Guinea pigs are lovable and social pets with good appetites. Often, you find them in their cage, munching at hay, of which they need plenty. Commercial guinea pig food, vegetables, and fruits are all an important part of your pet's diet, but they should only make up a small portion of your pet's daily food intake.
Hay is the most important food in a guinea pig's diet, but the importance of good-quality hay is often overlooked. Although commercial guinea pig food and a broad selection of fruits and veggies are essential for your pet's health, it is also necessary to feed your pet hay that is suitable, fresh, and offers the right nutrients.
As a piggy's parent, your focus should be on finding high quality, high fiber, nutritious hay for your precious pet.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
With so many options out there, how do you know which one to choose? We've put together this comprehensive buying guide so that you can rest assured you're offering the right type of hay in the right amount.
Or, if you're busy and you just want to know what is ideal for your pet, here are our recommendations:
Pro tip: Guinea pigs eat a LOT of hay. Buying in bulk may seem easier, but if you're not storing the hay properly, it will lose nutrients and its freshness. Instead, go for the flexible repeat order to have fresh hay delivered to your doorstep whenever you need it – it's easy AND saves you money.
Best Timothy Hay for Guinea Pigs
Timothy hay is the best choice for healthy adult guinea pigs
1. Small Pet Select Third Cut Timothy Hay – The Premium Choice
This high-quality timothy hay is ideal for your pet. The cardboard box protects the hay from sunlight and moisture, keeping it fresh, and the hay has been loosely packed to reduce dust that can cause respiratory issues.
It offers balanced nutrition for your beloved pet, and most guinea pigs absolutely love the taste.
What we like about this hay:
- 100% natural, high-quality timothy hay with no additives
- Nutritious and high in fiber to promote your pet's health
- Tasty and an excellent choice for picky eaters
- Third-cut hay – super soft and leafy
- Supports digestion and dental health
- Hand-packed in small batches to ensure freshness and less dust
- Environmentally friendly packaging
2. Oxbow Western Timothy Hay – The High-Quality Choice
This timothy hay is all-natural and grown in the U.S. Each batch is hand-selected to ensure the best quality possible. There are no additives or preservatives added, and the hay comprises mostly of nutritious stems and leaves with fewer seed heads.
The product is highly popular because it's affordable, fresh, and pets love it.
What we like about this hay:
- 100% natural timothy hay with no additives
- High fiber, low calcium for optimal diet
- Nutritious and loved by guinea pigs
- Fresh with a green color and sweet smell
- Promotes good digestion and dental health
- Hand-sorted and hand-packed
3. Kaytee Natural Timothy Hay – Best Value
Kaytee is a popular and well-known brand with high-quality products. It combines first cut and second cut hay for variety and enrichment for your pet.
The hay is grown in an ideal location and carefully stored to ensure the hay stays tasty and nutritious. Kaytee also provides a money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied.
What we like about this hay:
- Only 100% all-natural timothy hay
- High in fiber but low in calcium and protein
- Grown in the U.S.
- Good leaf-to-stem ratio
- Fresh and green in color
Best Alfalfa Hay for Guinea Pigs
Alfalfa hay is best for growing guinea pigs under 6 months or pregnant and lactating females.
Oxbow Alfalfa Hay - Best Overall
This alfalfa hay is perfect for young, growing guinea pigs as well as pregnant and lactating females that need more protein, calories, and calcium.
Includes important minerals like phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc to keep your pet healthy.
- High-fiber hay for young guinea pigs
- 100% alfalfa hay with no preservatives added
- Grown in the U.S.
- Hand-sorted for less dust
- High in calcium for growing bones
- More protein for supporting the growth
- Tasty with a texture your pet will love
- Approved by veterinarians
What is the Best Hay for Guinea Pigs?
There are many types of hay you can feed your guinea pig. Alfalfa, timothy, orchard… it can be difficult to know which variety is the one you should be providing.
Because, contrary to common belief, it's not just hay. Guinea pigs have special dietary requirements at different stages of their lives, while different hay types have different nutritional values. To keep your pet healthy, you need to know which type you should be buying.
What kind of Hay Do Guinea Pigs Eat?
Guinea pigs need plenty of roughage every day. It's what they would eat in the wild because it's full of nutrients and high in fiber.
Hay should actually make up 80% of your guinea pig's daily diet. Since it's what your pet will mainly be eating, it should be highly nutritious and safe for them.
There are mainly two types of hay your guinea pigs can eat:
- grass hay
- legume hay
Let's have a closer look at both:
In general, grass hay is the one to go for because it has a better protein to fiber ratio, and it's low in calcium. The hay you feed your adult guinea pig should mainly be grass hay like timothy hay. It contains less protein and won't, therefore, strain your pet's kidneys. It also has more fiber, which is essential for cavies' digestive health.
