, bones, teeth, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and wound healing, and a deficiency could have catastrophic health effects and a condition known as ‘scurvy’. We want to ensure the pellet we choose contains vitamin C, and specifically outlines the minimum amount present.

THE VERDICT

After assessing all of the above aspects, I created a table to compare all of the above nutritional information, and there were a few stand out brands. The below brands all contain a high fibre, uniform pellet to prevent selective feeding and nutritional deficiencies, have a guaranteed analysis, and additional Vitamin C and added other vitamins and minerals. 

  • Burgess Excel pellets 
  • Bunny Nature dream
  • Vetafarm Origins 
  • Oxbow Essentials

I hope this will help you to choose the best pellets for your piggies, and reduce some confusion next time you are faced with a shelf full of overwhelming variety!