Guinea pigs cannot make vitamin C from other ingredients in their diet.
So to keep them healthy, it’s important that they receive supplemental vitamin C with their food or water.
Symptoms of guinea pigs suffering vitamin C deficiency include weakness, discomfort, lethargy and weight loss.
Recovery should be supervised by a vet, and might include injections of vitamin C.
Vitamin C For Guinea Pigs
Did you know that most mammals can synthesize vitamin C in their liver, from building blocks they get in their diet?
But guinea pigs, capybara, bats and some primates (including humans!) lack a crucial enzyme for completing that process.
So they need to receive it in their diet.
This article is all about the role of vitamin C in good guinea pig nutrition.
You can navigate it using the links below, or read the whole thing!
- Why do guinea pigs need vitamin C?
- What happens if a guinea pig doesn’t get vitamin C?
- How much vitamin C should I give my guinea pig?
- Is too much vitamin C bad for guinea pigs?
- What can I give my guinea pig for vitamin C?
- Can you give human vitamin C to guinea pigs?
Why Do Guinea Pigs Need Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is plays a number of important roles inside guinea pigs’ bodies.
Amongst many other things it:
- Supports the immune system.
- Protects tissues from harm caused by free radicals. Free radicals are a natural by-product of normal metabolism in all animals – but they damage tissues and organs if they’re left to build up.
- Plays a role in making collagen. Collagen is an important protein in blood vessels, muscles, skin, bones and joints.
- And it’s needed to make neurotransmitters – the chemicals which help relay messages around the nervous system.
What Happens If A Guinea Pig Doesn’t Get Vitamin C?
Baby guinea pigs who don’t receive enough vitamin C while they’re young are vulnerable to impaired brain function when they’re grown up.
Vitamin C deficiency also triggers increased production of cortisol. Cortisol is a type of stress signal inside the body, and when it is elevated, guinea pigs bodies are more prone to infection, and slower to recover.
Researchers have even found a link between insufficient dietary vitamin C and heart disease in guinea pigs.
But the best known consequence of too little vitamin C is scurvy.
Scurvy is the catch-all medical name for all the possible consequences to too little vitamin C.
Symptoms of scurvy can vary a lot, because vitamin C is important for so many biological processes.
Signs of scurvy include:
- Lameness, or hopping instead of walking
- Tenderness to touch
- A rough coat
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
- Bleeding gums
- Joint stiffness
- Weakness and lethargy
- Poor tooth development
- Discharge from the eyes and nose
Guinea pigs can also get sub-clinical scurvy.
This is when they don’t have symptoms of scurvy, but they regularly suffer from other conditions – usually respiratory infections, stomach bugs and skin disorders.
It happens when they’re getting enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy, but not enough to properly support their immune system against other ailments.
Treatment for scurvy
If your guinea pig displays any symptoms of scurvy, or is frequently under the weather, take him to your vet for a full diagnosis and possibly a course of vitamin C treatment.
There are some guinea pigs who develop vitamin C deficiency even when they are theoretically receiving enough vitamin C in their diet.
When this happens it is usually because they have other problems too.
So never dismiss the risk of scurvy just because you’re sure of the amount of vitamin C in your guinea pig’s diet.
How Much Vitamin C Should I Give My Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs need to consume 10mg of vitamin C per kilo of body weight daily to stay healthy.
Since they weigh 0.7-1.2 kilos on average, that’s just 7-12mg of vitamin C every day.
A microscopic amount, but what a difference it makes! (And after all, guinea pigs are very small themselves.)
Very young guinea pigs, and pregnant or nursing sows need more daily vitamin C.
What Can I Give My Guinea Pig For Vitamin C?
So how to get that all important vitamin C into them?
We recommend always doing these first two:
- Choose a high-quality guinea pig food which contains added vitamin C and follow the feeding guidelines to the letter.
- Provide a daily cup of leafy greens, such as kale or collard greens.
