Can guinea pigs have cheese without consequences for their health?
This question is one among many that relate to the guinea pig’s diet.
Human children and adults love cheese and eat it as part of their daily meals or snacks.
Since guinea pigs aren’t picky eaters, especially when they are young, we might think of treating them with cheese to give them an extra boost of nutrients that we commonly get.
However, human food is not always appropriate for a guinea pig.
A healthy and balanced daily guinea pig’s diet strictly includes grass hay, fresh fruits, and vegetables and prohibits processed food.
Let’s find out whether cheese is safe for guinea pigs before making it a part of their daily diet.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Cheese?
Guinea pigs should never eat cheese.
Guinea pigs are special small animals, cavies, native to the Andean region of South America.
They have been domesticated since 5000 BC.
A guinea pig is a crepuscular animal, active mainly during dawn and dusk.
Also, a guinea pig is a herbivore that lacks the ability to digest large amounts of protein.
In that, guinea pigs differ from hamsters, which are omnivores and feed on plants and little insects.
As a matter of fact, guinea pigs cannot eat any dairy products because they cannot digest them.
They don’t have the enzyme lactase, to digest lactose that is present in all dairy products.
In addition, cheese contains large amounts of calcium, fats, and sodium which can wreak havoc on the health of a guinea pig.
So, as cheese is a man-made processed food product that was never part of the diet of guinea pigs in the wild, it’s not advisable to feed it to them.
What Is Cheese?
Cheese is a dairy product formed by the coagulation of milk protein casein using the enzyme rennin and acid.
Cheese contains proteins, lactose, fat, salt, and calcium.
These components are nutritious to humans and are a normal part of human food.
We can safely consume a variety of dairy products, every day.
However, a guinea pig cannot eat these components and stay healthy.
Is Cheese Safe for Guinea Pigs?
No, cheese is not safe for guinea pigs.
When guinea pigs eat cheese, cheese has a toxic effect on their digestive, urinary, and cardiovascular systems.
The toxic effects gradually induce damage to the organs of a guinea pig and lead to organ failure in the long run.
This reduces the lifespan of your guinea pig.
Now that you’ve gained background information about guinea pigs and cheese, it’s time to look at the important negative effects of cheese on the health of guinea pigs.
Is Eating Cheese Dangerous for Guinea Pigs?
Yes, eating cheese is very dangerous for guinea pigs.
Although one small bite of cheese won’t cause harm to your pet, guinea pigs eating cheese, in the long run, even in tiny amounts, will suffer from many health problems.
A guinea pig’s digestive tract cannot tolerate processed food.
For that reason, you shouldn’t give your guinea pig cottage cheese, cream cheese, or any other type of dairy product.
Adult Guinea Pigs Are Lactose Intolerant
You probably have heard of the term “lactose intolerant” regularly mentioned by your friends and family, by your doctor when you go for a medical visit, and on the television, in movies, and in documentaries.
Almost ⅔ of human adults all over the world cannot tolerate lactose.
But, did you know that every grown-up guinea pig suffers from the same issue too?
Actually, most animals do.
Lactose is a type of naturally occurring sugar that can be found in the milk we drink every day.
Dairy products that are derived from cow and goat milk, such as cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream, all contain lactose.
Cheese has a lactose content that ranges from 0.1% to 5% in different cheese types.
Lactose can only be broken down into simpler sugar forms by an enzyme called lactase.
When baby guinea pigs are born, their bodies have the capability to produce lactase because they require milk from their mothers.
Even so, newborn guinea pigs only require their mother to feed them for a few days.
As they grow up, they stop drinking their mother’s milk and proceed to eat a normal diet of vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
So, as time passes by, their bodies stop creating lactase as there’s no need for that any longer.
Consequently, when we feed cheese to an adult guinea pig, they’re not able to digest the lactose in the cheese without the enzyme and this leads to gastrointestinal problems and subsequent abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, and excessive flatulence.
In other words, if guinea pigs eat cheese, their digestive system won’t longer recognize the lactose and will want to get rid of it as fast as possible.
A guinea pig cannot digest food that has high sugar content.
Cheese Contains Saturated Fat
Cheese is high in fat.
It usually contains about 20% of saturated fats in each serving, while some cheese variants can contain up to 30% of saturated fats.
If cheese is commonly known to be fattening for us humans, just imagine how many calories would be going into a tiny guinea pig if cheese were safe for guinea pig consumption.
But, why is cheese so high in calories?
The only reason is that it is high in fat, the same type we obtain from raw meat, lard, and processed meat such as sausages.
