Hay is an essential part of your guinea pig's diet. Read on to learn more about the importance of Hay.
Saying guinea pigs love hay would be an understatement: it is more accurate to say that they are OBSESSED with it! Without it, guinea pigs would not be able to lead healthy and happy lives as it is essential to their well-being. They not only love eating it, but also enjoy playing in it, and even choose to sleep in it. It truly makes up an important part of their lives, that’s why it’s vital that we understand its significance.
But, did you know that not all hay is quite the same? Below we break down the difference of some of the most common types of hay that can be fed to guinea pigs. Read on to find out more!
How much hay should I feed my guinea pig?
For guinea pigs, hay forms the bulk of their diet and should never be viewed as a treat. As an owner, you may be wondering ‘how much hay should I feed my guinea pigs’?
Guinea pigs should be provided with unlimited hay at ALL TIMES. Good quality hay makes up 80 - 90% of a guinea pig's diet alongside fresh water, pellets, and a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Why is hay important for guinea pigs?
Hay is a key component to a guinea pig’s health and wellbeing for 3 main reasons:
Hay is essential for your guinea pig’s dental health: With guinea pigs teeth constantly growing it is important that their teeth do not become overgrown. Constantly chewing hay will wear down your piggies teeth, keeping them at a healthy length!
Hay is essential for your guinea pig’s digestion: hay provides the essential high fibre diet that they need in order to help keep their gut moving. If their gut slows, which could happen in the case of absent or limited hay, fatal problems can occur such as bloat and gut stasis which can be life threatening and even fatal. That’s why it is so important that you feed your guinea pig a balanced diet and closely monitor their appetite. If you suspect your guinea pig has stopped eating, it is important to seek veterinary advice. Check out our free guinea pig vet map for community suggestions.
Hay is essential for your guinea pig’s development: hay is also an invaluable element to the behaviour and environment of guinea pigs. In the wild guinea pigs naturally burrow and tunnel in long grasses. By providing hay for guinea pigs to burrow and sit on this recreates the wild environment for domestic piggies. Hay is commonly used as bedding, however make sure to also provide fresh hay for your guinea pig to eat so it is not soiled.
Hay can be used as part of your guinea pig’s playtime routine. By being creative in the way you present hay, such as left over toilet roll tubes and other cardboard items, this will challenge and create stimulation for your guinea pigs. As a plus the guinea pig can chew and eat the cardboard too, adding to more fibre!
THE IMPORTANCE OF HAY QUALITY
With a guinea pig's diet being made up of mainly hay it is important as an owner that you invest in high-quality hay. High-quality hay is green in colour, smells fresh, and is dry with no dust (Meadow Hay is golden). Hay that is yellow or brown, especially Timothy hay, is evidence that the hay no longer has a high nutritional value. Quality hay should be dry but not brittle and contain little to no dust. Dusty hay can cause allergies for both you and your guinea pig and can affect a guinea pig's respiratory tract.
Always make sure to check your hay for any foreign objects such as unsafe plants or plastic. Even in the highest quality hay, sometimes things get mixed into the hay when harvested from the field.
Hay that is poor in quality can also harbor pests such as mites, which can cause infestations. It is important to investigate your hay and follow proper storage advice to avoid the attraction of unwanted insects.
WHAT TYPES OF HAY CAN I FEED MY GUINEA PIGS?
When it comes to hay, there are plenty of types to choose from that are safe for your guinea pigs to eat. While they are generally all high in fibre, not all hay is equal when it comes to nutrition.
You may already know that guinea pigs are prone to urinary tract stones if they eat a diet high in calcium. Calcium is not only found in many guinea pig friendly vegetables, but can also be found in high concentrations in hay. Thus, it is important that you select a hay that is relatively low in calcium, and leave calcium rich hay for occasional treats. Read our article, ‘Calcium in Guinea Pigs: Everything you Need to Know’ for more information.
Here are 10 types of hay most commonly fed to guinea pigs:
Timothy Hay is the most common and well known hay used for guinea pigs. Timothy Hay is a high quality green hay that has a high nutritional value for guinea pigs and is a great choice to feed your piggies on a daily basis. You can get several types of timothy – first, second, or third cut.
The first cut contains more seed heads and has less nutritional value and fibre than the 2nd cut which is softer and more green. The third cut is the last harvest of the year and is the sweet green leaves harvested later in the season.
Orchardgrass is very similar to second cut timothy hay, it is just a bit leafier. Orchard grass is a great alternative for people who may have allergies to other types of hay. Orchardgrass can also be a good option to mix in with timothy hay to give your guinea pigs some variety. It is high in fibre and is green to greenish-gold in colour.
Orchard grass contains the lowest level of calcium compared to other hays meaning it is great for long term feeding. Due to its softer nature Orchard Grass is a great option for bedding and carries a low risk of eye poke.
Meadow hay is made from long grass, seeds and flowers from a meadow. Meadow hay is great to encourage foraging behaviour in guinea pigs but can contain more calcium than other hays as well as other plants that guinea pigs may not like. Meadow hay is a tasty option to feed as a treat or to blend with other types of hay.
Alfalfa hay is high in calcium so it should only be fed as an occasional treat, in adult guinea pigs, as it can cause bladder sludge and possible bladder stones in adult guinea pigs. However, this hay is beneficial for pregnant or nursing sows as the extra calcium and protein are passed onto the pups. It is also a great choice for piggies that are less than 6 months old to support growing teeth and bones.
Alfalfa hay can also be fed in moderation to very young or elderly guinea pigs that need to put on weight, or for those recovering from illness. Read our article, ‘Everything you Need to Know About your Guinea Pig and their Weight’ for more information.
Oat Hay is also known as wheat hay. This type of hay comes within the family of oat, wheat, and barley hay. Oat hay is golden/yellow in colour and is thicker with coarser stems so may not be as comfortable as bedding as other types of hay. Oat is a great hay to mix up your routine or feed as a treat alongside your regular hay, as it is known to be higher in protein and fat compared to other hay types.
Ryegrass is considered one of the most balanced hays for calcium and phosphorus but is high in protein. Due to its naturally high sugar content, it is best to feed to your piggies in moderation, or mix in with other hay to encourage foraging. It is often called pasture hay in some parts of the world such as Australia.
Bermuda grass is another great choice as a daily feeding hay due to being low in calcium and phosphorus values: its nutritional value is often compared to timothy hay. This type of hay may be trickier to find, depending on where you live, as it is often grown in tropical regions.
Where should I store my guinea pigs’ hay?
It is important that your guinea pig’s hay is stored correctly! Hay should be stored in a cool, clean, and dry place to prevent the hay from becoming damp or retaining moisture. Damp or wet hay can result in mold which is harmful to your guinea pigs health. Hay should also be stored away from windows and as hay can lose its nutritional value if left to bleach in the sun.
High-quality fresh hay is a vital part of your guinea pig's diet, health, and wellbeing. Nothing brings on a pop-corning episode more than fresh hay to eat and burrow in! Why not treat your guinea pig to the quality hay it deserves!
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