Guinea pigs do not crave treats in the same way that humans do, and are perfectly happy as long as they have a healthy, varied diet which meets all of their nutritional needs. Although it can be great fun to feed your cavies sweet treats such as chocolate and cake, the fact is that often your pet won't enjoy them all that much, and can also become ill and overweight because of them.
Having said that, there are certain foods which guinea pigs really enjoy eating, and which are perfectly safe and healthy when given to them in moderation. This is what we really mean when we talk about guinea pig treats.
The treats that you feed to your cavies should always be natural, just like the rest of their food, and there are lots of great things to choose from. Just remember that treats should only be fed occasionally (no more than once or twice a week), and in small quantities. If fed on a more regular basis, they can lead to your guinea pig putting on weight or even getting fat.
The treats you feed to your guinea pigs should always be natural and healthy. Image by paulmorriss.
Fresh vegetables should form part of your pets' daily diet. The reason they are included here is that they really are a guinea pig's favourite food - in a way you could say that they eat treats for every meal! Particular favourites include bell peppers (any colour, although red seems to be a particular favourite), and Romaine (cos) lettuce. As with anything, you should vary the vegetables that you feed to your guinea pig, so that they get a range of different nutrients from different foods, and to prevent them getting bored with the same menu every day.
Fruit has a much higher sugar and acid content than vegetables, which can lead to problems including obesity and sores around the mouth. Therefore these should only be fed every fed days, in small quantities. Because they tend to be quite sweet, and shouldn't form part of your pigs' normal diet, they could be considered to be the closest thing to a human treat. You can feed your cavies almost any type of fruit, although apples seem to be a firm favourite.
Vitamin C Tablets
From time to time, it is ok to give your guinea pig a vitamin C tablet as a treat. However, bear in mind that these are nutritional supplements, not sweets, and so should only be given rarely. Guinea pigs seem to love these, particularly the chewable type, and it will benefit them by giving their vitamin C levels a boost. They should not be relied on as a primary source of vitamin C - they should get all they need from their normal diet.
Fruit Tree Twigs
A twig or small branch from a fruit tree, such as a pear or apple tree, can make a great treat. They seem to love the taste, and they also help to keep your pets' teeth short.
For the perfect homemade guinea pig treat, you could come up with your own recipe that includes a mixture of the above items. Just remember to reduce the quantities of each so that you don't end up overfeeding them.
Unfortunately, there are many more bad treats than good ones. These tend to be the sorts of things that humans crave, and assume that their pets do too. However, they are unsuitable for your pets, and can lead to obesity, medical problems, and a trip to the vet.
Things like chocolate and cakes might make a great treat for humans, but they can be potentially dangerous for your pets. Image by Christian Cable.
It can be tempting to feed your guinea pigs a little bit of your own dinner, but human food often contains ingredients and chemicals that cavies cannot process, and which can even be poisonous. This includes meat (guinea pigs are herbivores and cannot digest meat), pastry, and potato based products such as french fries.
As herbivores, guinea pigs cannot digest anything which is derived from an animal, and this includes dairy products. However, that doesn't stop pet stores selling things like yoghurt drops. Although they might look tasty to you, your guinea pigs certainly won't enjoy them, and can be left with an upset stomach.
This is perhaps the most popular human treat, and so it is natural that we want to feed it to our cavy friends as well. However, it is very high in sugar, making it very fattening, and can also contain milk, which they cannot digest properly. Again, many pet stores sell guinea pig chocolates, but these should be avoided.
Nuts and Seeds
Many guinea pigs love nuts and seeds, but they can be dangerous for them to eat. Those which have a hard husk, or shell, are particularly bad as this can get stuck between their teeth and cut the roof of their mouth.
Most pet stores sell treat sticks supposedly designed specially for guinea pigs. However, the usually consist largely of nuts and seeds, causing the problems mentioned above. Additionally, they are often held together with honey, which is extremely sugary and fattening.
Crackers and Cereal
Although they are not bad for your guinea pigs as such, crackers and cereal can still cause problems with your pets' stomach. After being swallowed, they absorb water inside their digestive system, causing them to expand and get lodged. Although they will work themselves clear, this can be uncomfortable for your pet.
As you can see, many commericially-available guinea pig treats are actually completely unsuitable for your pets, and will do more harm than good. Guinea pigs really don't require any treats, but if you do want to give them something special, be sure to choose a natural, healthy product that they will really enjoy.