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All about hay
Types of hay
Brands of hay
Hay treats
Selecting hay
Poor quality hay

All about hay

Hay should always be readily available to cavies & other small animals. Not only does hay help them wear down their teeth, but it is also critical to their health 'cos hay helps to keep their intestinal tract functioning properly. Diets high in fibre have been shown to prevent enteritis syndrome. Without enough fibre, illnesses such as gut stasis and enteritis can occur. Hay also ensures that when food is ingested, the larger particle sizes pass through the digestive system faster. This faster rate of passage keeps the other food particles moving and prevents blockages such as hairballs. More info about the importance of hay can be found at this page on Oxbow's website.

Therefore you should never control your cavies' hay intake. Give them as much hay as possible & let them eat as much as they like. They wouldn't get fat from eating too much hay! In Singapore 6 types of hay are available. They are timothy hay, orchard grass hay, brome hay, oat hay, meadow hay & alfalfa. Alfalfa is a legume & not a hay so I shall NOT call it alfalfa hay, instead I'll refer to it as alfalfa.

Like feed, hay comes from many brands too. However not all brands carry all types of hay. Oxbow has timothy, orchard grass, brome & oat hays & also alfalfa. If you're looking for meadow hay, only Supreme, Vitakraft & Ferplast have it. Other brands like Alfalfa King, Sunseed, Living World, Kaytee, 8 in 1, L & M and Brown's sell only timothy hay & alfalfa.

Out of all the brands, American Pet Diner & Oxbow are the costliest however their hay are also the best in terms of quality. In the Oxbow family of hays, brome, orchard grass & oat hays are the most costly. Western timothy is slightly cheaper than these 3 hays & alfalfa is the cheapest. The cheapest brand for hay would be Supreme. A 2.5 kg bag of Supreme meadow hay costs merely $6.80. In comparison a 1 kg bag of Vitakraft Alpenwiesenheu (translated as alpine meadow hay) is more costly at $10.

However I believe most cavies don't quite like meadow hay. Perhaps its too fine or something. However I find it to be the perfect hay to use as bedding. More of this on my "bedding" page. Some brands have rather confusing packaging that may confuse new cavy owners. Kaytee's timothy hay says "for rabbits" but its perfectly safe for all small animals. Similarly, even though Oxbow's brome hay is labelled "Bunny Brome", it is also safe for all small animals.

As with switching pellets, you should also make it a point to gradually switch from 1 type of hay to another. For e.g. don't change from timothy to oat hay suddenly. Slowly reduce the amount of timothy while increasing the amount of oat hay. A 7 to 10 day transitional period would be ideal. I fill both my hay racks with Oxbow timothy hay.

There are actually 2 types of timothy hay: 1st & 2nd cutting. 1st cutting timothy has course stems, is light green in colour & is suitable for high fibre needs. It has less protein but more fibre than 2nd cutting. 2nd cutting timothy has very little stems, is dark green, soft & very palatable. Its suitable for good everyday roughage consumption but animals need to eat more of it compared to 1st cutting to reach their fibre requirements. This is the reason why sometimes your timothy hay may appear to be soft & leafy, while at other times its like twigs.

Your budget will determine the brand & type of hay however keep in mind that timothy, orchard grass, brome & oat hays are the only hays suitable for daily consumption in unlimited amounts. Meadow hay is too except cavies don't seem to like it! Alfalfa hay is NOT suitable for daily consumption especially for cavies 6 months & older. Alfalfa is actually a legume & should NOT be given in large amounts. Long term consumption of alfalfa can cause bladder stones. Alfalfa should never be fed daily except to young cavies or pregnant females. For cavies 6 months & older, a small handful once a while as a treat is perfectly okay but not more than that!

If your cavies are on alfalfa you will notice their urine tends to be whitish & if they pee on newspapers & it dries, you can see white stains. That's calcium deposits for you! Once you switch to grass hays you will notice the urine clearing up into a clear liquid. That's what it should be like! Whitish pee too often is a sign of excess calcium which is bad for mature cavies.

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Hay treats

There are several types of treats made from hay. One kind is hay cubes. Hay cubes are either 100% alfalfa, 100% timothy or a mixture. Kaytee is the most common brand for hay cubes & their's is 100% alfalfa. Another 100% alfalfa cube is from Brown's & is called Falfa Cravins. Oxbow's hay cubes are 100% timothy so its highly recommended for mature cavies but its quite rare. The old packing is labelled "Oxbow Bunny Blox" but the new packing says "Oxbow Hay Cake". Joy Doggy is one place I've seen selling it.

