Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Apr. 25, 2023
Guinea pig outside

In This Article


What is Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs?

Vitamin C is a dietary nutrient, also known as ascorbic acid. It plays many roles in the body but most importantly is required for the formation of collagen. While most animals can synthesize their own ascorbic acid, guinea pigs, humans, and some bat and primate species cannot. In these animals, they must absorb vitamin C from their diet.

In humans, vitamin C deficiency is the underlying cause of scurvy. While not commonly referred to as scurvy, hypovitaminosis C is a similar condition that can affect guinea pigs. Guinea pigs whose diet does not contain enough vitamin C will suffer from poor hair coat, poor wound healing, lethargy, and more due to their inability to form collagen appropriately.

Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs

Common symptoms ranging from least to most severe:

  • Rough, coarse, and/or patchy hair coat

  • Depression

  • Lethargy

  • Poor appetite

  • Wounds not healing on their own

  • Poor or painful teeth

  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)

  • Weight loss/poor weight gain

  • Low bone density potentially leading to fractures

  • Bone pain and/or arthritis, possibly with swelling

  • Sepsis (infection throughout the body/blood)

  • Progressive paralysis

  • Respiratory failure

  • Birth defects

  • Death

Causes of Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs

In most animals, there is an enzyme in the body that can use sugar to produce ascorbic acid, which is then used to make collagen, an important component of connective tissue. Guinea pigs lack this enzyme, but still need ascorbic acid for collagen formation. This is why they need ascorbic acid to be provided through their diet. 

Low vitamin C In pet guinea pigs is typically due to insufficient fresh produce, no supplemental vitamin C treats, and/or diets/treats that are too old. Guinea pig pelleted diets fortified with vitamin C that are greater than 6 months old will not contain adequate levels to meet daily requirements. It only takes 2-3 weeks of an insufficient diet for signs of vitamin C deficiency to set in.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs

  • Physical exam: most common and can be considered confirmatory when paired with a thorough history

  • Radiographs (X-rays)

  • Serum ascorbic acid concentrations (a blood test to check vitamin C levels)

Blood tests to check vitamin C levels are rare in a regular animal practice but if the test is ordered, veterinarians look for vitamin C levels to be greater than 22µM.

Treatment of Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs

In most cases, adjusting the diet of a guinea pig to the accurate daily requirement is enough to correct their deficiency. A healthy, adult guinea pig needs 10mg/kg/day of vitamin C. Younger growing, or pregnant pigs need 30mg/kg/day. For most adult guinea pigs this equates to about 20-25mg/day and about 30-40mg/day for growing or pregnant guinea pigs. In more severe cases an injection of vitamin C can be given by a veterinarian at the clinic and then the diet will need to be adjusted moving forward.

Vitamin C can be supplemented via treats, fortified diets (juvenile and adult), water additives, and fresh produce. Remember that fortified treats/pellets will only contain enough vitamin C if they’re less than 6 months old and some recommendations ask to use them within 90 days of their manufacture date.

Additives in water only last one day (as little as 8 hours) and must be changed daily. With water additives ensure fresh clean water is available so pets don’t risk dehydration if not drinking the water with additives included.  

Produce Rich in Vitamin C

The most common ways to supplement vitamin C for a guinea pig outside of what is provided above is through fresh produce. Some examples of produce with high levels of vitamin C suitable for guinea pigs include:

  • Red peppers

  • Kale

  • Mustard greens

  • Parsley

  • Broccoli: all parts

  • Cauliflower

  • Strawberry

  • Kiwi

  • Green pepper

  • Snap peas

  • Red cabbage

  • Orange

  • Peas

  • Clementines

  • Cantaloupe

  • Pineapple

Recovery and Management of Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs

All guinea pigs require adequate vitamin C supplementation in their diets for life.

In most adult guinea pigs recovering from a vitamin C deficiency, correction and maintenance of their diet provides a good prognosis with typically no long-term issues. For guinea pigs with dental changes due to lack of vitamin C, their dental disease will most likely be a life-long issue.

Young guinea pigs who experience vitamin C deficiency are more likely to have severe birth defects and prognosis can be poor. Severe cases with bone abnormalities, especially guinea pigs that experienced fractures, may have lifelong struggles with bone pain, arthritis, abnormal skeletal structure and posture, or abnormal gait. Even with these issues, they can go on to live relatively normal lives.

Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs FAQs

How do you fix vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs?

Bring the dietary concentration of vitamin C up to the correct levels to fix vitamin C deficiencies. Normal vitamin C levels for an adult guinea pig are 10mg/kg/day or about 20-25mg/day and normal vitamin C levels for a growing or pregnant guinea pig are 30mg/kg/day or about 30-40mg/day.

Can a guinea pig recover from vitamin C deficiency?

Yes. Most cases will recover with little to no long-term health issues and only extremely progressed cases are at risk for poor recovery or treatment failure.

What are the signs of scurvy in guinea pigs?

The most common and initial signs of scurvy in guinea pigs is a poor hair coat, poor ability to heal or fight infection, poor appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. Other common symptoms can include dental disease, bone weakness, body pain, and bloody diarrhea.

How can I give my guinea pig more vitamin C?

There are lots of ways to do this! You can feed a pelleted guinea pig diet fortified with vitamin C, provide them special vitamin C treats, add vitamin C to their water, and/or feed fresh produce daily that contains high levels of vitamin C.  

Featured Image:

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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