These cute little rodents have become popular pets in recent years, and their lively personalities and big ears have won them many fans. When it comes to their diet, guinea pigs are herbivores that primarily eat hay, fresh vegetables, and pellets. However, some owners may be wondering if they can feed sunflower seeds to their guinea pigs. Dr Elly answers.
Can guinea pigs eat sunflower seeds?
A cavy’s diet is mostly hay, fresh vegetables, and a small amount of guinea pig food or pellets. They also enjoy an occasional treat, but there are some things you should avoid giving them. One of those things is sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are hard and difficult for cavies to digest. In addition, the shells can get caught in their teeth or throat and be a choking hazard.
Why Are Sunflower Seeds Bad to Feed my Guinea Pig? Risks of Feeding Sunflower Seeds:
- Risk of Choking: This is the biggest risk of feeding sunflower seeds to your pet guinea pig. Most seeds, including sunflower seeds, are hard and thin and can get easily lodged into a guinea pigs windpipe.
- Potential Kidney Issues From High Oxalates and calcium. Another risk associated with feeding sunflower seeds to guinea pigs is that they contain high levels of oxalates. Oxalates are compounds that bind to calcium and can prevent the body from absorbing it properly. This can lead to crystals forming in the urine which can result in kidney or bladder stones.
- Obesity From high fat and calories: Guinea pigs eat predominantly grass in the wild – not low fiber, high protein, and high-fat seeds. Stick to a diet closer to what they would eat in the wild.
- Digestive Issues: Sunflower seeds are high in fat and protein – two nutrients that are likely to cause an upset stomach such as diarrhea.
- Allergic reactions: On the rare occasion, some guinea pigs may have an allergic reaction to sunflower seeds which can cause swelling around the face and difficulty breathing.
- High sodium content if salted: Many sunflower seeds are salted which can put stress on your guinea pig’s kidneys.
- Dental Issues: These hard seeds can get caught in your guinea pig’s teeth.
Can I feed unshelled Sunflower Seeds?
The same reasons why you shouldn’t feed shelled sunflower seeds apply here. They are a choking risk with little relevant nutritional value for a cavy so steer clear altogether.
Can I Feed Sunflower Seeds as Treats?
No, they shouldn’t be fed as treats. The problem with sunflower seeds in any form is that they are a serious choking hazard and too high in fat.
What Are Some Better Alternatives To Sunflower Seeds and Sunflower Kernels?
You should stick to a diet that closely resembles what they would naturally eat. According to the authors of “biology of the Guinea Pig” your guinea pig’s diet should include:
- 90% of your guinea pig’s diet should be made up of grass hay such as timothy hay or alfalfa hay and quality guinea pig pellets.
- 1/2 cup of fresh leafy vegetables as part of their daily diet. Guinea pig owners should try to buy dark green leafy greens which are naturally high in Vitamin C and dietary fiber.
- 1/4 cup of fresh fruits 2-3 times per week as a treat cut into small pieces. Fruit generally has a high sugar content and should not be given every day.
- Fresh water should be available at all times. Preferably given from a pet-specific sipper bottle.
- No human processed food of any kind.
- It’s always a good idea to introduce new foods slowly as they have sensitive digestive systems.
Some other safe fresh vegetables for guinea pigs that can be fed as part of a balanced diet include:
- Green beans
- Bell peppers
- Bok Choi
- Sweet Potato
- Romaine lettuce
- Kale (high in calcium; feed sparingly)
- Arugula (high in calcium; feed sparingly)
- Mustard greens
Some safe Fruits include:
- Berries including blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
- Citrus fruits (rind removed)
- Squash and butternut squash
- Cantaloupe and other melons such as watermelon
Can I feed Other Types of Seeds to My Guinea Pig?
While nuts and seeds provide beneficial nutrients to us humans they should not be fed to your furry friend. Nuts and seeds typically play no role in a guinea pig’s diet and should not be fed. This includes sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, etc. Not only are they are choking hazard but they are too high in fat (despite being healthy fats for us) and protein for our furry friends.
However small fruit and vegetable seeds are fine and are difficult to avoid anyway, such as strawberry seeds and zucchini seeds. Larger seeds in fruits should be removed as they can be a choking hazard as well such as pumpkin and squash seeds. Lastly, some seeds are toxic such as apple seeds.
What Are Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds are the edible seeds that come from sunflowers. The scientific name for a sunflower is Helianthus annuus. Sunflowers are annual plants, which means they live for one growing season and then die.
An annual plant grows from a seed, flowers, and then dies, all in one year. Sunflowers are native to North America but now they can be found all over the world. The flowers of a sunflower can be used to make oil, and the seeds can be eaten roasted or raw. Sunflower seeds have a lot of protein in them and are a good source of vitamins and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin E.
Sunflower Seed Nutritional Facts
Below are some of the nutritional stats on sunflower seeds per 100 grams
- Calories per cup: 657 kcal
- Carbohydrates: 17.1g
- Protein: 21g
- Fiber: 10.3g
- Fat: 56.1grams
- 1.5% water
Some of the key essential vitamins and minerals per 100 grams:
- Calcium: 78 mg
- Magnesium: 358mg
- Phosphorous: 750 mg
- Potassium: 689 mg
Can baby guinea pigs eat sunflower seeds?
No baby guinea pigs cannot eat sunflower seeds just like adult guinea pigs should not eat them either.
What is the nutritional value of sunflower seeds?
Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. They are high in fat though so they should not be a regular part of your guinea pig’s diet.
Can guinea pigs eat sunflower seed shells?
No, guinea pigs cannot eat sunflower seed shells. The shells can be a choking hazard and are not digestible.
Do sunflower seeds have any benefits for guinea pigs?
No, sunflower seeds do not have any benefits for guinea pigs. In fact, they should not be a part of their diet at all as they are high in fat and protein.
Are sunflower seeds bad for guinea pigs?
Sunflower seeds are not necessarily bad for guinea pigs but they should not be a part of their diet. They are high in fat and protein and can cause digestive issues. If you do feed them to your guinea pig, do so in moderation and only as a treat.
Dr. Elly has always loved animals, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. After studying hard in veterinary school, she practiced in several different countries before moving to North Carolina with her husband and young family. She currently works part time as a veterinarian while caring for her 4 busy children and writing this blog. Dr. Elly genuinely cares about the welfare of her patients. She currently has three dogs, two cats, 5 chickens and 2 rabbits (yes a bit of a zoo!)