According to Belle Mead Animal Hospital, a rabbit’s diet needs to be made up of 80% grass hay. This is as a result of their digestive system and how it works. Thus, this article would explain why hay is so important for your bunny and how to choose the right hay for your rabbit. I usually get questions like:
So, How to Choose the Best Hay for Your Rabbit?
- You should always feed your rabbit fresh hay because it might not eat it if it is stale.
- Avoid hay that was cut by a lawnmower. Lawnmowers cause the hay to ferment and might cause your bunny diarrhea or some other stomach upset.
- Different types of hay will suit better your rabbit nutritional needs depending on its age.
Why Hay is So Important for Your Rabbit’s Diet
As stated earlier, your bunny’s diet should be made up of 80% hay. This is because of the immense benefits hay has on your bunny’s health. Hay consists of fibers that help the intestines of rabbits to stay strong and healthy. Feeding your rabbit sufficient hay would help to regulate its gastrointestinal processes and keep it healthy. On the other hand, when your bunny is not consuming enough hay or fiber, its intestinal processes could slow down or break down completely and lead to several diseases such as gastrointestinal stasis among others.
Hay also helps in the wearing down and control of your rabbit’s teeth. Rabbits are constantly growing teeth. That is, every rabbit grows teeth for the duration of its life. As such, the teeth of your bunny could get too long and cause discomfort to your bunny. If your rabbit’s teeth are not worn down or the growth controlled, it could develop serious dental issues. Constant chewing of hay would help to control the teeth and reduce discomfort. In the same vein, your rabbit needs to eat grass, twigs, and anything that requires chewing and gnawing in order to create a balance for the teeth growth. Hay is extremely important for rabbits because it helps them to file their teeth. Our Dwarf Rabbit “Gus”, doesn’t like to eat hay frequently and as a consequence, we had to take him a couple of times to the vet due to infections caused by the overgrowth of his teeth. Rabbit teeth never stop growing and if they don’t file them by chewing hay, it could cause infections in their mouths. Some of these types of infections like the Pasteurella can become lethal. Always try to include hay in your rabbit’s diet.
Your rabbit also needs to chew and eat hay in order to stay entertained. The urge and tendency to chew and gnaw are instilled in rabbits. Thus, they chew on anything they come across so as to alleviate boredom. They could end up chewing your valuable properties or harmful objects. There is no method that would prevent them from chewing on things completely. However, their chewing can be managed. I recommend feeding your bunny with hay and making sure that it is provided with hay at all times as an effective way of keeping it entertained and prevent it from chewing on your valuable properties.
Types of Hay for Your Rabbit: Which is the Best?
There are different kinds of hay that you could feed to your rabbit. Each hay has its own peculiarities and could be suitable for your bunny depending on several factors.
- Timothy Hay: This type of hay is high in fiber and is very good for your bunny. It prevents your bunny from developing spurs and having other dental problems. It is important to note that hays have different cuttings. There is the first cutting, the second cutting, and the third cutting. The first cutting is the first grass cut from the field. When the grass regrows and is cut again, it is called the second cutting. Most rabbits prefer the second and third cutting of Timothy Hay. This is because the latter cuttings always come out softer and more appealing.
- Alfalfa Hay: Alfalfa hay is another type of hay for rabbits. It contains more calcium and protein than Timothy hay and most rabbits prefer Alfalfa Hay. However, Alfalfa hay is not suitable for all rabbits and should not be consumed in excess quantities especially by adult rabbits. This is because Alfafa hay contains a large amount of calcium and protein. Rabbits are designed to absorb calcium and protein quicker than most other animals. When they consume too much Alfalfa hay, it could cause a build-up of calcium in their system and urine and cause health problems such as urinary stones.
- Meadow Hay: This type of hay is the regular kind of hay which you can find anywhere. It contains variety and you can find bits of sticks and stones in it. This can be entertaining for your bunny as it gives it variety and also provides an opportunity for it to sift through the hay for its favorite parts.
Other types of hay that you could feed to your rabbit include orchard hay and oat hay or grass. Orchard hay is quite similar to second cut Timothy hay and could be used as an alternative to Timothy Hay.
The best kind of hay for your bunny is arguably Timothy Hay. However, young bunnies normally prefer Alfalfa hay to Timothy Hay. Thus, you need to gradually introduce Timothy hay into your bunny’s diet. You can do this by gradually mixing Timothy hay into the Alfalfa hay which you feed to your bunny. As time goes on, reduce the amount of Alfalfa hay you feed to it and feed it more of Timothy Hay. The ratio of Timothy hay to Alfalfa hay could be increased to 80:20 and higher until your bunny’s diet consists of just Timothy hay instead of Alfalfa Hay.
