Guinea pigs should not eat packaged gerbil food since it does not contain the amount of vitamin C guinea pigs require. Eating a diet of gerbil food will, in the long term, cause serious health problems for guinea pigs.
What You'll Learn
Guinea pigs require a very specialized diet rich in vitamin C. This is to compensate for the fact that they cannot produce their own Vitamin C. Switching a guinea pig over to a gerbil diet can cause severe health issues.
The Differences Between Guinea Pig Food and Gerbil Food
Guinea pig pellets are made from either alfalfa or timothy hay. The hay is ground up with supplements and other ingredients before it is formed into the pellets.
Alfalfa-based pellets are made with a high amount of calcium for younger guinea pigs, while timothy hay-based pellets have less calcium. Pellets are typically supplemented with Vitamin C.
Gerbil pellets are made from ground seeds and grass and supplemented with vitamins. These pellets are high in carbohydrates to allow the gerbils to ingest enough dietary fiber.
As you can see, the two foods are very different. Feeding guinea pigs gerbil pellets would result in a drastic reduction in Vitamin C intake. This would cause health complications. You also would not be able to feed a gerbil guinea pig pellets for similar reasons.
How Are the Diets of Guinea Pigs and Gerbils Different?
Guinea pigs are true herbivores, which means they do not eat any meat or dairy products. They develop strong food preferences early in life and are sticklers for keeping to the same thing day in and day out.
They resist change to the point that if you present their food differently or try to change their food, they may even refuse to eat. Because of this, any modifications need to be made gradually.
The main focus of a guinea pig’s diet is Vitamin C. You have to ensure they get enough supplemental Vitamin C due to their bodies’ inability to produce it.
Aside from Vitamin C, a guinea pig requires unlimited amounts of hay. The hay serves several purposes. First, it helps with the wearing down of their teeth that are continuously growing. Second, it promotes the health of the bacteria in their intestinal tract that break down food.
Besides hay and pellets, guinea pigs must also consume a regular amount of fruits and vegetables daily. They should consume approximately 1 cup of fresh vegetables per day. The common vegetable guinea pigs eat are leafy greens like Romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot tops, beet greens, carrots, squash, cilantro, and parsley.
Fruits should be occasional treats as the sugar content can be high, which can cause an imbalance in intestinal bacteria and, in turn, cause life-threatening diarrhea.
Gerbils, on the other hand, eat a diet rich in fiber. Their commercial pellets are made from seeds, something a guinea pig should avoid. They also have the option of dry seed mixes for feeding.
Gerbils’ diets can be supplemented with fresh food. They are omnivores, so they have a wider variety of foods they can eat than a guinea pig does. This includes things like cheese and eggs. They can also eat foods similar to guinea pigs, like broccoli, carrots, and lettuce.
It is, however, advised to not give gerbils too much wet food. They originally evolved in an arid region. Because of this, they cannot tolerate too much wet food in their stomachs.
What Would Happen if a Guinea Pig Ate Gerbil Food?
As discussed above, gerbil pellets do not have the extra Vitamin C that guinea pigs require. So when a guinea pig eats gerbil pellets instead, the side effects can be seriously detrimental to the health of your piggie.
Guinea pigs require at least 30 to 50 mg of Vitamin C added to their diet daily. One of the main reasons for this need is to prevent the development of scurvy.
Scurvy is characterized as a disease caused by a severe Vitamin C deficiency. It is not an overnight development. It will take time for your guinea pig to develop scurvy, but this does not mean it is OK to feed it gerbil pellets for any period of time.
The signs and symptoms of scurvy in your guinea pig are
- Crusty eyes
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
If you notice any of these signs, you must take your guinea pig to the vet right away. Scurvy can be fatal if it is left untreated.
Parts of the Gerbil Diet that a Guinea Pig Can Eat
While a guinea pig should never eat gerbil pellets, there are several parts of the gerbil diet that a guinea pig can eat. In fact, these are things that a guinea pig should eat to remain healthy.
First, both diets should incorporate leafy greens. These include Romaine lettuce, green and red leaf lettuce. All greens should be thoroughly washed before they are given to your gerbil or pig. Iceberg lettuce is mostly water and has little to no nutritional value. It should not be part of either diet.
Fruits should be used as occasional treats. They are high in sugar and can cause adverse intestinal side effects if given in too high of a quantity. Both gerbils and guinea pigs can eat apples, pears, melon, and blueberries, to name a few.
Guinea Pigs and Gerbils Require Different Food
Guinea pigs and gerbils eat two very different kinds of packaged commercial food. These foods are not interchangeable between the two species. The side effects can be detrimental to the animals’ health.
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