Why Guinea Pigs Can't Eat Meat & What They Need Instead

Guinea pigs can and should have variety in their diet, but they can't digest animal-based proteins.

Published July 25, 2023
Feeding your guinea pig vegetable peels

Guinea pigs have some large teeth, but they aren't made for eating meat. Their digestive systems can't handle it, either. A plant-based diet based on hay, veggies, fruits, and pellets that are formulated just for guinea pigs are all you need to keep your pet happy, full, and healthy.

Guinea Pigs Are Herbivores

Guinea pigs are herbivores by nature, meaning their diet consists solely of plant-based foods. Their digestive systems are specifically designed to break down and extract nutrients from fruits and veggies, so meat is not necessary for optimal nutrition. Hay is also a necessity, as it provides support for your guinea's teeth and gut health.

What Can Happen if Your Cavy Eats Meat

Your guinea pig's body isn't equipped to digest meat. They don't have the right enzymes to break down animal fats and proteins. If you feed meat to your guinea pig, it could cause several health issues.

  • Digestive upset: Bloating, gastrointestinal stasis (a common problem in guinea pigs), and other worrying symptoms are associated with ingesting animal products.
  • Obesity: While not an immediate concern, over time, obesity can decrease your pet's lifespan. The added cholesterol from meat products increases the chances of health problems too.
  • Too much iron: Meat has a lot of iron in it, which is good for us, but not for our cavies. Too much iron can cause our pets to develop conditions such as liver disease.
  • Heart disease: Saturated fats in animal products can lead to high blood pressure or heart problems.
  • Damage to vital organs: Because their bodies can't process animal protein, it can cause damage to all their vital organs.

What to Do if Your Guinea Pig Has Eaten Meat Products

Whether you've fed your pet some meat without knowing it was bad for them, or they've accidentally ingested something, you'll want to address it as soon as possible.

A nibble on a piece of dog kibble isn't likely to require a trip to the vet, but you should watch closely to make sure your guinea pig isn't eating meat regularly. If they do consume some, talk to your vet for advice. Let them know how much was consumed and if it was all at once, or over a period of time.

What Guinea Pigs Should Eat

Cropped hand of woman feeding carrot to guinea pig

The bulk of your guinea pig's diet should be grass hay, like Timothy hay, to help them digest food and wear down their continuously growing teeth. The rest of their regular menu should consist of high-quality, species-specific pellets and fresh veggies.

Add leafy greens like romaine lettuce as a topper or a side to your pet's meals. You can give your guinea fruits such as chopped apples, but do so in moderation since they're high in sugar.

Need to Know

Guinea pig pellets contain vitamin C, which is necessary for their health. They can't produce it on their own, so you need to make sure they're getting enough in their diet.

Can Guinea Pigs Eat Dog or Cat Food?

Even though dog food contains some veggies, it's still primarily made of meat. And while it may be suitable for dogs, it's not formulated to meet your guinea pig's specific nutritional requirements.

Because cats are obligate carnivores (they primarily eat meat-based diets) and their food is made up of more meat than dog food, cat food is even worse for your guinea pig.

Most guinea pigs don't find dog or cat food appetizing and aren't attracted to it, but they might try to nibble on dry kibble. If your Guinea pig gets a bite in, it isn't the end of the world, but keep them from snacking on your dog's or cat's food as much as possible. The best way to prevent this is to keep your other pet's bowl in an area your guinea pig can't access, and avoid free-feeding.

Quick Tip

Most owners feed their dogs at ground level. It's easier to restrict access to cat food because cats are often fed on counter top or raised areas.

What About Eggs?

Eggs are still an animal-based protein that guinea pigs shouldn't eat. A tiny amount of egg probably won't harm your cavy, but don't give them eggs with their regular food on purpose. If you want to give your guinea pig a snack, choose something from the large selection of veggies they can eat.

Focus On Giving Your Guinea Pig a Healthy Diet

Stick to the basics when you're feeding your guinea pig. They need free access to hay, and an appropriate staple diet of pelleted feed. Add veggies and a small amount of fruit to their bowl for variety. Staying in tune with your piggy's natural diet will help you keep your cavy happy and healthy.

Why Guinea Pigs Can't Eat Meat & What They Need Instead