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Allergies Should people with allergies try oat hay?

AviN4

Member
Cavy Slave
Joined
Aug 19, 2018
Messages
5
As I argue below, I think the answer is yes. However, I'm framing this as a question because I am in no way an expert on guinea pig nutrition or allergies, so I might be wrong. I'd be grateful for any feedback on this.

Introduction

I wanted to adopt two adorable male guinea pigs, Moon and Midnight, from a shelter. However, guinea pigs need to eat grass hay and I'm allergic to grass. I experimented with the hays typically recommended for people with allergies (orchardgrass and bluegrass), and seemed to experience at least mild allergic reactions to both of them. Almost ready to give up on adopting guinea pigs, I did some research and found that oat hay (also a grass hay) was worth a try. I tried it, and it seemed to cooperate with my allergies. So I went ahead and adopted the piggies. It took a lot of research to figure out that oat hay was worth a try, so I wanted to share what I learned here.

Oat hay is less likely to cause allergies

The three grasses typically recommended for guinea pigs -- timothy, orchardgrass, and Kentucky bluegrass -- are among the small percentage of grasses most likely to cause allergy problems. Among these three grasses, timothy causes the most problems and bluegrass causes the least [1], but some people still have problems with all of these grasses.

For these individuals there are reasons to believe that cereal grass hays -- including oat hay -- will cause less problems. As noted in a study on the subject, many cereal grasses -- including oats -- are self-pollinating. This causes very little pollen to be produced. Further, cereal grass pollen grains are large, so they don't become airborne easily. While some studies have identified people negatively affected by cereal grass pollens, these have been people with heavy exposure to cereal grasses, such as agricultural field workers.

Oat hay appears to meet the nutrition requirements of guinea pigs

I've seen oat hay regarded in a number of discussions as a "treat hay" that should not be provided regularly to guinea pigs. As far as I can tell, however, oat hay does meet the nutritional needs of guinea pigs. Specifically:

1. Oat hay is a grass hay, because cereals -- including oats -- are in (broken link removed).

2. As the Guinea Lynx Hay Chart shows, the nutrition data of oat hay is comparable to other recommended hays like timothy, orchardgrass, and bluegrass. Oat hay has both a lower Calcium % and a lower Ca:p Ratio than other hays, which seems to indicate that it's actually preferable in this regard. The Magnesium % is higher than other hays, but I haven't found any indication that this indicates a problem.

Hay​
Dry Matter %​
Crude Protein %​
Calcium %​
Phosph. %​
Magnes. %​
Ca:p Ratio​
Oats ---- All​
91​
8.6​
0.29​
0.23​
0.26​
1.3:1​
Timothy ---- All​
91​
6.8​
0.38​
0.17​
0.11​
2.2:1​
Orchardgrass​
89​
9.4​
0.34​
0.23​
0.16​
1.5:1​
Bluegrass, Kentucky ---- All​
89​
9.1​
0.4​
0.27​
0.19​
1.5:1​

3. I've seen people express concern that oat hay seeds may provide too many calories for guinea pigs, but oat hay doesn't appear to contain seeds. Oxbow, for instance, (broken link removed) their oat hay is harvested before the oat develops into a seed. Similarly, this (broken link removed) on horse nutrition indicates that oat hay has lower calories than orchardgrass hay.

4. Oat hay is recommended for rabbits. While the nutritional requirements of guinea pigs and rabbits aren't the same, the hay recommendations for rabbits and guinea pigs seem to be similar overall, and I haven't found any reason so far why oat hay would be good for rabbits but bad for guinea pigs.

Oat hay is affordable and readily available online in the United States

There are at least two good affordable oat hays that are readily available online for buyers in the United States:

1. Oxbow oat hay is available at a number of online stores. At (broken link removed), it's 15 oz for $4.39, with free shipping for orders over $49. That comes out to $4.68 per lb.

2. (broken link removed) sells 20 lb of oat hay for $55.95 on the east coast and $41.95 on the west coast. That comes out to $2.79 per lb on the east coast and $2.10 per lb on the west coast.

Some other cereal hays may be just as allergy friendly and nutritionally adequate, but oat hay seems to be the most affordable and readily available online.

Conclusion

If hay allergies are preventing you from adopting guinea pigs from a shelter, reducing your quality of life, or making you consider giving your guinea pigs away, please give oat hay a try.

[1] It's notable though that (broken link removed) is actually from a hybrid "orchard/bluegrass seed," nutritionally equivalent to orchardgrass.
 
Personally I have fed my guinea pigs oat hay for most of their lives. This is because in my region (South Australia), there are very few options for quality fresh hay, the only choices really being oat and wheaten hay (note the wheaten hay grown here is a kind grown for hay not grain, the variety is called Baroota Wonder) for most of the year.

Timothy, bluegrass, orchardgrass are not hays that is grown here at all, and more often than not if you can even find those kinds of hay they have been imported (and often irradiated due to Australian quarantine standards) so are of very bad quality.

My guinea pigs are all well within normal weight ranges and I have never had a guinea pig with teeth issues over my 7 years of owning them (I have fed exclusively oat hay for probably about 6 years and 8 months out of those 7 years).
 
Thanks for sharing that, Soecara. Incidentally, wheat hay should have similar properties as oat hay in terms of nutrition and friendliness to allergies. It actually has the lowest calcium numbers on the hay chart, and is self-pollinating with very large pollen grains suggesting that it should be allergy friendly.
 
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