Should people with allergies try oat hay?

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AviN4
Supporter in '21

Post   » Wed Aug 22, 2018 7:52 pm


As I argue below, I think the answer is yes. However, I’m framing this as a question because I am in no way an expert on guinea pig nutrition or allergies, so I might be wrong. I’d be grateful for any feedback on this.

(I previously posted this to the Guinea Pig Cages forum, but I thought people here might find it useful as well.)

Introduction

I wanted to adopt two adorable male guinea pigs, Moon and Midnight, from a shelter. However, guinea pigs need to eat grass hay and I’m allergic to grass. I experimented with the hays typically recommended for people with allergies (orchardgrass and bluegrass), and seemed to experience at least mild allergic reactions to both of them. Almost ready to give up on adopting guinea pigs, I did some research and found that oat hay (also a grass hay) was worth a try. I tried it, and it seemed to cooperate with my allergies. So I went ahead and adopted the piggies. It took a lot of research to figure out that oat hay was worth a try, so I wanted to share what I learned here.

Oat hay is less likely to cause allergies

The three grasses typically recommended for guinea pigs -- timothy, orchardgrass, and Kentucky bluegrass -- are among the small percentage of grasses most likely to cause allergy problems. Among these three grasses, timothy causes the most problems and bluegrass causes the least [1], but some people still have problems with all of these grasses.

For these individuals there are reasons to believe that cereal grass hays -- including oat hay -- will cause less problems. As noted in a study on the subject, many cereal grasses -- including oats -- are self-pollinating. This causes very little pollen to be produced. Further, cereal grass pollen grains are large, so they don’t become airborne easily. While some studies have identified people negatively affected by cereal grass pollens, these have been people with heavy exposure to cereal grasses, such as agricultural field workers.

Oat hay appears to meet the nutrition requirements of guinea pigs

I’ve seen oat hay regarded in a number of discussions as a “treat hay” that should not be provided regularly to guinea pigs. As far as I can tell, however, oat hay does meet the nutritional needs of guinea pigs. Specifically:

1. Oat hay is a grass hay, because cereals -- including oats -- are in the grass family.

2. As the Guinea Lynx Hay Chart shows, the nutrition data of oat hay is comparable to other recommended hays like timothy, orchardgrass, and bluegrass. Oat hay has both a lower Calcium % and a lower Ca:P Ratio than other hays, which seems to indicate that it’s actually preferable in this regard. The Magnesium % is higher than other hays, but I haven’t found any indication that this indicates a problem.




3. I’ve seen people express concern that oat hay seeds may provide too many calories for guinea pigs, but oat hay doesn’t appear to contain seeds. Oxbow, for instance, says their oat hay is harvested before the oat develops into a seed. Similarly, this publication on horse nutrition indicates that oat hay has lower calories than orchardgrass hay.

4. Oat hay is recommended for rabbits. While the nutritional requirements of guinea pigs and rabbits aren’t the same, the hay recommendations for rabbits and guinea pigs seem to be similar overall, and I haven’t found any reason so far why oat hay would be good for rabbits but bad for guinea pigs.

Oat hay is affordable and readily available online in the United States

There are at least two good affordable oat hays that are readily available online for buyers in the United States:

1. Oxbow oat hay is available at a number of online stores. At Chewy.com, it’s 15 oz for $4.39, with free shipping for orders over $49. That comes out to $4.68 per lb.

2. Sierra Valley sells 20 lb of oat hay for $55.95 on the east coast and $41.95 on the west coast. That comes out to $2.79 per lb on the east coast and $2.10 per lb on the west coast.

Some other cereal hays may be just as allergy friendly and nutritionally adequate, but oat hay seems to be the most affordable and readily available online.

Conclusion

If hay allergies are preventing you from adopting guinea pigs from a shelter, reducing your quality of life, or making you consider giving your guinea pigs away, please give oat hay a try.

[1] It’s notable though that KMS Bluegrass is actually from a hybrid “orchard/bluegrass seed,” nutritionally equivalent to orchardgrass.

User avatar
Lynx
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Post   » Wed Aug 22, 2018 10:34 pm


A great analysis! Young oat hay is fairly sugary (all you have to do is eat the stems). I imagine getting hay at its nutritional peak would be a good idea. Glad to see you pulled comparative data from the Guinea Lynx hay page. Most grass hays are fairly similar. You will note that a particular hay's nutritional data will change depending on where it is in the growth cycle (not to mention weather/soil/etc.).

