Guinea pigs need a considerable amount of hay to maintain good dental and digestive health, but also to ensure they get enough nutrients for their overall health. Specifically, according to NC State Veterinary Medicine, approximately 80% of a cavy’s diet should consist of high-quality hay. Along with water and vegetables, hay is a vital component for your pet’s well-being. Truly, it’s something they simply can’t do without.
But not all hay is the same. While some may taste like a delicious treat to your guinea, it may not contain enough fiber or other essentials. The key is to find hay that’s tasty, high in fiber, low in calories, and that has the right amount of protein. Too many calories can result in overweight guinea pigs. Calcium, as well, may be another factor to consider. Although it’s fine for pregnant, nursing, and young cavies, too much calcium in adult guineas can result in bladder stones. A painfully uncomfortable condition, this occurs when cavies are unable to metabolize excess protein and calcium.
Now that we’ve clarified the importance of hay in your guinea pigs’ diet, let’s go on to explore the different types of hay that are ideal for them and how to select the best one for your furry companions.
Table of Contents
- Fiber and why it’s so important for a guinea pig’s health
- Best hay for guinea pigs?
- Is there really a best type of hay for guinea pigs?
- Does unlimited truly mean ‘unlimited?’
- The benefits of offering a variety of tastes
- The link between hay and dental care
- Proper storage
Fiber and why it’s so important for a guinea pig’s health
First, let’s just address the role fiber plays in your guinea’s life. Though it might sound a touch dramatic, the truth is, for pets that rely greatly on fiber to regulate their digestive system, it is indeed a matter of much importance. Roughage is the key to a finely-tuned G.I. system, as it keeps things moving along smoothly.
Simply put, your pet pig can’t poop properly without hay, since it’s typically high in fiber (or, at least, the one you select should be). How do we avoid tummy trouble and poop problems? The answer is quality hay, plain and simple. Thus, they should have free access to unlimited hay everyday. However, there are some hay types that do come with certain restrictions – so you’ll need to pay attention to this.
Best hay for guinea pigs?
Now, let’s talk about which types of hay exist, the main characteristics of each kind of hay and which one to choose for your guinea pigs!
Timothy Hay is widely known as being an excellent, high-quality type of hay, one that is readily available as it is incredibly popular because of its delicate flavor and sweet, pleasant aroma. When choosing Timothy Hay, look for a nice green color. It should smell sweet and feel dry – not thick like straw with a musty, moldy odor. Timothy Hay comes in three varieties, or types of ‘cuts.’ The Oxbow variety is my usual go-to for my guinea Muffy.
- 1st Cut Timothy – With a high fiber content and a low fat and protein content, this high in stem, low in leaf cut is ideal for animals who need to lose weight, have teeth that need to be worn down, or chronic GI issues.
- 2nd Cut Timothy – This medium leaf and flexible stem cut is perfect for pets that are healthy with no health concerns, as it has the ideal ratio of nutrients for maintenance.
- 3rd Cut Timothy – A very green, very soft, high leaf cut, this selection is best for pets who need to gain some weight or for those who have chewing issues and mouth pain. Low in fiber, high in protein and fat, it’s also a nice way to add some flavor to a regular diet.
Meadow hay consists of a variety of leafy grasses, clover, and quite often, bits of other plants, flowers, seed heads, legumes, and small sticks. Basically, if it’s in the meadow when they bale the hay, that’s what ends up in front of your guinea. Long, varied grass strands are one of the distinguishing features of this type of hay. Some people swear by Meadow Hay, claiming the long strands stimulate digestion and increase gut motility for their guineas. When selecting Meadow Hay, look for green strands – a sign it’s fresh and tasty.
Bermuda hay/Bermudagrass hay
Bermuda is a high-quality hay that is high in fiber – about 32% crude fiber overall – and can therefore help naturally with the digestive process. A tropical grass commonly found in both tropical and subtropical areas, Bermudagrass is extremely valuable for pasture and is often collected as hay for animals. Compared to other types of hay, it consists of moderate protein and fat values.
Bluegrass Hay is a hybrid variant of Orchard seed, though it is more of a bluish/greenish color. Its leafy, wide blade strands are flexible and soft, much like the 3rd Timothy Hay, though similar in taste to Orchard Grass Hay. Nutritionally, it is equivalent to Orchard, with minimal stems. What’s special about this hay is that it causes less allergies, for both you and your pet. If your allergies are often triggered by Timothy Hay, consider trying Bluegrass.
