Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Guinea Pig Dry Food

There are tons of brands out there. Some have nuts, some don’t. Some have fruit bits, some have this hay, that hay, blue flakes, red flakes, and everything in between. After doing a lot of reading, I found the right food for my piggie.

Most of the cheaper brands are flashy. These are the foods we want to buy because they look good and taste good to the piggies, but unfortunately they are the ones to stay away from. These foods are usually a mixture of pellets, colorful pieces (flakes or pellets), nuts, seeds, and/or fruit bits.

So, what is it that guinea pig dry food should look like? A bag full of pellets and nothing else is the best way to go. The seeds and nuts in mixture foods are high in fat. Often times the mixtures include sunflower seeds. Be aware! Sunflower seeds in the shell are dangerous, not just because of high fat content, but because the shells splinter into sharp pieces that can cut and get stuck in your piggie’s mouth and throat. Sunflower seeds in the shell are often included in guinea pig treats as well, so be sure to look them over before purchase. The colorful pieces are usually just puffs, which are not nutritionally bad. However, there is the concern of artificial coloring. And, in general, when given a choice between healthy pellets and tasty fruity bits or treat-like seeds and puffs, your piggie will probably turn to what tastes best and miss out on the nutrition they need.

Last but not least, there remains the question of Ascorbic Acid, aka Vitamin C. Guinea pigs have a mutated gene that prevents them from converting glucose to ascorbic acid. Basically, like humans, guinea pigs can’t synthesize their own Vitamin C. In order to ward off scurvy, diet must provide it. Most guinea pig dry foods claim to have added Vitamin C. The problem is, it loses its potency over time. You must be careful to check the expiration date on the package, as the added Vitamin C is only active for 3 months after the pellets were produced, provided it has not been exposed to high heat or other conditions that would break it down faster. Even so, the best way to provide your piggie with their 15-25 mg per day of Vitamin C is through fresh foods. While oranges and kale are very high in Vitamin C and great for your piggie every now and again, oranges are highly acidic and kale makes gas. The best fresh veggie to keep your piggie Vitamin C’d up is bell pepper. While red, orange, and yellow peppers contain more Vitamin C than the regular green, 1/8 to 1/4 of a bell pepper per day is the perfect veggie (in addition to others such as romaine lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, or peapods!). If you feel you need a liquid or pill Vitamin C supplement, do your research. Never add it to drinking water! There is no guarantee your piggie will drink enough, and it also loses its potency fast. Still, fresh foods, if fed correctly, eliminate the need for supplements.

Never feed a guinea pig dry food made for rabbits! Though the pellets look similar, rabbits can make their own Vitamin C. Thus, the pellets do not contain any.

How can you refuse?
How can you refuse?

The good to the bad

Oxbow Cavy Cuisine

We’ll start off with my number one favorite and recommendation. Not only does my piggie love it, it’s one of the best foods out there. It’s made from high-fiber timothy hay, not alfalfa. This is a must for mature guinea pigs, ie, 9 months to 1 year and older. Alfalfa is fatty and rich, and in older pigs it leads to weight gain and health problems like diarrhea. Cavy Cuisine also does not use chemical preservatives, artificial colorings, animal fat, or corn. It has a balanced calcium-to-phosphorus ratio for a healthy urinary system. But what I like most about Cavy Cuisine is that it contains a stabilized form of Vitamin C with a 12-month shelf life. Although I still like to adhere to the “buy the freshest pellets possible because Vitamin C potency goes down”, it is one extra way to ensure that your piggie gets plenty of Vitamin C. Oxbow also makes Cavy Performance, made with alfalfa for young, pregnant, or lactating piggies.

Kleenmama’s Hayloft Timothy Choice Pellets

Another excellent food. This is a high-fiber timothy-based pellet with the correct calcium-to-phosphorus levels and a high amount of stabilized Vitamin C. This brand also contains none of the harmful preservatives or artificial colorings. From researching the website, this is a brand I would like to try in the future, as she grows and sells a variety of hays depending on the season. An alfalfa-based pellet is also available.

Sweet Meadow Timothy Guinea Pig Pellets

A timothy-based pellet with an Oxbow-similar 12-month shelf life stabilized Vitamin C, this food is also a great choice. Optimum calcium for a healthy urinary system Sweet Meadow also produces a Timothy/Alfalfa mix pellet, which luckily contains for timothy than alfalfa.

Burgess Excel Guinea Pig

According to their site, Burgess Excel is the UK’s number 1 vet-recommended food for fibrevores. High in fiber (36 %), the crunchy nuggets, not pellets, come in Regular flavor and Blackcurrant and Oregano. It also has a high Vitamin C content and counts among its first 10 ingredients grass, hay, and peas. In fact, the only reason I would be hesitant about this food is that those first 10 also include lucerne (another name for alfalfa) and maize (corn). Corn in guinea pig food is just like corn in cat or dog food: a filler with no nutritional value. Regardless, reviews from users are always fantastic, speaking of its fresh scent and their healthy piggies. Plus, Burgess is an established, trusted brand.

ZuPreem Nature’s Promise Premium Guinea Pig Food

At first glace, this seems a winner: natural, made from timothy hay, and not as expensive. Unfortunately, after timothy hay the next two highest ingredients are ground corn and corn gluten meal, which as stated above are fillers and useless. Okay Vitamin C, if it is fresh. Final thought: while there is definitely worse you could be feeding your piggie, there certainly is better.

