There are many things that are marketed for guinea pigs, but not all of them are safe or healthy. It can be a little confusing, especially when some information is conflicting. I’ve personally bought many of the things on this list when I was new to owning guinea pigs. I know it can be difficult to know what’s good and bad when you’re first starting out, so I put this list together to help you avoid making the same mistakes. I also have a bunch of healthy and safe alternative options included for each product. So, let’s dive in!
1. Honey Sticks
These treat sticks are popular in pet stores and frequently marketed to small animals, including guinea pigs. However, these are very unhealthy and can even be dangerous. These sticks are made with seeds, which pose a choking risk to guinea pigs. Seeds are also not easily digested by guinea pigs. In addition, the seeds are held together with honey or molasses – both of which are high in sugar, fattening, and can stick to your guinea pig’s teeth, causing dental problems.
The only treats I would really recommend are pea flakes or baked biscuit-type treats such as Oxbow’s brand of baked treats. My guinea pigs seem to like the barley biscuits flavor the most. However, even these are best fed in small amounts. Vegetables can be fed more frequently and contain many more nutrients than any kind of store-bought treat.
2. Yogurt Drops
Yogurt drops are one of the most timeless and popular treats you’ll see in a pet store. These contain dairy, which can cause digestive upset in guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are strict herbivores and vegans and should not have even the smallest amount of meat, dairy, or other animal by-products. These drops are also very high in sugar, which can cause all kinds of problems in guinea pigs.
Another treat you should avoid is any kind of dried fruit. Fruit is naturally high in sugar and should be fed in very small quantities to guinea pigs. However, dried fruit is even higher in sugar content. In addition, they are sticky and can get stuck in your guinea pig’s teeth.
Ultimately, you need to be careful when purchasing store-bought treats for your guinea pigs. Many are unhealthy, fattening, and filled with sugar and additives. As a general rule, it’s best to feed vegetables as treats instead.
3. Wheels and Exercise Balls
People often associate wheels with rodents and therefore assume that guinea pigs need wheels too. However, guinea pigs are actually built differently than other small animals.
Guinea pigs do not have the flexible spine that hamsters, mice, rats, and gerbils have. Because of this, they can seriously injure their back in an exercise ball or wheel. The best way to give guinea pigs exercise instead is to give them daily floor time to run around in a guinea pig-proofed room or exercise pen.
4. Many Types of Hay Racks
Hay racks can be useful to keep hay semi-contained and off the ground to avoid contamination. However, the common problem with hay racks is that they don’t allow easy access to the hay. Some have tiny slots that make guinea pigs work harder than they should to get the hay out. This is a problem because guinea pigs need to eat hay constantly to keep their gut moving and their teeth ground down.
Guinea pigs should consume hay as 80% of their food intake for a healthy balanced diet. If they cannot easily access the hay, they will probably eat less than they would if it were in a pile on the floor. Some hay racks can also be dangerous if your guinea pig gets their head stuck in them. The hay rack should also be low to the ground, so the guinea pig does not have to stretch up or stand on two legs to reach the hay.
If you find a hay rack that is safe and allows easy access to hay, it’s fine to use one. However, keep in mind that many do not meet these criteria. The best option to keep hay from spreading across your entire cage is to get a litter box or container of some sort to use as a hay box. Some people buy a plastic container, leave the lid off, and cut an entrance hole in the side.
You would put hay and bedding in there, pop it in the cage, and the guinea pigs could come and go as they please. My favorite option is to use a puppy litter box and use it for litter training and a hay box all in one.
5. Hay Balls
The most dangerous hay rack you can buy is a wire hay ball. These can be hung up on the cage or left on the floor. Aside from the regular concerns about hay racks, hay balls can be downright dangerous. I’ve seen and heard many horror stories of owners coming home to find their guinea pig’s head stuck inside a wire hay ball. This can sadly be fatal for many guinea pigs and still horribly terrifying if you manage to catch it in time. Avoid hay balls completely, and don’t let this happen to your pig.
6. Hay Stacks or Cubes (Instead of Regular Hay)
Hay stacks or compressed cubes of hay are perfectly safe for guinea pigs. As a fun and interactive chew toy. The problem occurs when people think they would be a less messy substitute for regular hay. Unfortunately, this is not a good idea for a couple of reasons.
First of all, guinea pigs need to eat a lot of hay for a balanced diet. They are foragers in the wild and need to be constantly grazing on grasses and hay. Compressed hay cubes make the guinea pigs work much harder to get their hay, so they will end up eating much less of it.
