Hay, which is dried grass, is the key part of any rabbit’s diet. The reason for this is its significant fiber content that not only gives rabbits nutrition but also allows them to maintain quality dental and intestinal health.
A rabbit without hay in its diet will soon experience a failing digestive system. Food slowing down within the gut can produce a wide range of illnesses and even lead to death.
Dental health is helped by hay consumption because of the action of chewing, which a rabbit needs to do for many hours a day just to stop its teeth from growing and becoming painful or unusable. A rabbit with teeth that are too big will have trouble keeping up their essential diet and grooming regimes.
More About Grass
Understandably, some owners might wonder why normal grass isn’t as good as hay for their rabbit.
The answer concerns practicality. Hay can be stored and fed to rabbits in large amounts whereas grass is only accessible during certain hours, even for outdoor rabbits who spend a lot of time out of their pens. In addition, some pet rabbits simply don’t have access to grass for a number of reasons:
- An owner might live in a location with too many outdoor risks, such as predators or traffic.
- An owner might have restricted or no outdoor space, even if their house is spacious.
- Other pets like cats, dogs, and ferrets might need to be kept away from the rabbit in case of conflict.
- Owners with busy lifestyles might not always be able to keep an eye on an outdoor bunny.
- Not all gardens are secure.
- A garden with a wide variety of plants might contain something that is toxic to the rabbit.
Consequently, storing and utilizing hay is a great way to ensure all pet rabbits have a healthy diet. It is easy to produce, and it is widely available.
Rabbits do like to consume a great deal of grass, so access to grass should be encouraged wherever possible as it is more nutritious than hay and includes vitamins and minerals that diminish as the cut grass dries into hay.
You’ll be able to tell easily that your rabbit prefers grass to hay if you do have access to a lawn; they will choose grass every time. However, it is a good idea to introduce grass to a rabbit’s diet in stages if they are not used to it.
Rabbit Hay and Grass to Choose From
- Timothy hay
- Meadow hay
- Orchard hay/grass
- Oat hay
- Herbal hay (herbage)
- Combination! It is not a bad idea to combine a few types of hay for optimum nutrition. Your rabbit may prefer one type over another or have specific nutritional needs, so they will benefit from a mixture of types.
There are many types of hay, and most pet stores will have several options, so there is no excuse for not doing your research.
- Oat grass
- Wheat grass
- Barley grass
- Brome grass
- Bermuda grass
Of the types listed above, oat, barley, and wheat are all commonly grown to provide cereal grain. Because grasses are harvested before the seed heads have ripened, they can be used to feed animals. This changes if the grass is left for too long, as once the grass is fully grown and has turned golden brown, it becomes straw and loses its nutritional qualities. Although straw can be used as bedding and is chewed by rabbits, it doesn’t meet their nutritional needs.
Specialized Hay and Grass:
Despite the name, alfalfa (lucerne) is, in fact, not hay. It is a legume that is produced as an animal feed, which is richer in content than regular hay. Consequently, alfalfa contains more protein than typical hay. The problem with this is that too much protein will cause a rabbit to bloat. Nevertheless, this does not mean you should discount alfalfa completely, as such a protein source is excellent for growing youngsters and can help a rabbit recover if they have been unwell.
The process of cutting and drying grass fast means that it retains nutrients that would otherwise be lost. It is also the case that drying grass quickly allows it to retain its green color, which reflects its higher protein content compared to typical hay.
Other terms for dried grasses are:
- barn dried hay
Rabbit owners who have found it difficult getting their pets to eat enough hay often find that they are more likely to take to these dried grasses. Even so, caution is advised if a rabbit is overweight; sticking with regular dried hay for the most part would be better in this case.
If you’re aware that your pet does not welcome dietary adjustments or has other issues – which is common with rabbits – then go for a steady rather than a sudden change.
Selecting the Right Rabbit Hay and Grass
Here we take a closer look at some of the most popular grass / hay types.
If you own a rabbit, you’ll soon become familiar with this market favorite. It’s probably the hay that most rabbits take to and remains the most popular.
Timothy hay is made up of a combination of leaves and stems, making it high in fiber. It is also thicker than many other hays, which is always better for supporting digestion and dental health.
As it is very low in protein, rabbits can eat as much as they like and never put on weight. It also helps the gastrointestinal tract to work effectively.
Timothy hay is widely available, meaning owners should never run out of feed for their rabbit. The product is usually free of pesticides, as it comes direct from the farm and has been naturally sun dried. The result is a product that is pleasing to the nose and greener than most other hays.
Adult rabbits especially should be fed a significant quantity of Timothy hay as it is a low-calcium option.
Orchard grass develops in tufts and can withstand more adverse natural conditions than Timothy hay. It is therefore a more easily accessible quality hay during the colder months.
Orchard hay is also high in fiber and low in protein, although its texture is clearly less rough.
Owners are advised to blend this hay with Timothy hay if a rabbit is known to be fussy. Over the long term, solely relying on one hay product for your rabbit could lead to digestive complications, so a variety of feeds is a great approach.
The numerous types of grasses that make up meadow grass undergo a kiln-dried process, so it is not considered a true hay. However, because meadow grass – or “meadow grass hay” – consists of a blend of different grasses, your rabbit will benefit from a variety of nutrients and textures. On the downside, there is no close examination of each crop, meaning the quality can vary, as can the protein and calcium content.
As meadow grass is especially rich in protein, there is the risk that your pet may become overweight, but this can be avoided with careful feeding while still allowing your rabbit to enjoy a different hay.
The best advice is to avoid using meadow grass as the main feed as you would Timothy hay, but don’t overlook its potential benefits either.
Some Regular Questions and Answers on Hay for Rabbits
Should I Stick to One Hay Type?
Despite there being an abundant supply of Timothy hay, do consider the alternatives and offer a blend of hays for your rabbit. Remember that:
- variety subtly teaches picky rabbits to try other hay.
- variety prevents a rabbit becoming stubborn in favoring a particular food type, which is potentially risky over the long term.
- variety means a healthier diet all round.
What Are the Most Important Attributes of Quality Rabbit Hay?
Regardless of the product and its claims, you should keep in mind three standards when purchasing and storing hay:
- It should not be musty and should give off a scent that is sweet and fresh.
- Avoid hay that appears to have too much dust in it.
- Dry storage away from direct sunlight is crucial, and do not store your hay in an airtight container, as this leads to moistness and the potential spread of toxins.
What Quantity of Hay Should I Provide for My Rabbit?
Your rabbit should have a consistent supply of hay, with Timothy hay and oat hay being great options for their low-protein, high-fiber content.
Hays that are high in protein, like alfalfa hay, should not be used as a constant food source but can still be fed to your rabbit in moderation. Always check to see if the vitamin, mineral, and calcium content of a hay is especially high, as all these could lead to an overweight rabbit.
Stick to smaller portions of these hays to head off picky dietary habits and mix them with other hays, like Timothy hay, which is always in abundance.