Swiss chard is one of the healthiest vegetables around, packed with vitamins and minerals that have countless benefits for your body. But is it just as healthy for guinea pigs too?
As a general rule, all colors of Swiss chard are safe to feed guinea pigs in small quantities. This veggie is very high in oxalic acid, so feed it sparingly!
Oxalic acid (also known as oxalates) can be dangerous to guinea pigs, so it’s important to feed this leafy green in the appropriate quantities.
I’ll take a deeper dive into the hazards and benefits of feeding Swiss chard to guinea pigs throughout the rest of this article.
*Important Note: The quantity of Swiss chard shown in the photos is for visual purposes only and not indicative of the correct amount to feed your guinea pig in one serving.
Nutritional Value of Swiss Chard for Guinea Pigs
Swiss chard is a very nutrient-dense leafy green with a lot to offer humans and guinea pigs alike. The table below lists the nutritional data of Swiss chard per 100 grams:
|Nutrient||Amount (per 100g)|
|Vitamin C||30 mg|
|Vitamin A||6120 IU|
|Vitamin E||1.89 mg|
|Vitamin K||830 µg|
Benefits of Feeding Swiss Chard to Guinea Pigs
As you can see from the table above, Swiss chard is extremely nutrient-rich, containing a vast array of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients can have countless benefits for your furry potato’s health.
Swiss Chard is Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
One of the greatest benefits of Swiss chard is its vast assortment of vitamins and minerals. It contains a good amount of fiber, which feeds the good bacteria in the gut and keeps the digestive system in good working order. It’s also low in fat and calories, making it an excellent weight-loss food.
Chard is extremely rich in Vitamin K, which is essential for healthy blood clotting and good bone health.
It’s also loaded with Vitamin A, which is crucial for good vision and eye health.
Additionally, swiss chard is an excellent source of minerals, including magnesium, copper, potassium, iron, and manganese.
It also contains Vitamin E, which helps give your guinea pig healthy skin and soft, silky fur.
Swiss chard is also a reasonable source of Vitamin C. It contains 30mg of this vitamin per 100 grams or 14.4mg per 1 large leaf. This is higher than some commonly fed vegetables such as cucumber, which contains a meager 2.8mg of Vitamin C per 100 grams. However, swiss chard is much lower than sweet yellow peppers for example, which contain a whopping 184mg of this vitamin per 100 grams.
Guinea pigs require an average of 20-30mg of Vitamin C per day to keep their immune system strong and prevent deficiency-related diseases such as scurvy. This means that Swiss chard does not contain quite enough Vitamin C on its own to fulfill this requirement, but it can contribute to the amount when fed alongside other high Vitamin C foods.
Chard Contains Many Healthy Antioxidants
In addition to Vitamins E and C, swiss chard is abundant in many other antioxidants. Some of these include polyphenols, beta carotene, and several types of flavonoid antioxidants such as quercetin, kaempferol, rutin, and vitexin.
Many of these have powerful anti-cancer properties, and beta carotene in particular is excellent for eye health.
In addition, several flavonoid antioxidants can be beneficial for heart health by helping to lower inflammation and reduce blood pressure naturally.
Antioxidants also help the body by targeting and neutralizing free radicals internally. These hazardous compounds attack and damage cells, putting the body at risk of oxidative stress.
This condition accelerates aging and greatly increases the risk of countless chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Providing plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies can reduce many of these risks by keeping the free radicals in check.
Risks of Feeding Your Guinea Pig Swiss Chard
Although Swiss chard has many great benefits, there are some things you should know before feeding this leafy green to your guinea pigs regularly.
Swiss Chard is High in Oxalic Acid
Swiss chard is one of the highest foods in oxalic acid, containing up to 700mg per 100 grams. Chard comes from the same family as spinach, which is also very high in oxalic acid. The high level of oxalates is by far the biggest risk to feeding Swiss chard to your guinea pig.
Oxalates can be hazardous to your guinea pig for several reasons. First of all, they can cause kidney stones, which are painful for guinea pigs and often requires surgical intervention.