Generally, a guinea pig requires few calories to survive.
Their main source of food is hay, which is quite low in calories.
High-calorie content is also one of the reasons why many fruits and vegetables are not safe for guinea pigs.
So, giving guinea pigs even the smallest slice of cheese once a week would cause a surge in their caloric intake.
Yet, just one small bite of cheese would not do them any considerable harm.
The real issue would begin if you’d be regularly giving cheese to your guinea pig to eat.
Saturated fats would cause bad cholesterol to start to deposit and harden in the blood vessels of your guinea pig.
In the long run, just like in humans, these fats would block the arteries of guinea pigs and create a poor blood flow to their organs including their brain, heart, and kidney.
This would result in stroke, cardiovascular problems, and kidney failure.
In addition, apart from the effects on their organs, saturated fats also cause obesity in your guinea pig.
As their body mass and weight increase, they become sedentary and refuse to be as active as before.
It is also very difficult to encourage them to be physically active.
Cheese Has a High Concentration of Calcium
Similar to saturated fats, there is a great amount of calcium in cheese, which is great for humans, but detrimental for guinea pigs.
The daily calcium requirements of a guinea pig are very low, and most of it comes from its herbivorous diet.
The high levels of calcium might be beneficial to a human being’s bone health, but it doesn’t have the same effect on your guinea pig.
By introducing cheese into the guinea pig diet, you would feed your guinea pig with a toxic level of calcium.
Foods high in calcium have a dangerous effect on the urinary system of guinea pigs.
Calcium collects in the bloodstream of guinea pigs and travels to their kidneys.
In the kidneys, the high level of calcium causes calcium to bind to oxalates from their plant-based diet to form little calcium oxalate crystals.
The little crystals can form larger calcium oxalate stones in the kidney and the bladder, which can cause serious abdominal pain when your guinea pig urinates.
In serious circumstances, the stone can completely block the passage of urine out of the body, causing the urine to accumulate in the bladder and backflow into the kidneys, causing irreversible kidney damage.
Kidney damage can then increase the risk of kidney failure, which can then shorten the lifespan of your guinea pig.
Therefore, cheese is also toxic to guinea pigs because of its high calcium content.
Cheese Contains High Levels of Protein
Cheese normally contains 20% to 30% of the protein in each serving.
Protein has the function of repairing damaged muscles and replacing dead cells in the human body.
You might think that, since the protein in cheese is beneficial to the well-being of humans, it can also have the same effect on guinea pigs.
While it is true that guinea pigs require protein for damaged muscle and cell regeneration, the protein requirements of a guinea pig on a daily basis are low.
Feeding guinea pigs with cheese would introduce too much protein to their digestive system.
Guinea pigs’ digestive systems cannot digest large amounts of protein, as they cannot produce enough protein-digesting enzymes like omnivores or carnivores.
Excessive protein can have serious ill effects on your guinea pig’s digestive system and cause constipation and bloating.
Cheese Contains Sodium
Sodium is the main element in salt.
As cheese is composed of an extreme amount of salt, feeding cheese to your guinea pigs would lead to excess levels of sodium in their bodies.
Without sweat glands, guinea pigs cannot remove the extra sodium by sweating.
So, the only other way they would excrete the salt is through urine or stool.
However, just like calcium, the sodium that travels to the kidneys can also form urinary crystals in the kidney and bladder, and create urinary problems or completely obstruct it.
If your guinea pig refuses or neglects to drink a sufficient amount of water, dehydration further accelerates the formation of these crystals.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Dairy Free or Vegan Cheese?
Vegan cheese, or dairy-free cheese, is a type of cheese made from vegetables or plants, completely free from animal sources.
This variant of cheese contains no lactose and has lesser percentages of cholesterol, protein, saturated fat, and calcium.
At first glance, this might seem like a completely healthy choice for your guinea pig and might even seem like an appropriate food choice.
If we look more thoroughly, we can see that the total fat content of vegan cheese is approximately 12.5% per serving, which is undoubtedly much less compared to the 20% to 30% of dairy cheese.
Of that 12.5% of fat, 31% of that fat is in a saturated form.
However, if we look back we will realize that the daily fat intake requirements of a guinea pig are relatively minuscule.
Therefore, even a small little bit of vegan cheese can drastically increase the calorie intake for that day, just like regular cheese.
Other than that, vegan cheese has a salt content comparable to dairy cheese.
Thus, vegan cheese has the same effects on the urinary system of guinea pigs as dairy cheese has.
The salt content can cause serious issues such as urinary stones and dehydration in your little cavy.