Would you like me to add your data comparison image permanently to your topic?

I will be interested to hear how people who give oat hay to their guinea pigs find they like it.

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AviN4
Supporter in '21

Post   » Thu Aug 23, 2018 8:55 am


Thanks Lynx! Do you think the "sugary" aspect indicates a substantial nutritional problem for guinea pigs? Do you know if commercially available oat hays are typically too sugary? As an experiment, last night I tasted a strand of the Oxbow oat hay I've been feeding my piggies and it not taste sugary at all. Perhaps this indicates it was harvested close to its nutritional peak?

Table 1 in this publication on horse feed indicates that oat hay has more sugar and starch than "grass hay," but "grass hay" is not defined further.

Soecara on the Guinea Pig Cages Forum says they've been feeding their piggies oat hay for years without problems. I'm interested to hear about other people's experiences as well.

In regard to:
Would you like me to add your data comparison image permanently to your topic?
Do you mean to prevent problems if the image hosting site goes down? If so, I'd appreciate that. Thank you! :)

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Lynx
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Post   » Thu Aug 23, 2018 9:01 am


I think it is basically the fresh, young hays that are sugary. I mentioned it because I don't know what that means for the hay. The link you found means I was not imagining things. Maybe we can find more data showing the various stages of maturity and sugar/starch content.

I found another article at Southern States concerning hay that is worth reading:
https://www.southernstates.com/articles/selecting-quality-hay.aspx

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pigjes
Cavy Comic

Post   » Thu Aug 23, 2018 10:46 am


I made a topic about it recently too:
viewtopic.php?f=8&t=76725&hilit=oat

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AviN4
Supporter in '21

Post   » Thu Aug 23, 2018 11:20 am


pigjes, Interesting! Based on your description and the photo, it seems we're likely talking about the same (or similar) product. I'm glad green oats has been helpful for you and your guinea pigs. Thank you for sharing.

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AviN4
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Post   » Thu Aug 23, 2018 12:28 pm


Correction: I wrote that oat hay doesn't seem to have seeds, which is what Oxbow says about their oat hay. However, Sierra Valley says that their oat hay does contain seeds.

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Lynx
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Post   » Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:10 pm


Everything I have read indicates hay that has not gone to seed is more nutritious.

kailaeve1271

Post   » Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:42 pm


I personally find it depends on the person! I'm personally very allergic to hays and I use Orchard grass and here's the reason why I choose it over oat hay:
Oat hay is very stiff and usually has sharp(ish) points. As soon as one of these little points stab me, I break out in welts all over my arms where the oat hay touched.

I do agree though that, as far as breathing is concerned, oat hay triggers the least. A dusty box of orchard grass can keep me sneezing and make my throat feel tight until we order a less dusty box, as does Timothy, but most oat hays don't bother me until I touch them.

I use oat hay as a treat and have an airtight bag of orchard grass available at all times. If your skin doesn't break out or if hay allergies are entirely to much for your lungs, I can see how oat hay could be a definite solution.

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AviN4
Supporter in '21

Post   » Fri Aug 24, 2018 9:27 am


kailaeve1271, Thanks for sharing that. It's interesting to hear that in your case, oat hay is better for your breathing, but more likely to cause a skin reaction. I'm glad that non-dusty orchardgrass hay is working for you. In cases where you do handle oat hay though, perhaps keeping a long sleeve shirt and gloves nearby to wear before handling the oat hay could help?

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Lynx
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Post   » Fri Aug 24, 2018 10:48 am


From the page link I put up to Southern States, these are the bullet points I felt were most important. On Guinea Lynx' hay page, avoiding hay that may be moldy is emphasized. Note their advice for evaluating maturity/stemminess. And if the hay has a laboratory analysis, this would be excellent for evaluating the hay:
Hay Buying Tips
  • Don’t buy hay with excessive dust or a musty smell. These can indicate mold formation and the presence of mycotoxins, which could be harmful to your horse.
  • Purchase hay from a recommended source or supplier, preferably from someone who can provide a laboratory analysis of the hay.
  • Grab a handful of the hay and give it a hard squeeze. If it hurts your hand, it is too stemmy and mature to be good quality horse hay.
  • Look for seed heads in grass hay, if they are numerous, large and well-formed, and there are large stems present, the hay is probably too mature and fibrous to be acceptable for horses.
  • Inspect the bale and if you see a bright green color, and lots of small leaves and small stems, the hay should be good quality for horses...

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