When we got our first guinea pig, we knew that we also needed a few guinea pig supplies—especially food. We grabbed a bag of hay because we had heard that pigs liked hay. As we looked through the huge offering of guinea pig supplies at the pet store, we noticed that there were many varieties of hay. But the most popular seemed to be alfalfa hay—so we grabbed some of that and headed home—content, dumb and happy with our newest pet. But, we did some research later and found that we had unwittingly made a poor choice regarding our pig’s nutritional needs.
When we think of hay, we tend to think of grass or fibrous grass-like plants. However, alfalfa is not a grass hay. It is a legume hay. This means that it’s more closely related to peas, beans, lentils and peanuts than to your front lawn. As such, it’s much too rich in protein and calcium for your guinea pig. Alfalfa hay may be given to guinea pigs with increased protein and calcium needs—young, growing guinea pigs (under six-months of age); convalescing animals and pregnant or nursing sows. However, it should not be given daily to mature guinea pigs as it may cause excess weight gain and may increase the likelihood of kidney stones. Our exotic pet veterinarian likes to say that alfalfa hay is like a Snickers bar to your pet. It tastes great, they love it, but it’s simply too rich to be eaten very often. Much better to stick to the healthier grass hays like Timothy hay, orchard grass hay or oat hay.
In recent years, Timothy hay has become the standard hay for healthy guinea pigs. Unlike alfalfa, Timothy is a grass hay. As such it contains the long strand fibers that are so very vital for your cavy’s digestive processes. And with a much lower protein and calcium content that alfalfa hay, Timothy hay is well-equipped to meet your pig’s nutritional requirements. Timothy hay is the hay most commonly recommended by veterinarians.
Orchard Grass Hay
As the name implies, Orchard grass hay is another grass hay. Because it is very similar in fiber, protein and calcium contents to Timothy hay, it is also a very healthy choice for your guinea pig.
Oat hay is highly recommended because it is also a grass hay. It is comparable to Timothy and orchard grass hays in terms of fiber and protein content. It is also slightly lower in calcium content than the other two varieties.
In terms of nutritional value, Timothy hay, orchard grass hay and oat hay are virtually interchangeable as far as guinea pig health is concerned. All three should be given in unlimited quantities. That is, they should always be available to your guinea pig 24/7. Not only do they satisfy your cavy’s nutritional needs, but they also serve to grind down their teeth in order to keep them from growing out of control. And while your pig can certainly thrive on any of these three hay types alone, we suggest that when choosing guinea pig supplies, you choose all three (as well as other grass hays). This will serve to add variety to your pet’s diet.
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