The importance of hay in a guinea pigs diet
Hay plays a very important role in a guinea pigs diet and should always be available to them.
Guinea pigs are herbivores, meaning they don't eat or need any kind of meat, just plant material. Their digestive system requires a constant supply of high fibre food to keep it healthy and running smoothly. Hay is not only an excellent roughage food, it also helps to keep their teeth ground down. Guinea pigs teeth are constantly growing. They use their incisor teeth for breaking up the food and use their molar teeth for chewing. Constantly grazing on hay, helps to keep their back molar teeth in good shape and helps to stop them from over growing. See hay as an important accessory to guinea pigs, that should always be with them.
Buying a good quality hay
I buy my meadow hay by the bale, from my local equestrian centre ( horse supplies ). Buying hay by the bale is very economical and its often better quality than pet shop bought hay. From my own experience of buying pet shop hay, its often dusty, and not a green strand of hay can be found, its also very expensive. Buying a bale of hay, also means you can use it as a soft bedding for your guinea pigs. You do need somewhere dry and clean to store the bale. If you just have a couple of guinea pigs, you could ask the horse supplies centre to bag you up a few bags of hay rather than buy a full bale. Always check for unusual objects in the hay, including prickly thistle. Anything that isn't hay, remove it. Its rare, but I've found the odd empty crisp packet, a milk bottle top and a large feather, so always check the hay before giving it to your guinea pigs. Fresh hay should not smell mouldy or be damp, disregard any hay that isn't fresh as it could be harmful to your guinea pig.
Jake grazing on some lovely meadow hay
Here is Clover and Peachy just after I'd placed fresh hay in their cage. As you can see, they just couldn't wait to munch on it :)
Other types of grass hay
As well as unlimited meadow
hay, my piggies adore Timothy hay. Its rather expensive, so they have a large handful between 3 guinea pigs everyday. I buy my guinea pigs Timothy hay on-line, from Bunny Bazaar UK If you live in the USA, you can purchase Timothy hay directly from the Oxbow Hay Co They may give you details about where your nearest stockist is in the USA. They also distribute to other countries as well as the UK. Visit this link to see if there's a stockist near you Oxbow International
Here is Jasmine, Squeekie, Sweetpea and Peachy enjoying some lovely Timothy hay. See how lovely and green it is, smells gorgeous too!
My guinea pigs also adore Spillers readigrass, which is a dried grass, very handy for autumn and winter months when fresh grass is in short supply. Its an added addition to hay, but not a replacement. I give just a small handful between 3 guinea pigs.
You can also give your guinea pigs fresh grass from your garden. Never take grass from a park or near the roadside, you never know if a dog has fouled the grass. Make sure no chemicals have been used in your garden and never use grass from a lawn mower. Remember fresh grass wilts very quickly, so only leave it in the cage for around 20 minutes. Most guinea pigs will eat it straight away. However, if you have a poorly guinea that you are hand feeding, but also encouraging them to eat, by leaving food in the cage, then you must remove any uneaten grass regularly.
Remember you can feed your guinea pig certain garden plants like clover leaves and dandelion leaves. For your guinea pigs safety, please visit Guinea Lynx: Poisonous Plants to read about garden and household plants. In the left-hand menu, there is also an excellent page on garden plants that are suitable for guinea pigs. Remember to keep all your house plants out of reach.
I personally have never used a hay rack for my guinea pigs. I change their hay daily and the hay in the bedding area is changed two or even three times a day, so they always have fresh hay to graze on. I've never encountered any problems not using a hay rack. However, I imagine they are fun to use for a guinea pig. Reaching up to grab a strand of hay and having a tug of war with it, would be great exercise and lots of fun.