Grass hay, packed with fiber and vitamin C as well as lots of other vitamins and minerals, is the most important part of your guinea pig’s diet.
It’s essential this food source is readily available for them to eat at ALL times. 80% of your guinea pig’s diet should be good quality Meadow Hay or Timothy Hay or a mixture of both.
Here are some of our favorite feeding hays:
Table of Contents
- Why is hay important?
- What to look for in a good feeding hay
- Meadow Hay vs Timothy Hay
- The importance of using a hay feeder
- What do 1st, 2nd and 3rd cuttings mean?
- What is Alfalfa Hay and is it good for guinea pigs?
- Can I use feeding hay for bedding?
- My guinea pig is not eating hay. What should I do?
- How to store hay
- Recommended products
Why is hay important?
Apart from the nutritional value, there are a couple of important reasons why hay is vital for guinea pigs.
- A guinea pig’s teeth are constantly growing and the hay works to wear down the teeth. If your piggies stop eating hay, their teeth will overgrow.
- The fiber in hay is vital for the proper function of your guinea pig’s digestive system.
If a guinea pig doesn’t have enough hay or stops eating hay it can result in serious illness.
What to look for in a good feeding hay
Here are some things you should look for in a good feeding hay for your guinea pigs:
- Freshness: It should have a sweet fresh smell and not be at all musty. It should have some green color to it. The green color signifies larger amounts of vitamin A and C. Guinea pigs love the greener, sweeter and leafier hay.
- No additives: Check the ingredients of the hay to make sure it has nothing added to it.
- Dust extracted: Dust is extremely bad for guinea pigs and can cause respiratory problems so even if it’s feeding hay as opposed to bedding, it should be dust extracted.
- Plenty of stems: Although guinea pigs often like the flowers and tops of the hay, it is the stems that really help grind down their teeth and offer the best fiber. So make sure the hay you buy has plenty of stems. If a hay specifies the “cutting”, the second cutting is the one to opt for.
It is also interesting to know that the greener, leafier softer hay is generally higher in protein, vitamin C and calcium. Rougher, stalky and golden hay is higher in fiber and vitamin D due to sun exposure but has less nutritional value.
Guinea pigs need lots of vitamin C in their diet as their bodies can’t produce it which is why the greener hay is preferred.
Meadow Hay vs Timothy Hay
Which hay is best for guinea pigs… Meadow Hay or Timothy Hay?
Meadow Hay is made from grass that is harvested from pastures. This means it can contain a variety of grasses, plants, flower heads and seed heads. It has a better range of minerals and trace elements than single grass hays.
You don’t usually get the different cuttings with Meadow Hay as there is generally just one cutting. If you’re looking for a cheap hay, Meadow Hay tends to be less costly than Timothy Hay. However, don’t just opt for the cheapest available but check that it is good quality to make sure your guinea pigs are kept healthy.
Timothy Hay is made from only Timothy grass and also known as meadow cat’s tail or common cat’s tail. It is made up of stem, leaf and seed head. The seed head is the tastiest part and guinea pigs seem to love these. The leaves contain lots of vitamins and minerals and the stalk is important for grinding down your guinea pig’s teeth and aiding digestion.
American Timothy Hay is considered the best hay for guinea pigs but does tend to be more expensive. Small Pet Select supply excellent quality Timothy Hay which is grown in the US and is now available to buy in the UK.
If you find Timothy Hay too costly, you could buy a bag of each and mix a bit of Timothy Hay in with your Meadow Hay so they get the benefits of both.
Always use a hay feeder
Hay for feeding should always be kept off the floor of your guinea pig cage otherwise it will become contaminated with pee and poop.
Another good reason for using a hay feeder is that your guinea pigs will burrow in the hay when on the cage floor. While this is fine with soft hay that is used for bedding, it can cause eye injuries if the hay is stalky. There are various types of hay feeders to choose from. Here are some good options:
- Wood Kerbl Hay Rack - hangs on the side of your cage
- Wooden Feeding Rack - stands within the cage with a base for less waste
- Haypigs Wheek Wagon - a colorful addition to your cage and circus-themed!
- Wooden cylindrical feeding manger - stands within the cage
Avoid the metal balls as guinea pigs have been known to get injured by getting their heads stuck in these.
Frequently asked questions about hay
What do 1st, 2nd and 3rd cutting mean in Timothy Hay?
The numbers refer to when it was cut but, more importantly, the cutting will change the texture and content of the hay. The first cutting is a lot more fibrous and has more flower heads. The second cutting (the one we recommend for guinea pigs) has a good balance of fiber and flower heads whereas the third cutting is softer with more leaf and less stem.
What is Alfalfa Hay and is it good for guinea pigs?
Alfalfa Hay is what is known as a “legume hay” and is grown a lot in Australia and the US.
Legume forages are high in fiber, protein and calcium so it is not a suitable regular food for adult guinea pigs unless they are pregnant or nursing mothers. It’s ok for them to eat occasionally but the high calcium levels may contribute to bladder stones so it is best avoided, particularly in more elderly guinea pigs.
However, Alfalfa Hay is good for young guinea pigs as they need the additional calcium in their diet..
Can I use feeding hay for bedding?
You should always put feeding hay in some kind of feeder but you can use the same hay for bedding providing the hay is soft. Coarse, stalky hay can cause hay pokes (hay getting stuck in the eye) which is painful for your guinea pig and would need medical attention.
My guinea pig is not eating hay. What should I do?
If your guinea pig refuses to eat hay there is something wrong. It could be one of a number of reasons but the first port of call is your vet. A few reasons why your guinea pig may not be eating their hay are:
- Your guinea pig could be ill
- They may not like the hay you’ve bought
- Overgrown teeth - if this is the case they may be unable to eat the hay which can lead to serious illness and they must get to a vet as soon as possible.
How should I store the hay?
Hay should always be stored above ground level and preferably with some airflow. It can be kept in sealed plastic to stop moisture getting to it providing the hay is of good quality. However, if the hay is lower quality and hasn’t been dried properly, sealing it in plastic will cause it to go musty and moldy. This is another good reason to ensure you only buy the better hays.