The Dangers of Alfalfa - Paw Talk - Pet Forums
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-21-2002, 06:38 PM Thread Starter
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The Dangers of Alfalfa

This was posted to an email group - I am posting here with permission from the author.


Hello all, I wanted to get this health alert out to the community.

Oscar, my degu, just had a visit to the vet. While there, the vet and I had
a long discussion about his food.

Long story short: alfalfa hay and alfalfa-based pellets are bad for our
degus' health. Alfalfa is too high in unavailable calcium, which will
eventually cause kidney damage.

Now, I knew that alfalfa hay was bad, but it had never occurred to me to
think of the pellets, and the fact that they are alfalfa-based. My vet
recommended taking Oscar off of any alfalfa-based food.

Feed your degus low-calcium green veggies; this should be the major element
of their diet. Some good veggies include:

asparagus
broccoli
celery
green beans
romaine lettuce
timothy grass

Bad veggies include:
collard greens
mustard greens
dandelion greens
spinach
alfalfa grass
turnip greens

My vet actually gave me a list of which veggies were best and which were
worst, but I can't find it right now- as soon as I locate it, I'll type it
out and send it to the lists. There are the ones I remember, though.

The idea is to feed a degu low calcium, green, fibrous vegetables. (I'm
sure you all know, to avoid sugar as well, as sugary foods lead to diabetes
in degus.) Otherwise, their kidneys have to filter out that calcium, which
can cause severe damage. My vet (an exotics specialist) told me that the
majority of pet rodents die of kidney failure, which is a gruesome and
painful way to go.

I switched my degu to a different diet, and not only did he put back on the
weight he had lost, but his demeanor totally changed- he is back to his
perky self. Right now, I feed him romaine lettuce, broccoli, and green
beans, with the occasional asparagus stalk or green onion for variety, and a
chunk of sweet potato or a peanut as the occasional treat..

You don't have to take your degu completely off of pellets: we found a brand
of pellets that is exactly the same as the Kay-Tee brand we were using
before, except based on timothy instead of alfalfa. They are from Oxbow Hay
Company, and the web site is at http://www.oxbowhay.com. I still give my
degu these pellets, but in honesty he much prefers the fresh veggies- he
leaves the pellets for nibbling, not for meals.

I hope this helps your degus live longer, healthier lives. If you have any
questions, feel free to email me.

good luck to you all!

Wife to an amazing man,
mom to three wonderful kids (9, 5.10, 4),
2 dogs, 3 hermit crabs and 2 bettas

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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2002, 12:51 AM
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that is a good post for the books sure dont tell us that infomation will be changing my guys diet for sure.

Remember the three R's: Respect for self; Respect for others;
Responsibility for all your actions.

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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2005, 10:49 AM Thread Starter
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2005, 01:02 PM
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Not a Degu owner, but just some comments about calcium...

In humans, too much calcium over long periods can result in a condition known as "hypercalciuria", or excess calcium in the urine. Even for most people, this is not a real problem. but for individuals with a personal or family history of kidney stones, hypercalciuria raises the risk of kidney stone formation.

I have read studies where this has been found to be the case in rats as well.

The problem some rodents have with calcium is multifold. As I understand it, they don't have a good way to regulate calcuim in ther blood. It is largely regulated by diet, so high dietary calcium means a lot in their blood.

Further, they tend to excrete excess calcium through their urine, unlike many mammals (us for instance) who excrete it though bile ..it then ends up leaving the body in the feces.

Finally, many rodents have alkalaine urine. This combines with the calcium on its way out to form calcium carbonte ..in the form of crystals. Crystals in the urine is not good. These can be the seeds for kidney stones and other unsavory problems.

For herbivores (and my personal herbivores are land tortoises), too much alfalfa also contains a relatively high amount of protien. For some animals, this can be a causitive factor on the road to gout. Gout is often associated with kidney damage.

I have never read that the calcium in alfalfa was biologically unavailable. One of the problems for some herbivores is that alfalfa also contains relatively high amounts of potassium as well. The combination of calcium, potassium and other minerals can also contribute to the formation of those crystals in the urine.

Most alfalfa based pellets are also supplemented with calcium from crushed mineral sources like limestone. Also very biologically available.

For most animals (and I am talking ruminants and herps, at this point) this IS a good source of calcium. As a matter of fact, I remember reading that mid-bloom alfalfa has the same percentage of calcium as powdered skim milk.

Just remember that growing mammals, and lactating mothers need goodly amounts of calcium. For those periods, I would think about increasing calcium levels temporarily.

For those of you concerned about calcium amounts in any animal, here are some tables.

Calcium content of raw vegetables:
http://carrotcafe.com/f/calevel.html

Oxalate content of raw vegetables"
http://carrotcafe.com/f/oxveggie.html

Calcium content of various hays:
http://carrotcafe.com/f/caforage.html

Just a bit of info from a "non-rodent-keeping lurker"..

Bob



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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2005, 01:28 PM
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Thanks for posting.. A new member was asking about foods for degus last week, and I tried to explain that Alfalfa is no good for degus, but could not find out the actual reasons why.. It was mentioned on a previous post, but could I find it? No!
I give mine kale aswell, do you know if this is ok?
Thanks in advance..

Steph ~ Owned by 4 bunnies and 5 degus..


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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2005, 02:17 PM
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Kale has a good amount of calcium in it. It also has a fair amount of oxalates. Oxalates impede the ability of the body to absorb calcium.

I would "assume" (and you know about assumptions..) that non-absorbed calcium is just going to stay with the food and be excreted as part of the fecal material. Not a problem for the kidneys to deal with.

Because of the effect of the oxalates, I don't know how to determine how much of the calcium in the kale is actually absorbed into the bloodstream.

So I guess the answer to your question is that, while kale is not the worst thing for your degu, it probably isn't the best either. Not sure where exactly in that middle ground it lies, though.

Maybe someone a little better versed in this can help..

Bob



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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2005, 04:23 PM
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Thanks Bob!

Steph ~ Owned by 4 bunnies and 5 degus..


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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2005, 05:52 PM
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Thanks for posting that Christi, i have read that before and often thought about it when people have asked but i couldn't remember which site i had seen it on as its very informative

Kirsty


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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-20-2005, 07:40 PM Thread Starter
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I was searching for something else and this popped up, something told me to bump it.

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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 03-21-2005, 08:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Christi
I was searching for something else and this popped up, something told me to bump it.
Well many thanks for doing so

Kirsty


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alfalfa hay, collard greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce


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