Guinea pig hay! Undoubtedly the most crucial component of your pet’s diet, is a subject that we all, as responsible guinea pig owners, owe to our pets to have a little understanding of.
The reason for this is that not only is hay the most essential form of nutrition that we can feed our piggies, but that in addition, finding the best quality guinea pig hay can prove somewhat of a challenge. Let’s face it, feeding sub-standard hay to our pets is not only detrimental to their health, but a waste of money as well. And there’s not one of us out there who relishes the thought of not getting every red cent’s worth of value for our money that we can.
Gaining a little knowledge into guinea pig hay not only ensures that we’re giving our guinea pigs the best nutrition possible, but that we also get the best possible “bang for our buck…”
Why do we Feed a Guinea Pig Hay?
The importance of feeding a guinea pig hay can be broken down into two main reasons:
Guinea Pig Hay – Reason #1: Fiber – an Essential Component
Guinea pigs have a digestive system that’s perfectly adapted to their natural environment in the wild where food was not an easy source to come by. During times of scarcity, which was often, as well as times of plenty, wild guinea pigs fed on fibrous stalks, plants and other vegetable matter; in fact, whatever they could find in order to exist.
So they became used to constantly grazing, and having a large amount of fiber in their digestive system almost on a constant basis. Fiber, much in the same way as it does with humans, draws water into the intestines (or gut), allowing the body to draw the essential nutrients from the food and the waste matter to remain soft and pliable to continue its journey through the gut and be passed out as droppings.
Without this essential fiber, the matter within the gut will slow down or even stop, causing a potentially fatal condition known as gastrointestinal stasis – or GI stasis for short. This is why we need to ensure that our guinea pigs have constant access to fiber (in the form of hay), at all times.
Guinea Pig Hay – Reason #2: Nature’s Piggy Dentist!
Mother Nature certainly is a clever old soul, always equipping her creations with exactly what they need to survive. And in the case of guinea pig teeth, it’s that they’re open rooted and grow constantly throughout the life of the animal. This is because the constant chewing on the tough food a guinea pig can find in the wild naturally erodes the teeth away.
So by feeding your guinea pig hay, you’re giving him exactly the tough, fibrous chewing material he needs in order to grind those teeth down – exactly as he would’ve done in the wild.
Without this essential daily dental workout, a guinea pig is at serious risk of a condition known as malocclusion. This is where the teeth don’t get worn down sufficiently, and the edges become sharp, jagged and overgrown. This in turn causes damage to the inside of the cheeks and/or the tongue. Worst case scenario will be that the piggy is in so much pain that he’s unable to eat. This, in similarity with GI stasis, can prove fatal if allowed to worsen to this stage.
Thankfully, feeding your guinea pig hay on an ad-lib basis is all you need do to prevent this condition occurring.
History of Guinea pig hay
Over the centuries, humans have used hay as a fodder for many difference species of animals. At first this was more likely to be animals raised for food, such as cattle, or animals used for work purposes – such as horses, donkeys and oxen During the winter months, when fresh grass was unavailable, hay was the perfect substitute for this. Over time, as we began to keep small animals such as guinea pigs, then hay for this market became more common.
Hay making really is an art, and farmers who produce this have inherited the skill from their ancestors over the centuries. Of course, today’s technology and machinery make this a far easier task today than in years gone by, when hay making really was a back breaking procedure. However, the general process still remains the same, and takes the following path:
- The growing of the hay
- The cutting of the hay
- The drying of the hay
- The storage of the hay
Late spring and early summer is when the grass is at its peak of growing. Then the skill of the farmer really comes into play when determining the exact point to cut it. Many aspects affect this, including the moisture content, flowering of the grasses and, very importantly, the weather forecast. This is because once the hay is cut it needs to lie on the field, exposed to the elements, to dry. Rain at this point can turn a fantastic crop of hay into something not much better than mediocre, or even worse. So the weather really does play a huge part.
Storage comes next. Once the hay is baled it needs to be stored in the correct manner to allow the hay to remain dry and the air to circulate around it. Done wrong, mold can turn a great crop into something only suitable to be used as bedding instead of fodder, so it really is an essential part of the process.
Different Types of Guinea Pig Hay
Guinea pig hay can be found in two different types:
- Legume Hay
- Grass Hay
Whilst both are types of grass, there’s a big difference between the two. We’ll look at which type of guinea pig hay your pet requires in the following section, but first let’s discuss the differences between the two.
Legume guinea pig hay is generally of the type known as alfalfa. This type of hay is higher in protein and calories (energy), along with a few other differences such as calcium and phosphorus. But the main difference for us as guinea pig owners is the energy and protein content. Because of this it only tends to be used at times of a guinea pig’s life when he requires extra energy.
