Why Do Guinea Pigs Need Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is an extremely important nutrient for mammals. It has a wealth of benefits for the immune system, healthy skin, and bone formation.

If you own a guinea pig, you would certainly know that these unique, little mammals require extra vitamin C.

Just like humans, they too lack the enzyme to create vitamin C in their bodies.

Let’s learn about why guinea pigs need vitamin C and the consequences of the lack thereof.

Why Do Guinea Pigs Need Vit C?

The reason why guinea pigs need vitamin C is that their bodies can’t produce it on their own.

These little furry animals lack the body mechanism that is required for the synthesis of vitamin C.

Therefore, a serious vitamin C deficiency can lead to guinea pigs developing scurvy.

Often times, the condition is worsened by a diet that’s devoid of vitamin C-rich foods. However, the deficiency can also occur because of certain physical problems or other illnesses that lead to the malabsorption of vitamin C.

In such cases, guinea pigs can’t eat or absorb an adequate amount of vitamin C-rich foods.

However, they still require vitamin C through dietary or oral supplementation.

Vitamin C is essentially required for the production of collagen. Guinea pigs need collagen for faster wound healing, the healthy formation of bones, and sustaining blood vessel integrity.

 A vitamin deficiency can lead to morphologic changes in the smooth muscle compartments of their blood vessels and may lead to weight loss.

It can also cause dramatic changes in the arteries and veins of guinea pigs, which can be detrimental to their overall metabolism.

Even before developing a serious disease like scurvy, vitamin C deficiency can reduce appetite and increase lethargy in guinea pigs.

You might also notice delayed wound healing, poor hair coat, and sores around their mouth.

Occasional diarrhea is also expected since their appetite is greatly disturbed.  

What Are the Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs?

If the symptoms of vitamin C are left untreated, they can aggravate and lead to scurvy.

In order to detect a deficiency or malabsorption in your guinea pigs, look for the following signs:

Lack of Energy, Excessive Weakness, and Lethargy

Chronic fatigue in guinea pigs can develop even before a full-blown deficiency emerges.

Vitamin C has wellness-boosting abilities that fight away illness and tiredness.

A lack of it can cause the guinea pigs to become irritable and tired all the time and adopt a “bunny-hop” gait.

Swollen Joints Making it Difficult to Walk

One of the most common symptoms is painful, swollen joints in guinea pigs.

Since the joints are essentially made of collagen-rich connective tissues, a vitamin C deficiency can result in limping, difficulty in walking, and enlarged, swollen joints.

Delayed Wound Healing

As mentioned above, vitamin C actively aids in the healing process; the lack thereof can lead to small wounds that bleed excessively or do not heal as quickly.

This means that if your guinea pig has any skin wounds or tears, it will take far longer to heal than normal.

Additionally, it can also lead to easy bruising in furry animals. This is primarily due to poor collagen production that weakens blood vessels.

Subcutaneous bleeding just under the surface of the skin and dark spots are other signs that appear on the guinea pigs’ skin.

Poor, Rough Hair Coat

If your guinea pig has a number of bald spots or a rough hair coat, then the culprit is definitely a vitamin C deficiency.

Loss of Appetite and Rapid Weight Loss

Guinea pigs have a very sensitive gastrointestinal tract, which makes those that are lacking in vitamin C quite susceptible to diarrhea.

You will also notice a significant loss of appetite, which subsequently leads to considerable weight loss.

Guinea pigs with a poor digestive system or anorexic behavior require immediate veterinary care and attention.

If these symptoms are left untreated, they can lead to sudden deaths.

Scurvy in Guinea Pigs

You’re probably familiar with the disease.

Like human beings, when guinea pigs are severely deficient in vitamin C, they become extremely vulnerable to scurvy.

The condition hampers their body’s ability to produce and sustain collagen.

Being an integral component of tissue and bone formation, lack of collagen can lead to blood clotting, skin disorders, and swollen joints in guinea pigs.

Since the blood vessels become fragile, the condition can easily lead to hemorrhaging of the tissues, gums, muscles, and internal organ surfaces of the guinea pigs.

