Alfalfa is particularly high in calcium, which presents a health issue for guinea pigs. It’s also higher in protein than the other more highly recommended hays for guinea pigs like Timothy hay.
For these reasons, alfalfa hay is not recommended for guinea pigs.
Another name for alfalfa is lucerne which is a common name for it in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Unlike Timothy hay and other hays that should make up the bulk of a guinea pig’s diet, alfalfa hay is not a grass hay.
This is a hay that is made from a legume: alfalfa (you’ve probably seen alfalfa sprouts for sale – same plant). This puts Alfalfa in the pea family which is a high protein plant family. It is not a grass.
There’s an exception: young guinea pigs who are still growing and require that extra calcium (this means those 4 months or under – guinea pigs grow up fast), as well as pregnant or nursing sows can have alfalfa hay in moderate quantities, but it should not be overdone.
Some low quality commercial foods often contain alfalfa. Sometimes these might be labeled as “guinea pig and gerbil food”, and alfalfa can be a main ingredient. This is always very concerning to see as we know that guinea pigs should not be eating alfalfa and certainly not as a staple part of the diet. These cheap, inappropriate and harmful products should be avoided entirely.
What about Alfalfa Pellets?
Alfalfa has increasingly become a common ingredient in some commercial guinea pig pellets. Unfortunately this can lead to people thinking it’s safe and healthy to feed these pellets, after all we like to think that food manufacturers have the best interests of our guinea pigs in mind, and that their research into ingredients is reliable and trustworthy.
But like many pet foods out there, cost cutting and use of cheap ingredients can result in poor nutrition for our pets – and this can be the case with guinea pig pellets that contain alfalfa. Pellets that contain alfalfa are recommended to be avoided, although they can be useful in small amounts for sick guinea pigs or those who you might be having difficulties with in eating their regular diet.
One such food in this category is from Science Selective and should be treated with caution – this and any other food containing alfalfa is not a food for the vast majority of guinea pigs to be eating as part of their staple diet.