Can Guinea Pigs Eat Broccoli Stems (and Other Questions About Guinea Pig Diet)

guinea pig outside with kale stem - can guinea pigs eat broccoli stems

In short, guinea pigs can and do eat broccoli stems. Broccoli is very good for their digestion because it’s high in fiber and very good for their teeth because it’s a crunchy veggie that helps keep teeth worn down to a healthy size. It’s also low in sugar, which makes it a better choice than many other snacks.

The best thing about broccoli, though, is its high vitamin C content (more on vitamin C below). Broccoli actually has more vitamin C than an orange—91.3 mg per 100 grams! You don’t need to cook it—in fact, it’s better for your cavy if you don’t—and you don’t need to prepare it in any special way. Florets, stems, leaves—guinea pigs typically love it all.

If you’re introducing broccoli to your guinea pigs for the first time, give only a small amount and monitor them for any changes in their digestion. You’ll especially want to be on the lookout for bloating or signs that they’re uncomfortable. 

Too much broccoli can cause gas, which can be extremely painful for guinea pigs. Bloating can become a very serious condition, so keep a close eye when introducing this (or any new food). 

Start with a chunk that will fit in a teaspoon and if that seems to go down ok, you can slowly increase it to about a tablespoon. If you’re concerned about feeding too much, give broccoli 2-3 times a week as a special snack.

Have more questions about feeding your guinea pig? Well, follow me, because we might have the answers here.

What Do Guinea Pigs Eat?

Veterinarians Laurie Hess and Rick Axelson explain that there are two essential things guinea pigs need in their diets. “The most critical aspect of the diet of guinea pigs,” they say, “is their requirement for vitamin C.” The second essential is “unlimited amounts of hay.”

Hay is the biggest part of a guinea pig’s diet. Vets usually recommend a grassy hay like timothy or orchard grass. Grassy hay gives guinea pigs the fibre they need, as well as protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s low in calories, which helps cavies keep a healthy weight. And the constant nibbling helps keep teeth in good shape.

Like people, cavies don’t make their own vitamin C, so they need to get it from other food sources. Hay doesn’t provide enough vitamin C, however, so guinea pig owners usually feed vitamin C-fortified commercial pellets and fresh veggies. 

Even though it’s common to feed commercial pellets to guinea pigs, guinea pigs don’t really need pellets. A good commercial food will offer a balance of nutrients, including vitamin C, but it’s not difficult to create a balanced diet for a guinea pig without them.

Many fruits and veggies are high in vitamin C, broccoli included. They also have a ton of other nutrients that cavies need. The following are just some of the veggies that are good for cavies to eat on a daily basis:

  • Leafy greens such as kale, rocket, chard and Romaine lettuce
  • Bell peppers
  • Snow peas
  • Cabbage
  • Endive
  • Squashes 
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Fresh herbs like cilantro, dill, parsley and basil
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Carrots

Guinea pigs can eat any part of these veggies, including edible stems, greens and tops. Cavies also love fruit, but fruit should be a special treat (more on treats below).

To ensure guinea pigs get the right amount of vitamin C in a form they can absorb, owners will usually also feed liquid vitamin C or vitamin C tablets. That’s because vitamin C has a short shelf life, so the amount contained in enriched pellets can quickly decrease. 

Plus, it’s often too tricky to try to figure out exactly how much a guinea pig has absorbed from the veggies they’ve eaten that day, especially if someone has more than one pig.

What Foods Are Bad for Guinea Pigs?

Hess and Axelson suggest avoiding oats, seeds and nuts, as well as dry cereals because “they are too high in carbohydrates and fat.” Dried beans and peas aren’t good for cavies, either.

Onions, leeks and chives are also bad for guinea pigs, as well as mushrooms, avocados, potatoes and many garden flowers.

Legume hays like alfalfa should be avoided unless a vet recommends it. Alfalfa is very high in calcium and protein, so it’s generally too rich for guinea pigs to eat. Vets might suggest a legume hay for pregnant guinea pigs, pups or guinea pigs who are ill and need the extra calories and nutrients. For others, however, the extra calcium and protein could lead to digestive upset, kidney or bladder stones.

Guinea pigs should eat pellets that are timothy-based rather than alfalfa-based, too. Alfalfa-based pellets tend to be higher in calories, as well as calcium, and can raise the risk of bladder stones. 

Processed foods, sugary snacks, dairy and chocolate also go on the “do not feed” list.

How Much Should You Feed Your Guinea Pig?

guinea pigs eating carrots - can guinea pigs eat broccoli stems

For as excited as they get to see food, guinea pigs aren’t prone to overeating. You should leave hay out 24/7 so they can pick when they want to. 

While you’ll see many different estimates of how much hay your guinea pig should be eating, the truth is they really can’t have too much, so keep the hay rack full. Remember that hay should make up the bulk of your guinea pig’s diet, so don’t overdo it on pellets and treats and your guinea pig should eat all the hay they need.

The label on your commercial pellets will tell you how much you should be giving your guinea pig every day, but it’s common for them to get about 1/8 of a cup per day.

For vitamin C intake, 10-50mg/day is a common range. Pregnant, sick or older guinea pigs typically need more than healthy, active ones. Veterinarian Heidi Hoefer recommends 5-10 mg per day as a baseline and 25-50 mg per day when an animal is stressed, sick or pregnant.

1/2 to 1 cup of veggies daily is plenty for a guinea pig. The majority of those veggies should be leafy greens, with brightly-coloured veggies second in importance. Veggies that are high in sugar, like carrots or sweet potato should be fed less often. Other veggies that are high in oxalates, like spinach and parsley, should be fed sparingly to reduce the risk of bladder stones.

Give fruit in small amounts a few times a week. A few tablespoons of a fruit (the equivalent of an orange wedge or a few blueberries, for example) is lots.

What Are Some Signs of Nutritional Deficiency?

If your guinea pig gets unlimited hay, pellets and a big variety of veggies, they’re probably not going to be malnourished. That said, signs that your feeding program isn’t giving your cavies the right nutrition include coarse fur, weight loss, digestive upset, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite and loss of energy. 

Any of these could also be signs that something else is going on, however. Talk to your vet if your cavy experiences these symptoms.

Hess and Axelson describe the signs of vitamin C deficiency. They say a “guinea pig that has a rough hair coat, is off food, has diarrhea, is reluctant to walk, perhaps appears to be painful, has swollen feet or joints, or has hemorrhages and ulcers on its gums or skin, is likely to be deficient in vitamin C.” They recommend taking your pig to the veterinarian if you notice any of those signs.

What Are Some Good Treats for Guinea Pigs?

Like many mammals, piggies tend to have strong preferences, so they will tell you what counts as a treat to them. Many guinea pigs love herbs like basil, cilantro and mint. Dandelion greens are a popular treat, as are nasturtiums. Carrots are some cavies’ absolute favourites.

Fruit is a good bet, although like many treats, too much isn’t good for them. The sugar in fruit can cause diarrhea, but in moderation, fruits that are high in vitamin C (like citrus fruits) are an especially good choice. 

Store-bought snacks often aren’t good for cavies because they’re too high in fat and sugar and contain low-quality, artificial ingredients. They also tend to be expensive, so save your money and prepare a tiny salad of fresh herbs instead.

Feature image: Ajale; Image 1: Bonnie Kittle