Origins of Timothy Hay
Timothy hay is the dried version of timothy-grass (Phleum pratense), a perennial grass that is indigenous to most European countries, except those with a Mediterranean climate. Timothy-grass was first introduced to the USA by the early settlers arriving from Europe, who unwittingly brought the grass seeds with them. By the early 1700’s timothy-grass had established itself in the New-Hampshire area, where farmers soon noticed that it was favored by grazers. In 1720, Timothy Hanson, a local farmer, decided to cultivate the grass for hay production to feed his livestock, which led this grass to become named after him. Timothy-grass is now grown in most regions in USA and Canada, primarily as a forage for horses and cattle, but is also used widely in the staple diet of small pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas.
Difference Between Timothy Hay and Alfalfa Hay
While the nutritional values of alfalfa hay and timothy hay vary somewhat, they are both useful additions in the diet of guinea pigs and other small pets – the choice of hay will depend on the life-stage of your pet.
Alfalfa hay is rich in calcium and protein, and consequently is higher in calories and more fattening than timothy hay. This makes it suitable for feeding to developing animals that are growing and have greater requirements in terms of protein for growth and development, and calcium to ensure the development of strong healthy bones and teeth. Pregnant and nursing guinea pig mothers will also benefit from alfalfa hay with its higher calcium and protein content, to ensure the healthy development of their young. However, once the young are fully developed it is best to switch to timothy hay with its reduced calorie and calcium content, to prevent health problems related to an excess of protein and calcium in the diet.
Benefits of Timothy Hay For Guinea Pigs
Timothy hay is high in fiber, yet low in protein, calories, and calcium, which offers health benefits to your pet. Timothy hay provides essential roughage in a cavies diet, which not only aids digestion and keeps the gut functioning correctly, but the fibrous stems will also help keep your pet’s teeth worn down to prevent dental problems.
Guinea pigs are herbivores that are constantly nibbling and gnawing on plants, stems, fruits and vegetables in nature. This constant chewing action naturally wears down their cheek teeth, and to compensate for this, the cheek teeth are constantly growing so that they can continue to function efficiently. However, cavies kept in captivity do not have free access to fibrous plant stems, seeds, and fruits, unless it is provided to them. Consequently, if they do not receive the correct diet, their teeth can grow faster than what they are worn down, which can cause serious problems for your pet. One of the benefits of timothy hay for guinea pigs is that being high in fiber, it will wear teeth down naturally when provided on a daily basis.
Herbivores also require a diet high in fiber in order to keep the digestive tract healthy and functioning efficiently. The high roughage content in timothy hay ensures that the bowels function regularly to prevent problems with the gastrointestinal tract.
The lower levels of protein, calories and calcium contained in timothy hay enable your guinea pig to still acquire the essential fiber in the diet, while not being prone to weight gain, or painful bladder infections and bladder stones, which are difficult to detect, and can result in the death of your pet if left unattended.
Types of Timothy Hay
Timothy hay is commercially available in ‘first cut’ and ‘second cut’, which refers to the crop harvest. First cut hay is the best form to feed your guinea pig as it consists of larger seed heads, and coarser leaves and stems, providing more roughage and less protein. Second cut hay is softer in texture due to the reduced fiber content, and it often has a higher moisture content than first cut hay. However, because the soft moist texture makes it easier to eat, and it is more fragrant, it is often favored by pet cavies, but it still provides a good source of fiber.
Other Dietary Requirements
As guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C, they need a regular source of vitamin C in their diet to prevent a deficiency of this essential vitamin, which will result in weight loss, hair loss, bleeding gums and teeth loss, followed by death. A good brand of pellets specially formulated for guinea pigs will contain vitamin C additives to ensure your pet gets a balanced diet. This can also be supplemented with fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C to ensure your pet remains healthy and in optimal condition.
To ensure that your pet is fed a balanced healthy diet that will keep him in peak condition and health, it is best to feed timothy hay as a staple diet, a small amount of good quality pellets, supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables, making sure that fresh water is always available.