Hence, this just means that vegan cheese causes the same health problems as dairy cheese, which shortens guinea pigs’ lifespan.
Can Guinea Pigs eat Cheese Snacks?
Anything made out of cheese is a big no.
Therefore, guinea pigs should not eat cheese snacks.
This includes cheese balls, cheese flakes, cheese nips, cheese puffs, or cheese crackers.
These snacks also contain unnecessary carbohydrates and empty calories which lead to a chronic condition known as guinea pig diabetes.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Dairy Products?
Can guinea pigs eat butter, or yogurt, and milk?
The answer to this question is again a no.
All dairy products come from the same source such as cow’s or goat’s milk.
Although these products are processed in a different way, their general content remains the same as in cheese.
That means that all diary products are high in fat,
Thus, all dairy products are unsuitable for guinea pig consumption, and do not attempt to feed your guinea pig with dairy products.
Why is Cheese Harmful to Guinea Pigs?
Guinea pigs cannot eat cheese.
If you include cheese in your guinea pig’s diet, it will cause a number of gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and flatulence.
For these symptoms, the first step is to observe your guinea pig’s stool.
The shape, consistency, and odor of your guinea pig’s stool can tell you a lot about the issue they’re facing.
Secondly, you’ll have to stop your guinea pig’s intake of any dairy-derived products.
If it still doesn’t resolve, it would be useful to take your guinea pig to the vet to determine if there is bacterial overgrowth in their gut.
If there is, the vet will then proceed to do a bacterial culture to determine the strain of bacteria for an accurate antibiotic prescription.
Besides antibiotics, it would also be useful to replace their food with drier variants such as hay for easier stool formation, instead of more watery variants such as cabbage or lettuce.
Lastly, ensure that your guinea pig has a sufficient supply of fresh clean water in their bottles, so we can prevent dehydration from excessive fluid loss through diarrhea or vomiting.
Obesity is considered a type of malnutrition caused by the guinea pig receiving food with too many calories.
Do not be mistaken that the increasing circumference of your pet automatically signifies that he or she is well-fed.
There is still a huge possibility that the guinea pig is deficient in the required vitamins, minerals and fiber, especially if it has been fed cheese for a long duration of time.
To help your obese pet, you have to alter the diet of guinea pigs, rather than reducing the quantity you’re feeding it.
This means, change the cheese to a greener and natural option including vegetables, fruits, and hay that contains the necessary nutrients your guinea pig needs.
In addition, increase the physical activity that your pet gets daily by placing your cavy on its exercise wheel.
Treat it to a tasty low-calorie snack each time it engages with an activity as a form of positive reinforcement of the good behavior.
The combination of reducing the calories input and increasing energy output will definitely help the guinea pig lose weight consistently.
A prolonged intake of high-calorie food products such as cheese and other dairy products can cause various heart problems such as congestive heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.
If you’ve been feeding your little guinea pig cheese before, you’ll have to look out for the following symptoms of a heart problem:
labored breathing or wheezing, reduced activity or deep sleeping, pale or bluish gums, areas of dead tissue around the ears, and the malocclusion of teeth.
Guinea pigs with heart issues usually have a reduced intake of oxygen due to their heart not being able to pump efficiently, so they’ll usually be unusually lethargic and breathless.
This may result in them having a reduced appetite which causes them to be malnourished.
Other than that, the reduced food intake includes a decreased hay intake, so they will not be able to consume the required daily amount of fiber which results in watery diarrhea.
The reduced hay intake also means there will be a reduced chewing action, which causes them to wear out their teeth less.
Since their teeth grow out constantly, the reduced wearing of teeth causes them to have larger than normal incisors, resulting in difficulty in keeping their mouths closed, an issue known as malocclusion.
If you suspect your guinea pig has a heart, it is important to take them to the vet.
The vet will listen for any abnormal heart sounds and also take an X-ray of the heart to see if there is an accumulation of fluid or an abnormally enlarged heart.
If a heart disease is diagnosed, your vet might prescribe a diuretic to reduce the accumulation of fluids in the body as well as medications to normalize the rate, rhythm, and strength of the pumping action of the heart.
Other than that, if you suddenly notice that your guinea pig has:
- a tilted head,
- no longer able to balance itself
- is running in circles for no obvious reason or
- even continuously falling over itself
the first thing that should come to your mind should be an active stroke.
A severe enough stroke can cause your guinea pig to become paralyzed on one or both sides or even experience seizures.
So, if you realize your pet is experiencing any of the symptoms above, which can start and end within 5 minutes, do not hesitate to bring it for treatment to the veterinarian.
