If you own a pet rabbit then you will want to know whether hay is mandatory in their diet. You often see rabbits eating hay, as well as using it for bedding, but is it a necessity and can they remain healthy and happy without it? I decided to conduct some thorough research into the topic so we can put this question to bed for good.
So, do rabbits need hay? Rabbits do need hay. In fact, they need an abundance of it. Experts and veterinarians will often recommend that 80% of your rabbit’s diet should consist of hay. This is because it is full of nutrition and fiber which is crucial for a rabbit’s healthy digestive system. Timothy hay is perhaps the best type of hay that you should feed freely to your rabbit(s).
Let us now take a closer look at the topic including why rabbits need hay, the benefits it provides them, and which type of hay is best.
Rabbits and Hay
If you own rabbits, you’ll soon learn that hay is one of the most useful, beneficial, and versatile substances.
Hay serves multiple purposes – the main ones being bedding and food.
Regarding bedding, it’s affordable, comfortable, and warm for your rabbits and it can be very effective at soaking up waste and moisture. This makes the whole cleaning process considerably easier. When it comes to bedding while being useful hay is optional.
With diet, Fresh, dust-free hay should be routinely and regularly provided to your rabbits. It should be available for them at all times.
Hay should make up at least 80% of your rabbit’s diet.
This is a recommendation that experts and veterinarians routinely agree on. There are however specific types of hay that you will want to feed.
I will move on to this shortly so be sure to keep reading!
Hay comes pre-packed with a number of balanced vitamins and minerals including calcium and phosphorus, a moderate amount of protein (typically 8%), and a low to moderate calorie content.
These are all important elements that support the health and wellbeing of rabbits and other small animals.
Beyond this, perhaps the most significant benefit of rabbits consuming hay is that it is abundant in fiber.
Rabbits are biologically primed and thrive on a high-fiber diet.
For a rabbit, an optimal diet consists of 80% grass hay, 10% vegetable, 5% healthy nutritious pellets, and 0 to 5% healthy treats.
Freshwater must also be readily available at all times.
Why Do Rabbits Need Hay
There are a number of reasons why rabbits need hay and a number of benefits that doing so will provide.
Here are the main ones:
- Hay promotes a healthy gut in your rabbit; ensuring they have the bacteria and flora to assimilate nutrients and properly digest all food they consume.
- The fibrous texture of the hay naturally and safely reduces the length of your rabbits teeth and promotes good dental health.
- Hay provides a good combination of nutrients without being too high in calories, protein or calcium.
- Hay will reduce chances of a rabbit experiencing fur blockage (which is common for rabbits with longer hair)
- Hay provides your rabbits with something to snack on which helps to reduce boredom.
- Hay provides your rabbit the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors. This includes foraging and grazing.
Some of the most common rabbit health problems come from a diet that is too low in fiber and too high in pellet feed.
The main issues generally include gastrointestinal problems and dental diseases (and issues with long and painful teeth which can grow as much as 12cm per year).
By feeding an abundance of hay, these issues typically subside or reduce altogether.
By failing to provide adequate hay, and relying too much on rabbit pellets and treat foods, your rabbit can experience the following issues.
- Weight gain,
- Dental issues
- Digestive upset,
- Reduced eating,
- Heart and liver complications
- Bladder and kidney stones
The high fiber in hay effectively keeps the gut flowing and moving.
It actually strengthens the muscles in their digestive system and helps to flush things through their system.
While this may come as quite a surprise, you should expect a couple of hundred droppings, per day!
If you start to see a lot of hair blockage in your rabbit’s droppings, or where their droppings are sticking to the cage, this can be a sign of a lack of fiber.
Moreover, if your rabbit is experiencing any other digestive issues, including diarrhea, this is a reason to up the amount of hay your rabbit is consuming.
It’s also a good idea in these scenarios to put your rabbit on an all hay diet for a little while. This will help them to rebalance and get their digestive processes regulated.
You can get effective Hay Feeders on Amazon for a great price.
This makes the whole process far easier as you can visibly notice how much your rabbit is eating.
You can also keep it topped up and notice of your rabbit has stopped consuming the hay you provide.
If you have multiple rabbits, then it is always a good idea to get several hay feeders for them to use freely.
Adult rabbits will generally eat through a hay feeder every 2 days.
At that point, you should clean the feeder with a safe chemical-free product and top it up again.
If you notice hay is still in the feeder even after 2 days, you should still look to replace it.
It may be stale and your rabbits may have stopped eating it for that reason. Never add fresh hay to stale or old hay, swap it out completely.
Hay feeders work really well for rabbit owners and it’s a simple way to ensure your rabbit is getting enough.
How To Get Rabbits To Eat More Hay
Aside from getting a Hay Feeder, there are also a number of other tactics you can use to get your rabbit to eat more hay.
Try New Brands
The first is to experiment with different brands and types of hay.
You may have a fussy rabbit and by swapping out for a new brand this avoidance may resolve.
Secondly, you can try to reduce your rabbit’s pellets.
