VITAMIN C Recommendations for Guinea Pigs

Vitamin C deficiency, also known as Scurvy, is a common disease in our pet guinea pigs. The average guinea pig requires 10-20 mg of vitamin C every day.  An unhealthy guinea pig may need 100 mg of vitamin C daily so temporarily increase the dose if you suspect your guinea pig is becoming sick.

Guinea pigs cannot synthesize their own vitamin C. Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs include rough fur, loss of appetite, difficulty eating, diarrhea, problems with wounds healing, lameness, joint swelling, bruising, gastrointestinal stasis, bumblefoot, and increased susceptibility to bacterial infections (i.e. respiratory infections). Prolonged deficiency can affect skeletal and tooth development leading to brittle bones and dental problems.

Many people try to satisfy a guinea pig's need for vitamin C feeding fresh fruits and vegetables. This can be done, but we need to make sure we’re picking veggies that have good vitamin C levels without excess sugar and limiting fruit in the diet. For example, leafy greens provide quality vitamin C without as much sugar as a bell pepper. This is not to say that your piggie can’t have the higher sugar foods, they just need to be given sparingly to avoid making your guinea pig overweight or giving your guinea pig intestinal issues.

Another consideration when using fresh fruits and veggies to supplement your guinea pig’s Vitamin C requirements, is the amount of Calcium in those fresh food items. We don’t want to consistently pick a high calcium food item, as this can predispose our piggies to bladder stones.

Just like anything else with diet, it’s all about balance.

Leafy Greens Vitamin C / 0.5 Cups Calcium / 0.5 cups Starch & Sugar / 0.5 Cups
Parsley (10 sprigs) 130 mg 138 mg 0.3 grams
Kale 100 mg 200 mg 1.0 grams
Mustard Greens 80 mg 100 mg 1.0 grams
Turnip Greens 60 mg 190 mg 0.8 grams
Romaine Lettuce 9 mg 36 mg 0.6 grams
Red/Green Leaf Lettuce 6 mg 33 mg 0.5 grams
Bibb/ Boston Lettuce 6 mg 35 mg 35 mg

This chart shows the vitamin C and Calcium content of common leafy greens fed to guinea pigs. We recommend guinea pigs receive 1/2 to 1 cup total of leafy greens daily.

Vegetable Vitamin C / 0.5 Cups Calcium / 0.5 cups Starch & Sugar / 0.5 Cups
Red bell peppers 150 mg 8 mg 4.5 grams
Green bell peppers 80 mg 10 mg 3.0 grams
Broccoli 93 mg 47 mg 1.5 grams
Sweet potato 10 mg 25 mg 5 grams
Carrot 9.3 mg 30 mg 5 grams
Zucchini 20 mg 19.8 mg 3.1 grams

This chart shows the vitamin C and Calcium content of many vegetables fed to guinea pigs. We recommend only a small amount of these vegetables (less than 1/4 of a cup) be fed only 2-3 times a week.

Fruit Vitamin C / 0.5 Cups Calcium / 0.5 cups Starch & Sugar / 0.5 Cups
Apple (with skin) 5.75 mg 7 mg 13 grams
Orange 53 mg 50 mg 12 grams
Strawberry 56 mg 20 mg 6 grams
Grapes 5 mg 12 mg 20 grams
Blueberry 12 mg 8.88 mg 12 grams

This chart shows the vitamin C and Calcium content of many fruits fed to guinea pigs. We recommend fruit be fed to guinea pigs only as a rare treat as they contain lots of sugar which can lead to serious problems if overfed.

So what other options are there? We recommend using a product designed for guinea pigs, Oxbow Natural Science Vitamin C. This is a small "cookie" like treat that supplies your guinea pig with the vitamin C they need to be healthy. For a healthy guinea pig, we recommend feeding ½ a treat per day, which provides roughly 10 mg of Vitamin C. We carry this in our store area.

Feeding a high-quality pellet, such as Oxbow, Mazuri, Small Pet Select, Sherwood, and Zupreem brands, will also assure appropriate nutrition with quality ingredients. These brands focus on quality control and the Vitamin C will be stabilized lasting longer once the bag has been opened. Since Vitamin C is easily broken down, most of the companies only guarantee the Vitamin C amounts for 3 months after the bag has been opened. Choosing a food that has timothy-based pellet and no “extras”, such as seeds, nuts, colored pellets, dried fruits, etc., is also important. Guinea pigs will pick out those “extras” which are nutritionally empty and leave behind the nutritionally balanced pellet.

You may also use a liquid vitamin C for humans.  There are many different brands of liquid vitamin C sold in health food stores.  Most have about 250 mg per teaspoon so a dose of 1/8 teaspoon a day is right for a guinea pig if needed. If you are using a human product and are not sure that it is the same dose as this, please call and let a doctor know what you are using and so you can be sure you are giving the right amount.

Water based vitamin C drops can also be found at pet stores; however, we do NOT recommend these for several reasons. First, because these dilute the vitamin C into a very low concentration in the water your guinea pig would have to drink ridiculously large amounts of water to reach their needs every day. Second, they make the water taste funny and will discourage your guinea pig from drinking enough water. And third, vitamin C is sensitive to exposure to light. Since most water bottles are clear to white opaque light can penetrate to the vitamin C and inactivate it - rendering it useless.