Guinea pigs have front teeth that get a lot of action from chewing these cubes, but they also have teeth far back in their mouth that are constantly growing too. Guinea pigs need to chew on long strands of hay in order to reach these back molars and file those down.
Guinea pigs that have overgrown molars can develop a condition known as malocclusion, where the teeth grow inwards, trap the tongue, and make it hard for the guinea pig to eat. If this happens, they require veterinary dental care under anesthesia, usually for the rest of their lives. So as you can see, it is very essential that guinea pigs eat long strands of hay!
Providing hay stacks in addition to unlimited piles of hay can be great and may even encourage the guinea pig to consume more hay. But compressed cubes of any kind are not suitable as a stand-alone source of hay.
7. Vitamin C Drops
If you have guinea pigs, you likely know that they need Vitamin C in their diet or supplemented in their diet. Vitamin C is essential to prevent your guinea pig from getting a common disease known as scurvy. Scurvy causes a lot of pain, weakness in the joints, and difficulty moving. This condition is also easily prevented by providing enough Vitamin C in the diet.
A common supplement sold for guinea pigs is Vitamin C drops that you add to your piggy’s drinking water. Unfortunately, this is not the best source of Vitamin C for your guinea pig. The Vitamin C content in these drops disintegrates quickly once exposed to light. This means they will start fading away the instant you add the drops to the water bottle. Unless you’re refreshing the water multiple times a day, your guinea pig likely isn’t getting much of this essential vitamin.
In addition, adding drops to a water bottle will change the flavor of the water. Guinea pigs can be quite sensitive to new flavors, and this can cause many guinea pigs to stop drinking or drink much less water than they should. This, in turn, can cause dehydration and more serious problems.
The best way to make sure your guinea pig is getting enough Vitamin C is to feed them vegetables that are high in Vitamin C. Bell peppers are one of the best veggies for Vitamin C. If you’re looking for supplements, a good one is Oxbow’s Vitamin C tabs. These are little chewable cookies that most guinea pigs love. I give my piggies half a tablet of these each day in addition to 1/4 of a bell pepper, and this does a great job of meeting their Vitamin C requirements.
8. Rabbit or Hamster Food or Anything with Nuts and Seeds
When choosing a good pellet food for your guinea pig, select something with plain pellets and choose a food that is manufactured specifically for guinea pigs. Guinea pig food has added Vitamin C, which is essential to their diet. It also contains all the other necessary vitamins and minerals that they need. Oxbow adult is my personal favorite pellet to feed. I’ve been using that food for more than 10 years with my piggies and have always had good results from it.
Avoid feeding your guinea pig any food that is marketed toward other animals, even if it looks similar. This includes rabbit and hamster food. Also, avoid festival mix foods for guinea pigs that include nuts, seeds, or any kind of colored pieces. Guinea pigs can choke on seeds and nuts, and they are also fattening. Guinea pigs also do not get any nutritional value from nuts or seeds.
Colored pieces are appealing to human eyes, but they are higher in sugar and fat. This can also cause the guinea pig to pick out the sugary pieces and avoid eating the healthier parts of the food. These types of foods tend to have more preservatives and additives than plain pellets as well.
9. Certain Types of Bedding
Bedding can be a little confusing at first. There are a few you should definitely avoid and some that require you to check the label first. The ones to definitely avoid are cedar shavings, straw, corn cob bedding, and regular cat litter. These can cause various issues such as breathing problems, eye pokes, and blockage if ingested.
Pine shavings are okay if they are kiln-dried. Be sure to check for this on the packaging before you buy it. Aspen shavings are fine to use, as well as paper-based beddings such as Carefresh and similar types. Avoid any scented beddings, as these can irritate the respiratory system.
Fleece liners are great to use in your guinea pig’s cage, but avoid using strong-smelling detergent to wash them. Many people use vinegar to wash fleece. I also like to put them on an extra rinse cycle. Also, avoid using baking soda on anything that the guinea pig will come into close contact with. Baking soda is a natural rodent poison.
Finally, make sure you are using pet-safe disinfectants to clean your guinea pig’s cage. Avoid strong-smelling chemicals or cleaning solutions for your guinea pig’s living areas.
10. Salt Licks and Mineral Stones
You may have seen salt lick rollers or pink mineral stones that are marketed toward small animals. Guinea pigs do not need these as they get all the salt and minerals they need from a healthy variety of vegetables and high-quality pellet food. They are like humans in the way that we don’t do well with too much sodium in our diet. Too much salt is bad for guinea pigs and can cause other types of health problems.
