While there is some variety to a rabbit’s diet – as fruit, vegetables, and berries can be included – more than three-quarters of the food they intake will be dried hay and grass. So are there any drawbacks?
A rabbit can consume hay consistently without any negative impact. So having consistent access to hay is ideal for them. As well as making up the majority of your pet’s diet, a rabbit’s teeth are also kept healthy by hay consumption, while there are further positive effects on digestion.
Overprovision of other foods can sometimes be detrimental, but you’ve no need to worry about hay. The rough texture is ideal for supporting the rest of their diet and keeping their teeth in good order. Plus, they rely on its high fiber. Further positives are examined below.
Hay Health Benefits
Being natural grazers, rabbits need to eat consistently. They do not rely on substantial meals at set times like we do, instead continuing to feed gradually, like cattle. Having permanent access to hay fits their natural feeding instincts, therefore.
Short but regular feeding is essential for a rabbit’s dietary system. Pellets can help but should not replace hay and will not keep them as healthy overall.
Another issue hay consumption guards against is the likelihood of developing hairballs. Without hay, the amount of fur that passes through their system will become an issue, potentially becoming stuck. Hay and its high fiber prevents this from happening.
Other reasons for requiring high fiber are many. Should they happen to have a diet with too much protein, carbs, or sugar, and too little fiber, then the amount of digestive bacteria in their system will become unwieldy with the potential of making them sick.
As hay is low in calories, eating a great deal of it does not lead to any weight issues. They can focus on hay, therefore, to keep their fiber levels high and also to protect their teeth from becoming too long.
Without being able to constantly graze, a rabbit’s teeth will grow unchecked. A great deal of chewing goes into a rabbit’s existence to make sure this does not happen, so if they do not have abundant amounts of hay around then they remain at risk of this occurring. Plus, toys can be a good idea, providing something else to nibble on.
Indeed, the desire to chew is sometimes more significant than hunger itself in explaining why rabbits eat so much hay. They may eat hay just to interrupt boredom and this is not a bad thing.
So, there are numerous reasons for keeping the hay supply available. Other foods should only be given in informed quantities, but hay should always be present. Owners can feel confident that hay represents no issues.
Alongside hay, always make sure your rabbit has a quality water supply available. Water will complement the benefits of hay within the digestive system, even if they don’t drink nearly as much as they chew.
How to Store and Feed
It is probably clear to you by now that consistent access to hay is what a rabbit needs. Now, let’s look at the best way to manage that supply and prevent yourself from the problem of getting hay everywhere.
It is important to not be too ambitious in this respect. Hay can easily get places you don’t intend it to, while rabbits will add to this issue by randomly chewing and pulling on hay supplies and leaving it lying around.
Don’t look to be too neat. Extra hay helps with bedding and comfort, as well as softening the floor of a rabbit’s pen, making it more like a meadow.
Excess hay can also stop your rabbit from nibbling on other less healthy things. For example, if they have a pen with an under-layer of straw, having an additional layer of hay may be a good idea.
Nevertheless, a range of hay feeders are now available from pet stores, or online, which can help to make sure your rabbit’s hay provision is not completely loose and unwieldy.
5 Ideal Hay Types for Rabbits
The different types of hay there are might surprise some. Indeed, its production is probably more complicated than you realize. While hay is essentially dried grass, it remains a good idea to ensure your rabbit has a mixture of different hays. They do not want to rely on one type, as different forms of hay benefit their digestion differently.
Hay and straw are not the same. Straw, which is far more yellow and shiny as well as being hollow, does not offer the same nutritional benefits, even if you do see your rabbit chewing it.
In comparison, hay consists of leaf-like stalks and stems. It has a duller color, as you will be familiar with from whenever you have mown the lawn and have a bundle of dried grass on your hands.
Timothy Hay will be recognizable to those who have owned rabbits, being a very common option. It is highly regarded for rabbits, although that doesn’t mean you have to overlook purchasing other forms of hay. Occasionally, rabbits will turn hay down for some picky reason, but there are others available.
As with all quality hay, Timothy provides high fiber and low protein, allowing your pet to graze to their heart’s content.
Typically made up of a mixture of grass leaves and stems, the majority of Timothy Hay options are organic, and devoid of chemical additives or pesticide use.
When compared to Timothy Hay, Orchard Hay has a softer texture due to being gathered from a cooler climate. The fiber and protein levels are very similar, but this version has more calcium.
With being sweet-smelling and less harsh, sometimes this is the option that will draw those rabbits who are a bit choosy.
Oat Hay is another popular option that rabbits will happily chew on throughout the day. The differences are that fiber levels are slightly lower and this hay is a bit higher on protein.
Plus, the product also contains extra dried seed-heads, which can be beneficial.
Despite the extra protein, there’s no need to worry about this hay not being safe to eat. You may find that a pet that is not so keen on the Timothy variety really takes to Oat Hay.
As already mentioned, variety is good for your rabbit’s hay consumption, and so Meadow Hay can be ideal as this is really a mixture of lots of different hay types.
Meadows have many different types of grasses, so your rabbit might enjoy getting a type it hasn’t had before. Most pet stores will have a form of meadow hay available.
A mixture of hay might also mean varying quality, so it might still be better to rely on another brand for your rabbit’s overall diet, but blending the provision with some Meadow Hay should still be a beneficial approach.
Lastly, another option is Alfafa Hay. Owners with young rabbits may be advised to try this option, as it comes with additional calories and nutrients.
Be aware though, it would be a mistake to continue feeding this to rabbits when they become adults. Switch to another variety at around seven months, or else they risk getting too much protein and calcium in their diet.