Hay is an essential part of your guinea pig’s diet. In fact, hay should consist of 80% of your guinea pig’s daily food intake. Hay is necessary to keep your guinea pig’s digestive tract moving, prevent GI stasis, and to keep their ever growing teeth worn down.
However, there are so many different types of hay to choose from! Is all hay safe for guinea pigs? Which types are actually best to feed guinea pigs? Should you get 1st cut, 2nd cut, or 3rd cut hay? And is it safe to buy bales of horse hay for your guinea pig? I’ll touch on all these topics throughout the article.
Types of Hay That Are Best for Guinea Pigs
2nd cut Timothy hay is the most popular, and generally accepted as the best hay for guinea pigs. Orchard hay comes in at a close second. Other types of hay, such as meadow hay, bluegrass, brome, bermuda grass, and oat hay are also safe for guinea pigs. However, some of these are best fed occasionally or mixed with other hays. I’ll go into more detail on this below.
Timothy Hay for Guinea Pigs
Timothy hay is the most commonly recommended hay for guinea pigs. It’s low in calcium, high in nutrients, and suitable for guinea pigs of all ages. Timothy hay is a good choice to free feed to your guinea pig on a regular basis. Timothy hay is widely available and typically easy to find. Most guinea pigs love the smell and taste of this hay as well.
Is Western Timothy Hay the Same as Timothy Hay?
Yes, Oxbow’s Western Timothy hay is the same as regular timothy hay. Oxbow’s brand of Western timothy hay is one of the most popular types of hay for small animals.
Orchard Grass Hay for Guinea Pigs
Orchard grass hay is another great alternative to timothy hay. Orchard hay is a suitable hay for guinea pigs young and old, and can be free fed on a daily basis. Like timothy, orchard hay is nutrient rich and low in calcium. Orchard grass is often softer than timothy, so it may encourage fussy guinea pigs to eat more hay.
Orchard hay is often a better option for people with allergies too. If you think you’re allergic to your guinea pigs, try switching their hay! Oftentimes allergies are caused by the hay rather than the guinea pigs themselves.
Meadow Hay for Guinea Pigs
Meadow hay is another suitable choice to feed your guinea pigs. Meadow hay consists of long strands of grass hay, along with various other plants, flowers, leaves, seed heads, and stems that grow alongside the hay in the meadow. Guinea pigs that love foraging and variety often love meadow hay.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Alfalfa Hay?
Alfalfa hay has a higher calcium content than other types of hay. For this reason, it should only be fed to guinea pigs under 6 months, or to pregnant/nursing moms that require extra calcium. If adult guinea pigs have too much calcium in their diet, they may develop bladder stones, which often require surgery to remove.
Young guinea pigs need extra calcium for proper growth, but they can get it from a variety of different sources. Pellets that are made for young guinea pigs usually have all the calcium they need for proper growth and development. If you’re housing a baby guinea pig with adults, your best option is probably to feed the baby some calcium rich vegetables separately from the older guinea pigs. That way, you don’t have to worry about the adults getting too much excess calcium in their diet from baby pellets or alfalfa hay.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Bermuda Hay?
Bermuda hay is a good, albeit less common, hay choice for guinea pigs. Bermuda hay is nutritious for guinea pigs, with a high fiber content. However, it is slightly higher in calcium than timothy and orchard grass hay. Therefore, it may not be a good choice for guinea pigs that are prone to bladder stones. It can be good to mix in with other hays for more variety. If you feed this hay exclusively, keep an eye out for white pee spots in your guinea pig’s cage. If you see these, it means your guinea pig has too much calcium in their diet and you may want to switch to some lower calcium foods.
Can Guinea Pigs Eat Brome Hay?
Yes, guinea pigs can eat brome hay on a regular basis. Brome hay is a popular type of horse hay. It has low calcium and a similar nutritional value to other grass hays. However, many guinea pigs don’t like the taste of brome hay and therefore might not eat enough hay for a balanced diet. If you find that your guinea pigs aren’t eating it very much, you may have to switch to a different type of hay.
