Guinea pigs, like humans but unlike all other domestic animals, cannot make their own vitamin C. Other mammals have an enzyme which helps the body produce vitamin C, but guinea pigs and humans lack this enzyme. Therefore, they must receive vitamin C from their diet, and as it cannot be stored in the body, they must receive it daily.
Adult guinea pigs require 10mg of Vitamin C each day and pregnant, lactating and juvenile guinea pigs require 20mg of Vitamin C each day.
Vitamin C is necessary for the body to produce collagen, a component of connective tissues such as ligaments, bones, skin and blood vessels and to maintain a healthy immune system.
Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency may be some or all of the following: hair loss, more frequent skin infections (especially ringworm), increased incidence of respiratory infections, diarrhoea, poor wound healing and wound infections. Also, an unsteady gait, painful movement, swollen joints, poor weight gain, poor appetite, wasting and dribbling may be noticed.
But be aware – these symptoms may have several other causes.
If green foods are not available in sufficient quantity or quality in order to provide enough vitamin C for guinea pigs, then supplements must be given. Vitamin C tablets from the chemist at one 1000mg tablet to 8 litres of water (one tablet to 5 litres for pregnant, lactating or juvenile guinea pigs) will be satisfactory.
Glass, pottery or stainless steel water containers must be used, as contact with other metals destroys the vitamin C.
For treatment of scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) symptoms, 100mg of vitamin C must be given to the guinea pig daily until recovery.
The following list shows the vitamin C content in milligrams (mg) of 1 cup portions of selected foods:
Brussels sprouts – 173mg
Parsley – 140mg
Silverbeet – 100mg
Broccoli Leaf – 120mg
Cauliflower – 100mg
Strawberries – 100mg
Broccoli florets – 87mg
Spinach – 60mg
Raspberries – 60mg
Orange – 50mg
Cabbage – 50mg
NOTE: Broccoli stem has 0mg of vitamin C and oranges have less vitamin C than dark leafy greens!