Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea pigs – they need Vitamin C too!
Most people do not realize that guinea pigs are one of the few species of mammal (along with humans), that cannot make vitamin C and must obtain it from their diet. Other animals that require supplementation with Vitamin C in their diet includes some primates, bats, and capybaras. Vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy in human medicine, is seen with some frequency in pet guinea pigs, which I why I wanted to share more information about the disease and its effects. Young growing animals are more susceptible to scurvy and disease can develop in as little as two weeks without dietary supplementation.
Vitamin C is very important for many bodily functions including immune function and collage production. Collagen is the “glue” that holds our soft tissues together, without proper collagen production the following can occur:
- Compromised blood vessels leading to hemorrhage or swelling of the joints or ribs
- Bruising or bleeding of the gums or skin
- Teeth loosening and dental disease
- Rough hair coat,
- Decreased appetite or difficulty grabbing and chewing food,
- Tooth grinding,
- Pain or swelling of joints,
- Gastrointestinal stasis (slowing down of intestinal tract),
- Difficulty fighting infections.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
Whenever we are presented with a guinea pig patient, I ask questions about that animal’s diet and sources of Vitamin C. Together with signs from physical examination, the information in the animal’s history can also point towards Vitamin C deficiency. Treatment includes injections as well as addressing any secondary diseases. This may require hospitalization with supportive care, pain management or dental procedures. Once the patient is stabilized then they are switched to oral supplements.
How much Vitamin C do guinea pigs need?
Guinea pigs need 10-25 mg/kg per day of vitamin C added to their diet. Pregnant and sick animals require more.
What are good sources of Vitamin C?
Red and green peppers (capsicum), fresh cabbage, kale, oranges , broccoli, tomatoes and kiwi fruit. Additionally, many pelleted diets now have Vitamin C added, but be careful as the Vitamin C content will oxidize when exposed to air. Therefore, half may be lost by 90 days from opening the bag. Many types of green leafy vegetables (kale, parsley, beet greens, chicory and spinach) are high in Vitamin C but also contain higher levels of calcium and oxalates. These food items should only be offered in smaller amounts. ⠀
Vitamin C can be added to water but again it will oxidize within 24 hours and must be changed daily. I also worry about dilution in water and the ability of accurately knowing if your guinea pig is drinking enough. Finally there are Vitamin C hay treats that have been manufactured by Oxbow Animal Health that can be given daily to supplement Vitamin C. ⠀
I always recommend clients offer Vitamin C orally, so that they know their guinea pig has eaten their daily requirement. This is about 2 tablespoons of chopped red pepper or 1 Oxbow Vitamin C treat per day. However the requirement increases for sick animals so check with your veterinarian for your guinea pigs’ individual needs. ⠀