Bluegrass Hay for Guinea Pigs
Bluegrass is a good type of hay to feed your guinea pigs daily. Bluegrass is a soft, green hay. Most guinea pigs love the taste and texture of it. It is similar in nutritional content to other grass hays on this list. Similar to orchard hay, bluegrass is a less dusty, allergy friendly hay. If you’re struggling with allergies, switching to this hay could be worth a try.
Oat Hay for Guinea Pigs
Oat hay is another common type of hay you can feed your guinea pigs. Oat hay is fine for guinea pigs of all ages, but it does tend to be higher in calories than other hays. Also, because it is a grain hay, it’s a bit harder for guinea pigs to digest. Because of this, it’s best fed as a treat, or combined with other hays. It can be good to feed to underweight or senior guinea pigs that struggle to keep weight on. If your guinea pigs are on the chunky side, oat hay is best avoided, or mixed in occasionally with their regular hay as a treat.
Should You Feed Your Guinea Pig Hay Cubes?
Any kind of horse hay cubes or compressed hay, such as Oxbow Hay Stacks should be given as a treat or chew toy rather than your guinea pig’s main supply of hay. Hay should be freely available in loose piles at all times for your guinea pig. Not eating enough hay can result in digestive and teeth problems, so you should make it as easy as possible for your guinea pigs to eat the hay that they need.
If you’re offering horse hay cubes to your guinea pig as a treat, be sure to choose cubes without alfalfa in them. Many hay cubes for horses are mixed with alfalfa. A good alternative would be to purchase 100% timothy hay cubes made for guinea pigs, or try out Oxbow’s compressed hay stacks.
What is the Difference Between 1st, 2nd and 3rd Cut Hay for Guinea Pigs?
If you ever buy hay by the bale from a farmer, you’ll notice that the hay is usually sold as either 1st cut, 2nd cut, or 3rd cut hay. The main difference between these is the coarseness and nutrient content. 1st cut will consist of harder, thicker strands of hay and a lower nutrient count, while 3rd cut will be much softer and rich in nutrients. 2nd cut is right in the middle.
1st cut is usually cheaper, but guinea pigs don’t like it as much, and therefore may waste more of it. It also has a lower nutrient count than 2nd and 3rd cut hay. It won’t hurt them, but generally it’s best to avoid first cut hay for guinea pigs if you can find something better.
Fussy eaters will often devour 3rd cut hay, but the softer strands may not wear down the teeth as well. It is also higher in sugar than the others, which may be a negative aspect if your piggies are overweight already. Also, if your guinea pigs get used to eating 3rd cut hay all the time, they may become a little spoiled on that and refuse to eat other hay in the future.
2nd cut hay is a good middle ground for most guinea pigs. Piggies usually love it, and the longer strands will wear their teeth down evenly. It has a good nutrient count, and a bit lower in sugar than 3rd cut. However, if your guinea pig is older, underweight, or not big on eating hay, go with 3rd cut if you can.
Horse Quality Hay for Guinea Pigs
Buying hay by the bale is a great option to save money with guinea pigs. If you buy your hay by the bale from a farmer, you may see hay labeled as “horse quality hay”. This is usually a good thing, as horse quality hay is typically higher quality. Cow quality hay for example, is usually a mix of coarser stems of first cut hay. This type of hay is best avoided for guinea pigs.
However, horse quality hay bales often consist of mixed types of hays. It’s important to find out what types of hay are in the bale so you can be sure that the mixture is suitable to feed your guinea pigs on a regular basis.
Are Mixed Bales of Hay Safe for Guinea Pigs?
When you buy hay by the bale, they are often labelled as mixed hay bales. This means there are a few different types of hay that makes up the one bale. Mixed bales can be perfectly fine for guinea pigs, but it’s important that you find out what types of hays are mixed in. Oftentimes, these bales have alfalfa mixed in. Anything with alfalfa should really be avoided, as alfalfa can cause bladder stones in guinea pigs.
Choosing the best hay depends on your guinea pigs and the kinds of hay you can find readily available in your area. Whatever you choose, make sure you provide unlimited access to hay so your guinea pig maintains a balanced diet and avoids health problems down the line.
Timothy and orchard grass hay are two of the best for daily feeding. Bluegrass, bermuda, brome, and sweet meadow hay are all great choices for everyday feeding as well.