The Importance of Good Hay!

The importance of good hay in a guinea pig’s diet cannot be overstressed. It is one of the single most components of any guinea pig’s diet and should never be viewed as a treat. The sheer make up of a guinea pig emphasizes the need well too, the continually growing teeth, that need the side to side wearing action, promoted by eating hay, The continually ‘moving’ digestive system that must have ‘food’ passing through it or it will cease to function causing perhaps fatal problems such as bloat or a period of anorexia before bloat and death. It is far easier to keep the gut functioning with food than to restart it with medicines.

Guinea pigs receiving the correct proportion of hay in the diet (approx 75% of the whole diet), should not be suffering any dental problems due to dietry issues. Droppings will be large and ‘healthy’ looking and the guinea pig is likely to be content because behavioural needs have been met too.

Hay also plays a big part in the behavioural needs of guinea pigs. It is natural for them to tunnel in the long grass in the wild, at the same time eating the stems and gaining the wear and tear for their teeth and fibre for their digestive system. Domestic guinea pigs need to have this environment recreated for them, one of the easiest ways is to provide a pile of hay on the floor of the cage daily. It is not wasted because they are ‘just’ sitting on it and eating it all- that is what guinea pigs do and no hay no guinea pigs! The hay should be removed and renewed daily or the ‘deep bedding’ effect will happen where the cage becomes littered with compressed (and perhaps wet) hay.

Where damp hay is provided the guinea pig is at once exposed to potential respiratory problems and if the hay has become dusty (as damp hay does) then it can be as dangerous as housing on Shavings or sawdust. Guinea pigs love to forage and it is false economy to use hay that is not quite up to standard under a better quality bedding. Damp hay also brings with it the risk of introducing fungal spores to the environment, these can affect guinea pigs badly if the correct treatment is not sought at once. However care should be taken to correct the environmant and husbandry and not just change the hay supplier. A sterile bale/bag of hay can be bought but once it is opened,if fungal spores are present, they will soon be in the hay…

There are a variety of hays available for guinea pig owners but the best and only hay that should be fed to guinea pigs is ‘good hay’. Good hay is clean, dry, smells of grass or similar and not musty or dusty, looks golden or green in colour depending on origin. It is interesting to note that in the UK farmers need to heavily fertilise their fields before getting a second crop/cut of Timothy Grass because it is significantly slower growing than the more common Rye. Although guinea pigs seem to prefer the leafier second cut it is worth bearing in mind that it is likely to be heavily fertilised unless conditions have been particularly favourable which is very unlikely.

Paper bags (or Bags of Fun, as shown) are great for putting hay into. They recreate the tunnel that guinea pigs would naturally seek out in the wild. Presenting hay like this is more natural than when in hayracks etc.

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