Guinea pigs can have problems with obesity just as any other pet (or human) can. Obesity puts a guinea pig at risk for cardiac, skeletal or other problems, and these problems are compounded as the pig ages. Increased fat deposits in the chest cavity put a strain on heart and lungs; increasing their already stocky build puts even more strain on the joints in their limbs and can lead to or exacerbate painful arthritis.
Recognizing weight problems
Adult guinea pigs should be vaguely pear-shaped when viewed from above – their back end should definitely be bigger than their shoulders. You should be able to see their feet when they walk, and their belly should definitely clear the ground when they walk. A fat guinea pig may become less active as it is difficult to carry all that weight around.
What to do
Preventing overweight pigs is obviously the best choice, but if you do have a chubby guinea pig, there are several things you can do.
First, take the pig to your exotics veterinarian. Proper weight in many small pets depends upon their age, their medical condition(s) and their genetics. Your veterinarian will be able to assess all the various factors involved and advise you as to the proper weight for your particular cavy. Your veterinarian will also advise you as to any special dietary needs or health problems evident in your pet.
Cut down on the guinea pig pellets
The number one contributing cause for fat little pets are those darn food pellets. Originally developed as cheap, easily dispensed rations for lab animals, pelleted food does not require much chewing at all, and thus it is very easy for your pet to consume a great many pellets in a small amount of time. A few rare pets can be allowed to free feed on pellets, but even these paragons of self-control may require pellet-rationing as they age and their metabolism slows.
A note of caution
Guinea pigs must have a daily dose of vitamin C, as unlike other small pets they are not able to manufacture this vitamin. High quality pellets are fortified with Vitamin C, so when decreasing the amount of pellets, you must supplement their diet with produce high in Vitamin C (this is not a bad idea anyway). Citrus fruits are, of course, high in vitamin C, but can cause mouth irritation in some pigs. Red bell peppers, parsley and papaya are good sources of vitamin C and yet are not highly acidic. Spice Rack and Bulk Foods at the 2nd Street Market has very reasonably priced dried papaya that your guinea pig would love.
Hay, hay and more hay
Guinea pigs must have a constant source of plant fiber in order to keep their digestive system in good health and running smoothly. Hay is the perfect plant roughage for the guinea pig gut, and keeps their teeth worn down to boot. Guinea pigs have those aradicular teeth, meaning their teeth grow constantly and must be worn down by grinding. Eating hay requires just such grinding, keeps them entertained, and should be available to the pig 24/7.
Good quality timothy hay should be the mainstay of the guinea pig diet (alfalfa hay is too high in calories and calcium for a healthy adult pig, contributing to both obesity and bladder stones). Limited pellets and some vitamin C-containing produce should also be given.
Keeping your guinea pig’s weight at the appropriate level will go a long way towards ensuring a happy and healthy life for your pig.
Coco (pictured) is a young, adoptable female guinea pig. Look how glossy her coat is! No obesity here, this healthy guinea pig can be adopted from Friends of Noah in Amelia, Ohio, less than an hour south of Dayton. Her friend Luna (peeking in at the corner of the photo) can also be adopted.
More help for the pudgy piggie
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