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        A Medical and Care Guide for Guinea Pigs

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SCURVY :: VITAMIN C DEFICIENCY

Home > Medical Reference > Scurvy
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Why does my guinea pig need vitamin C?

Ascorbic acid is essential to good growth and health. Since guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C, it must be supplied in the food they eat.

Certain biologic oxidation and reduction systems depend on it for proper functioning. In its absence, bone and blood vessel abnormalities develop, and enlarged adrenal glands, bleeding in the limb joints, rib muscles and intestines result. Young animals are more likely to exhibit bone deformities than older ones.

How much vitamin C does my guinea pig need?

The average guinea pig needs between 10 and 30 mg/kg daily for good health.

Actual requirements can vary from one guinea pig to another. Young, pregnant, and ill pigs need more vitamin C than the average pig. Some sources suggest a minimum of 5 to 10 mg/kg of ascorbic acid to maintain good health. Other sources put it at 10-30 mg/kg daily for maintenance and up to 50 mg/kg for treatment of deficiency (Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery).

A pregnant pig or one suffering from deficiency requires a minimum of 30 mg/kg (Harkness and Wagner). Vicki of JPGPR's vet recommended 30-50 mg vitamin C daily per adult guinea pig - depending on size, diet, conditions, and stress. Extremely high doses of ascorbic acid can cause poor growth and can result in a susceptibility to scurvy if the amount is dramatically reduced, even to doses considered adequate for a normal guinea pig.

    Age, sex, amount of stored vitamin, diet, pregnancy, lactation, concomitant disease, and environmental conditions all affect the duration of onset and the magnitude of signs of ascorbic acid deficiency. (Harkness and Wagner).

What are the signs of a deficiency?

    Lethargy, weakness, unwillingness to move
    Hopping instead of walking, enlarged or stiff limb joints
    Not eating, loss of weight
    Diarrhea
    Eye and nose discharge
    Rough coat
    Tenderness to touch (may cry out in pain if restrained), poor flesh condition
    Internal skeletal-muscular hemorrhage

Vitamin C deficiency can be secondary to other medical problems. For example, a guinea pig with malocclusion that is not eating and losing weight, may not be getting adequate vitamin C.
It is wise to routinely provide extra vitamin C to an ill guinea pig.

Keep in mind, some of these signs such as eye and nose discharge may indicate other serious conditions like a respiratory infection. If your guinea pig is showing some of these signs, do not assume this is "just" a lack of ascorbic acid and fail to provide critical veterinary care for a serious illness. See an experienced vet. Unknowledgeable vets too often diagnose an ill pig with a vitamin C deficiency and leave the underlying problem untreated. You are familiar with your guinea pig's diet. If you are providing adequate amounts of vitamin C, be sure to tell your vet.

If my guinea pig has scurvy, how long will it take to get better?

Recovery from deficiency usually requires a week of treatment.
    Give 50mg/kg once a day or
    Give 25mg/kg twice a day

How can I make sure my guinea pig is getting enough vitamin C?

Fresh pellets formulated for guinea pigs and fresh fruits, vegetables, and grasses will be your best source for C. Since the vitamin C content of the foods we provide is constantly degrading, err on the side of caution, and supply a generous amount of vegetables and grasses rich in ascorbic acid.

Ascorbic acid content is affected by temperature, humidity, exposure to light and method of storage. In six weeks as much as half of the vitamin C available to a guinea pig provided by pellets can dissipate according to Harkness and Wagner. Standard pellets should be stored at less than 22 degrees C and used within 90 days of production.

How to store pellets: pick a cool, dark, dry place. Some pellets contain a stabilized vitamin C which will remain viable for much longer periods if properly stored. Check the freshness date on the package.
    See also: Diet
    See also: Vitamin C Chart

Can I give my guinea pig a vitamin supplement?

If you wish to make sure your guinea pig is getting adequate vitamin C, you can give a vitamin C supplement.

Vitamin supplements: chewable flavored C can be found in 100 mg tablets which when quartered will add 25 mg to a guinea pig's intake. Some people have good luck with liquid vitamin C, which can be found at some health food stores. In cases of deficiency, providing small amounts of vitamin C several times during the day when hand feeding or administering medications may help treat scurvy more quickly. Some pet owners report Rugby's Vitamin C Liquid very popular with their cavies.

Avoid multivitamins! Vitamin supplements should only contain ascorbic acid. "Multivitamins should not be used because of the potential for toxic overdose of vitamins other than C." (Harkness and Wagner)

Do not add vitamin C to drinking water! Besides not knowing how much they're getting, when added to water exposed to air, half its strength will be lost in as little as a day. Heat, metal, mineral content (hard water), and chemicals, most notably chlorine, will also affect how long the vitamin C is viable, and if the flavor of the water is adversely affected, the guinea pig may drink less. Adequate water intake is vital to good health.

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