There are many types of grass hay, with the most popular ones being:
- Timothy hay
- Orchard hay
- Oat hay
- Barley hay
Most commonly, guinea pigs are fed timothy hay because it's widely available, tasty, smells nice, and it has the perfect balance of nutrients. However, if you want to add a little variety to your pet's diet, all the other three are great examples of nutritious, low calcium hay your guinea pig can enjoy safely.
If you suffer from allergies, orchard hay may be a good choice. It has softer and broader leaves than timothy hay, and it is lower in protein and fiber content, but especially picky guinea pigs love the taste and smell.
This is our favorite orchard hay:
Legume hay is higher in calcium and protein but lower in fiber when compared to grass hay. It also contains more calories, which is not ideal for guinea pigs that are often prone to gaining weight.
The most common legume hay varieties are
- Alfalfa hay
- Clover hay
While not optimal for daily feeding, you can offer legume hay to adult guinea pigs occasionally or in small amounts mixed with grass hay. Legume hay is more suitable for young, growing cavies or pregnant and lactating females.
Young guinea pigs under 6 months of age can benefit from the extra calcium because it helps them grow strong bones. Getting more protein can also be beneficial for growth at this age.
Feeding too much alfalfa hay to your guinea pig may result in health issues. It's quite high in calories, and cavies are prone to weight gain. Also, legume hay like alfalfa contains too much protein and calcium for everyday feeding and may cause problems like diarrhea or kidney and bladder stones.
Best Guinea Pig Hay - Buying Guide
Why do guinea pigs need hay?
Without unlimited hay to chew on every day, your guinea pig will not stay nourished and happy. Hay is an essential part of your piggy's diet because it offers many benefits.
1. Provides essential nutrients
Hay should make up about 80% of your guinea pig's diet. It contains a lot of all-important fiber, but it contains proteins and fat as well. Your pet will also get essential nutrients like Vitamin C, calcium, and phosphorus by eating a lot of hay.
2. Important for healthy digestion
Hay is rich in fiber, which is why it is essential for your pet's gastrointestinal health. Fibrous foods keep your pet's digestion going and helps him poop normally.
3. Keeps the teeth trim
Fibrous and coarse hay is good for keeping your guinea pig's ever-growing teeth trim. Munching on hay will help maintain the teeth at a suitable length to prevent sores in their mouth.
4. Encourages foraging
Hay will also encourage your pet's natural instinct of foraging and give them mental stimulation. In the wild, guinea pigs would spend most of their time foraging on grasses, and enabling this natural behavior will help to keep them happy.
Hay for guinea pigs – what to look for
When choosing the best hay for your guinea pig, these are the factors you should consider:
- Timothy hay is ideal for adult guinea pigs' everyday feeding,
- while young guinea pigs under the age of 6 months and pregnant or nursing females are better off with alfalfa hay.
1. All-natural ingredients
- The hay you buy for your guinea pig should consist of 100% natural hay with nothing added.
2. Grown in the ideal environment
- The environment the hay is grown in affects how nutritious it is. Many pet owners prefer hay grown on small farms in the USA.
3. Safe with no chemicals
- Ensure the hay contains no pesticides, preservatives, or additives, which could be harmful to your pet.
4. The brand
- Brands that are well known for safe foods are usually a good choice.
- Only buy hay that is greenish in color and has a sweet smell. The color is an indication of levels of vitamins A and C, and because vitamins degrade quickly, hay that is not fresh has reduced amounts of these essential vitamins.
6. The cut
- Second or third-cut hay is softer, more palatable, and nutritious.
7. The ratio of stems and leaves
- Although guinea pigs often love soft and leafy hay, the stems are better because they contain more fiber to aid with digestion and keep the teeth from overgrowing.
8. Less dust
- Hay is never completely dust-free, but dust extracted, hand-selected, and hand-sorted hays usually contain less dust because hand sorting removes most of it. Loosely packaged hay is also better in this regard.
- Dust can cause respiratory issues for sensitive animals like guinea pigs.
- To keep your pet healthy, you should opt for hay with as little dust as possible.
Going for the cheapest hay may not be a good idea. The quality of hay may vary with the season but paying a little more for a high-quality brand will guarantee you're offering your pet hay that is safe and fresh.
What Cut of Hay is Best for Guinea Pigs?
The best cut of hay for guinea pigs are the softer and more nutritious second and third cuts.
First-cut hay is harvested earlier in May or June. It is higher in fiber and low in protein, but the texture is coarser and may not be enjoyed by picky guinea pigs. First-cut hay has larger seed heads, which, although loved by guinea pigs, have lower nutritional values.
Second- and third-cut hay is harvested later in the summer once it has grown again. This type of hay is usually better for your guinea pig because it's softer and has an ideal balance of nutrients and fewer seed heads.