Orchard grass hay
Aromatic with broad leaves, Orchard Grass Hay is an excellent hay with a standard amount of fiber, protein, and fat. Also, it’s another great solution for people and pets who have allergies. Though it has a slightly different smell than 2nd cut Timothy, it is quite similar to it. As it has a softer texture, Orchard is easy for cavies to chew. As well, this softness makes it a nice bedding material. I’ve recently tried the Grandpa’s Best Organic line of products, specifically the giant bale of Orchard grass hay. The price seemed great, considering it’s a certified organic product, so I figured I’d give it a try. So far, so good – Muffy munches on it happily, and I’ve caught her a few times nesting on a loose pile of the stuff.
Remember my comment about too much calcium causing health problems? Well, I was specifically referring to Alfalfa Hay, which is the only hay on this list you’ll need to be careful with. With high fiber, protein, and fat, Alfalfa is also high in calcium, making it a hay that you shouldn’t use everyday for your adult pigs, as too much calcium creates health issues. While all the other hays are essentially grasses, Alfalfa isn’t – it’s a legume. Thus, it’s simply too high in calories for guinea pigs, which means they would likely gain too much weight.
There are exceptions, however, with this rich, dense, small leaf cut. Pregnant, nursing, or growing guineas can benefit from a small amount of this hay per day. Also, you can add small quantities of it once in a while to spice up an adult cavy’s regular diet. Again, be mindful not to use it as an everyday, unlimited hay, since the high protein and calcium can cause diarrhea or other problems such as kidney and bladder stones.
In some instances, Alfalfa Hay can be given to pets who need to put on some weight, be it because of an illness or during convalescence. The best thing to do is to consult your vet for advice before using Alfalfa Hay in larger quantities.
Quantity: Only use small amounts occasionally as a treat. Consult your veterinarian for specific directions in all other cases.
Oat Hay is quite distinctive, which means that some guineas will like it, others may not. Yellowish in color and high in fiber, with long stems that have some oats attached, it’s a good option for adult cavies who need extra roughage, but don’t like the taste of 1st cut Timothy. Also, Oat Hay is high in protein and fat.
Basically, Botanical – also known as Gourmet Hay – is an epicurean delight for guinea pigs. A blend of many kinds of grasses, herbs, and dried flowers, Botanical Hay gives cavies several different flavors of hay at once. Depending on the combination, it typically has a standard amount of fiber, protein, and fat. At our place, I always keep a bag of this kind of hay to offer every couple of days or so, to vary Muffy’s hay selection. She positively loves the stuff, rushing over whenever I give it to her like I’m dishing out pure gold. Also, I have to say, this stuff smells amazing!
Is there really a best type of hay for guinea pigs?
Truthfully, the answer is, there is no one best type, though a lot depends on the health of your pigs and their preferences. Having said that, it’s important to remember that Alfalfa Hay is the only exception. Usually, pet owners try out different kids of hay to see which ones their guineas like best, then vary it with other kinds they prefer. Timothy Hay is a very popular choice, but one reason can be that it’s mass-produced, thus readily available and widely used.
Does unlimited truly mean ‘unlimited?’
Yes, guinea pigs should have unlimited access to hay. But, as their pet parent, you’ll need to keep in mind their specific nutritional requirements when choosing the right hay, in order to give them free access to the type of hay they need. Use a hay dispenser to keep things fresh and dry, or spice things up by adding some to an edible container, such as a paper towel roll, cardboard box, or untreated wicker basket.
The benefits of offering a variety of tastes
While it is indeed crucial to provide our pets with healthy food, it’s also important to offer variety. When you offer the same things over and over again, you’re likely to get a picky pet or a bored pet. Yet, when you give your guineas the opportunity to experience different tastes, it encourages natural foraging behaviours. But also, mealtime should be fun and interesting. Wouldn’t you be bored of the same old, same old? It’s the same for our furry companions. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say, so why not keep our pets happier by offering lots of different choices?
In the wild, our herbivore cavies have a wide variety of plants, grasses, and herbs readily available. They roam freely, gnawing, nibbling, and grazing away to their heart’s content. As such, they’re constantly grinding down their teeth, thus keeping them healthy. With teeth that are perpetually growing, they require continual access to things they can chew on. However, your domestic pets depend on you to bring them hay to keep their teeth at bay. That’s why hay is so essential to their dental health regimen.
If stored properly in a cool, dry, dark place, dried grass and hay can be stored for about a year. Hay does need to be well ventilated, however, since damp conditions can cause mold to grow.
On the other hand, too much sunlight and exposure to heat can break down the food, leaching out much-needed nutrients. Wherever you store it, keep the hay protected with a covering, but also make sure there’s enough air circulating. A hay dispenser is also a great way to keep hay off the floor of the cage so it’s dry and fresh for as long as possible.