Health Select Natural Guinea Pig Diet

Though containing alfalfa-based pellets, this mixture food does contain timothy hay. Plus, it’s free from preservatives, artificial colorings, and flavors. And, though a mixture, it does not have the treat pieces found in other foods. The food provides adequate Vitamin C, so all in all, it’s a decent cheaper brand. But, because it’s alfalfa based, you’ll want to keep on eye on your piggie’s weight and feces.

LM Animal Farms Bonanza Gourmet Diet Guinea Pig Food

The Bonanza version of LM’s dry food is a nice surprise. The pellets are still alfalfa-based, but timothy hay is an ingredient. And though it does have added dried fruit and such, the ratio of treats to pellets is not that bad. Like the Health Select Natural, it would be an okay food, but recommend mixed with a higher quality like Oxbow or Kleenmama’s.

Vitakraft Menu Guinea Pig

While I am usually a fan of Vitakraft products, this guinea pig food is a let-down. Low in fiber, alfalfa-based, and containing a mixture of things including extremely hard, impossible to chew dried corn kernels and peas in addition to little treats, it’s not the food to choose. That doesn’t rule out Vitakraft in general, however, a Germany-based company that produces excellent treats, hay, and raw-based diets.

Sun Seed Sunaturals Natural Guinea Pig Food

An alfalfa-based mixture food with high corn content and relatively-low Vitamin C content.

Sun Seed Sunscription Vita Prima Guinea Pig Formula

Also an alfalfa-based mixture food with lots of corn.

Kaytee Timothy Complete Guinea Pig

A pelleted, timothy-based food with an unfortunate low Vitamin C content. While there are no treats mixed in, my worry is the preservative ethoxyquin, one of the most debated preservatives used in dog foods.

Kaytee Fiesta Guinea Pig

An alfalfa-based mixture food. Okay in fiber, but contains a whole lot of dried fruits and nuts your piggie only needs as treats. Contains ethoxyquin.

Nutriphase Guinea Pig Formula

Alfalfa-based pellet formula with high corn content and quite low Vitamin C. Contains ethoxyquin.

Nutriphase Gold Guinea Pig Formula

Pretty much the same as the non-Gold version, except it includes some timothy hay, peas, and crunchy treats. Contains ethoxyquin.

Supreme Pet Foods Gerty Guinea Pig Original Food (the real stuff)

A mixture food with tons of alfalfa (3 different forms!), low vitamin content (many users report dull coats, among other thing), and lots of treats and crunchy bits for your piggie to sift through, this food affords for a picky piggie. It also contains the preservative BHT.

Gerty Guinea Pig (the bulk stuff)

Often pet stores will buy various foods in bulk, package them themselves in plastic bags, and sell it. Guinea pig dry food is sometimes labeled as Gerty Guinea Pig. This stuff is even worse than the real stuff. From the long time it sits on the shelf and the air exposure, the vitamin content goes down quickly and the food becomes stale. It is usually full of treats. Preservatives vary.

Kaytee Exact Rainbow Guinea Pig

Instead of a pellet or nugget, this food is made up of crunchy, rainbow-colored logs and circles. That in itself is a turn-off for me as a pet food buyer. Think of all the artificial colorings! Besides that, it’s alfalfa-based and full of preservatives. Contains ethoxyquin.

Mazuri Guinea Pig Diet

Much like ZuPreem, this pelleted food looks good: no treats, and a high Vitamin C content. It even says it uses a stabilized form of Vitamin C that lasts longer. But the alfalfa-based nature of the food and the addition of animal fat preserved with BHA makes it a no-go.

8 in 1 Essential Blend for Guinea Pigs

An alfalfa and corn-based mixture food with lots of seeds, nuts, alfalfa, and crunchy treats.

8 in 1 Ecotrition Organic Guinea Pig Food

Interestingly enough, the 8 in 1 organic food would appear to be less beneficial. Though true that the alfalfa and veggies used are USDA-certified organic, the Vitamin C content is low. Regardless, it’s just another mixture food with a fancy label.

LM Animal Farms Guinea Pig Food

With alfalfa-based pellets and a lack of vegetable ingredients save soybean, there really isn’t any point to buying this food unless you can use it for crafts.

LM Animal Farms Vita Vittles Gold Total Diet for Guinea Pigs

Similar to the normal LM Animal Farms food, there’s really no reason to buy this pellet. In addition to the alfalfa pellets, it includes some veggie bits and ethoxyquin.

Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health Guinea Pig Food

A basic alfalfa pellet with preservatives.

Kaytee Supreme Daily Blend Guinea Pi Diet

A basic alfalfa pellet containing ethoxyquin.

The bottom line

Just as you would for any pet, be conscious of what you are feeding your piggie. Look for timothy hay-based pellets for adult guinea pigs without added nuts, seeds, crunchy bits, or dried fruits. Alfalfa for adult piggies can cause weight gain, kidney stones, bladder stones, or calcium crystals in their urine. Read the ingredients to check for preservatives such as BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin. These may cause health problems like dry skin, allergic reactions, and dental disease, as well as stimulate harmful effects on liver and kidney functions. And even though good quality, Vitamin C rich pellets like Obxow, Kleenmama, Sweet Meadow, and Burgess cost a little more than the others, it’s well worth it for the health and happiness of your piggie.

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