These may be filling your rabbit up, or your rabbit may be saving room for them as they are designed to be very flavorsome.
Finally, you should try to replace the hay more regularly and frequently.
Ensure that it is always given fresh and opt for brands that prioritize this with their preparation and packaging.
If hay sits and is exposed to the air it can soon go off.
You, therefore, want to ensure it is sealed at all times during storage.
Which Hay Is Best For Your Rabbit
When it comes to selecting hay for your rabbit, you’ll soon notice that there are a number of options and brands on the market. Considering it is so vital, what is the best one to get?
As hay is grass, there are many different sources it can come from and ways that it can be prepared.
This all affects the nutrition it provides and will be suitable for different animals at different stages of their life.
Grass hays are best for rabbits because they are lower in protein and calcium. These two things in excess cause health issues so it’s always best to stick to hay derived from grass.
|Hay Type||Most Suitable For||Fiber||Protein||Fat|
|First Cut Timothy Hay||Overweight Rabbits||High||Low||Low|
|Second Cut Cut Timothy Hay||Most Rabbits||Average||Average||Average|
|Third Cut Timothy Hay||Fussy Eaters||Low||High||High|
|Oat Hay||Extra Variety, Allergies||High||Average||Average|
|Orchard Hay||Extra Variety, Allergies||Average||Average||Average|
|Alfalfa Hay||Young, Old, Underweight Rabbits||High||High||High|
Timothy is perhaps the most well-known, most recommended, and most beneficial of the grass hays.
Timothy hay is available in different cuts. Let us break down what the terminology means.
First Cut Timothy Hay
Is best for overweight rabbits, those who may need additional fiber or are experiencing more problematic dental issues.
Second Cut Timothy Hay
This is pretty much the go-to hay for most rabbits.
This is the standard cut most suitable for all ages and breeds of rabbits.
It has a great amount of fiber and contains a balanced mixture of leaves and seeds heads for nutrients.
Third Cut Timothy Hay
Is a softer cut that is mainly used with fussy rabbits who refuses to eat tougher stems that accompany first and second cuts.
The third cut contains less fiber which is why it is not as preferable as the second cut.
This is a good hay that you can either serve on its own or mixed in with other hays. It’s quite a rough hay so is also very good at refining a rabbit’s teeth.
Orchard Grass Hay
Is more suitable for those with hay allergies. The leaves are soft and less dusty as there are limited seed heads.
As such, there is less fiber in this type of hay so it’s a good idea to mix it in with second cut timothy.
Has been grown in a meadow and contains a mixture of different grasses.
It sometimes has flower heads inside.
Is mostly consumed by underweight, young rabbits under 8 months and old/weak rabbits.
This is because it is abundant in calories, is generally lower in fiber, and has more calcium than other cuts.
Overfeeding this hay to healthy rabbits will likely see them to gain unwanted weight.
Unlike Timothy which is grass hay, alfalfa hay is legume hay. Usually, the stems will be short and choppy.
So if you’re looking for hay for your rabbit, it will most likely be a high-quality second cut Timothy Hay. It is only if your rabbits are underweight, overweight, fussy or allergenic that you would opt for another type.
- Small Pet Select
- rabbit food
- guinea pig food
- chinchilla food
- timothy hay
Hay To Avoid
Old stale hay must be avoided.
It’s usually brown, dusty, and choppy and your rabbit will not be very appreciative if it is provided.
To ensure your hay remains fresh, store your hay in a concealed container away from direct sunlight and moisture.
Also, be sure to purchase only the best fresh hay from dedicated suppliers.
Hay vs Straw
One thing to note is that you need to opt for hay over the straw.
Straw will not suffice even though it is technically a type of grass.
Straw is essentially hay that has been stripped of seeds and flowers.
It is devoid of nutrition, is dry, and is not very appetizing for your rabbits. If you try to feed it to them you will likely notice they avoid it.
So always opt for freshly cut, properly preserved hay. This way your rabbit can benefit from all the goodness it comes with.
If you opt for a hay like Timothy, you do not have to worry about how much your rabbits are eating and consuming.
This is because it is nutritionally balanced and due to the low calorie and high fiber, they will not be able to overeat it.
They will naturally regulate their consumption to however much they need at that specific time.
Rabbits need hay. It is a fundamental component of their diet that provides them with nutrition and fiber for optimal digestion, assimilation and also serves to naturally file down their ever-growing teeth.
The best thing you can do as a rabbit owner is to offer a plentiful supply of hay at all times. Be sure to monitor their consumption and if it makes your life easier consider getting a hay feeder.
While you may be tempted to go out and buy the cheapest hay you can find. Be sure to only source the best quality.
It needs to be fresh or otherwise, your rabbits will not eat it, nor will it do them any good even if they were to.
Thankfully there are a number of excellent hay suppliers on Amazon that can ship you freshly cut and optimally stored hay for great prices.
For the most part, you will not go wrong with Second Cut Timothy hay. This is often the best option for the majority of rabbits.
It is only if you have an overweight, underweight, fussy or allergenic rabbit that you would need to seek other alternatives.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.