One of the best things to do when the good weather returns is to go foraging for your guinea pigs and rabbits. Indeed, plants are starting to “spring” into action and our little companions absolutely love their wild snacks.
Whether you are already a regular forage pioneer or a foraging freshman, check out our tips and tricks in this ultimate guide to foraging wild plants for guinea pigs.
What is foraging?
Foraging is the action of searching for wild plants and natural resources for the use of food. Foraging in the wild is a great way for animals to keep physically fit, and to ensure survival. For humans, it is a fun way to get to know their environment better, please their pets and spend time in nature.
Why should you forage for your guinea pigs and rabbits?
You may be wondering, “What is the point of foraging?” instead of taking a trip to the neighboring shop?! Foraging can a be a very fun and rewarding experience, packed with plenty of benefits, not only for your guinea pigs, but for yourself as well.
The main benefits of foraging are the following:
- Healthy, Organic and Diverse food – Plants from nature are packed with higher amounts of vitamins and nutrients, while being free of pesticides. Providing fresh veggies and plants on a daily basis is crucial as guinea pigs are unable to synthesize their own vitamin C. Foraged plants therefore support digestive health and promotes a happy piggie / bunny.
- Free Food – Feeding fresh vegetables on a daily basis can add up! The great news is that foraging is completely free and is a cost-effective way to supplement your piggie’s diet. Going organic will not only provide a nutritious diet but also save you money!
- Improving your Pet's Wellbeing - Sprinkling some fresh forage throughout your guinea pigs’ cage reinforces their emotional health as you are providing stimulation. Adding a little bit of variation keeps your guinea pigs active and interested, and an active piggy is a happy piggy.
- Exercise and Family Fun – It is universally recognized that we should spend at least one hour a day outside. Spending time outdoors offers plenty of benefits to yourself: exercise, fresh air, vitamin D, healthy mood and emotional health. Why not involve the whole family? You can make a fun game out of it like a scavenger hunt or forage bingo!
When is the best time to forage for your guinea pigs?
The great thing about foraging is that you can do it all year round! There is no set time to get out there and search for piggie food, however, you may wish to keep in mind that some plants may not be available some time of the year. It all comes down to preference, though majority of foragers prefer to do this during the warmer seasons.
Note on safety: remember that as seasons change, plants will change as well! In certain seasons, some plants will look different to when they bloom in warmer months. This plays an important role in safety, so make sure you are always certain before picking a plant.
Where can you forage for your guinea pigs?
Here are a few tips to guide you when choosing a location to pick some tasty greens for your piggies.
PLACES TO FORAGE FOR YOUR GUINEA PIGS
- Public foot paths
- Public parks
PLACES TO AVOID WHEN FORAGING FOR YOUR GUINEA PIGS
- Areas with dog fouling – avoid any areas where you visibly see fouling or areas near the sides of the roads where dogs will commonly frequent, to avoid contamination.
- Areas treated by pesticides or herbicides – do not forage in areas that have been treated. Picking forage that has been treated by pesticides can be very harmful to your guinea pigs as the sprays used are often poisonous.
- Busy road ways – try to avoid busy areas that are frequented by traffic for the safest foraging experience.
- Private property – avoid private allotments, front gardens, or fields that are not available to the public. If you do come across an area you’d like to forage in, always ensure you ask permission from the land owners first!
What you will need to forage:
- Tote bag or basket (avoid plastic bags),
- Gloves - protection against plants that may be thorny or prickly,
- Clippers or scissors - to remove the trickiest of forage and to minimize damage to the plants,
- Guide book or phone - to identify safe plants.
The 3 golden rules of foraging
Rule #1: Never pick a plant you are not 100% sure of.
The trickiest part of foraging is proper identification of plants. Some plants will often look very similar to one another. This is a crucial point as it is a very easy mistake to make. Picking the wrong plant can lead to poisoning for your pets. Old guinea pigs tend to know what is good for them while young guinea pigs are more likely to nibble at everything that is available, so be careful. That being said, they are plenty of common and easy-to-identify plants so don't despair!
For best practice and method of identification, bring along a foraging guide book or refer to the pictures in this article.
Rule #2: Only pick the best quality!
Think of your own salad! If you picked leaves that you wouldn’t consider eating yourself, don’t feed it to your piggies! When you forage, visually inspect for any contamination. Avoid plants that have fungus, mildew rust, or mold or that are visibly older, meaning, they are at the stage of releasing seeds. Plants that reach this stage of reproduction will often be a lot more bitter to guinea pigs. Forage higher up the plant in order to select leaves or parts of the plant that are typically in the best condition. Avoid plants with any bug larvae or bug activity.
Rule #3: Take only what you need to respect nature and to prevent damage to the plant!
Be reasonable and only pick what you need. Avoid harvesting entire plants in opposition to just a few leaves.
List of 20 Safe Wild Plants for Guinea Pigs and Rabbits
Here are 20 plants that you can safely forage and feed to your guinea pigs and rabbits.
And here in a table format:
|Grass||Shepherd’s Purse||Hazel||Wild blackberry, strawberries, raspberry|
|Dandelion||White Clover||Apple and Pear Twigs||Nasturtium|
|Chickweed||Red Clover||Rose leaves and Petals||Cow Parsley|
|Plantain (Narrow and Broad Leaf)||Willow leaves||Nettle (Dried)||Golden rod|
|Cleavers (Goose Grass)||Yarrow||Wild Geranium||Mallow|
List of Unsafe Wild Plants for Guinea Pigs and Rabbits
While there are plenty of safe plants to forage for your guinea pigs, there are also plenty of unsafe plants out there. This list is not exhaustive, so do not assume a plant is safe if it is not listed below. As a rule of thumb, evergreens and anything growing from bulbs tend to be inedible for guinea pigs and rabbits.
Also note that grass cuttings should not be fed to guinea pigs and rabbits as they are a blend of various plants. They can also lead to a build-up of gastric gases.
|Buttercups||Honeysuckle||Bluebell||Lily of the Valley|
|Giant Hogweed||Foxglove||Yew||Horse chestnut|
Feeding your guinea pigs with your foraged plants
- Wash your forage thoroughly,
- Feed to piggies same day or dry out and store for out of seasons,
- Just as you would do for any new food introduction, introduce forage slowly and in small amounts,
- Make sure you monitor your piggies after you feed them the forage. Should you suspect that your piggy becomes unwell, stop feeding the foraged plant immediately and consult your vet. Signs of plant poisoning include muscle spasms, tremor, and an inability to hold its head up. If you notice such signs, please refer to a vet immediately.
Your forage can also be used in enrichment toys such as feeders.
Further tips on Foraging for Guinea Pigs
- Start picking plants that are the most common kinds with the easiest identification (dandelions, clovers, grass). These are often a lot safer choices to start with as you build your confidence.
- Do not just rely on “common names” of plants! Common names can change frequent and be blanket names for many different plants. Some wild edible plants share the same common names as poisonous plants. (Foraging, wildedible.com).
- Create a forage journal to track your progress.
- Follow the plants throughout the seasons and get to know them.
- Learn companion plants – some plants are commonly found growing around the same or similar plants.
We hope you have thoroughly enjoyed our guide to foraging and are now considering to forage for your own guinea pigs. Foraging for your piggies is not only a fun hobby or pastime but a great way to provide nutritious, vitamin-rich plants in your guinea pigs diet.
Other Helpful Resources for Foraging for Guinea Pigs:
To help you identify plants, we highly recommend picking up a pocket guide that you can take with you on your walks. This will come in handy as you begin searching for your guinea pig’s dinner.