Related Reading: Best Guinea Pig Food
Guinea Pig Hay Rack
Your pet should have access to unlimited hay throughout the day. Because the hay should always be fresh and clean, a hay holder for guinea pigs is something we recommend placing in their cage.
- A hay rack for guinea pigs will prevent the food from being contaminated by urine or poop.
- Also, guinea pigs love to burrow into hay, but coarse hay is more suitable for eating than to be used as bedding and may cause eye injuries.
Here is our favorite:
How to Store Hay for Guinea Pigs?
- The hay for guinea pigs should be stored in a cool and dry place protected from the sunlight.
- A garden shed is ideal, but a well-ventilated closet is a good choice too.
- Cover the hay to keep it from collecting dust.
- High-quality hay that has been appropriately dried can be stored in a plastic bag to keep it dry, but if there is still moisture in the hay, mold may form if it is placed in a sealed bag.
- Sunlight and heat can cause the vitamins and nutrients to degrade, so keep the product protected from the sun.
In addition to having plenty of hay available at all times, guinea pigs need to have unlimited fresh water too. Their diet consists mostly of dry hay, which is why it is important to get that hydration as well.
Having fresh water for your pet is usually not a problem. If you can drink it, so can your pet. Usually, tap water is just fine. Many experts recommend having two bottles in each cage to ensure your pet will have the water they need if one doesn't work.
If you're looking for the best water bottle for guinea pigs, here is our favorite:
MidWest Critterville Small Animal Water Bottle
- Made with BPA-free durable plastic
- Stainless-steel sip
- Easy to attach
- Lift-top for easy refills
Choosing the right variety of hay from a reputable brand is essential in keeping your guinea pig healthy. Because it's a staple food for your pet, it should always be fresh and have the appropriate nutrients.
The wrong type of hay may cause health problems and malnutrition, which is why it's crucial to your pet's health and safety that you feed them with hay that meets their nutritional needs.
Timothy hay is the safest option and usually preferred by both pets and their parents. It's widely available, and you shouldn't have a problem at finding good-quality hay of this variety.
Since guinea pigs consume quite a lot of hay, the easiest option is to make a repeat order online and have it delivered fresh to your doorstep. It couldn't get any easier!
To put it in a nutshell:
- Timothy hay has the perfect nutritional values for healthy adult guinea pigs.
- Alfalfa hay is better suited for young, growing guinea pigs or nursing females.
- Guinea pigs that need to put on weight or have suffered from an illness may also benefit from high-calorie alfalfa hay. Always check with your veterinarian first!
- Make sure you're feeding fresh and clean hay. You know it's fresh when it has a greenish color and a sweet smell.
- About 80% of your guinea pig's diet should consist of hay. However, they also need high-quality guinea pig pellets, leafy greens, and vegetables every day. Fruits and treats should be offered in moderation – only a small serving a few times a week.
- Your pet should have fresh and clean water available throughout the day.
Can guinea pigs eat alfalfa hay?
Yes, guinea pigs can eat alfalfa hay, but healthy adult guinea pigs should mainly eat timothy hay or another type of grass hay. You can add some alfalfa hay into their daily feed, but because alfalfa hay is high in protein, calcium, calories, and low fiber, it should only make up a small portion of your pet's everyday hay. Alfalfa hay is better suited for young, growing guinea pigs or nursing females because they need extra energy and calcium.
Hay is the foundation of herbivorous animals such as guinea pigs, and in the wild, guinea pigs browse a variety of plants throughout each day. As a piggy's parent, your focus should be on finding high quality, high fiber, nutritious hay for your precious pet.
How you choose to feed your pig their hay is up to you, but it should be available 24/7 as they constantly graze throughout the day (and night). There are pros and cons of feeding from a feeder or from the ground. Feeders can keep the hay clean and reduce waste from your pig toileting and burrowing in it. In contrast, hay at ground level is more natural to their historical environment and possibly less likely to cause 'hay poke' injuries to the eye.
Grass hay is preferable for guinea pigs due to its high fiber content. Timothy is one of the most popular of these for guinea pig parents, and it's a safe, palatable option for adults.
Another hay you've likely heard a lot about is alfalfa. This is actually a legume and contains more protein and calcium while being lower in fiber than grass hay.
While you can offer more alfalfa to young or pregnant piggies, you should only offer it as a treat for adults. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium, and as the kidneys excrete this mineral in guinea pigs, they are at risk of developing uroliths/bladder stones if they're ingesting excess calcium. These stones cause irritation, urinary blockage and require surgery to remove, so avoiding too much alfalfa can help reduce this risk for your pig.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
Edele Grey, BSc, MVB, PGCertESM, MRCVS was born and raised in Ireland on a farm, so she was destined for veterinary-related work from a young age. Dr. Grey attended the only veterinary university in Ireland, the University College Dublin, and graduated in 2013. Since graduation, Dr. Grey has worked with a range of exotic, companion, and production animal species.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your guinea pig's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.