Learn how hay plays an important role in a rabbit’s diet.
Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. Understanding the nutrition of hay and how to choose high-quality hay is something every rabbit owner should make a priority. This article will provide a great basic guide to feeding hay for rabbits.
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Rabbit Diet Basics
First, let’s quickly break down the basic diet needed for a rabbit.
The majority of a rabbit’s diet should be high-quality hay. Timothy hay and orchard grass are the most common types of hay fed. We’ll get into types of hay a bit later in this article, but for now, just know rabbits should have access to hay 24/7. Hay is an absolute must-have for rabbits so if you have allergies you may want to consider another pet.
Rabbits should also receive fresh veggies every single day. There are a variety of healthy and safe veggies that you can feed your rabbits. Bunnies love veggies and they help provide all the vitamins and nutrients rabbits need to be healthy.
Finally, many owners choose to feed their rabbits a small amount of healthy pellets each day. There is some debate about whether pellets are really necessary for rabbits, but I personally choose to feed a small amount. . You can learn more about healthy rabbit pellets in this article! And of course, rabbits should have fresh water at all times
Why Hay is Important for Rabbits
To understand why hay is so important for rabbits, you need a basic understanding of a rabbit’s digestive system.
Rabbits need to be eating pretty much constantly. Their digestive systems are designed to be constantly moving with high fiber plant material. Wild rabbits will be constantly eating grass, so our pet rabbits need to be constantly eating hay. If a rabbit does not have enough fiber-rich food moving through its system, its digestive system will slow down and can eventually stop. This leads to GI stasis, which can be life-threatening!
Since your pet’s digestive system has adapted naturally based on a hay-based diet, hay also provides the majority of the nutrition your pet needs. This is why it’s also important to feed high-quality hay. You want to make sure your bunny is getting good nutrients from the hay as well.
Constantly eating hay is also important for a rabbit’s dental health. Rabbits have constantly growing teeth and hay helps to keep a rabbit’s teeth worn down. Rabbits are similar to rodents in that they have constantly growing teeth. The chewing motion from constantly eating hay wears down the teeth so they don’t get overgrown. This is very important because a rabbit with overgrown teeth won’t be able to eat properly and could end up with health issues down the road.
Types of Hay to Feed Your Rabbits
As I mentioned before, orchard grass and timothy hay are the main types of hay fed to rabbits. Whichever type you end up feeding, you want to make sure it’s fresh and high-quality. This means it has a nice color, has a nice fresh sweet smell, and is dry, but is not very dusty. Dusty hay can cause allergies for both you and rabbits. You don’t want all your hay to be brown and dried out because it won’t have much nutritional value left. The hay also shouldn’t have any moisture or mold.
You’ll immediately be able to tell if your hay has any mold in it when you get into the middle of it because it will smell pretty bad. Do not feed hay that seems moldy because this can make your pets sick. Plus keeping moldy hay around can make you and your rabbits sick!
You also want to make sure there isn’t anything mixed into the hay, like other unsafe plants, bits of plastic or wrappers, or anything else that shouldn’t be there. Even in the highest quality hay, sometimes things get mixed into the hay out of the field.
So, how do you choose the best hay? Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of hay you’ll find and whether they are a good choice for rabbits.
Timothy has is the most popular type of hay fed to rabbits and other small pets. It provides the proper nutritional content and nutrients that rabbits need and has high fiber content. There are different cuts of timothy hay that affect the nutrition, but in general timothy hay is a good choice.
The most commonly fed timothy hay is second cut. This means it is the second cutting of hay from a field. This type of hay is easy to find and a great healthy choice. The cut of hay can impact the nutrition and texture of the hay.
First cut timothy is going to have a lot of stems and not have many leaves. The second cut is a good mix of stems, seed heads, and leafiness. Third cut is usually much softer as it’s mainly leafy and has fewer stalks than the other cuts. Second and third cuts are the main types that are fed to pets, and you can switch them up to try and please any picky eaters!
Orchard grass is very similar nutritionally to timothy hay, but it’s leafier and has fewer stalks. Because of this, it doesn’t quite have the same level of fiber as timothy hay.
Orchard hay is an excellent choice for people that are allergic to timothy hay. It has all the essential nutrients bunnies need from hay. I’ve fed my guinea pigs orchard grass for the past six years and have had no health issues related to hay with any of my pets. Orchard grass still provides the nutrition they need and still provides the roughage they need to keep their teeth worn down.
Bluegrass hay is essentially the same as orchard grass, it just has more of a deep blue-green color. It is very similar to orchard grass when it comes to nutrition and fiber. This hay has an amazing fresh smell and is also a good alternative to timothy if you have allergies. I fed this for many years and all my pets loved it!
Alfalfa hay should only be fed to young rabbits – bunnies that are less than a year old. Alfalfa hay has higher protein and calcium content than the previously mentioned types of hay, which are not needed in adult rabbits. It is also higher in fat and calories. Alfalfa is actually legume hay, not grass hay.
Even though you don’t want alfalfa hay to be the main hay you feed your adult rabbits, it does make great treat hay in small quantities! Mixing different types of hay into your rabbit’s diet gives them variety in both taste and nutrients.
Where to Buy Hay for Rabbits
There are a lot of different places you can find high-quality hay for your rabbits.
My favorite place to buy hay is from Small Pet Select. They have a variety of different hay options and you can buy them in different quantities, all the way up to 50lb boxes. I’ve always received excellent quality hay from them and their prices are reasonable as well.
Another popular hay option is Oxbow. They also offer larger quantity boxes of hay and I’ve heard the quality is pretty consistent as well. They also have a blended box of timothy and orchard grass hay together which is a great option.
You can also look for a local farm or feed store that offers hay. This often is the cheapest option if you can find high-quality timothy or orchard grass hay in your area.
How to Feed Hay
The best way to feed hay to your rabbit is by providing a hay rack above your rabbit’s litter box. Wherever you put your rabbit’s hay is where they will tend to use the bathroom. Using a hay rack or bag will cut down on mess and keep your rabbit from spreading the hay all over the place as well.
I use a hay rack over my rabbits’ litter box, but I also have a free-standing hay rack as well. Since hay is so important to a rabbit’s health, I like to provide as much as possible to encourage them to eat it throughout the day. Just keep in mind that rabbits do like to make messes and will spread hay all over the place if they have the option!
The main thing to remember when feeding hay to rabbits is that you want them to have access to as much fresh and clean hay to eat at all times. Whatever way you can do that, that works for your rabbits is just fine!
Final Thoughts on Hay for Rabbits
Since hay is one of the most important aspects of a rabbit’s diet, it’s important to understand why and how to feed it in order to keep your pet happy and healthy. Having fresh, high-quality hay available to your rabbit at all times will help ensure they live a happy and healthy life!