Scurvy can also lead to abnormal bone and cartilage formation.

The joints of the leg bones and ribs become swollen. Guinea pigs will also experience severe difficulty in eating due to the anchoring of their teeth in the bony sockets.

All of these dangerous symptoms appear within two weeks of consuming a diet that is deficient in vitamin C.

How Much Vitamin C Does an Average Guinea Pig Need?

So, now that we know how crucial this vitamin is for guinea pigs, let’s find out how much do they need on a daily basis.

Even when vitamin C has a number of integral functions, it’s important to give your guinea pigs a moderate amount of it.

The body of an average guinea pig requires between 10 mg and 30 mg of vitamin C for good health.

However, an ill, young, or pregnant sow will need a higher dosage. Adult guinea pigs need around 25 mg of vitamin C daily, while pregnant guinea pigs require 30-40 mg.

A well-balanced diet full of leafy greens can easily provide guinea pigs with their recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

However, it can also be fed directly, given in the form of supplements, or crushed over fruits and vegetables.

If you’ve decided to give your guinea pig a supplement of over 100 mg, make sure to discuss it with your veterinarian first.

However, excess vitamin C is never absorbed by the body; instead, it is excreted through urine.

For an ill guinea pig, providing the correct dosage routinely is extremely important to replenish vitamin C. 

How Do You Diagnose and Treat Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs?

If you’re noticing any serious symptoms of deficiency in your guinea pig, then you need a proper diagnosis to seek treatment.

Consult with the vet and provide a thorough history of your pet’s diet and health.

The veterinarian will inspect for excessive bleeding or joint problems, including other symptoms before they diagnose a vitamin C deficiency.

They may also take a blood test to inspect the vitamin C levels in the body.

Once the diagnosis is positive, the treatment will require you to give strong vitamin C supplements for at least a week or two.

They are either given orally or – if the deficiency is serious – through an injection.

Multi-vitamin tablets that have vitamin C aren’t really recommended for guinea pigs as they also contain other trace minerals that can irritate them. 

During the treatment, it’s important to restrict your guinea pig’s activity as it can easily lead to injuries and bruises.

If your pig has developed flesh wounds or scabs, lightly wash those areas and consult your veterinarian on how to treat them.  

How Do You Feed Vitamin C to Guinea Pigs?

Vitamin C in guinea pigs can be replenished through diet, oral supplements, and vitamin C pellets.

It’s important to know that timothy hay and other hays and grasses are low in vitamin C despite being a staple food.

Therefore, it’s important to feed them fresh vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamin C.

Choose leafy greens like kale, spinach, parsley, turnip greens, and romaine lettuce. These vegetables should make up the bulk of their diet.

Try to avoid cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, and collards as they increase gas in the digestive tract.

Feed them fresh carrots, red and green bell peppers, blueberries, apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, and tomatoes.

It’s always better to give your guinea pigs a nutritious diet full of fruits and greens. However, introduce each food gradually as their digestive systems are quite sensitive.

You can also give them fortified pellets that have high amounts of vitamin C.

Since the powder degrades with time, make sure to finish off the pellets within 90 days. Guinea pigs can also be given chewable vitamin C tablets.

Break the 100 mg tablets into quarters of 25 mg each and feed them to your guinea pigs.

Alternatively, you can crush the tablet and sprinkle it over moistened vegetables and fruits. The smell is usually pleasant, so your pig will certainly want to try it.

You can also cut a groove in a carrot or an apple and slice the chewable tablet inside.

It will take about 2-3 weeks for the vitamin C to replenish and your guinea pig to become healthy again.

Using a Stabilized Source of Vitamin C

Since vitamin C is water-soluble, it’s not very stable.

Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the supplement uses a stabilized vitamin C source that can be easily absorbed into the guinea pig’s bloodstream.

It also degrades very quickly, so make sure to give it to your guinea pigs earlier in the day.

And lastly, always check with your vet to make sure that you’re administering a safe dosage.

It’s always a good idea to consult an experienced vet for your guinea pig’s vitamin C needs.

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