Guinea pigs are not from Guinea, nor are they “pigs” in the true sense of the word.
Guinea pigs are rodents like squirrels or mice.
They are also herbivores, meaning they subsist entirely on grasses, fruits, and vegetables.
Grasses are important, and of the many types of grass guinea pigs enjoy, Timothy Hay (also called Timothy Grass) is ideal and necessary for their well-being.
As guinea pig owners, we sometimes get busy, so you may wonder if your cavy can go without hay for a day.
Going without hay, your guinea pig’s main source of nutrition, may be fatal if it’s 24 hours or more. Substituting other food for guinea pigs without including hay in the diet is a virtual death sentence. Guinea Pigs need continuous access to hay or grass.
Read on to learn more about preventing getting a sick guinea pig by making sure they have enough to eat.
Types Of Hay For Guinea Pigs
Many types of grass are optimal sources of nutrition for your Guinea.
Timothy Hay and Orchard Grass both provide an excellent diet for Guineas.
Hay is the most important staple of your pet’s diet; it provides the primary source of nutrition for your cavy.
You must have a steady supply of high-quality hay on hand and find the highest quality hay available.
Saving money means you may be buying a substandard product; quality might cost a bit more upfront, but poor-quality costs much more later.
What constitutes high-quality hay?
Hay has a distinctive and very pleasant smell.
The hay should smell fresh and not be discolored.
Avoid a product that seems dusty or dirty or contains foreign debris.
To understand why these little herbivores are nearly entirely reliant on a diet of hay, it’s important to understand their metabolism and the benefits they derive from hay; and why high-quality hay is so important.
Check out these safe alternatives to timothy hay for guinea pigs if you need more ideas.
How Much Hay Does A Guinea Pig Need Per Day?
For one adult guinea pig, one ounce per day is considered adequate; its consumption adds up fast; having a continuous supply is essential.
There isn’t such a thing as too much!
Consider also: guinea pigs use hay for bedding.
Hay And The Metabolism Of Guinea Pigs
Like other animals (such as humans, tigers, bears, mice, etc.), guinea pigs have what is known as a “simple stomach.”
A simple stomach is one stomach, in contrast to other animals like horses or cows, who have multiple stomachs for the various stages of digestion.
In other words, the stomach of a guinea pig is a one-stop processing center.
All animals rely on gut bacteria for optimal digestion, and the guinea pig is no different.
The presence of gut bacteria ensures hay and grass are properly metabolized.
Gut microbes provide the guinea pig with important vitamins and amino acids.
A consistent diet of hay, grass and leafy vegetables maintains this important digestive environment.
Other Ways Hay Is Important For Your Guinea Pig
But hay and grass are crucial to the cavy in other ways.
First, it helps to encourage the cavy’s natural habit of foraging for guinea pig food.
Second, their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, and the rough fiber of hay helps to “file” down their teeth.
Again, plenty of leafy greens and hay are essential in the diet for cavies.
Examine their teeth regularly.
Overlong teeth injure the gums and can cause serious medical issues such as abscesses (which, if not treated promptly, may lead to septic shock).
Other Nutrients Required By Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs also have a considerable Vitamin C requirement, up to around 50mg per day.
It is important to keep this in mind because hay is not a reliable source of Vitamin C.
Vitamin C deficiency is as dangerous to your pet as to humans.
It is necessary to enhance their diet by adding a few extra items to help supply other nutrients.
Lack of vitamin C manifests itself in various symptoms such as scurvy, depression, loss of appetite, and persistent infections.
Some people address the issue by using supplements, but an easier and more cost-effective way is to add common fruits or fresh vegetables to their dinner.
Red or yellow sweet peppers, kale, or parsley are among some great sources of Vitamin C your Guinea pig will love.
Supplements aren’t as effective at nutrient assimilation, but they’ll get the job done if you don’t have a lot of choices.
Hay Storage And Keeping Hay Fresh For Your Guinea Pig
If you have a cool and dry facility to store your supply of grass hay, feel free to stock up.
If you have a hay barn, even better!
If you have less than ideal facilities to store enough dry goods, you might be better off buying your hay in smaller quantities or as you go.
You may keep your supply viable by keeping it in a container and having access to plenty of cool, dry circulating air.
You may want to place some small desiccant packets in with the hay for good measure.
Desiccants will pull away any excess moisture which might cause mold.
Be sure to examine the hay daily to ensure its quality.
Keeping Hay Fresh In The Guinea Pig Habitat
Of course, the best way to keep the hay fresh is to change it daily.
But it is also a good practice to keep the feed hay separate from the bedding hay.
You’ll be able to find any number of small hay racks, and they will work for your needs.
Ensuring the feed hay stays above the bedding hay ensures it remains dry.
Racked hay is also much less likely to be contaminated by Guinea pig waste products.
Keep in mind: the more guinea pigs you have, the more hay you need to supply and the larger the hay racks must be.
Finally, though hay may not seem overly expensive compared to a cat or dog food, its proper storage will save a lot of money on feed and single-purpose emergency trips to the feed store.
Remember, hay is 80 percent of your guinea pig’s diet.
What Is The Necessary Amount Of Space For A Guinea Pig?
According to the Humane Society, your Guinea pig will need at least 7.5′ square feet.
The Humane Society also recommends the guinea pig living space have walls at least 12″ inches high.
For two guinea pigs, the suggested space requirement is a little over 10′ square feet.
Consider what this means for habitat location and hay supply for feed and bedding.
There are several types of enclosure available that will work with your needs and meet your guinea pig’s desire to roam.
Most people use fish tanks, while others prefer a more customized enclosure and build one for themselves.
Whatever you choose, make sure your guinea pig is safe inside.
It is not necessary to cover the enclosure.
However, it might be a good idea if you have other animals in the house.
Any covering should allow for good ventilation and light penetration.
What Type Of Light Should A Guinea Pig Have?
Guinea pigs prefer natural sunlight.
Natural sunlight helps the guinea pig produce Vitamin D, which is necessary for guinea pigs, humans, and more.
Moreover, the Guinea pig thrives best in filtered light; direct sunlight can cause heat stress, which might be fatal.
Natural sunlight also provides the Guinea pig with a predictable schedule, so they know when to sleep and wake up.
Artificial light is not necessary.
Can Guinea Pigs Be Alone?
Like nearly all mammals, guinea pigs are social.
Like us, they are susceptible to loneliness.
Having at least two is a good idea (ensure they get along, so you do not turn their beautiful habitat into a mini “Thunderdome”).
Not only is it beneficial for them to have another one to play with, but their antics and personalities will also be a constant source of enjoyment.