Alfalfa hay for guinea pigs, along with the energy difference, also looks a little different to grass hay. It’s softer, darker green in color and will have the dried flowers of the alfalfa plant clearly in evidence.
Many different types of grass can be fed to your pet, but one of the most common tends to be timothy hay. Timothy hay for guinea pigs is great because it is both tasty and is also a great fiber provider and does the job for their much needed daily dental workout. The stalks are long, tough, yet pliable, and the hay is of a lower calorie and energy content, making it the perfect hay to feed your pet at most stages of his life.
What Type of Hay does my Guinea Pig Need?
Apart from times of increase energy needs, as outlined below, most guinea pigs require timothy hay to be fed to them in abundance. Providing your guinea pig hay such as this on an ad-lib basis – i.e., as much as he can eat – is the perfect solution to his fiber and dental needs.
Times of Increased Energy Needs
There are certain times of a guinea pig’s life that he might well require additional protein and energy in his diet. This might be on the advice of your vet, but the following are generally when you might need to feed an alfalfa hay in addition or instead of timothy hay.
- Growing guinea pigs. For the first few months of a guinea pig’s life he requires a huge amount of energy to grow. Alfalfa hay (and pellets) provide him with this extra protein and calorie source.
- Pregnant and nursing mothers. Not only when pregnant and her young are forming internally, but also for the guinea pig to provide the essential milk to feed her babies.
- Sick, injured and rehabilitating guinea pigs. Again, the body of a guinea pig requires extra calories and protein at such a time to help aid recover.
- Geriatric guinea pigs. The same as with humans in their latter years, keeping weight on is often an issue. Feeding alfalfa hay at this point might well be a solution, but is something that should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon before taking the decision to do so.
What to Look for in a Good Timothy Grass Guinea Pig Hay
Once you’ve noted the difference between good and poor quality timothy hay for guinea pigs, it’s really easy to spot the difference. But the biggest problem for most guinea pig owners is to find a reliable and quality source of it. Unfortunately, much of the hay that can be found being sold as suitable for guinea pigs really is sub-standard.
Good quality timothy hay versus poor quality
|Good Quality Timothy Hay||Poor Quality Timothy Hay|
|Green in color||Brown or yellow in color|
|Smells sweet & fragrant||Little or no smell|
|No sign of dust or mold||Dusty and/or mold spots (black or white specks)|
|Pliable fibrous stalks||Stalks break or crumble to the touch|
|Contains only hay||Contains foreign matter such as stones, dirt, earth and other plants|
However, even more so than what the hay looks, feels and smells like will be the voracity with which your piggy tucks into great quality hay. And once you’ve seen how much he adores this as opposed to that of a poor quality, you’ll never want to feed him anything different again. And he certainly won’t leave any of the good stuff, that’s for sure!
Undoubtedly this is most important aspect when you purchase guinea pig hay. Naturally, none of us want to think that we’re wasting money, and nothing can be more frustrating than having to throw away sub-standard hay that your piggy won’t eat. So even if the best quality hay costs a little more in the first place, you actually save money in the long run because none goes to waste.
Where to Find Top Quality Guinea Pig Hay
The very biggest problem with finding top quality guinea pig hay is managing to find an affordable and reliable source. Sure, you can just pop down to the local pet store, but sadly much of what is sold here really isn’t the best hay – and certainly not a guinea pig hay that your pet will munch into with a gusto.
The reasons for this are many, but the main one is this:
Hay is an extremely fragile product. Courtesy of Mother Nature, hay is simply dried grass. And in the same way that any product created by her gentle hand doesn’t do well when touched by humans, hay becomes stressed and damaged each time it’s handled, packaged and transported. And the methods of mass production that most hay undergoes before it reaches your guinea pig’s cage do nothing to keep it in the condition it was when it lay in the farmer’s field.
So the biggest problem that faces most pet owners is to find a reliable supplier of top quality guinea pig hay, as well as one that produces and provides hay specifically for small pets and guinea pigs.
Small Pet Select now offer an online ordering service to purchase hay that’s been selected, produced, packaged and shipped specifically for guinea pigs and other small pets. With quality, service and ease at the top of our customer satisfaction process, at last rabbit owners throughout the nation can get their hands on hay that’s not only as Mother Nature intended, but that your pets will absolutely love eating.
Summary of Guinea Pig Hay
As you can see, guinea pig hay is far more complex than it first seems, not to mention interesting to understand a little more about it. We, as responsible guinea pig owners, owe it to our pets to take their nutrition seriously, so we hope that this paper on guinea pig hay has helped you a little in this respect. Certainly it’s a subject that we here at Small Pet Select take extremely seriously.
We’re dedicated to providing guinea pig owners the world over with the very best information possible to aid you in the best welfare of your pets. After all, happy pets equal happy owners – and our piggies certainly do their bit to bring a great deal of happiness into our lives.
Till next time, love those piggies…