Guinea pigs don’t require many things in order to be happy and healthy. This is why they are perfect pets for people of ages. When we talk about guinea pigs, hay is always mentioned.
But, do guinea pigs really need hay? Absolutely. Hay is an essential thing in guinea pig’s life, as it represents the best food that your guinea pig needs to consume every day. Many guinea pig owners make a mistake of not having enough hay for their guinea pigs, resulting in bad nutrition, bad digestion, and lack of fiber in pig’s diet. Guinea pigs need a lot of fibers and Vitamin C to be able to function normally.
Not only that the quality diet produces a healthier lifestyle, but also gives your guinea pig more energy and makes it happier. In this article, we’re going to talk about types of hay, reasons why it’s so good for your guinea pig, as well as hay in general.
What is Hay?
Many times throughout your life, you’ve heard about hay. However, those who live or have lived on a village, know what hay is. Essentially, hay is grass or legumes that have been cut, dried, and stored as food for non-carnivorous animals. These animals include livestock, goats, sheep, horses, cattle, and similar. But, since we’re talking about guinea pigs, hay is vastly used as a food for small animals such as the aforementioned pigs, as well as rabbits. Some pig owners feed their pigs with hay but such a thing isn’t recommended, as they can’t digest it efficiently.
Not every plant can be used for hay and some plants produce quality, while others produce hay of lesser quality. Commonly used plants are brome, fescue, Bermuda grass, Timothy, alfalfa, clovers, legumes, etc. Of all these, the most popular plants are timothy, Meadow, and alfalfa, which we’re going to talk about later. Some plants like barley, oat, and wheat are also used for hay, but in a form of straw. Straw is very good for animal bedding, especially large animals since they can’t injure themselves when laying down on it. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, won’t benefit so much from straw.
Producing hay isn’t an easy job to do. Since hay is very sensitive to weather conditions, it can be quite a challenge to produce quality hay. If the conditions are drought, seed and leaf production are diminished, making the hay rough and less nutritious. On the other hand, moist conditions produce fairly quality hay, but this type of hay is easily spoiled before it can be bailed. That’s why it’s better to buy hay from professional and verified retailers, especially when we talk about Guinea pigs. They need quality hay and they need it a LOT.
Types of Hay for Guinea Pigs
In the previous section of the article, we mentioned some of the most popular types of hay for Guinea pigs. But, what are the differences between those? Well, given that 80% of Guinea pig’s diet needs to be hay, knowing the best type of hay for your Guinea pig is essential. Let’s begin with alfalfa first.
Alfalfa hay is great for rabbits, but also Guinea pigs. This type of hay is known to produce excellent results in baby rabbits, containing lots of calcium and protein which supports healthy development. Calcium is essential for making bones harder and denser, while protein is essential for adding muscle mass and making muscles stronger.
Given that alfalfa hay has a bit more calcium and protein, it’s not exactly the best type of hay for a Guinea pig. Guinea pigs don’t need as much calcium and protein, but they do need Vitamin C and fibers. That’s why rabbits are different and a lot bigger than Guinea pigs. The main benefits of alfalfa hay include a large portion of the fiber, lots of calcium, and vitamins and amino acids.
Timothy hay, on the other hand, is quite different. This type of hay is used to feed large animals such as horses, cows, and other livestock. The reason for this is that horses need a lot of fiber in their nutrition, which is similar to Guinea pigs. Thankfully, timothy hay has a lot of fibers and a bit smaller amount of protein, making it ideal for Guinea pigs. This type of hay is rarely used in rabbit’s nutrition since calcium and protein levels are lower. The benefits of hay are numerous – improved digestion, shiny coat, healthy weight, and bowel regularity.
The fibers in timothy hay can be fermented in the bowel, giving a constant flow of energy throughout the day. Guinea pigs can get away with this type of hay, but larger animals are often fed with a combination of Timothy and alfalfa hay, especially horses.
Finally, we have meadow hay. Meadow hay is great for Guinea pigs since it has a lower amount of protein and a higher amount of fibers. But, the amount of fibers in this hay is a bit lower than in timothy hay, making it a bit less nutritious. For larger animals, this type of hay needs to be fed more in order to give the animals energy. For Guinea pigs, this doesn’t matter as they need lot less hay during the day.
To digress, the best types of hay for Guinea pigs are Timothy and meadow hay.
Hay and Other Foods for Guinea Pigs
Most of Guinea pig’s nutrition needs to consist of hay. However, despite their need for hay, Guinea pigs can eat other foods without any problems.
Herbivorous animals such as Guinea pigs have a wide array of vegetables and fruits available. Thankfully, your Guinea pig can and SHOULD eat those every day. In our previous articles, we mentioned some of the best vegetables for Guinea pigs, but also some that are not recommended. Usually, the most recommended vegetables and fruits are those with a high amount of fiber, such as lettuce, carrots, and sometimes cabbage.
Fruits that are good for Guinea pigs include strawberry, melons, apples, oranges, and pears. You can combine various fruits and vegetables every day and see what your Guinea pig enjoys the most.
When it comes to pellets, I would usually say to stay away from them. Pellets come at various different sizes, types, brand, and prices, and this is a commercial food for Guinea pigs. Most low-quality pellets have artificial sweeteners and preservatives such as corn syrup, propyl gallate, ethoxyquin, HFCS, which need to be avoided. If you see some of these, you should definitely skip that pellet. On the other hand, we have some popular brands that specialize in this area.
These brands include KMS Hayloft and Oxbow Cavy Cuisine. While they aren’t the most affordable, you can find their products online much cheaper than you would find them in the store. These are proven to have a good impact on Guinea pigs in terms of nutritional balance and development.
Hay and Supplements for Guinea Pigs
Despite the fact that hay plays a huge role in Guinea pig’s nutrition, it’s still not able to give it a required amount of Vitamin C. Except Vitamin C, Guinea pigs don’t need additional supplements. Vitamin C can be supplemented either via supplements that you can buy in any pet shop or simply by introducing food that has a lot of Vitamin C in it. Vitamin C supplements are usually not that expensive and they are the easy way to give your Guinea pig a required amount. You can combine hay and this supplement to achieve the desired effect.
Some vegetables and fruits also have a substantial amount of Vitamin C in them. Celery, beets, apples, and kale have a nice amount of Vitamin C in them. Fruits should be given to Guinea pigs occasionally, as they contain a higher amount of sugar. The best way to supplement Vitamin C with hay is through the supplements. Simply add it to every meal and make sure that it’s the right amount for your Guinea pig.
How to Store Hay?
The important thing is to have a right type of hay, but more important is that you keep it free from mold. The best way to store your hay is to keep it in a dry and cool place. Additional moisture is going to make it spoil fast and dry place is going to prevent mold from developing. Also, don’t store your hay for too long as it can lose its nutritional value over time. Be sure to always give your Guinea pig a fresh batch of hay.
We learned that hay plays an important role in the nutrition of herbivorous animals in general, and not just in Guinea pig’s nutrition. Since producing high-quality hay is a bit of a challenge, most Guinea pig owners should buy hay from verified sellers and have it available for their Guinea pigs at all time. Guinea pigs need hay 24/7, and although it plays an important role, be sure to mix things up with different foods.
Your Guinea pig will be healthiest when its nutrition consists of, at least, 80% hay, so don’t try to save money by buying low-quality hay.