Guinea pigs have a unique need for vitamin C. Most animals make their own vitamin C, but guinea pigs, like humans, do not. In humans, vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy.
If guinea pigs don’t get enough vitamin C in their diet, they become prone to many diseases. If they receive some but inadequate levels of vitamin C, they may appear healthy but have a decreased immune system and therefore be more susceptible to diseases.
Your adult pig needs 20 to 25 milligrams per day of vitamin C, while pregnant piggies need even more. There are a variety of ways to ensure your guinea pig gets all the C he needs.
Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency
Common signs of vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs include:
- Unhealthy hair coats
- Poor appetite
- Dental pain and infections
- Poor wound healing
- Digestion problems
- Inability to fight off all sorts of infections
In other words, vitamin C is essential for guinea pig health. So how do you sneak this vitamin into your pig’s diet?
Most guinea pig pellets are fortified with vitamin C, but you cannot depend on a commercial food to provide an adequate amount. The vitamin C in pellets becomes less potent after 90 days. Environmental conditions such as heat and moisture can also alter the vitamin’s potency in the pellets — even guinea pigs on high-quality, pelleted diets still present with vitamin C deficiency.
Guinea pigs should eat lots and lots of timothy hay as their basic diet — it provides them with the fiber that’s important to digestive health. But it doesn’t give them the vitamin C they need to ward off illness. So what can you do?
The most natural and healthy way for guinea pigs to get their daily requirement of vitamin C is through fresh vegetables and fruits. Start early on in his life so your pig learns to enjoy experimenting with different foods.
Fresh Food Sources for Vitamin C
- Guava = 1 tablespoon
- Red pepper = 2 tablespoons, chopped
- Kale = 1/3 cup
- Tendergreen = 2 tablespoons
- Parsley = 1/3 cup
- Broccoli = 1/3 cup
- Broccoli florets = 1/3–1/2 cup
- Broccoli leaves = 2 tablespoons
- Broccoli stalks = 2 tablespoons
- Cauliflower = 4 florets
- Strawberry = 2–3 berries
- Kiwi = 2 1/2 tablespoons
- Green pepper = 3 1/2 tablespoons
- Mustard greens = 1/2–3/4 cup
- Papaya = 1/3 cup
- Snap peas = 1/2 cup
- Red cabbage = 1/2 cup
- Orange = 1/4–1/2
- Cantaloupe = 1/4–1/2 cup melon balls
- Pineapple = 1/3 cup chunks
Beware Certain Veggies
Take note: Broccoli, collard greens, mustard greens and spinach all contain oxalates, which can cause major health problems in guinea pigs and rabbits. Feed these vegetables to your guinea pig no more than once or twice a week.
Vitamin C Supplementation
Vitamin C can be added to the water bottle, but this form of delivery has some disadvantages. Guinea pigs need to drink water, of course, but some just don’t like the taste of vitamin C added to it. But the bigger problem is you may not notice that your pig is drinking less — and this can be very dangerous to her health.
If your pig begins to drink less water, it can cause dehydration and digestive problems, not to mention that your pig will not get the benefit of the vitamin C in the water. Vitamin C is also quite unstable in water, losing most of its potency within 8 hours or so.
Here’s a little more insight into vegetables that can help your guinea pig stay on top of his vitamin C:
The best source of vitamin C supplementation, other than in food, is through tablets or liquid given directly to your pig pal. Children’s vitamin C liquid supplements are over-the-counter products. If you can’t find them, speak to your pharmacist about ordering some. Guinea pig vitamin C tablets are also available through the Oxbow company. See which of these products your guinea pig likes.
It’s a lot of fun to watch your guinea pigs munch on fresh veggies and hay. Get them used to food experimentation early, and you should have a healthy pig.
- Jeff Rhody, DVM. Vitamin C Supplementation for Guinea Pigs, VIN:2016.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Nov. 16, 2016.
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