Guinea pigs need fresh leafy vegetables daily and it can become expensive buying these veggies in the supermarket. However, if you have the time to forage, there is lots of free food available that your guinea pigs can eat to be found in fields, meadows, hedgerows and woodlands and even your own garden.
Although often viewed as weeds, these plants can be extremely nutritious and often better than what you will buy in the supermarkets as they will be freshly picked!
Guinea pigs love freshly foraged food and this activity is one that children would enjoy taking part in too but make sure they are supervised when it comes to picking the right plants.
Some points to remember when foraging for your guinea pigs:
- Stay away from any places that may have been treated with herbicides and pesticides.
- Avoid places where there may be faeces from dogs, cats or livestock.
- Don't pick anything that is next to a busy road. Stick to quieter areas.
- Leave any plants that are contaminated with any type of fungus, mould, mildew or rust.
- Choose younger leaves which are more nutritious and tasty.
- Some older plants, especially when they go to seed can taste bitter and their oxalate content can increase so pick before they seed.
We've included some additional videos to help you identify the plants.
Here is a list of a few of the more common forages for your guinea pigs:
This is an obvious one but guinea pigs love fresh grass and it is readily available for most of us. Freshly picked it is packed with nutrition that is perfect for your guinea pigs. Just make sure it isn't contaminated with any nasties or poisonous plants before picking.
Dandelions are a popular wild food for guinea pigs and can commonly be found in many grassy places including lawns, fields, woods, meadows and hedgerows.
Flowering between March and October but mainly in May and June, guinea pigs can eat both the flower and the leaves of the dandelion plant.
You can identify the dandelion by their bright yellow flowers which emerge on several smooth tubular stems from a rosette of hairless leaves. Dandelions are also known as Lion’s Tooth due to the appearance of their toothed leaves and can grow as tall as 35cm.
Cleavers are a common weed and is also known by several other names including goosegrass, sweetheart plant, sticky weed, bedstraw and sticky willy. They feel sticky to the touch and can cling to your clothing.
This sticky weed can be found during spring, summer and autumn in uncultivated ground, flower beds and borders and hedgerows.
They grow on long straggly stems up to a metre long and often creating sticky twisted mats of foliage.
Along the stems are star shaped swirls of 6-8 leaves.The stems and leaves are hairy and these hairs are hooked which is what gives them their sticky quality.
Similar plants may have more or less than the 6-8 leaves so, along with the other attributes, this can be an indicator of whether you have correctly identified the cleavers.
Guinea pigs can eat the leaves but don’t feed them the seed pods.
Available all year round, groundsel is often found around the edges of fields, roadside verges, waste ground, established flowerbeds, paving and walls
Also known as "old man in the spring", birdseed, chickenweed, grinsel or grundsel, it contains clusters of yellow flowers on branched stems which turn into a fluffy white mass as the plant goes to seed.
Groundsel flowers mainly between April and October but can also flower the rest of the year too.
This common weed can often be affected by fungus or rust which makes it unsuitable for foraging so check thoroughly before picking that the leaves are free from contamination.
Similar plants such as ragwort can be poisonous so be careful not to mix the two. Ragwort flowers have petals that look like sun rays whereas common groundsel don't have these.
Chickweed is an excellent weed to forage for your guinea pigs as it is nutritious and said to be rich in vitamin C.
Available throughout the year, you can easily identify chickweed by the row of hairs that run up one side of the stem and their small oval/round leaves with pointed tips.
The leaves may be smooth or slightly hairy. The flowers have 5 petals but from a distance look like 10 as they grow in sets of two.
Chickweed can also be known as stitchwort, starweed, chickenwort, craches, maruns or winterweed and you’ll find it in many places including open woodland, gardens, parks, waste ground, and around fields.
Similar plants have a milky sap in their stem whereas the chickweed does not so this can help with identification.
Another distinguishing feature is also in the stem. It is made up of an outer layer and an inner, stretchy core. If you pull the stem apart, the outer part will break but the inner core should stretch. See the video below which illustrates this more clearly..
Take care not to confuse chickweed with Scarlet Pimpernel which is poisonous. The difference between the two is that Chickweed stems are round whereas Scarlet Pimpernel stems are square. The flowers of a Scarlet Pimpernel are usually a bright salmon colour but can also be red, blue or white.
The leaves of Shepherds Purse bear a similarity to the dandelion leaves with their toothed appearance growing in a rosette formation. However, the shepherds purse weed has small white flowers consisting of four petals in a cross shape and characteristic heart-shaped seed pods. For this reason is also known as Mother’s Heart.
Shepherds purse can be found in grassy places throughout the year and the flowers emerge in spring.
This has a good calcium:phosphorous ratio so is a good forage for guinea pigs and particularly helpful if your guinea pig has diarrhoea.
Guinea pigs can enjoy both the flower and the leaves of the red clover.
To identify red clover, you’ll see that, like other clovers is made up of 3 leaves each with a distinctive white v-shape. The flowers are a deep pinky purple colour and although it may look like one flower each tube (which looks like a petal) is a single flower.
Red clover flowers may be seen from late spring all the way into late October and both the leaves and flowers can be eaten by guinea pigs.
Coltsfoot (Leaves only)
Coltsfoot has bright yellow dandelion-type flowers except the flowers on this plant have a circle of petals in the centre too. Unlike dandelion stems, the stems of the coltsfoot are scaly and a bit woolly.
Young leaves have a white fluffy hairs which disappear as the leaf grows and as they get bigger they become quite broad with the main veins sometimes being streaked with pink.
The flowers can emerge at any time from February and will appear before the leaves but you should only feed the leaves to your guinea pigs.
Broad Leaf Plantain
This common plant can be found in many places where there is soil including fields, lawns, parks, and waste grounds.
As suggested, the leaves are broad and egg shaped growing in a rosette formation but without any real stem.
The leaves may have very small fine white hairs. If you look at the leaf you’ll see the distinctive lines that run from the leaf base to the top and on the reverse of the leaf these lines will be even more defined.
Tiny green or yellow/white flowers grow on a tall stem and can have thousands of seeds.
Narrow Leaf Plantain
Narrow leaf plantain are very similar to the broad leafed variety but their leaves are narrower and appear as long oval shapes.
The edges of the leaves are smooth and the surface of the leaf may have fuzzy hairs on top side but be smooth on the underneath. Sometimes you will see a reddish purple tinge on the inner lower stem of the leaf which fades as you move up the leaf.