In addition, oxalic acid can cause renal failure in large quantities or if oxalate-rich foods are fed consistently over a period of time. Both of these conditions can be potentially fatal to piggies.
Oxalic acid is also referred to as an “anti-nutrient” since it binds with and prevents the absorption of certain beneficial nutrients, such as iron. This can cause deficiencies and related problems in other areas of the body as well.
Oxalates can also cause diarrhea or bloat – the latter of which can be dangerous for piggies.
The risk of bloat can be greatly reduced by introducing Swiss chard into your guinea pig’s diet gradually. It’s also important to ensure that your piggies have constant access to hay to reduce any gassiness in the body.
Guinea pigs have small bodies and thus should not consume more than 50 grams of oxalates per day. It is quite easy to exceed this limit when feeding Swiss chard. One large leaf (48 grams) works out to approximately 336mg of oxalic acid.
Keep in mind that a large percentage of oxalates are found in the stem of Swiss chard. By cutting the stem off and feeding only the leafy part of the chard, you can decrease this number to a safer amount.
Common Vegetables and Amount of Oxalic Acid (per 1 cup)
Calcium Content in Swiss Chard
Swiss chard contains a moderately high amount of calcium at 51mg per 100 grams. In comparison, romaine lettuce comes in at 35mg of calcium per 100 grams, and parsley exceeds them both at 138mg of calcium.
As you can see, swiss chard sits in the middle of the spectrum, but it is still on the high end for most adult guinea pigs.
However, because this veggie is also high in oxalates, the oxalic acid binds to some of the calcium and prevents it from being absorbed into the body.
This makes the calcium content less of a concern over the high oxalate levels. Both calcium and oxalate can contribute to stone formation in guinea pigs, so it’s important to be cautious of foods containing high levels of one or the other.
Potential Allergic Reactions
Like other foods, there is always a chance that your guinea pig is allergic or has a bad reaction to Swiss chard. This is rare, but it’s always important to introduce new foods gradually and keep an eye on your guinea pig in case they have an adverse reaction.
How Often Can Guinea Pigs Eat Swiss Chard?
It’s best to feed Swiss chard to your guinea pig no more than once a week. Offer about half a leaf per guinea pig with most of the stem removed.
Due to the high levels of oxalates, it is not safe to feed Swiss chard to your guinea pig every day.
Oxalates are linked to many issues, including kidney stones, bloat, and renal failure. Guinea pigs have very small bodies, so their oxalate intake should be limited.
High oxalate foods like Swiss chard and spinach are not the best veggies to include in your guinea pig’s regular weekly diet.
Swiss chard also contains a decent amount of calcium, so avoid feeding it at the same time as other high-calcium foods like parsley, collard greens, and bok choy. Some good options to rotate with Swiss chard are foods low in calcium and oxalates like zucchini, apples, strawberries, and endive.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Red Swiss Chard?
Guinea pigs can eat all varieties of chard, including red Swiss chard. Red chard has a similar taste and nutrient profile as regular white-stemmed green chard.
However, red chard is slightly higher in oxalic acid, so avoid feeding it frequently or in large quantities.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Rainbow Swiss Chard?
Rainbow chard is not a variety of Swiss chard. Rather, it is 3 types of Swiss chard packaged together, typically including green, red, and golden chard.
All varieties are safe for guinea pigs to eat, so rainbow Swiss chard is a good option for guinea pigs.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Swiss Chard Stems?
Swiss chard stems are crunchy with a more bitter taste than the earthy flavor of the dark green leaves.
Some guinea pigs like the flavor and texture of the stems, sometimes even more than the leaves themselves.
While it is safe to feed Swiss chard stems to your guinea pig, it’s best to avoid them. The stems contain a higher concentration of oxalates than the leaves, which is not great for piggies.
If your guinea pig likes chewing at the chard stem, you can let them have a few nibbles, but they shouldn’t eat the entire stem.
Do Guinea Pigs Like Swiss Chard?
Most guinea pigs love leafy greens and will often start nibbling on Swiss chard pretty quickly. However, they may nibble on it a bit and then leave the rest.
