SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

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Why is Vitamin C important for my guinea pig?

We recently had two Guinea Pigs, Peanut and Flossie, join our family. Somebody told me that for Guinea Pigs to be healthy, it is really important that they have enough vitamin C. Can you tell me why and what I can do to make sure my GPs get enough vitamin C?

Every animal has a requirement for certain essential nutrients; they need a regular dietary supply of these essential nutrients, which they are unable to produce on their own. In guinea pigs and primates, including humans, one key essential nutrient is vitamin C (this is why many sailors historically developed scurvy because they did not have vitamin C containing fresh fruit and vegetables to eat on their long sea voyages). Vitamin C is vital for the healing of wounds, and the normal development and maintenance of skin, joints, and mucousal surfaces (such as the gums). A deficiency of vitamin C can also affect the function of the immune system and make the body more vulnerable to other diseases, infections, and conditions. If a GP has vitamin C deficiency he/she may have a rough hair coat; be lethargic, weak, and/or reluctant to walk; and have a poor appetite, diarrhoea, swollen feet or joints, or haemorrhages and ulcers on his/her gums or skin. The bleeding into muscle, the intestines, and other tissues that is associated with vitamin C deficiency makes this a painful condition.

To avoid vitamin C deficiency in your GPs they should be fed plenty of fresh fruit and leafy green or coloured vegetables every day.

Vitamin C is often included in special GP diets but these, and vitamin C liquid supplements (which are added to GPs’ drinking water), are not reliable sources of vitamin C because this essential nutrient is a relatively unstable compound and breaks down or oxidises quickly. Therefore, to make sure they get enough vitamin C, GPs should always have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as a large proportion of their diet. Fresh leafy green vegetables (such as kale, parsley, and spinach) are a good source of vitamin C for GPs and you can get even more into their diet by adding small quantities of vitamin C rich food such as oranges, kiwi fruit, and capsicum.

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