Guinea pigs are among the most popular indoor pets, especially in households with children.
Healthy guinea pigs, also called cavies, can be very social and playful with their owners. They communicate by squealing and demonstrate their happiness by “popcorning” (bouncing in the air).
But as with many pocket pets, guinea pigs must be adequately cared for to ensure they live a full and healthy life.
What is poisonous to guinea pigs?
Guinea pigs are herbivores; therefore, they cannot eat anything derived from animals, nor can they be fed certain fruits, vegetables, and household plants due to their toxicity to cavies.
Concerning toys, any item with a finish (paint, lacquer, varnish, wax) that can be chewed off and ingested or with small pieces that can be bitten off and choked on, should be avoided.
Because of their natural behavior, guinea pigs will try to eat anything that will fit in their mouths and will chew on anything in their cages.
There is no way to train them out of this behavior, so it is best to adapt to them. Read on to find out what is poisonous to guinea pigs, as well as the foods and toys that you should avoid giving them to help ensure that they live healthy lives.
What Foods are Poisonous to Guinea Pigs?
The best pet owners are ones who take the time to learn about their animals, including their feeding habits and playing behavior.
Guinea pigs are part of the rodent family, and they are the domesticated descendants of wild guinea pigs that roamed the forests and grasslands of South America, foraging for grasses and other wild greens for sustenance.
Their nickname, cavy or cavies, comes from their scientific name, Cavia porcellus.
There are four critical facts to know about the eating habits of guinea pigs:
- They are instinctual foragers, meaning that digging and scrounging is in their DNA.
- Their teeth are continually growing, so their diet must consist of highly fibrous foods to help wear down their teeth naturally. Otherwise, they can have serious dental problems.
- They are voracious eaters that lack any sense of what they can and cannot eat. They will happily munch on a toxic food, utterly oblivious to the fact that it can kill them.
- They will chew on anything and everything they can get their little paws on.
With these characteristics in mind, guinea pig owners must be aware of the many foods that are harmful to the animal.
Ingesting some of these will cause temporary digestive problems, while others are highly toxic to cavies and may lead to severe illness or even death.
Here are some foods that are known to be poisonous to guinea pigs, broken down into categories:
Fruits & Vegetables
Contrary to what you may think, not all fruits and vegetables can be fed to guinea pigs, even though they are natural foods.
As a general rule, fruits may be given (except bananas) to guinea pigs in small amounts (a tablespoon or two) several times a week as treats – but be sure to remove the seeds.
Fruits that are high in natural sugar will do your cavy more harm than good when given in excessive amounts.
When it comes to vegetables, there are certain ones that you must avoid feeding your guinea pig at all costs. These include the following:
- Dried beans, corn, and peas
- Iceberg lettuce
- Rhubarb and its leaves
- Sweet peas
Seeds, Grains, and Nuts
This is another category of foods that are seemingly harmless because they are natural, but can be poisonous to guinea pigs and should be avoided:
- Cereals of any kind
- Seeds of any kind
Household and Garden Plants
Even though guinea pigs foraged for grasses and greens in the wild before they were domesticated, there are a variety of household and garden plants that are highly toxic for them.
There is an understandable temptation to feed leaves and clippings to cavies, but even if the plants are not poisonous themselves, they can have any traces of pesticides or herbicides on them that can harm your guinea pig when consumed.
Avoid feeding the following household and garden plants to your guinea pig:
- Lilies of any kind
- Shrubs, especially hemlock and privet
Man-Made Foods (Processed)
When it comes to toxicity, processed foods may be the most dangerous of all to guinea pigs.
For families with young children, special attention must be given to ensure that the little ones are not sharing their toddler snacks with their furry little friend.
The following are particularly poisonous for guinea pigs:
- Biscuits and crackers
- Chocolate of any kind
- Dairy products
- Peanut butter
- Potato chips
- Pickled foods of any kind
- Sugary foods
Additionally, foods derived from animals should never be fed to guinea pigs as they are strictly herbivores and cannot correctly digest animal material.
Furthermore, guinea pigs tend to overeat, which can lead to flatulence, obesity and heart ailments, so it is essential to remove uneaten food from their cage. More information is available in our article here.
What Foods are Safe to Feed my Guinea Pig?
The primary staple of healthy guinea pig’s diet is hay, specifically Timothy hay, which provides essential roughage and nutrients. Guinea pigs also need vitamin C, which can be provided to them in the form of specially formulated guinea pig pellets.
The occasional safe fruits and vegetables will round out a well-balanced diet to keep your cavy healthy and well-fed.
Can Any Foods Kill Guinea Pigs Instantly?
We try our best to remember and apply the task of avoiding toxic foods that will hurt or threaten the life of our cavies. We know that their sensitive GI tract cannot handle many foods like chocolate, avocado, onions and garlic.
An instant death after consumption of toxic substances might not occur however, The pain and slow deterioration could lead to death if a vet doesn’t intervene as soon as possible.
Any foods that are laced with high concentrations of pesticides, insecticides, medications, chemicals cleaners and other non-food items may cause immediate death.
Xylitol is a sugar replacement sweetener found in gum and many other foods. A high dosage of xylitol consumed by your guinea will instantly spike their insulin and drop their blood sugar levels at an alarming rate. Hypoglycemia or instant death can result.
What Toys Should be Avoided?
Not only are guinea pigs voracious eaters, but they also love to chew things. This is a necessary behavior considering that their teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime.
Chewing, biting, and gnawing on toys helps keep their teeth length in check and prevents future dental problems.
Because of these instincts, however, the pet owner needs to ensure that only cavy-safe toys are placed in the cage.
Guinea pigs are naturally playful, and keeping them active is key to their health and well-being. If you have a guinea pig, toys are a must.
Here are a few helpful guidelines when choosing safe toys for your guinea pigs:
- Avoid toys that are finished with paint, varnish, stain, or lacquer, as these are harmful substances that can be ingested by your guinea pig when biting, chewing, or gnawing on them.
- Avoid toys that are assembled with glue, which may be toxic if ingested, or held together with small staples or nails, as these may also be ingested or choked on.
- Avoid toys that have small parts that can be bitten off because they may pose a choking hazard for your guinea pig.
- Avoid toys with plastic components since little pieces can be chewed off and swallowed (even if the plastic itself is nontoxic, it may cause injury passing through the guinea pig’s digestive system).
Are There Toys that are Safe for my Guinea Pig?
When it comes to safe toys to occupy and entertain your little friend, there are plenty of options available. The most important thing to remember is that these toys will be bitten, chewed, and gnawed on from the moment you place them in the cage with your guinea pig.
It is safe to assume that whatever material the toys are made from will eventually find their way into your cavy’s mouth.
Natural fiber balls are great for guinea pigs, as are natural chew toys of various shapes and sizes.
Final Thoughts on Guinea Pig Care
While guinea pigs can provide endless entertainment and even companionship to a loving owner or family, they do require a certain level of responsibility in their feeding and care.
In particular, a guinea pig owner needs to be acutely aware of what can and cannot be fed to cavies.
Knowing their unique dietary needs will ensure that your guinea pig will live a full and healthy life while providing you the joys of guinea pig ownership along the way.