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Which hay is for guinea pigs?

25 Jun

You read that right. Like horses, cavies are natural grazers, and grass makes up the majority of their preferred diet. But in most domestic settings, feeding large quantities of fresh grass is not realistic. Thus, we typically turn to dried grass — hay — as an alternative, but suitable staple.

Even if you buy the majority of you cavy supplies from a pet store, you’re likely to encounter a wide variety of available hay products. Which is best? This is largely a matter of opinion. Different options offer different benefits. Here are a few hay types you might consider.

Alfalfa

This is what comes to mind when most people thing of hay, but it’s fundamentally different from other types of hay in that alfalfa is not technically a grass, but a legume. It is widely available and often less expensive than other hay varieties, and it is frequently the base for pelleted cavy feeds, as well.

As a legume, alfalfa tends to be high in both protein and calcium. While extra protein is a boon for growing cavies and long-haired show cavies, the excess calcium can be problematic for adult cavies, especially those prone to bladder stones. It is also slightly low in fiber, which makes alfalfa easier to digest for young or ill cavies, but doesn’t help to maintain the digestive system of adult cavies.

Timothy

Timothy is a true grass hay, and often highly recommended for guinea pigs. Though less common and more expensive, some high-quality pellet feeds are made from Timothy. The raw hay is more widely available, as it is often fed to horses as well.

Timothy contains less protein than alfalfa, but it also has less calcium, which can make it a good choice for mature cavies. It’s also slightly higher in fiber than alfalfa and other legume-based hays. However, because the moisture content is low, Timothy tends to have a coarse texture. This is good for your cavy’s teeth, but your pet may think otherwise if it’s used to softer textures.

Timothy hay is drier than other kinds of hay, and more resistant to spoiling and mold. This can make it a worthwhile choice if you plan to store your hay for any length of time.

Orchard Grass

This is less common than Timothy and alfalfa hays, but orchard grass is known to appear in stores on occasion. From a nutritional standpoint, orchard grass and Timothy are remarkably similar. Orchard grass may be slightly higher in protein and slightly lower in calcium, but the two varieties are close enough that an early cut of Timothy could easily reverse that comparison. The texture of orchard grass tends to be somewhat softer and finer, which may make it more popular among some cavies.

Bermuda

This is another uncommon hay variety that has recently cropped up in pet stores. It contains slightly less protein than orchard grass and Timothy, and slightly more calcium, though, again, with different cuts, that comparison could come out differently. The texture is similar to Timothy, thought it may contain fewer stems and seeds.

Oat, Wheat and Barely

Our staple grains are in fact species of grass we have bred for their seeds and, often times, the grassy portion of the plant may be dried and sold as hay products. Most grain hays are low in both protein and calcium. Oat and wheat hays have a dry, coarse texture; barely is softer and finer.

While many varieties of hay are now available in pet-sized bales at most major pet stores, buying in bulk is generally cheaper. If you have several animals, you may consider contacting a local farmer about purchasing a few bales for yourself for a significantly lower price that what you will find at the store. Just be sure to store it somewhere dry, and keep it away from rodents and other animals that may spread diseases to your cavies.

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Four ways to feed your cavy vitamin C

28 May

Cavies are unique among rodents for their inability to produce their own vitamin C. In fact, both humans and cavies are in the Animal Kingdom minority in this respect. For either to fend off scurvy, it’s essential to find external sources of vitamin C.

Fortunately, this is not especially difficult. There are a number of options available, but each has unique benefits and drawbacks. The question is, which method works best for you and your cavies?

Water Drops

This is probably the most common method, but it may not be the most effective in some areas. Most vitamin C drops are added to your cavy’s water bottle, so while the drops themselves are a long-lasting, stable source of vitamin C, their actual effectiveness will depend on the chemistry of the water you use. If you use unfiltered tap water, and live in an area with hard water, these vitamin drops may not mix properly, leaving your cavy at risk of scurvy.

If you choose to add supplements to your cavy’s water, remember that you will need to change the water at least daily, and that you will need to clean the bottle more frequently to avoid a buildup of gunk, algae and bacteria that could either block the bottle, or make your cavy sick.

On the other hand, if you have the proper water chemistry and plan on changing the bottle daily anyway, water drops can be a good choice. It’s possibly the least expensive way to fend off scurvy — one bottle of droplets goes a long way. Liquid vitamin C is also more stable than most solid forms, which means you can store the drops longer and won’t need to replace them as often.

Some liquid vitamins can also be added directly to your cavy’s food, which is also a good option. Be sure to read the instructions on whatever product you choose.

Specialized Feed

Many commercial guinea pig feeds now include vitamin C. While this will up the price of your cavy’s food, this method requires less effort, when compared to other option. If your cavy is fed, it has vitamin C.

Note, however, that the vitamin C added to solid foods is generally not as stable as liquid vitamin C. The vitamins in your feed with break down over time, especially if the feed is exposed to sunlight. Depending on the number of cavies you own, this may prevent you from buying feed in bulk, or stocking up in advance, which can be costly and mean more frequent trips to the store. You should also pay close attention to any expiration dates posted on the feed — if you’re not careful, you could buy outdated feed without adequate vitamin C content.

Always be sure to check that any food you select explicitly includes vitamin C. Do not assume that any feed labeled for guinea pigs or cavies includes this essential nutrient. Such an oversight will kill your pet.

Vitamin Supplements

In addition to regular pellet feeds, many stores also offer treats or other edibles intended to provide vitamin C for your cavy. If the vitamin C content is adequate, this can also provide necessary nutrients for your pet.

If you go this route, it will be important to carefully monitor your guinea pig’s eating habits. If your cavy chooses not to eat supplemental treats for any reason, it may not get adequate vitamin C, and could quickly develop scurvy. Solid supplements may also be subject to the same storage problems as other solid feeds — you will not be able to store them over time, and they may be costly.

However, if you find a product your cavy particularly likes, this can be a fun way to add to your cavy’s diet. There are many different products available, and they come in a wide variety of flavors, which should lend itself to ample experimentation and variety.

Fresh Food

All essential vitamins can be found somewhere in nature. If you can find an appropriate source, fresh fruits and vegetables can provide the vitamin C your cavy needs.

Vitamin C can be found in some surprising — and some not-so-surprising — natural sources. You don’t necessarily need to feed your cavy oranges to get it the nutrition it needs. In fact, that’s not especially recommended. Some cavies are sensitive to developing diabetes, and the sugar content in fruit can cause this disease to develop more rapidly. Dark, leafy vegetables are a far better choice. Parsely, a favorite among many guinea pigs, is exceptionally high in vitamin C, but it can be found in a variety of other herbs and vegetables as well.

Whichever options you prefer, it is often best to double up on sources of vitamin C. If you rely on a single method of providing adequate vitamins, your cavy is at a much higher risk should your feed or supplements fail for any reason. It’s also worth noting that overdosing on vitamin C is essentially impossible, even in guinea pigs. Excess water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C are purged in the animal’s urine.