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AN OVERVIEW OF CAVY NUTRITION Providing your cavy with a diet tailored to suit its nutritional needs can be a challenging task. However if you know what your cavies needs are it can be easily done. To understand what a cavies body requires we first must understand how its digestive system works. Biological Structure A cavies digestive system is designed to obtain cellulose from various vegetation, primarily in the form of hay. They are hind-gut fermentors that practice coprophagy (eating ones own feces). This is important to obtain B vitamins and minerals. The majority of digestion takes place in the cecum and colon which is located at the end of the digestive tract. The cecum is located near the small and large intestine and plays a vital role in the digestive process. It contains 65% of GI ( gastrointestinal flora) which contains bacteria and protozoa which aid in breaking down food. If this delicate balance of intestinal flora is compromised due to an incorrect diet, or a diet to high in fats, carbohydrates and sugars it can cause severe digestive upset and can cause Gastrointestinal ileus. Fibre and protein The bacteria contained in the cecum is kept in balance by fibre. Without the correct amount of fibre this bacteria which is essential for the health of your cavy cannot function properly. Fibre is categorized into two separate components. Digestible fibre and indigestible fibre. Digestible fibre is broken down by enzymes and bacteria in the gut and provides energy and essential vitamins and minerals throughout the body. Indigestible fibre helps aid in proper digestive activity by keeping food and plant material constantly moving. Without a diet high in fibre a cavy will suffer from severe digestive upset which can vastly lead to other illnesses and lower the immune system. It will also slow down the gastrointestinal tract resulting in changes to the cecum pH. When designing a diet for your cavy you must remember this rule: The rule of thumb is the fibre content should always be higher than the protein content. If you have a diet high in protein and low in fibre it can compromise the health of your cavy. You should never have an inverse ratio. The level of protein in the diet is determined by its percentage in the total diet, the bio-availability and its amino acid profile. Always ensure that your protein content in your pellets never exceeds the fibre content. A good protein level is 15-16% crude protein. Fibre must always exceed 20%. You should always aim for the highest fibre content possible and avoid high carbohydrate, sugary foods as they can cause the bacteria within the hind gut to subsequently change. You do not want this. You want the digestive system working efficiently to avoid Gastrointestinal ileus (malfunction of the digestive tract due to gut slowdown). Grass hays contain approx. 19% crude protein and legume hays contain 22% crude protein. If feeding a HAFF (Hay and Fresh Foods) diet this will meet the nutritional needs of your cavy effectively. See below for further details. Fats Your cavies diet must be low in fats. If your percentage of fat is as high as 3 - 5% it is converted into starch and glucose. As mentioned before this alters the GI, resulting in digestive upset and the hind gut will slow down. Your cavy needs energy this is obtained from vegetables and hay. You do not need to overcompensate with a diet high in fats and sugars, a cavy should have a diet tailored to suit its digestive and nutritional needs. This is why it is recommended you do not feed high fat, high starch foods such as sweet potato, oats, cracked corn and certain grains on a regular basis. In certain cases such as where a cavy needs to gain weight oats can be given as a supplement in their diet. Pellets should have a fat percentage of preferably 1- 2%. (Please note: On a personal note this is why I do not recommend grain mixes as it can alter the gastrointestinal flora. They also have an inverse Ca: P ratio. However if you wish to feed them please check the protein, fibre and fat percentage, and ensure you never have an inverse ratio) Calcium to Phosphorus The calcium: phosphorus ratio is also an important part of a cavies diet. If you have an inverse ratio it can contribute to bladder stone formation. A good ratio is 1.5 : 1 Minerals are described as 1:1, 2:1, or 3:1. The numbers are the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the product. For example a 2:1 mineral could be 14% calcium and 7% phosphorus or 20% calcium and 10% phosphorus. In a cavies diet you need to have a higher calcium to phosphorus ratio. This is why certain foods are not fed on a regular basis as they have an inverse ratio which can contribute to bladder stone formation. Calcium is responsible for healthy teeth and bones. There needs to be a proper balance between the levels of calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. If you observe any white substances being excreted out of your cavies system through its urine you know that there is an excess of calcium in the system and you must analyze your diet to ensure that you decrease that amount. In most cases feeding a lower calcium rich hay is sufficient. What Vegetables are best? Capsicum is an excellent source of absorbic acid (vitamin C). One red capsicum contains enough vitamin C to meet the RDI (recommended daily intake) of up to ten cavies. Cavies require 20-30 mg of vitamin C daily, pregnant of lactating sows require 30 - 50 mg. Capsicum will provide the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. It also contains the benefit of antioxidants and significantly boosts the immune system. Red capsicum contains 190 mg of vitamin C, green 80.4 mg and yellow 183 mg. As you can see it far exceeds the daily requirements of guinea pigs. Other high vitamin C foods that are recommended daily are: Coriander 6.8 mg per 25 grams Kale 120mg Cos lettuce 24 mg Chard 30mg Protein and Fibre Grass hay will meet all of your cavies daily fibre requirements. Grass hay contains over 35% fibre. With 65% digestible fibre responsible for correct GI. You can also add a variety of forages which are not only excellent source of natural fibre but protein as well.                                          Vegetables and fruits also contain protein, and fats. Good grass hay is essential in this diet to ensure there are no deficiencies. Providing your cavy with the correct percentage or fats, protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus enables owners to ensure that their cavies digestive system is not compromised and enables correct digestion. Providing good quality grass hay, vegetables and forages will ensure your guinea pig is provided with enough minerals and nutrients. Always check the nutritional content of any pellet/mixes to ensure that their are no inverse ratios.
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