Vitamin C and Your Guinea Pig | Everything you Need To Know To Keep a – Home & Roost

Vitamin C and Your Guinea Pig | Everything you Need To Know To Keep a Healthy Cavy

Vitamin C and Your Guinea Pig | Everything you Need To Know To Keep a Healthy Cavy

Melinda Connor |

Did you know that just like humans, your guinea pig can't make its own vitamin C? This means that in the same way, we need to get this essential vitamin from fruits, vegetables or a daily supplement, so can cavies. In this article, we're talking about vitamin C and your guinea pig, from what problems a lack of vitamin C can cause, to ways you can include it in your piggy's diet and everything in between. 

We also answer the most frequently asked questions, including how much vitamin C is enough for the average guinea pig, can you share your vitamin C pills with your piggy, and is there such a thing as too much?

Let's start with why your guinea pig needs vitamin C and what happens when there is a deficiency.

Why Your Guinea Pig Needs Vitamin C

Vitamin C, otherwise known as ascorbic acid, is an essential part of a guinea pig diet. Without it, your pocket pet can't produce crucial tissues and enzymes, including collagen and as a result, is at risk of developing a rather nasty condition called scurvy.

Common Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency In Guinea Pigs

Common signs that your pet guinea pig isn't getting enough vitamin C in its diet includes:

  • Painful joints
  • Change in its normal walking or movement
  • Inability or unwillingness to move around
  • Lethargy
  • Dental issues
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Unhealthy or rough hair coat
  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Haemorrhaging (bruising)

How Much Vitamin C Does A Guinea Pig Need

Experts recommend between 10 and 30mg of Vitamin C a day for most guinea pigs, although this will vary depending on their age, weight and overall health. 

For example, a healthy adult cavy should have between 10 and 15mg daily, while growing guinea pigs will need more for healthy bone and tissue development. 

Pregnant or nursing guinea pigs and those with an underlying health condition will benefit from getting up to 30mg daily.

However, it's important to remember that even if your guinea pig is getting its daily intake of ascorbic acid, it can still have a deficiency. This is because:

  • Vitamin C has a sell-by date: over time, viable vitamin C is lost in fresh vegetables and fruit, which means its nutritional content decreases. The same applies to the vitamin C content in commercially produced pellets.
  • Certain illnesses or health conditions can affect the absorption of vitamin C.
  • Excess vitamin C in your guinea pig's diet can reduce its sensitivity to the vitamin and lead to a condition known as pseudo-scurvy.

How To Make Sure Your Guinea Pig Is Getting Enough Vitamin C

vitamin c and your guinea pig

One of the simplest and most effective ways to make sure your guinea pig is getting enough vitamin C is to provide it with a varied diet of fresh vegetables and fortified guinea pig nuggets. Fruit is also a good source of this essential vitamin; however, we recommend limiting these sweet treats once or twice a week because of their high sugar content.

Let's take a look at what a vitamin C-rich diet should include for your piggy.

  • A good quality feeding hay
  • Guinea pig pellets or nuggets that are specially formulated and fortified with essential minerals and vitamins
  • A small portion of fresh leafy greens that are high in vitamin C. Our favourites include:

  • one floret of broccoli
  • half of a curly kale leaf
  • small serving of a green bell pepper
  • small serving of parsley
  • handful of dandelion leaves (make sure it's free from any pesticides and that it's not picked in an area where wild rabbits live as your guinea pig could become ill)

For more information on how to get your piggy's diet just right, take a look at this article here. It's packed with loads of helpful hints on what to feed your guinea pig and what foods to avoid.

Other Ways To Include Vitamin C In Your Guinea Pig's Diet

Sometimes it's not always possible to meet your guinea pig's daily vitamin C requirements. This could be because your piggy's having difficulty eating, has lost its appetite, or you simply don't have access to fresh vegetables.

The good news is there are a few other ways you can up your cavy's vitamin C intake. We discuss these in more detail below.

Vitamin C Supplement

A popular choice includes a vitamin C supplement, like Oxbow Animal Health Natural Science Vitamin C Support. Each hay-based tablet contains 25mg of ascorbic acid and can be given as a treat.

A healthy adult guinea pig only needs half a tablet a day, but depending on your guinea pig's condition, you can give one full table every day. If you are unsure about the dose, ask your veterinarian.

Liquid Vitamin C

Believe it or not, you can give your cavy the same liquid vitamin C you take to up your daily intake. Of course, we need a lot more, so while one teaspoon contains about 250mg of vitamin C, we recommend only giving your guinea pig about 1/8 of a teaspoon.

Again, if you're not sure how much your piggy needs, it's best to consult with your vet first. Remember, too much vitamin C can also cause long term health problems for your guinea pig.

Vitamin C Enriched Treats

We're yet to find a guinea pig that turns its nose up to a tasty treat. If all other methods aren't working, try something like VetIQ Nibblots. Available in various flavours, these are delicious and nutritious, and guinea pigs go wild for the soft centre. But they're probably not the healthiest choice compared to the other supplements, which means they aren't a long-term solution.

Avoid Water-Based Vitamin C Drops

You've probably seen water-based vitamin C drops in pet shops, but we don't recommend these. While it might seem like an easy way to include vitamins in your guinea pig's diet, it's not the most effective. The reasons are as follows:

  • Once diluted with the water, the concentration of vitamin C is actually really low, and your cavy will have to drink a lot more than usual to get their daily dose.

  • Also, the drops may give the water an odd taste, which will put your guinea pig off its water. So not only is your pet not getting the recommended vitamin C allowance, but it's also not getting enough water.

  • The clear bottles that the water-based drops are packaged in expose the vitamin C to light, which pretty much renders it useless.

  • Last and definitely not least, unless your guinea pigs are drinking from a water bottle with a spout, water bowls can be toppled over, which means no vitamin C for the day.

Vitamin C and Your Guinea Pig - How Much is Too Much?

For the most part, any vitamin C your guinea pig doesn't need will be passed through its urine. And if you're providing your pet with a balanced diet that includes nuggets or pellets and fresh leafy greens, then there's very little chance of it overdosing.

But having said that, if you also add a vitamin C supplement and it exceeds the daily amount of 10-30mg, then this can cause serious health problems for your piggy. Too much vitamin C for an extended period can cause bladder and kidney stones, arthritis, and for younger piggies, poor growth and development.  As mentioned previously, your guinea pig can also become less sensitive to vitamin C, resulting in pseudo-scurvy.

If ever in doubt, ask your vet for more advice and to help you figure out the correct dosage.

To Finish Off

As long as you're giving your guinea pig a healthy, well-balanced diet with good quality pellets, vitamin-enriched hay and a daily serving of fresh vegetables, you'll be providing it with the right amount of vitamin C. Remember, however, sick or poorly guinea pigs need more, as does a pregnant or nursing sow.

Chat with your vet about your guinea pig's diet and how you can change it up to include more vitamin C-rich fresh foods. Supplements are a nice-to-have, but a nutritious diet with plenty of natural and fresh choices is a must-have.