Are hay racks safe?

Hay racks are sold at every pet store. Does that mean it’s safe? Not necessarily. Lot’s of pet stores sell unsafe pet items. Let’s look at the controversy surrounding hay racks.

Disclaimer: This is my opinion based on the research and critical thinking I’ve done. Please do your own research to make your own decision about whether it is safe or not.

Injuries surrounding hay racks

There are some owners who are very passionately “anti-rack.” And rightly so. They’ve experienced a traumatic accident that resulted in injury or loss of some kind due to their guinea pig getting stuck in a hay rack.

That’s what it was… an accident. 

I am incredibly sorry for their loss and I understand their passion. It is awful to lose such a close member of your family. But I do not believe that the existence of a single faulty product invalidates the other safe products. For example, Fiesta Guinea Pig Food is terrible for guinea pigs. Does that invalidate the need for guinea pig pellets? No, there are safe brands available. From a human perspective, sometimes there are car crashes that result in injury and fatality caused by human or manufacturer error. Should we all stop driving cars?

Like I do with anything I read on the internet, I look at these terrible stories of guinea pigs getting stuck in hay racks with this and an open mind: Is this the cause or the effect? 

I don’t have pictures from anyone who has personally claimed to me that the hay rack was the sole cause of their guinea pig’s injury/loss, but I do see photos posted by others

What do all of the pictures share in common? Improper usage. There is little to no hay in hay racks and the toys and racks are placed too high. Guinea pigs could be young or bred to be narrow headed, making them way smaller than adult guinea pigs.

Am I accusing those owners of harming their pet? Absolutely not. Accidents happen and no sane pet owner intentionally puts something in a cage to harm their animal. 

That being said, there are some hay racks I believe are more dangerous than others. Wire balls and wire racks are my top pick for most dangerous hay holders.

Frustration surrounding eating

It is also claimed that guinea pigs will damage their necks and spine reaching for food, they’d rather eat low to the ground. While this is true to an extent, this doesn’t account for all hay racks that have an opening at the bottom, allowing them to choose which way they’d rather eat. 

I believe that guinea pigs need enrichment in their lives. It must be boring to sit in a cage, food is handed to you, and there’s nothing else to do. I provide my guinea pigs with activities to do throughout the day, keeping their minds active! I’m sure even their ancestors who lived in the wilds of South America had to lift their chin for food.

Sanitation

While guinea pigs don’t claim the same sanitation that humans do, hay piles do get filthy. Guinea pigs absolutely love their hay! As soon as they get a pile, they run and jump into it, on top of it, under it… and they pee and poop. Yes, guinea pigs do eat their poop sometimes, but only certain poops and are usually eaten straight from the “source.” They don’t go looking for old poop to eat. It’s not harmful to guinea pigs to eat some hay that has been in contact with their waste, but believe it or not, some people go to school or work and are gone for 9+ hours a day. That hay pile, no matter how large, will be soiled by the time owners get home to refill. 

My solution

Again, this is my theory from my own critical thinking and research. It is up to you to decide what is best for your guinea pigs.

A popular, and well established, type of guinea pig cage is the C&C cage, coined by GuineaPigCagesStore.com. It’s a type of grid that is connected together to build walls. You can build this type of cage using other brands, but GPCS warns that “the inner holes should never be larger than 1.5″ because young or narrow-headed guinea pigs can get their heads caught.” They offer a solution for those pigs to overlap (openings are now ¾”) or use solid grids instead. 

If I were to use that logic, adult guinea pigs should not have a problem with hay racks that have openings less than 1.5” and are used properly. If you have a young guinea pig or one who has a long, pointy nose, you should find another solution. Perhaps a hay pile only is the best option for you.

When shopping for hay racks, you’ll want to inspect the rack for anything they should fit their head into or get their paws stuck on. If the opening is large, they should be able to get in and out easily. I think that this hay manager might be the safest type of hay holder.

In general, I believe that owners should offer both: a hay pile and elevated hay holder of some kind. Guinea pigs can choose which one they’d rather have. Hay holders should be watched carefully for the first few hours of being placed in a cage to see how far their noses reach inside and potential dangers. It should always be overflowing with hay and placed at a height that your guinea pig does not struggle with. If your guinea pig is young or narrow headed, use an alternative.

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