Guinea pigs should have an unlimited supply of timothy hay. Fiber plays an important role in a guinea pig’s overall health. A lack of timothy hay will result in a lack of fiber. Timothy hay will also naturally file down guinea pig teeth, which is important because Guinea pig teeth grow continuously.
As herbivores, Timothy hay is an important part of a guinea pig’s diet. It’s so important that your piggies should have unlimited access to Timothy hay. Knowing more about Timothy hay will help you take even better care of your guinea pig friends.
What is Timothy Hay?
There are a variety of hays available for feeding small pets and livestock. Timothy hay is the most popular option for pets like rabbits, chinchillas, and, of course, guinea pigs. But what exactly is Timothy hay?
Timothy hay comes from a type of grass (Timothy grass) that grows in meadows and mountains. It clusters in bunches and can grow up to three feet tall!
It has flat leaves and a seed head at the top of the stalk. When Timothy grass is harvested and dried, it becomes Timothy hay, ready to be eaten by many animals.
Farmers can harvest Timothy grass up to three times, resulting in three “cuttings” of Timothy hay. Each cutting has slightly different properties because of the differences in the growth cycle.
For the first cutting, the Timothy hay is younger but is coarse with an abundance of seed heads. The first cutting is also the most common type of Timothy hay you can find. The second cutting is softer than the first and has fewer seed heads. The third cutting results in even softer hay than the second cutting.
Why is Timothy Hay So Important For Guinea Pigs?
Hay, specifically Timothy hay, is a necessary part of a guinea pig’s diet for multiple reasons, both behavioral and nutritional.
Guinea pigs are natural foragers. They had to run around searching for food rather than eating exclusively from a bowl in the wild. Providing Timothy hay helps activate some of that natural foraging instinct, providing your guinea pig with a great enrichment activity.
Timothy hay is high in fiber and lower in protein and calcium than other hays (for example, alfalfa hay, which is much higher in calcium than Timothy hay). Too much calcium can cause bladder stones and other health issues, so having low-calcium hay is important for optimal guinea pig health.
Guinea pigs need plenty of fiber. Fiber plays an important role in gut health: it helps maintain the cultures of good bacteria in the stomach and helps the digestion process function properly.
Fiber has benefits reaching beyond digestive health. Guinea pig teeth grow continuously, not unlike our own nails or hair. The fibrous stalks of Timothy hay (and other chew toys) help guinea pigs keep their teeth filed down to a good length.
Since guinea pigs need high fiber and lower calcium, Timothy hay is an excellent choice to supplement your guinea pig’s diet.
If Your Guinea Pig Doesn’t Get Enough Timothy Hay
What happens if your guinea pig doesn’t get enough hay? Without proper amounts of Timothy hay, guinea pigs are missing important parts of their diet. A lack of hay means a lack of fiber, and fiber plays an important role in a guinea pig’s overall health.
If your guinea pig doesn’t get enough hay, they may have difficulty filing down their teeth. If their teeth get too long, it becomes difficult for guinea pigs to eat at all.
While it is possible to clip a guinea pig’s overgrown teeth, teeth clipping is a very stressful experience for guinea pigs and may further affect their eating habits.
Wearing their teeth down naturally, especially by chowing down on the fibrous stalks of Timothy hay, is the best way to prevent overgrown teeth and keep your guinea pig healthy.
Not getting enough hay also drastically affects a guinea pig’s digestive system. If there is an imbalance in the gut bacteria, digestion can be disrupted.
A guinea pig might experience digestive issues, including constipation, indigestion, or soft stool. The lack of hay also means that the guinea pig may get their nutrients from foods with more calcium, leading to kidney or bladder stones.
To help avoid these issues, make sure that your guinea pig receives hay at least once every 24 hours.
Choosing The Right Timothy Hay
Not all types of hay are the same! Choosing the right Timothy hay for your guinea pig is an important part of taking care of your beloved pet.
First, choose which cutting of Timothy hay to get your pet. While all cuttings can be part of a healthy diet, the second cutting is the best.
The third cutting of Timothy hay is the softest of the three and thus has the least amount of fiber. It can be a delicious treat for your guinea pig, but it shouldn’t be the primary source of hay.
The second cutting of Timothy hay, while softer than the first cutting, is still very fibrous. It also has fewer seed heads than the first cutting, which has little nutritional value. Fewer seed heads mean your guinea pig will focus more on the important part of the hay—those fibrous stalks!
The first cutting of Timothy hay is a good second option for your guinea pig. While they might prefer to snack on the seed heads first, the stalks of the first cutting provide all the fiber that your guinea pig needs.
The first cutting is the most commonly available of the three. It will keep your guinea pig happy and healthy, but consider snagging some second cuttings of Timothy hay when you see it.
You also want to make sure your Timothy hay is fresh and of good quality. The hay should still be mostly green and have a strong, grassy smell. If the hay is too brittle or has a damp odor, it’s too old or has gotten moldy and should be thrown out.
How to Give Hay to Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs need an unlimited amount of hay, and there are multiple ways you can deliver this tasty meal!
Since guinea pigs are natural foragers, consider providing hay to your guinea pig in multiple ways to help engage their foraging instincts.
The easiest way is to provide hay is directly in their enclosure where they like to eat. You can add to their enrichment by giving them more hay options as well!
For example, use a hay bin on the side of their enclosure so that they can pull hay down freely. Another great option is to provide your guinea pig with hollow chew toys you can stuff with Timothy hay, such as a hollowed-out chew log. This way, your guinea pig gets another thing to keep their teeth filed down while also getting to forage for their hay in a new way.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you give hay to your guinea pigs—as long as they are getting a lot of access to hay, they will stay happy and healthy.