11. Small or Multi-Level Cages
Incorrect cages can also cause health problems for guinea pigs. Many cages sold in pet stores and marketed to guinea pigs are much too small. This can lead to obese and lethargic guinea pigs. The recommended size is 7.5 square feet for the first guinea pig and 2.5 square feet for each additional guinea pig. A good cage for guinea pigs is the Midwest guinea pig habitat.
You can also make your own C&C (cubes and coroplast) cage. I made mine with packs of wire grids, zip ties, and interlocking puzzle mats instead of coroplast for the bottom. I then put a waterproof floor mat on top of the puzzle mats and top them with fleece liners. Building your own cage is cool because you can build them in any shape and size that you want.
Another type of cage you should avoid is any type of multi-level cage. This includes the tall cages that are made for rats, ferrets, or chinchillas. A popular one is the critter nation cage. This is an excellent cage, but unfortunately, it’s not the best for guinea pigs.
Since guinea pigs do not climb bars in the way that rats and mice would, they cannot make proper use of these spacious cages. Guinea pigs can also injure themselves if they try to climb up one of the narrow ramps and slip off. Guinea pigs have poor depth perception, so it’s easy for them to jump higher than they should and seriously hurt themselves when they land.
12. Alfalfa Hay
Alfalfa hay is high in calcium and should not be fed to most adult guinea pigs. Too much calcium can cause bladder stones which are very painful, can block urination, and requires surgery to remove. Instead, it’s best to feed your guinea pig unlimited amounts of grass hay such as timothy or orchard hay.
Alfalfa hay can be fed to young guinea pigs under 6 months old, as they need a higher level of calcium for growth and bone development. However, it’s not a necessity. Baby guinea pigs can get the calcium they need by feeding a pellet food made for young guinea pigs. If you have a baby guinea pig living with an adult, you can supplement the baby with some high calcium veggies instead while feeding the adult pellet food and regular grass hay. Good hay for adult guinea pigs is either timothy or orchard hay.
13. Harness and Leash
Guinea pigs should never be walked on a harness and leash. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, harnesses are restricting and very uncomfortable for guinea pigs to wear. Most guinea pigs will refuse to walk while wearing one. If you try to tug them along, you can easily injure their spine.
In addition, guinea pigs get very scared in new environments. Trying to walk them outside can be extremely frightening and stressful for them. They can also injure themselves if they panic and try to bolt while wearing a harness. Some guinea pigs can even slip out of it and escape into the street.
The best thing you can do is use a safe small pet carrier if you need to transport your guinea pig somewhere. If you want to take them outside, set up an exercise pen in a quiet corner of your yard and let your piggies graze for a while. Be sure the grass is untreated and completely free of pesticides. Also, supervise them closely to keep predators like birds and cats away from the guinea pigs.
14. Costumes and Diapers
Full-body costumes are very restricting and stressful for guinea pigs. In addition, guinea pigs can panic, get tangled, and potentially injure themselves. It’s not worth the stress just for a picture. You can sometimes get away with small accessories as long as you have your guinea pig’s well-being in mind.
For example, I’ll sometimes put tiny bowties on my guys. I only do this with my most chill piggies who could really care less and distract them with lots of treats. If your guinea pig is nervous or high-strung about these kinds of things, it’s best to avoid putting anything on them. If you do put tiny accessories on your guinea pig, make sure it has an easy-release velcro strap or no strap at all. This way, your guinea pig can safely get free if they happen to spook at something.
Another thing you should avoid at all costs is diapers. I don’t know who came up with this, but thankfully it’s not super popular. Diapers are very awkward and uncomfortable for guinea pigs to wear and walk around in. They also prevent guinea pigs from eating their cecotropes, which is necessary for proper digestion.
Alternatively, you can protect your floor or carpet by purchasing some waterproof floor mats to keep the surface underneath safe and spotless. You can also use exercise pens to fence off furniture and other areas of the room that you don’t want your guinea pig to have access to.
15. Toys With Ropes, Bells, or Plastic
When choosing toys for your guinea pigs, make sure they are 100% chewable and edible. Toys woven from hay or willow twigs are a great option. Appletree sticks are also great for chewing and tossing around.
Avoid any toys with bells or other small pieces that can be a choking hazard. Also, stay away from anything with ropes or plastic. Guinea pigs will chew things, and you don’t want them playing with anything that is not digestible or could cause a blockage in their intestines.
There are many items that are marketed to guinea pigs that really shouldn’t be. Some have better alternatives, while others can be downright dangerous. I hope this list gave you a good idea of what to look for when choosing toys, treats, and other things for your guinea pigs. For a list of some of my all-time favorite guinea pig items, check out the recommended supplies page.