Vitamin C Deficiency in Guinea Pigs
A vitamin C deficiency, also know as scurvy, occurs when an animal lacks the hepatic (liver) enzyme called 1-gulonolactone oxidase necessary for the conversion of L-gulonolactone to L-ascorbic acid or vitamin C, and cannot store the vitamin to any appreciable extent in the body. Essentially three groups of animals lack this enzyme and they include man, monkeys, and the guinea pig.
Vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen, enhancement of the intercellular cement that holds cells together, and the formation of bone matrix and tooth dentin.
Clinical signs of a vitamin C deficiency will include weakness, reluctance to move, an unsteady gait, and painful locomotion. The gums will be hemorrhagic and there will be swelling of the joints including the costochrondral junctions of the ribs (the transition site between cartilage and bony areas of the ribs). Anorexia leading to emaciation and diarrhea is common. Additional clinical signs may include hemorrhaging in the muscles, under the skin, and around the joints, which is believed to be caused by the failure of cells (endothelia cells) lining the blood vessels to be cemented together. As a result of hemorrhaging, anemia will develop.
A vitamin C deficiency may occur when a pet store does not have adequate turn over of their guinea pig food or when the food is not properly rotated. The vitamin C in manufactured guinea pig food remains stable for up to three months from the milling date. Supplemental vitamin C should be considered when the milling date is not available or when low food turnover is expected. Vitamin C may be supplemented in the water or fresh vegetables high in vitamin C may be used as a portion of the diet. Water supplemented with Vitamin C should be given by a water bottle since the vitamin C in an open crock will lose as much as 50% of its activity within a 24-hour period. The water should typically be fortified at a level of 250-500 mg/L of vitamin C. Hard water and brass and metal containers will also cause accelerated deterioration of the vitamin C in a solution. Abrupt changes in the taste of the water may cause the guinea pig not to adequately hydrate and oral administration may become necessary. Vegetables high in vitamin C include: parsley, cabbage, green pepper, and kale. To furnish adequate dietary amounts of vitamin C, approximately 1⁄2 cup of cabbage or kale should be provided daily per guinea pig.
Symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency will occur within two weeks of having vitamin C withheld. Animals even mildly deficient in vitamin C will be more susceptible to a wide variety of infections and metabolic diseases. These animals will also heal slower from an injury if they heal at all. It is a good practice to provide supplemental vitamin C whenever a guinea pig is sick or not acting normal.
Aiello, Susan Editor. The Merck Veterinary Manual. 8th Edition. Merck and Co. 1998. P. 1330.
Harkness, John and Joseph Wagner. The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents. Lea and Febiger. 1977. Pp. 16, 89-90.
Guyton, Arthur. Textbook of Medical Physiology. Fifth Edition. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia. 1976. P. 983.