Park Chinchilla at Simei sells hay cubes from American Pet Diner. This brand is very rare in Singapore & their timothy cubes are also 100% timothy. APD also has apple timothy hay cubes which are 50% timothy & 50% alfalfa. However the price for APD hay cubes are rather steep though! Another place that may have APD hay cubes is Pet Essentials.

Be very careful with hay cubes though especially if your cavies take a long time to finish them. My first bag of Kaytee alfalfa cubes was fine but my second bag had to be thrown away barely 3 months after purchase. This was 'cos I found the cubes full of small holes & brown weevils crawling all over them. I don't know if the weavils hatched from within the cubes or whether it was due to the fact that the plastic bag the cubes came in (which had holes) were infiltrated.

I don't know about the new packing but for the old packing, Oxbow hay cubes came in ziplock bags so they should last longer but be careful anyway. Hay cubes are good 'cos they allow cavies to wear down their teeth but shouldn't substitute loose hay.

Besides hay cubes, other treats made from hay include like Vitakraft alfalfa slims & Kaytee Nibblers (pictured below). However I don't recommend giving these in large amounts or too frequently. Firstly they contain alfalfa & not timothy. Secondly they contain preservatives & other chemicals. Remember that hay treats should NOT be a replacement to loose hay.

It's better to put hay in hay racks. If left on the bedding, it may get dirtied by cavy pee & poop (yuck!). Cavies need hay for roughage & besides, they love it too. I prefer hay which isn't too finely chopped because it gives my cavies some exercise as they tug & chomp on the hay. Besides, finely chopped hay can't be placed in the hay rack. It'll fall right thru the openings.

Never ever substitute grass for hay. In fact, never give grass, leaves, flowers or twigs to cavies. Don't forget that in Singapore, all forms of vegetation get generous doses of pesticide from the frequent foggings! Unless of course you live in landed property & you're very sure your garden isn't sprayed. Even then, some flowers & leaves are toxic so I suggest you avoid them. Straw should also not be used in place of hay because it is less nutritious. Straw as partial bedding is fine but not as hay substitute for consumption.

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Selecting hay

Although rare, dead moths & moth larvae (poisonous to our fuzzy pals) have been known to be found in packs of hay. So do keep a look out when giving hay to your cavies. Mouldy hay is obviously also a big no no, so look out for signs of mould. A pal claims he once found a small piece of what appears to be a plastic bag amongst the hay. I once found a large piece of tape in a bag of Kaytee hay. Wonder what the heck it was used for. Holding the hay together?! So keep your eyes peeled! Recently in a bag of Kaytee timothy I found what appeared to be a small dehydrated piece of snake! It was scaly & smelt horrid! This led me to give up completely on Kaytee timothy. I now give Oxbow orchard grass or timothy as my staple hay.

When choosing hay, always select a bag which has the least brown hay. Those must not taste great 'cos I notice my cavies always refuse to touch them & only go for green hay. Try to avoid bags with hay that is too pale either. I could be wrong but I believe green hay is more nutritious than pale yellowish green hay.

You may find that at the bottom of the pack there is usually quite a bit of "hay powder" as I call it. These are actually extremely fine pieces of hay. Don't give these to your cavies 'cos they are very fine & may cause them to start sneezing or get into their eyes. Besides, these pieces are so tiny I doubt our fuzzy pals want them anyway!

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Poor quality hay

So far I've had 3 encounters with lousy quality Kaytee hay. The first time round, the hay was so finely chopped it couldn't remain in the hay rack. There was also tons of hay dust. The 2nd & 3rd time the hay was so hard it was worst than straw! So rather than buy a bag of hay, go home & curse & swear, I suggest you strike a deal with the pet shop.

Tell them that you'd like to open the bag to check the quality. Assure them that if the quality is good you'd buy it. Most bags are bound by a wire & not sealed so it shouldn't be a problem. Make sure the hay isn't too finely chopped or too hard. If the shop doesn't agree, here's the next best thing you can do. Buy one bag of hay from them & check it on the spot. Since you've already paid for it, they've no right to complain! If the quality is good, go ahead & buy a few more bags. If it sucks, then at least you wasted money only on 1 bag rather than several.

No doubt hay quality differs from batch to batch but certain brands like Oxbow & APD tend to have better quality hay compared to other brands. Below I've a picture I took of Alfalfa King's hay. I know their hay is supposed to be first cutting which is supposed to be rougher than second cutting timothy, but these look more like straw than hay! They're thick, twig like & yellow. Hardly what I would call quality hay!

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