Why Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Poop And Is Is Good For Them?

If you have a guinea pig, you might have noticed them eating their poop. While this behavior may seem strange, it is actually quite normal and even beneficial for their health. In this article, we will explain why guinea pigs eat their poop and how it helps them.

Guinea pigs have a unique way of digesting tough plant fibers – by eating their feces twice. They produce two types of poop: a soft, wet poop that they eat and a hard, dry poop that they leave.

Guinea pigs eat some of their poop to get as much energy and nutrition as possible from grasses and other plant matter. This is called cecotrophy, which means eating cecotrophs – semi-digested food that has only passed once through their digestive system. Cecotrophy differs from coprophagy, which would be eating fully digested pellets that have been through their digestive system twice, and guinea pigs do not do this.

Cecotrophy is common among many herbivore species, not just with guinea pigs. Animals such as horses, capybara, rabbits, lemmings, chinchillas, rats, and mice also rely on cecotrophy to extract sufficient energy from their diet.

Guinea Pig Diet: Getting the Most Out of It

Grasses and hay make up most of a guinea pig’s natural diet, but these are high in cellulose, which is one of the hardest carbohydrates to break down and get energy from. Therefore, to get the most out of their diet, guinea pigs have adapted a few strategies:

1) Selective grazing

Guinea pigs start by eating the youngest, tenderest shoots first, as they are easier to digest and denser in nutrients than older, tougher growth.

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2) They have a large cecum

A guinea pig’s cecum is a chamber between the small and large intestine that contains a large population of bacteria that help break down plant fibers. Baby guinea pigs populate their cecum with plant-digesting bacteria by eating their mother’s cecotrophs. Those first bacteria rapidly multiply to form a huge colony in the baby guinea pigs’ cecum, and both species will rely on that symbiotic relationship for the guinea pig’s whole life.

3) They produce two kinds of poop

A guinea pig’s feeding strategy involves eating everything twice to give their digestive system a second shot at extracting energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals from their diet. The first time they eat a meal, it exits the body as soft poops called cecotrophs, (because they were formed by bacterial digestion in the cecum). Guinea pigs consume these again directly from their anus. After they have digested the cecotrophs a second time, they eliminate the leftover waste matter as hard, dry pellets.

Is It Normal For Guinea Pigs To Eat Their Poop?

Eating cecotrophs is normal and vital to guinea pig behavior as they still contain proteins and nutrients such as vitamin B, which the guinea pig was not able to absorb on the first pass through their digestive system. In studies where guinea pigs were prevented from eating their cecotrophs, they lost weight and became malnourished.

However, guinea pigs should not be eating their feces or other animals’ feces as these behaviors can make them sick. If you observe this behavior, separate them and seek veterinary attention.

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Guinea Pig Poop Frequency and Problems

It takes about 5 hours for a guinea pig’s meal to complete its journey through their digestive tract, and be left on the hutch floor as fecal pellets. While guinea pigs are discreet and private about eating their cecotrophs, they usually eat them while resting in a den during the middle of the day or night.

If your guinea pig stops eating or pooping altogether, they might have a condition called gastric stasis, which is dangerous and needs urgent medical attention. Other issues with diet or cecotrophy may also cause veterinary attention to be necessary. Polycystic ovaries, obesity, and anal impaction are a few of the other problems that guinea pigs may experience that require immediate attention.

Conclusion

Producing and consuming soft poops called cecotrophs is vital to the survival of guinea pigs on an energy-poor diet like grass and other vegetation. Usually consumed while resting, cecotrophs help guinea pigs retain sufficient amounts of nutrients that they might not have obtained their first time through the digestive system. Should you encounter any deviation from this behavior, such as eating feces or not eating their cecotrophs, seek veterinary attention immediately.

References

Donnelly & Brown. Guinea pig and chinchilla care and husbandry. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice. 2004.

Elfers et al. Good to Know: Baseline Data on Feed Intake, Fecal Pellet Output and Intestinal Transit Time in Guinea Pig as a Frequently Used Model in Gastrointestinal Research. Animals. 2021.

Garner-Richardson. Guinea pig nutrition. The Veterinary Nurse. 2013.

Pollock. Behavior Essentials: The Guinea Pig. LafeberVet. 2017.

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Sakaguchi. Digestive strategies of small hindgut fermenters. Animal Science Journal. 2003.

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