There is a high possibility that there might be brain damage if the stroke repeats again, leading to problems with the movement of the guinea pig.
Uroliths formed from calcium oxalate or sodium can block any part of the kidney and urinary tract, which can stop the flow of urine.
Regardless of where the stone causes a complete blockage, there is a high possibility for the stagnant urine to flow back up the kidneys.
This leads to hydronephrosis (accumulation of fluids in the kidney) that causes the inability of the kidney to function normally.
Another possibility would be for the urine to become a breeding ground of pathogens, leading to urinary tract infections.
In the case that a stone is passed out, you might see active bleeding from the front passage due to abrasion during the forceful evacuation and straining of your guinea pig.
This can occur several times in a week or month before most or all of the stones are passed out.
However, this does not mean there are no more uroliths left in the bladder and kidney, but rather just that some of the smaller-sized stones have managed to be excreted via urine.
So, the best strategy to tackle this medical emergency is to send your dear guinea pig to the veterinarian at the soonest time possible.
The doctor might opt to provide antibiotics with indwelling urinary catheterization or immediate surgery depending on the severity of the situation.
Hospitalization for your guinea pig will be required after the procedures for further monitoring.
What Food is Safe for Guinea Pigs to Eat?
As guinea pigs were initially wild animals before being domesticated to live with humans, it’s advisable to just provide them with a diet that resembles what they might get in the wild.
In their natural habitat, a guinea pig’s diet consists mainly of grass and these include various grass types such as alfalfa grass and timothy grass.
What Should Young and Pregnant Mother Guinea Pigs Eat?
In younger guinea pig pups and also in pregnant mothers, it is important to provide them with a diet that is high in calcium.
Alfalfa is a type of hay that is rich in calcium and is suitable for young pups and pregnant mothers.
What Should Adult Guinea Pigs Eat?
When guinea pigs grow older, alfalfa should be substituted with timothy hay or other hay types with a lower calcium level.
Continuing with alfalfa hay predisposes your guinea pig to obesity and bladder stone formation due to its high calcium content.
Other than grass, guinea pigs should also eat food products that are enriched with vitamins and other minerals, apart from calcium.
It is important to provide your little guinea pig with fresh fruit cuts and vegetable cuts such as cabbage, carrot, broccoli, and apples.
Other than that, since guinea pigs are unable to produce Vitamin C in their diets, it is crucial to provide them with fruits rich in Vitamin C such as cabbage, green beans, and broccoli.
Maintaining a Vitamin C-rich diet can prevent your precious pet from the deficiency disease, scurvy, which causes bleeding gums, loose teeth, and brittle hair.
How Often Should We Feed Them?
Other than that, guinea pigs prefer to munch on food throughout the day and will require a constant supply of food.
Besides that, since their teeth grow continuously throughout their life, it is important for them to wear out their teeth to make room for new teeth.
And thus, it’s imperative for owners to prepare a supply of hay for them to munch on constantly.
This prevents them from developing bad habits such as munching on their hair or any inedible objects like plastics or metals.
Why Is It Difficult for Them to Change Their Dietary Habits?
Guinea pigs tend to stick to the same routine or choices that they developed since they’re young.
Moreover, they’re picky eaters and will refuse to accept a change in their diet after they reach adulthood and would rather starve than trying out new foods.
As such, it’s important to expose baby guinea pigs to various types of fruits and vegetables to aid them to be more accepting of various foods during their adulthood.
It’s also crucial to keep them away from unhealthy food like dairy products from a young age, so it doesn’t get incorporated into their dietary habits.
The owners can have a hard time getting them to transition to healthier food options once they are older.
No, it’s best not to intentionally give your guinea pigs any amount of cheese, regardless of whether they are infants or adults.
Instead, think about healthier alternatives that you can provide as snacks to them that are not made of cheese or milk.
Before I conclude this article, I hope I’ve helped solve your dilemma of whether to feed your guinea pig cheese or not.
So for the question, can guinea pigs eat cheese, the answer is a resounding no.
Because your pet guinea pig is not built to digest cheese due to: lack of enzymes and the high saturation of fats and minerals (calcium and sodium) in cheese.
Other than that, there are plenty of other cheaper, healthier, and easily available sources of fresh fruits and vegetables out there to feed your precious little guinea pig with.
These food products will allow you to extend the lifespan of your guinea pig and thus, allowing them to spend a longer time with you.
Feeding them with a healthier diet can not only increase their lifespan, but it also has the added benefit of reducing visits to the vet.