This is quite normal for guinea pigs, so leave it in the cage for a while for them to finish at their own pace (be sure to remove any uneaten food after a few hours).
Swiss chard has a slightly bitter, earthy flavor that may take time for your piggies to get used to, although the taste is generally milder than kale or radicchio.
Sometimes it takes multiple tries to get your guinea pig to try a new type of food, so don’t give up too soon!
If you try it a few times to no avail, your piggies may just not like Swiss chard. All guinea pigs have their own likes and dislikes just like people. Some good alternatives to try are arugula, basil, cabbage, or even sweeter fruits like watermelon or oranges.
Can Baby Guinea Pigs Eat Swiss Chard?
Baby guinea pigs over 4 weeks old can eat tiny amounts of Swiss chard. Start with a few nibbles or rip off a small portion of a leaf for them to try.
While they can eat this veggie occasionally, swiss chard should not be a staple green to feed a baby guinea pig due to the high levels of oxalates.
Oxalic acid can inhibit the absorption of other nutrients like calcium that your young guinea pig needs for proper growth.
Ideally, Swiss chard should be limited until babies finish the bulk of their growth spurts at 4-6 months of age.
Veggies like kale are best to feed regularly during these phases of life, as it is higher in calcium, Vitamin C, and significantly lower in oxalates.
How to Prepare and Feed Swiss Chard to Your Guinea Pig
To feed Swiss chard to your guinea pig, select a healthy, brightly colored leaf that is not rotting or overly wilted. Rinse it thoroughly under cool water to remove traces of dirt, pesticides, or germs.
There is no need to chop it up into pieces, but it’s a good idea to remove most of the stem as this part is highest in oxalates.
To store your Swiss chard, keep it in a vegetable drawer in the fridge. Placing it in a perforated bag helps to preserve the freshness for as long as possible. It’s best to use up any chard within 5-7 days.
Always feed your guinea pig raw, uncooked Swiss chard. Cooked vegetables lose many of their nutrients and are also more challenging for guinea pigs to digest than raw.
How to Introduce A New Food For The First Time
If your guinea pig has never tried Swiss chard, introduce it in very small amounts. Rip off a small portion of a leaf at first to see if they like it. Many guinea pigs will take a few nibbles but may not eat the whole thing at once. Sometimes you’ll need to leave it in the cage for a while to give them a chance to eat more at their own pace.
Sometimes guinea pigs take a bit of time to adapt and try a new type of food, so if they don’t eat it right away, try it for a few more days.
It often helps to give the new veggie separately from their regular vegetables (i.e., new veggie in the morning, regular veggies at night.)
Guinea pigs are often more willing to try something if they have fewer options.
You can also try shredding the Swiss chard up very finely and mixing it with other veggies to get them used to the taste.
Keep an eye on your guinea pig for several hours after they try the new food to ensure that they are acting normal and have no signs of diarrhea or stomach discomfort.
As long as there’s no diarrhea or odd behavior, you can gradually increase the amount of Swiss chard next time. Be sure to offer no more than half a leaf at once, as this leafy green is very rich in oxalic acid.
It’s also a good idea to introduce no more than one new food at a time. This way, you can easily identify which new food is causing problems if you notice any unusual behavior from your piggy.
Fun Facts About Swiss Chard
- Despite the name, swiss chard does not come from Switzerland. It originates in the Mediterranean in Sicily, Italy. It was named by a Swiss botanist, which is where the “Swiss” part of the name comes from.
- Swiss chard is known by several different names, some of which include Roman kale, silver beet, spinach beet, sea kale beet, Sicilian beet, strawberry spinach, and leaf beet.
- Swiss chard comes in multiple stem colors, but all varieties taste the same.
- Swiss chard plants can grow up to 2 feet high in some cases.
- The chard plant is biennial, meaning it lives and grows back for 2 years when planted in a garden.
More Fruits and Vegetables That Guinea Pigs Can Eat
For a complete list of all the fruits and vegetables that guinea pigs can eat, check out our article, Complete List of Safe Foods for Guinea Pigs.