But you can also:
- Offer other fruits and vegetables sparingly for variety. Oranges are a rich source of vitamin C, but they also contain a lot of sugar.
- Supplement their diet with vitamin C tablets or drops.
Most good quality guinea pig pellets are fortified with extra vitamin C during manufacturing.
However, vitamin degrades quite quickly once the bag is opened. So keep your pellets in an airtight container, and check the packaging for a use by date (usually within six months of opening).
If you’re worried about wastage, look for pellets with a stabilized form of vitamin C that last up to nine months.
Daily portions of fresh produce alongside their hay and pellets are a great way to boost your guinea pig’s vitamin C intake.
(Hay alone doesn’t contain enough vitamin C for guinea pigs, but it should be fed in unlimited quantities to facilitate digestion and limit teeth growth.)
A rotating menu of fresh vegetables and small quantities of fruit give your guinea pigs a broad spectrum of nutrients, and also make their daily routine a little more rich and interesting.
Guinea Pig Vitamin C Food List
Offer your guinea pig one cup of leafy greens every day.
Suitable leafy greens include:
Vegetables suitable to offer once or twice a week include:
- Red and green peppers
- Tomatoes (not the leaves or stems)
- Dandelion greens (don’t feed any treated with pesticides)
- Sweet potato
Fruits are a rich source of vitamin C, but they contain high levels of sugar so should be fed sparingly, and in small quantities.
These fruit are all safe for guinea pigs:
Always feed fresh fruit and vegetables, so your guinea pig gains the maximum nutrient content available.
Introduce new fruits or vegetables gradually to prevent diarrhea.
How to Give Guinea Pigs Vitamin C – Supplements
Most pet stores sell guinea pig vitamin C supplements.
Vitamin C drops are added to your guinea pig’s water, and they’ve long been a traditional way of giving guinea pigs vitamin C.
But, they have several drawbacks:
- They alter the taste of the water, and if your guinea pig dislikes it, they now risk scurvy and dehydration.
- You can’t tell how much each of your guinea pigs has ingested.
- Vitamin C degrades very rapidly in water, with only 20% remaining active after 8 hours.
Better supplements are tablets, or liquid drops designed to be administered by syringe straight into the mouth.
Can You Give Human Vitamin C To Guinea Pigs?
Over the counter vitamin C tablets for humans that have been cut into quarters are sometimes suitable, but show your vet what you’re thinking of using and get their approval first.
Never use supplements after their expiry date as they are unlikely to contain sufficient amounts of Vitamin C.
Is Too Much Vitamin C Bad For Guinea Pigs?
Because vitamin C is water-soluble, it does not get stored in the body.
The body uses what it needs, and any excess is expelled in the urine.
So it is very hard for a guinea pig to accidentally overdose.
In fact, mega doses are currently being studied as a potential treatment for some liver diseases.
Guinea Pigs and Vitamin C
Vitamin C is vital for making and protecting almost all the tissues in guinea pigs’ bodies, and for supporting all kinds of bodily functions and processes.
Like us, guinea pigs can’t make their own vitamin C, so they need to receive it in their diet.
The best sources of vitamin C for guinea pigs are good quality pellet foods, and fresh produce.
Always consult your vet if you’re worried about any aspect of your guinea pig’s nutrition.
References and Further Reading
Jannsson et al, Oxidative decomposition of vitamin C in drinking water, Free Radical Journal, 2004.
Witkowska et al, The Effects of Diet on Anatomy, Physiology and Health of the Guinea Pig, Journal of Animal Health and Behaviour, 2017. htt
Park et al, Liver Histological Improvement After Administration of High-Dose Vitamin C in Guinea Pig with Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis, International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 2018.
Hooper et al, The adrenal-vitamin C axis: from fish to guinea pigs and primates, Critical Care, 2019.
Hemila, Vitamin C and Infections, Nutrients, 2017.