Vitamin C

Grey guinea pig eating watermelonVitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid.  It is a water-soluble vitamin which has many important functions in the body such as keeping cells healthy, helping with wound healing, and maintaining healthy skin, bones, cartilage and blood vessels.

In humans, a deficiency of vitamin C is known as scurvy and caused severe problems on long sea voyages where there was little fresh food.

Most animals are able to make vitamin C themselves from sugars, however humans and guinea pigs are unable to do this and need to get their vitamin C requirements in the diet.

Sources of vitamin C

Vitamin C can be found in fruit such as oranges, strawberries and blackcurrants, and in vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, kale, spinach and parsley.

Most specialist guinea pig food is supplemented with vitamin C, however this can deteriorate with storage so if your guinea pig food is reaching or has passed its expiry date, it may not contain the levels required.

How much vitamin C does a guinea pig need?

Mother guinea pig with 3 babiesA healthy adult guinea pig needs 10mg/kg of vitamin C every day.  This increases to 30mg/kg during pregnancy.  A sick guinea pig has a much higher requirement of vitamin C (around 50-100mg/kg).

What are the signs of vitamin C deficiency?

  • reduced appetite
  • unkempt coat
  • lameness or stiffness
  • drooling
  • squealing when handled
  • lumps and swellings, particularly of the legs and rib cage.

How can I make sure my guinea pigs are getting enough vitamin C?

Burgess Excel guinea pig nuggetsNormal diet

Guinea pigs should have a diet consisting of long fibrous material such as hay and/or fresh grass.  They should also have a special guinea pig pellet (not rabbit food) which will be supplemented with vitamin C.  This food should be stored in a cool, dark place to preserve the vitamin content.  Guinea pigs should also have fresh green leafy vegetables such as cabbage or kale on a daily basis.

Supplements

Oxbow Vitamin C tabletIf you are concerned your guinea pig is not getting enough vitamin C, speak to your vet.  In some cases, injections are needed to get your guinea pig back to a healthy state.

You can supplement vitamin C further by adding it to the water or by giving a chewable supplement.

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