EMMA KEEBLE BVSc (Hons) Dip Zoo Med (Mammalian) FHEA MRCVS


Emma is very well qualified to deliver this veterinary webinar and her CV is amply described at the beginning. She has nearly twenty years of veterinary experience, including exclusively exotic and wildlife work since joining the Dick Vet school at Edinburgh University in 1999.

The introduction states the aims of her presentation. It is to give an overview of guinea pig nutrition of use to veterinary staff treating pet guinea pigs and includes:

  • What do we know about pet guinea pig nutritional requirements?
  • What do guinea pigs eat in the wild?
  • What are owners currently feeding pet guinea pigs?
  • Adverse effects of incorrect nutrition? Welfare aspects?

Learning aspects of the webinar recognise that guinea pigs are popular pets, yet rarely presented for routine veterinary examination in comparison with other pets. Robust scientific studies of nutritional requirements in this species are lacking. Current dietary requirements are however outlined, along with the importance of vitamin C. A significant part of the webinar deals with the adverse effects  of a nutritionally inadequate diet.

Surprisingly large numbers of guinea pigs are kept as pets. According to a 2022 Pet Food Manufacturers Association survey (PFMA) there are approximately 0.4-0.9 million pet guinea pigs in the UK, similar to the numbers for rabbits. In spite of this, little research has been done in guinea pigs and what information there is relates to animals kept under laboratory conditions.

Emma continues with some basic information about rodents, beginning with the origin of the word-from the Latin ‘rodere’ to gnaw. Dental formulae are revised and the need for a high fibre diet is emphasised to enable good dental and gastrointestinal health. Guinea pigs can digest fibre very efficiently and are faster at eating hay than rabbits, and they feed selectively less.

In the wild guinea pigs are herbivorous rodents from South America and adapt to a variety of habits from grassland, rocky terrain, forests and swamps. They are social animals living in herds. An important slide is entitled ‘What should we be feeding pet guinea pigs?

This slide is worth copying for use in the guinea pig consultation. It is followed by more general information on the need to change diets gradually, and suggestions such as scatter feeding of hay to encourage foraging behaviour and enrichment. Detail is given of average daily food and water intake, and includes an interesting observation that guinea pigs seem to prefer drinking from water bottles, although water should also be offered in bowls.

Statistics for guinea pig feeding habits based on an owner survey in the UK show that there is still a lot of work to get good feeding practice messages across to owners. For example, 27.2 % of animals are not offered ad lib hay and muesli mix diets being fed to 27.3%. The negative influences of feeding muesli diets are well known in rabbits and may be similar in guinea pigs.

The vitamin C requirements are extensively discussed in the next part, with examples of vitamin C rich food items, along with dietary fibre, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. The results of a Burgess study into the negative effects of a muesli diet in rabbits is summarised. This research resulted in widespread removal of muesli-type diets from pet shops. Similar studies are needed in guinea pigs.

The remainder of this excellent webinar looks into some of the consequences of poor nutrition in guinea pigs. These include;

  • Dental disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hypovitaminosis C (‘Scurvy’)
  • Urolithiasis
  • Poor gastrointestinal motility and obesity
  • Behaviour

Each one of the above is discussed in good detail and is followed by a list of useful references.

Emma’s conclusions are as follows:

  1. Approximately 1 in 4 pet guinea pigs are fed an inappropriate diet (no ad-lib hay, no fresh greens, or feeding a muesli -based diet. (Data from a 2020 study published in the Veterinary Record and cited in the notes)
  2. Scientifically robust studies giving evidence-based recommendations for diet and nutrition are needed to improve the welfare of pet guinea pigs

This webinar was generously sponsored by Burgess Petcare and a short session from the company follows, summarising the feeding recommendations for guinea pigs along with suitable products and educational material. As always this is well worth listening to and would go a long way to prevent the adverse effects of getting nutrition wrong