Guinea pigs need certain basics to ensure their health and happiness in your home. There are also certain products you should never buy your guinea pig. The one discussed here can be downright dangerous to your pet, even though it's often labeled specifically for use with guinea pigs.
If you're not experienced with guinea pigs, you might think that a pellet labeled as a complete diet is all your new little piggy needs. Unfortunately, if you only feed pellets, you leave out a critical part of your pet's diet.
All adult guinea pigs need an unlimited amount of good quality timothy hay. Not only does hay act as a food, but it also makes your pet chew much more than simply eating pellets. This wears down the animal's constantly growing teeth and helps prevent dental problems.
If you have a pregnant or nursing guinea pig or a baby under a year old, feed alfalfa hay. All other piggies should get timothy since alfalfa is too rich for a regular diet and can cause health problems.
You don't need to buy a fancy type of timothy hay with herbs, dried fruit, or vegetables added. Those additions are on a par with human junk food. They have little, if any, nutritional value, and the fruit is high in sugar. Get fresh, plain, good quality hay, and feed your guinea pig vitamin-rich fresh vegetables separately.
Timothy hay also gives you many opportunities to enrich your guinea pig. I love to feed it in a variety of ways. Sometimes I stuff it into cardboard tubes saved from toilet paper rolls or fill up a small paper bag. Sometimes I clear a spot in the cages and let each of my guinea pigs have a pile of hay in which to play.
I also have a hay ball, although I took it off the roller frame that came with it because that can be dangerous for piggies. My male pig, Borat, loves to roll the ball around his cage to get the hay out.
Remember that guinea pigs, like humans, can't manufacture their own vitamin C. Choose a pellet enriched with this important vitamin, and check the date on the bag to make sure the food is fresh. Vitamin C degrades quickly, so your guinea pig's main source should be from fresh vegetables and fruits provided daily. Otherwise, your pet risks developing scurvy.
Bad: Exercise Balls (And Exercise Wheels)
Exercise balls and wheels are appropriate for some pocket pets, like rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters, but they should never, ever be used for guinea pigs. This is true even if the product is specifically labeled or marketed for guinea pigs.
Movies like "G-Force" feature guinea pigs in balls and wheels, leading viewers to think, "Wouldn't it be cute to buy one of those for my pet?" Unfortunately, that would be a huge mistake.
Piggies have a different anatomy that puts them at high risk for injury in an exercise ball or wheel. They can badly injure their backs. Also, a ball is too enclosed, with little air circulation, which can cause heat stroke. That condition is often fatal for guinea pigs.
Personally, I set up a play area for my guinea pigs on my tile floor, enclosing them with storage cube grids. They love to run free and play with the various toys I supply.
Lap time is also an important part of a guinea pig's day. Although not all piggies are cuddly, many love time out of their cage, sitting on their owners' laps. Always hold your guinea pig in a towel to protect yourself from potty accidents.