April 08, 2021
3 Key Questions About Guinea Pigs and Hay
As many guinea pig pet parents already know, hay is an integral part of their pet’s diet. As guinea pigs go through life, their personalities may change over time; things that your guinea pig may have enjoyed when they were young may no longer fit their personal preferences or needs anymore. Below are some common questions guinea pig parents may have about their pet’s hay usage, along with some suggestions.
How can my guinea pig gain weight with hay?
If your pet is older or has trouble keeping weight on, including more hay variety into their diet can help encourage your pet to eat more hay. The various tastes, textures, and aromas can all be new and enticing!
Some hay varieties to explore include oat hay and alfalfa hay. The tasty seed heads in oat hay can be relatively calorically dense compared to timothy hay or orchard grass, helping to add a few extra calories into your pet’s diet while also ensuring that they are consuming that ever-important fiber.
Alfalfa hay can be fed to pets who need to gain weight, but feeding alfalfa depends on the specific needs of the animal. If your guinea pig is predisposed to bladder stones or sludge, for example, this might not be an appropriate option for your friend. If you are thinking of feeding alfalfa hay as more than an occasional treat, first consult your veterinarian to explain your reasoning. They may be able to help you determine if the pros of weight gain outweigh the cons, or may have alternative suggestions.
For some fun hay mix suggestions, check out our blog Fun Ways to Feed a Variety of Hays!
How can I get my guinea pig to eat enough hay?
Whether your pet is a picky eater, has a shy personality, or is aging, it can be especially distressing when they aren’t eating enough hay. Here are a few quick and easy steps to consider if your piggie isn’t eating as much hay as normal.
Switch up the physical presentation
If your pet is not eating enough hay, first change how your pet is being presented their hay. If they are being fed hay with a feeder or holder of some kind that requires them to work for their food, opt instead for a feeder where they do not have to work. If they must stretch their neck to reach the hay, place the hay feeder so it’s lower and easier to reach.
While this is not the case for all pets, older individuals may especially be affected by hay feeders. Underlying health conditions can sometimes cause moderate discomfort, leading pets to not want to expend as much effort to obtain their food, which can quickly snowball into larger issues. If you suspect your pet has an underlying condition, make sure to discuss this possibility with your trusted, exotics-savvy veterinarian—some conditions can be effectively managed with medication or modest lifestyle changes!
Shy guinea pig? Think hideouts!
In some cases when you’re experimenting with feeding methods, you may be able to forego a hay feeder altogether. While this may result in a messier habitat, you might find it increases how much hay your guinea pig eats because the hay is constantly accessible to your pet. If your pet is especially shy or is reluctant to leave their hideout, sometimes placing loose hay on the floor and adding a bottomless hideout over the hay can help ensure your pet eats enough.
Hay variability and how it can affect your guinea pig
Since hay is a natural product, there will always be some natural variability from bag to bag due to factors such as:
- when it was harvested within the growing season
- what the temperature was at the time of harvest
- weather changes that the hay experienced while it was growing
Some pets are not sensitive to this variability, while others are more sensitive to it. Particularly sensitive pets may turn up their noses at a perfectly good batch of hay because it simply doesn’t meet their personal preferences!
If you have found this to be the case, trying a different bag of hay of the same variety can do the trick. Checking the lot numbers on the back of the bag of hay can ensure that you purchase hay that may have experienced different conditions. You can try mixing the less preferred hay with the hay that your pet prefers. In some cases, this may appease your little one. If you find they still will not eat the first bag of hay, the bag that is not wanted for eating can be used instead as a form of enrichment.
Keep a watchful eye out for changes
It cannot be over-emphasized how important it is to be watchful and conscious of your pet’s behavior whenever they don’t seem to be eating enough. Not eating enough grass hay may result in gastrointestinal stasis, which is a painful condition that in some cases can even be life-threatening. If your pet is acting weak, lethargic, or is refusing all hay, it is important to get to an exotics veterinarian quickly to assess their condition. To learn more about GI stasis, visit our blog about it here.
Why does my guinea pig waste SO much hay?
Some guinea pigs are especially mischievous! They may pull hay out of their feeders and spread it around the floor. While we initially consider this a form of waste, it’s important to keep in mind that hay isn’t just for eating.
Look at hay through your guinea pig’s eyes:
- Hay is always available to them.
- Hay can act as a very important form of enrichment particularly because of its abundance in the enclosure.
- It may even be your pet’s favorite toy! Guinea pigs may play with hay by tossing it around their enclosure or getting into a tug of war with their cage mate over a particularly delectable strand.
- Sometimes for guinea pigs, the very act of pulling hay out of a feeder as a way to manipulate the environment around them can be endless fun. They might also: lie on the hay, use it as an enjoyable and aromatic burrowing material (believe it or not, some guinea pigs love to burrow!), or use it as a bedding substrate and “go” on it.
As long as you make sure to remove soiled hay from their habitat, hay spread around the floor of your pet’s enclosure may be a sign that they are living life to the fullest.
If you get particularly frustrated with throwing out soiled hay, composting it all to create new soil may be an alternative. Check out our blog “Can I compost my guinea pig’s poop?”
Each guinea pig is unique and has their very own special quirks. While we hope these suggestions help pet parents, we also want to emphasize that getting to know your pet can be especially informative and take the guesswork out of some aspects of pet parenthood. Setting time aside every day to interact with your small companion can provide a wealth of information about their personality and preferences!
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