Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

How is a guinea pig like a pirate?

Avast, ye scurvy dogs! Don’t be feeding the wrong diet or yer guinea pig can end up with scurvy!

It’s true! Guinea pigs are unique in the rodent world in that they require a daily source of vitamin C, just like people! Lack of vitamin C in the diet leads to a condition called scurvy. You may recall that sailors in earlier times also didn’t get vitamin C, having no access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and so pirates also got scurvy.

Guinea pigs with scurvy may have bleeding, swollen joints, and dental disease. To prevent scurvy, be sure your pet gets options from these food sources that are high in vitamin C:

Guinea pig-specific pellets: A high-quality pellet ensures that your guinea pig gest enough vitamin C every day. Greens and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens (collard, turnip, mustard and dandelion), kale, and parsley and Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli.
We do not recommend using water supplements for providing vitamin C to your guinea pig because they have the potential to denature and make the water taste bad. Commercial guinea pig treats containing vitamin C probably are not necessary as long as your pet gets a good, pelleted diet and some fresh veggies.

Nutrition plays a major role in the health and longevity of any animal. A guinea pig receiving a proper diet may have a life span of 6 to 9 years.

The basic guinea pig diet includes:

A high-quality grass hay (including timothy, orchard, meadow, oat, rye, barley, or Bermuda grasses) accounts for 70% of the diet and should always be available. Do not feed alfalfa hay to guinea pigs older than 4 months of age; its high calcium and protein content may lead to kidney and bladder stones as well as obesity.
A high-quality grass hay pellet (1/8 cup per day for adults) will ensure that your guinea pig receives a full complement of vitamins and minerals that may not be available in a dried grass hay. Do not choose pellets that also contain seeds, dried fruits/veggies, and nuts.
Fresh produce (½-1 cup per day) provides a wide variety of micronutrients and water to the diet and will be fun for them to eat. The majority should be dark leafy greens and lettuces. Give only small amounts of vegetables (especially those associated with gas production, e.g., Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli). Fruits should make up the smallest portion of the salad as they are high in sugars, which can lead to diarrhea. When introducing produce items to your guinea pig’s diet, offer one new kind at a time and slowly introduce others.

Most treats available at pet stores have high fat content. Choose one that is composed of fresh herbs and grass hays. Produce items, such as carrots or blueberries, can be used as treats. In addition, one or two plain Cheerios are can be used sparingly as treats.

These foods are TOXIC to guinea pigs!


Dr. Michelle Borsdorf is boarded in the specialty of zoological medicine. She joined the faculty at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine last fall, where she is part of the zoological medicine service in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

College of Veterinary Medicine – Veterinary Medicine at Illinois