Guinea pigs are well-known for their love of food! However, they’re rarely fat. This is because of the sheer volume of food they need to eat just to regulate their weight.
If your guinea pig is too fat, they’ll have a U-shaped belly that hangs down or touches the floor. It’ll be hard to see their feet when viewing them from the side, and you won’t be able to feel their ribs, spine, or hip bones easily.
Keep reading to learn more about obesity in guinea pigs, how to know if your guinea pig is too fat, and more.
Disclaimer: Obesity in Guinea Pigs is Uncommon
Guinea pigs are chunky little animals–many people call them “potatoes” due to their adorable body shape. It’s pretty abnormal for a guinea pig to be overweight, especially when fed the right diet.
I always recommend focusing on proper diet and enrichment, rather than weight loss. The most common reasons piggies become overweight include too many pellets, too much sugar in the diet, and having a small cage. Feeding hay that’s higher in fat, such as oat hay, can also cause obesity in piggies.
It’s also important to note that many of the weights in guinea pig size charts are inaccurate, and guinea pigs can fall outside of the normal range (700-1500 grams) and be perfectly healthy. That’s why it’s better to rely on their body shape than their weight to assess their body condition.
How to Know if Your Guinea Pig is Too Fat
1. First, Look at Your Care
Here are some common reasons a guinea pig is overweight:
- They’re fed more than ⅛ cup of pellets daily or fed an unhealthy pellet. See our guinea pig pellet recommendations for more information.
- You’re feeding the wrong type of hay, and it’s too high in fat. Timothy hay and orchard grass are the best and most common choices for healthy guinea pigs.
- They’re getting too much sugar in their diet. Many people don’t realize that carrots contain a lot of sugar (for a piggy, anyway) and should be fed sparingly. The same is true of fruit. Aim for a small amount once to twice weekly.
- Their cage is under the recommended minimum size. For two piggies, 7.5 square feet is the minimum but 10.5 square feet or more is highly preferred.
2. Next, Assess Their Body Shape
While weight comes down to an individual piggy, and thus doesn’t necessarily tell us if they’re overweight, you can assess their body shape for a more accurate picture.
This is how an overweight guinea pig looks:
- You cannot feel their hips, spine, or ribs
- The belly has a U-shaped curve when viewed from the side, and may touch the floor
- It’s difficult to see your guinea pig’s feet from the side
- Their chest area is the same width as their rear end, or close (note that this can also be seen in guinea pigs who are too thin!)
Keep in mind that long-haired piggies can appear fatter through a thick layer of fur. You’ll need to feel them with your hands to see if you can feel their hips, spine, and rib cage, or if they’re covered by fat.
What to Do if Your Guinea Pig is Overweight
Change Their Diet
If your guinea pig is overweight, the first thing to look at is their diet. They should have access to large amounts of fresh hay 24/7. Avoid hays that are high in fat such as oat hay.
Each piggy should also get around one cup of fresh vegetables. Dark, leafy greens are best, and can be supplemented with veggies high in vitamin C such as bell pepper. Feed small amounts of carrot or fruit just one to two times weekly so that your guinea pig isn’t eating too much sugar.
Lastly, each guinea pig should get ⅛ cup of pellets daily. These should be plain, timothy-based pellets without colorful pieces or seeds.
Never restrict hay or feed less than one cup of daily veggies in an attempt to make your piggy lose weight. Remember that they need to eat constantly due to their fast metabolisms, and restricting food in this way can be very harmful. GI stasis can occur in just 6-8 hours without food.
Make Sure Their Cage is Large Enough
The bare minimum cage size for a pair of guinea pigs is 7.5 square feet–your cage should never be smaller than this. However, for many piggies that’s not enough space.
It’s recommended that your cage be 10.5 square feet or larger–please give them the most space you can!
Of course, larger groups of piggies need even more space.
The bigger the cage, the more room your guinea pigs will have to exercise. In small cages, you may notice them staying still or trying to run around but not having enough space.
In large cages, guinea pigs can do zoomies and popcorn to their hearts’ content!
Provide More Enrichment
Enrichment is anything that helps guinea pigs act on their natural instincts and keeps their bodies and minds active.
For example, place tunnels around the cage to encourage them to move around without feeling exposed in a wide, open space.
Buy or make guinea pig-safe toys and distribute them around the cage for them to chew, or scatter feed pellets to encourage exploration. Forage mixes are another great thing to use so long as all of the ingredients are good for piggies.
The Importance of Weighing Your Guinea Pigs
When they’re sick, guinea pigs can lose weight rapidly. Weight loss is often the first sign of illness that a piggy parent will notice.
This is why guinea pigs should be weighed weekly. Use a kitchen scale that measures in grams, and write their weights down each week in a notebook, on your phone, or in the Guinea Pig Care Planner–wherever you can access it easiest.
If your guinea pig gets sick or starts to lose weight, weigh them daily to keep a closer eye on their health. This can also tell you whether or not they’re eating.
Weight loss of 50 grams a week or more warrants a trip to the vet, and losing more than 100 grams in a week necessitates an emergency vet trip.
In conclusion, weighing your guinea pig is very important! However, healthy weights vary depending on the individual piggy, and it’s not common for guinea pigs to be too fat.
The most important thing is that your guinea pig’s diet is healthy, they’re getting plenty of enrichment, and have a large cage to exercise in.