The Importance of Vitamin C in Your Guinea Pig’s Diet

Drink your orange juice! Eat an orange! Virtual hands up if you’ve heard things like that since you were a little kid. Our parents – and doctor – wanted us to get sufficient Vitamin C to keep us healthy. That means eating plenty of foods packed full of Vitamin C and even taking supplements.

Vitamin C plays an important role in maintaining good health. But, it’s not just us. Your cavy companion requires sufficient Vitamin C to ensure he remains healthy and strong, too.

Just like we humans can’t make or store Vitamin C, neither can our guinea pigs. That means we must, through their diet, make sure they get sufficient, between 10 and 30 milligrams, of the vitamin each day. (Talk with your vet to determine how much your guinea pig needs; sick and very young cavys often require more in their diet.)

Cavy Cuisine

Eating the right foods can be, well, a pretty daunting struggle for those of us on two legs, right? Fortunately, for our piggy pals, we’re there to make sure they get exactly what they need in their diet, including sufficient vitamin C.  The good news? It's not difficult at all to make sure your cavy's getting enough C.

Here's how:

Greens – Spice up your cavy's diet with a variety of greens, such as romaine lettuce, basil, parsley, green and red leaf lettuce, to name just a few that will help with his daily Vitamin C intake. 

Give your guinea pig one cup of greens each day - half a cup each time. 

Fruits – How much fruit your cavy should eat each day really depends on who you talk to. Your best bet is to consult your veterinarian. Safe fruits include apple, blueberry, plum, strawberry, and peach. 

Pelletsfresh pellets – are another simple way to ensure your guinea pig gets enough Vitamin C. Keep in mind, however, that the longer your bag of pellets sits around, the more the Vitamin C's ascorbic acid loses its value. And, that doesn’t mean just sitting around in your house. Consider how long it also sits in the pellet manufacturer’s warehouse. Small Pet Select sells only fresh pellets that never linger on shelves.

'A foraging we go...

Hay, hay, hay! All those foods we just talked about? Essential for ensuring your cavy gets enough Vitamin C. But, the staple of his diet should be hay - unlimited grass hay, including Timothy hay, orchard grass, ryegrass, and brome. 

Guinea pigs forage, right? Well, hay allows your guinea pig the opportunity to follow his natural instinct and to get some of his daily Vitamin C intake at the same time.

Add some Vita Essentials to his hay. And, after a successful round of foraging, offer him some dried strawberry from Small Pet Select. Both Vita Essentials and dried strawberry contain Vitamin C.

Just Say No To Drops

Add a few vitamin C drops to your cavy's water and voila! No worries about Vitamin C from now on. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. 

Forget the Vitamin C drops. The intention behind them might be good but you've got several major downsides, including:

  • Remember how it's important to give your guinea pig fresh pellets because, the longer they sit, the more ascorbic acid they lose? Same deal with the drops in the water. The water dilutes the ascorbic acid.

  •  Ewww...gross. Remember how, as kids, we could always tell when our parents added vitamins or meds to our drink or food so we wouldn't fight taking it? Well, we could always detect it and so can guinea pigs.

  • How much water does your cavy drink each day? It probably varies from day-to-day, right? Well, then you really don't know how much Vitamin C your cavy is drinking if you rely on drops.

Too much of a good thing

Time for an old cliche. We've all heard, and probably even rolled our eyes at that old sentiment "You can never have too much of a good thing." Well, yeah, you can. 

Proof? Vitamin C and guinea pigs. Too little and your cavy can get sick. Too much and your cavy can get sick. You've got to find the perfect medium. That means you have to be really careful with what types of greens you feed him or else he could suffer from bloat.

Bloat may be caused by a buildup of gas from greens – such as cabbage and kale – too rich in Vitamin C or it could result from an intestinal blockage. Either way, it will cause your guinea pig extreme pain and require veterinary care immediately. 

Likewise, if you’re not sure if he’s getting enough or you’re worried he’s getting too much Vitamin C, consult with your vet.

Does your cavy have scurvy?

Your usually rambunctious piggy, who always comes running for treats, suddenly becomes lethargic, unwilling or unable to move. Not only is he not in the mood for treats, which is virtually unheard of, but your guinea pig just doesn’t want to eat at all.

Those are just a few of the signs of scurvy, a condition that results from a lack of vitamin C. You’ll also want to look out for other symptoms, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen or stiff joints
  • Discomfort when you touch him

Call a vet immediately if you notice your cavy displaying any of these symptoms. Never, ever diagnose and treat your guinea pig yourself. The lack of vitamin C could be hiding another problem like malocclusion. 

There you have it. Making sure your guinea pig gets enough Vitamin C daily really is pretty simple, isn't it? And, as always, if you're not sure, consult with your cavy-savvy veterinarian.