The complete guide to feeding hay for guinea pigs.
Hay is the #1 most important part of a guinea pig’s diet. Without adequate hay, your guinea pig can suffer from health issues and boredom. It’s a key nutritional part of your piggy’s diet and is an absolute necessity when it comes to keeping guinea pigs as pets. But how do you know what type of hay to feed and how to know when you’ve found good-quality hay?
This guide will walk you through why your guinea pig needs hay, what type of hay to feed a guinea pig, and where to buy it.
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Basics of Hay for Guinea Pigs
80-90% of a guinea pig’s diet should be high-quality hay. Hay is a non-negotiable need for guinea pigs, so if you have allergies to hay you might want to consider other pets.
Guinea pigs need to have unlimited hay available at all times. Guinea pigs will go through hay very quickly, so you may have to consider buying hay in bulk instead of individual smaller bags from the pets store. We buy our hay in 50 lb boxes from Small Pet Select and it lasts us a while (even with 8 guinea pigs and 2 bunnies)!
Make sure you buy high-quality hay for your guinea pigs. This means it has a nice color, has a nice fresh hay smell, is dry, but is not very dusty. Dusty hay can cause allergies for both you and your guinea pig. You don’t want all your hay to be brown and dried out because it won’t have much nutritional value left. The hay also shouldn’t have any moisture or mold.
You’ll immediately be able to tell if your hay has any mold in it when you get into the middle of it because it will smell pretty bad. Do not feed hay that seems moldy because this can make your pets sick. Plus keeping moldy hay around can make you and your guinea pigs sick!
You also want to make sure there isn’t anything mixed into the hay, like other unsafe plants, bits of plastic or wrappers, or anything else that shouldn’t be there. Even in the highest quality hay, sometimes things get mixed into the hay out of the field.
Read More: Guinea Pig Beginner’s Guide
Why is Hay Important for Guinea Pigs?
Like I mentioned before, hay should be the majority of your guinea pig’s diet. Keeping hay available at all times can help you avoid a bunch of health problems.
Guinea pigs have teeth that are constantly growing. The constant chewing of hay will wear down the teeth correctly and keep them the right length. If your guinea pig’s teeth get too long, they won’t be able to eat and will probably land you with an expensive vet bill for dental work.
Hay also provides fiber to keep your pet’s stomach moving. A guinea pig’s digestive system is designed for them to be constantly eating. Piggies depend on constant hay moving through their system to keep their gut moving and healthy. Without it, your piggy’s digestive system will slow down and may even stop. This can very quickly lead to major health problems and turn life-threatening.
Since your pet’s digestive system has adapted naturally based on a hay-based diet, hay also provides the majority of the nutrition your pet needs. This is why it’s also important to feed high-quality hay. You want to make sure your guinea pig is getting good nutrients from the hay as well.
What Types of Hay are Good for Guinea Pigs?
There are many different types of hay, some of which are not suitable to feed to your guinea pig. I’ve put together a list of the most commonly seen types of hay:
Most owners choose to get timothy hay for guinea pigs. It provides the right nutrition for them and doesn’t have any negative health issues associated with it. You can get several types of timothy – first, second, or third cut. There is a nutritional difference between the different cuts. Second or third cut timothy is the standard hay recommended for guinea pigs. It meets all of their nutritional needs and most of them seem to love it!
First cut timothy is going to be extremely stalky and not have many leaves. The second cut is a good mixture of both stalks and leafiness. Third cut is usually much softer as it’s mainly leafy and has fewer stalks than the other cuts.
Orchardgrass is very similar to second cut timothy hay, it is just a bit leafier. It is a really great alternative to timothy hay for people who have allergies to timothy hay. The only downside some people have seen with orchard grass is it doesn’t have quite as much fiber as timothy since orchardgrass has very few stalks. However, I have fed my guinea pigs exclusively orchard grass for years and have never had any issues. Orchardgrass can also be a good option to mix in with timothy hay to give your guinea pigs some variety.
Bluegrass hay is essentially the same as orchard grass, it just has more of a blue-green color. It is very similar to orchard grass when it comes to nutrition and fiber. This hay has an amazing fresh smell and is also a good alternative to timothy if you have allergies. I’ve always found that piggies love it!
Alfalfa hay should only be fed to baby guinea pigs – guinea pigs that are less than 6 months old. Alfalfa has quite a bit more calcium than Timothy hay and can cause bladder sludge and possibly bladder stone issues if fed to older piggies. There’s a handy chart on Small Pet Select’s website about what age to feed Alfalfa hay.
Oat hay should really only be used as treat hay to give your pets some variety. It does have more fiber than second cut timothy hay, so it can be a good supplement for pets that need more fiber in their diet.
Where to Buy Hay for Guinea Pigs
Where you are able to find good quality hay for your pets is going to depend on where you live. Living in the United States, Timothy hay can be found in most pet stores, though I wouldn’t say all of it is good quality. Oxbow timothy can be found in some of the larger chains, which is good quality and healthy for pets.
There are also many different online stores you can buy good-quality hay from. I purchase my hay online from Small Pet Select. We alternate between the orchard grass and second cut timothy, though the orchard grass is definitely a favorite.
I highly recommend Small Pet Select, we have never had any issues and they have two-day shipping. It is always nice and soft, green, and the piggies and bunnies love it. I will buy their timothy hay to change things up every so often and the pets always love it as well.
If you live outside the United States, you may have to do some searching for good hay depending on where you are located. Smaller feed stores will often have different types of hay for sale, but you will need to do some research and go check out different hays for yourself to make sure they are the type and quality of hay you want to be feeding to your pets.
The Complete Guide To Feeding Hay For Guinea Pigs.