- Supporter in '21
(I previously posted this to the Guinea Pig Cages forum, but I thought people here might find it useful as well.)
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 , 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.
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.
 It’s notable though that KMS Bluegrass is actually from a hybrid “orchard/bluegrass seed,” nutritionally equivalent to orchardgrass.
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.
- Supporter in '21
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:
Do you mean to prevent problems if the image hosting site goes down? If so, I'd appreciate that. Thank you! :)Would you like me to add your data comparison image permanently to your topic?
I found another article at Southern States concerning hay that is worth reading:
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.
- Supporter in '21
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...