We have talked about the nutritional needs of guinea pigs. One other important thing to discuss is salt because many owners think this is important for guinea pigs.
But, do guinea pigs really need salt? Not really. Guinea pigs get everything they need from vegetables, fruit, and Vitamin C supplements. Salt is something that your guinea pig will either love or hate, depending on the pig itself. Some people buy salt spools for their guinea pigs and they either lick it or completely ignore it. On top of that, salt is not the best option for guinea pigs, as it can produce bladder stone, which can sometimes be deadly.
In this article, we’ll talk more about salt spools, as well as potential risks of introducing salt to guinea pig’s diet.
Salt and Bladder Stones
Salt is known for its great benefits for humans. It promotes vascular health, helps you stay hydrated, prevents muscle cramping, and improves sleep. Salt is also known for containing minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals are great for keeping your body healthy. Calcium and magnesium are great for improving bone structure, sodium and potassium are great for preventing muscle cramps.
But, having an excessive amount of minerals in your body can produce bladder stones. Bladder stones are not produced only by the salt, but also by water that contains stones and minerals. Unfortunately for guinea pigs, they can also suffer from this condition, which can be life-threatening for them. Bladder stones, simply put, are hard masses of minerals in the bladder. These stones are a result of crystallization of minerals concentrated in urine.
Symptoms of bladder stones usually include abdominal pain, frequent urination, and in severe cases, blood in the urine.
Bladder stones also come in various sizes and can vary from casual to severe. Guinea pigs should not consume that many minerals and especially not too much salt. For an average human, the recommended amount of salt per day is 5 to 6 grams, and for guinea pigs… well, that recommendation doesn’t exist, but you can probably imagine how small it would be. Still, guinea pigs can consume salt in a very small amount using salt spools, which we’re going to talk about later.
Salt and Bloat
Can salt cause bloat in guinea pigs? In some cases, yes. Salt is known to produce water retention and as such, bloat can occur. However, bloat from water is less dangerous than foods that produce bloat. If your guinea pig gets bloated by drinking a lot of water, it will probably urinate more often and eliminate that water out of a body. Some pellets that you can buy at a pet shop also contain traces of salt. That amount of salt is, however, decent for your guinea pig and won’t cause any trouble.
Again, it’s very important to buy pellets that don’t come with lots of salt. If you feed your guinea pig with pellets, you don’t need to include additional salt in a diet for reasons we mentioned above – bloat and possibility of bladder stones.
Salt Spools – What Are They?
If a guinea pig can eat a small amount of salt, is there a way to give them that? Of course, in a form of salt spools. Some guinea pig owners say that salt spools are bad, some are giving their pigs salt spools, and the general opinions about this topic are very different from person to person. On the other hand, guinea pigs need a bit of sodium too. Sodium is great for preventing muscle cramps, balancing fluids in the body, and lowering blood pressure. Salt spools are attached to the side of the cage and used by a guinea pig, according to its needs.
It’s on you, as an owner, to decide whether or not you’re going to use a salt spool. If you decide that you’re going to use it, here’s how you should do it. The salt spool should be used in a way that your guinea pig has unrestricted access to it whenever it wants to use it. The idea behind the salt spool is that your guinea pig can consume sodium whenever his body feels the need for it. The salt spool should be firmly attached to the side of the cage, but should not interfere with food and water.
The general recommendation is that the salt spool stays at a place where bedding can’t touch it. If bedding gets trapped around a salt spool, it’s very hard to clean the salt spool and you must buy a new one.
Believe it or not, salt spools are different and there isn’t only one type. Coming at 3 different types, you’re going to need to decide which one to buy for your guinea pig.
The ordinary (first type) white salt spools are here to give your guinea pig a boost of minerals if it already gets enough of them from nutrition. This type of salt spool is great if your guinea pig eats a lot of hay, vegetables, and fruit. For those who are feeding guinea pigs with pellets, this type, as well as any type of salt spool is NOT needed. You don’t want to overwhelm your guinea pig with minerals for the reasons mentioned above.
The second type of salt spool is a mineral salt spool. As its name suggests, this type of salt spool is a bit different than the ordinary one. Mineral salt spools have the addition of vitamins and minerals to remedy potential deficiencies. Again, this one should be used with caution. If you’re already supplementing your guinea pig with vitamins and minerals with supplements, you definitely don’t need this one.
Finally, we have flavored salt spools. Guinea pigs love these for a simple reason – it comes with different flavors! These can be flavors of various vegetables, fruits, and hay. The only difference between these and plain salt spools is in flavor. Aside from that, there’s not an addition of minerals and vitamins here.
Should you buy a flavored, mineral or plain salt spool, depends on the preferences of your pig. Some guinea pigs love flavored salt spools, while some will lick any kind of spool.
The guinea pig is a mammal and every mammal needs sodium (salt). Sodium is present in every type of food that has salt in it. For example, dried meat, canned beans, canned fish, etc. But, as guinea pigs aren’t carnivorous animals, you’ll need to give them a dose of sodium directly from salt. The purpose of a salt spool is supplementing your guinea pig with sodium, which is vital in keeping guinea pig’s cells hydrated, as well as absorbing nutrients from food.
Guinea pig’s muscles and nerves will also see an improvement, as sodium helps in transmission signals between muscles and nerves. Since guinea pigs don’t eat salty food, as we do, they must receive sodium each day. Sodium is continuously used when your guinea pig is having any type of physical activity or when it simply doesn’t do anything. Everyday integration of sodium is very important for your guinea pig.
Sodium Deficiency in Guinea Pigs
Can guinea pigs have a sodium deficiency? There are no notable cases in sodium deficiency in guinea pigs. While sodium deficiency can cause muscle cramps, dizziness, and vomiting in humans, guinea pigs can be perfectly fine without sodium or salt in general. That’s why giving your Guinea pig some salt isn’t obligatory but it sometimes helps to maintain health and reduce muscle cramps.
On the other side, too much sodium and other minerals from salt can have a negative effect on guinea pigs for reasons mentioned above.
So, do guinea pigs really need salt? Once again, they don’t need it but they also don’t have any negative effects from occasional consuming. While the salt spools are great for giving your guinea pig a decent amount of sodium, they can also be bad if they’re overused. That’s why you need to observe your guinea pig if you use salt spool and see if it uses it too much.
Salt, in general, have a lot of health benefits for humans, but guinea pigs would definitely need to stay away from the excessive amount. Alternatively, you can always feed your pigs with pellets, where they can get a small, albeit healthy amount of salt.
Don’t feel obligated to give your guinea pigs salt. They definitely don’t need it to survive!