Which Treats are Best for Training Guinea Pigs?
When training your guinea pig, there are several different foods that could potentially be used as training treats. Ideally you will have at least 2 or 3 go-to treats that you can rotate between. Treats you choose should be safe in higher quantities and healthy for your guinea pig. So no people food, fruits (too high in sugar!) or processed seed or sugar type of treats from the pet store. Vegetables typically are ideal, but stick to the ones that won't cause bloating or discomfort from excess feeding. Some examples of good treats to use (and how often to use them) for training are listed below.
Introducing New Foods to a Guinea Pig
When introducing new foods, don't immediately jump straight into using it for training sessions. Start by offering small amounts, either from your hand, or just leave it in their cage for awhile. It can take some time for a guinea pig to accept something new and decide whether they like it or not. Once they have become familiar with the new food and their body has adjusted to it, break the food up into small pieces and spend some time feeding it to your guinea pig piece by piece from your hand. If they will eagerly take every piece offered from your hand, you're ready to start training with it.
List # 1: Not Ideal for Training Sessions
These foods should not be used for training sessions. Training involves a fair amount of food, so anything that is best fed in smaller quantities (or not at all) should be avoided as training treats.
- People food (aside from raw vegetables)
- Fruits (too high in sugar for training - best as an occasional treat)
- Packaged pet store treats. Some of these (such as yogurt drops and seed treats) are not healthy for guinea pigs in any quantity, and others are best used as an occasional treat
- Iceberg lettuce - Not much nutritional value for guinea pigs
List # 2: Ideal for Occasional Training Sessions
These foods are ideal for occasional short training sessions, or rotated with other veggies. I wouldn't use them frequently as one of your every day, go-to training treats, but if you temporarily run out of your regular veggies or if your piggy really loves them, they can be used here and there.
- Carrots (high in sugar)
- Dandelion Greens
- Celery (with strings removed)
- Swiss Chard
- Butterhead (aka Boston) lettuce
List # 3: Ideal for Regular Training Sessions
These foods are great for training on a consistent basis, and are safe and happily consumed by guinea pigs on a daily or every other day schedule. It is best to choose at least 2-3 of these treats and switch between them to add greater variety to your guinea pig's diet.
- Romaine lettuce (particularly the greenest, leafiest parts - they have the most nutrients and tastiest to the guinea pigs)
- Bell peppers - red, yellow, orange, or green (bell peppers are high in vitamin C - great for guinea pigs!)
- Green leaf lettuce (should be rotated with at least one other type of veggie if used for frequent training sessions)
- Red leaf lettuce (should be rotated with other veggies)
- Curly endive
- Fresh grass from outside - only use grass you are certain is untreated (offer a few strands each time as a reward)
The lists above are not all inclusive, and I may add something from time to time. Research any food you are unsure about to see how often it can be fed. Vegetables that can be fed daily or 3-4 times a week are often fine to use for training.
My Personal Experiences
Romaine lettuce is currently my main go-to veggie for training sessions. The guinea pigs love it, and they can eat a bunch of it without any adverse effects. It's also super easy to prepare (just rinse/dry and break off little pieces for treats.) I typically use one leaf per guinea pig, per training session. I usually break off the leafy parts to use for training and set aside the harder, lighter coloured middle piece.
Bell peppers are great, but tend to be juicy and sticky. I previously used bell peppers on a daily basis for training sessions but switched over to romaine lettuce mainly because of the stickiness and extra time it takes to prepare bell peppers (cutting them up into dozens of little cube pieces.) I still like to use bell peppers of all colours for training as a second option to the lettuce, because they are high in vitamin C and very healthy for guinea pigs. Just make sure you have a small, easy to clean bowl to put them in while you're training. 1/8 to 1/4 of the pepper (depending on the size of the pepper) per pig, per training session is ideal.
Carrots are much loved by many guinea pigs, but best for occasional use only. If your piggy really loves them, you can use them for tricks that are more difficult for your guinea pig as extra motivation. It takes guinea pigs a little longer to chew carrots in comparison to lettuce or bell peppers, so training might not progress as quickly as when you're using something like lettuce (which only takes a second or two for piggies to suck in.) Carrots can be cut up into guinea pig bite sized pieces, or you can use a big carrot and give them a nibble or two every time as a reward.