Timothy Hay Cuttings: The Best One for Your Rabbit
As I stated earlier, there are different cuttings of hay annually. The term “cuttings” is usually used when we are talking about Timothy Hay. Hay cut simply refers to the particular time when the hay was cut.
- First cut: This is the first hay cutting of the season. First cut Timothy hay contains a lot of nutrients. It has the highest amount of fiber and is usually stronger and coarser than the other cuttings. I highly recommend first cut Timothy hay for rabbits who need to consume more fiber and protein as it is the most ideal cutting for them. The coarseness of first cut Timothy hay helps in the wearing down of your bunny’s teeth and as such, should be part of its diet.
- Second cut: Second cut Timothy hay is the hay gotten from the farm or field a second time. After the first cutting, the regrown grass which is cut and dried is referred to as the second cut. Second, cut Timothy hay is less coarse than the first cut. It is softer and has a better smell than the first cut. It also contains a lot of nutrients but contains slightly less fiber than the first cut. A lot of rabbits prefer the second cut to the first cut due to its softness and sweet smell.
- Third cut: Apparently, the third cut Timothy hay is the hay derived after the second cut. This cut is quite soft and has a high amount of protein. However, the third cut Timothy hay is very low in fiber and is not ideal as a primary diet for your bunny as your bunny needs a high amount of fiber in order to be healthy. Most experts recommend the third cut Timothy hay as a treat for your bunny, rather than the main meal.
Having established the qualities of the different cuttings of hay, the best hay cutting for your bunny is the first cut. However, if your bunny is aging or has soft teeth, then the second cut Timothy hay is more ideal for it. The third cut Timothy hay is best used as a treat for your bunny due to the little amount of fiber which it contains.
What Factors Should You Consider When Purchasing Hay?
When purchasing hay for your bunny, you need to select the one most appropriate for your bunny. You need to consider several factors before choosing a particular type of hay for your bunny.
Your bunny’s age and health play a very huge role in deciding what kind of hay to get for it. Adult rabbits should not be fed with Alfalfa hay because of the high amount of calcium it contains and the effect it could have on their system. As such, the best Hay for an adult bunny is Timothy hay or meadow hay. I personally do not recommend Alfalfa hay for your adult bunny because the high amount of calcium and protein it contains could cause build up and urinary stones in your bunny’s system if consumed for a very long time. On the other hand, baby bunnies can get a mixture of hay. You could mix a little Alfalfa hay with other types of hay to create a sort of variety for your young bunny. Also, if you have a malnourished bunny or a bunny who hasn’t had enough protein in its system, you could feed it Alfalfa hay but not for a very long period of time.
Another thing to consider is your bunny’s preferences. Some rabbits are fussy and are picky eaters. As such, it might be a grueling task to select a suitable type of hay for them. The best thing to do in this situation is to monitor your bunny’s preferences. Which hay stimulates a positive reaction? Some picky rabbits might just prefer a specific kind of hay. It all depends on the hay which it finds most appealing. If you are not sure of your bunny’s preferences, you could find a way to introduce variety into its diet. Feed it a mixture of different types of hay and monitor its response to its new diet.
You should also consider your allergies when purchasing hay for your bunny. You could be allergic to a certain kind of hay and purchasing it for your bunny would only make you uncomfortable. Similarly, your bunny could be allergic to certain kinds of hay as well and would react badly to them. As such, I always advise rabbit owners to closely monitor their bunny’s feeding habits.
When selecting hay for your bunny, you need to ensure that the hay is of high quality. It should equally look appealing to your bunny. The first identifying mark of good hay is its appearance and smell. The hay has to be fresh. Fermented hay would only cause your bunny to fall sick. You can judge fresh hay from its smell. Any kind of hay that has a moldy or unusual odor is probably not fresh and should be avoided at all costs.
Making sure that your bunny gets the hay most suitable for it does not just end at purchasing the right kind of hay. You equally have to ensure that you store the hay properly. You should not store hay in a moisture-prone location. Ensure that you store it in a cool, dry place where it would not be exposed to direct sunlight. Do not store the hay in plastic or directly on the ground. This could cause it to absorb moisture and start developing mold.
Always endeavor to provide your rabbit with the best quality of hay available for its feeding.
How Can You Encourage Your Rabbit to Eat More Hay?
Some rabbits are picky eaters. If your rabbit falls into this category and rarely eats, there are ways to encourage it to eat more hay. One effective method is by feeding its favorite hay to it. Hay is just like human food. The same way we could have different foods or different flavors of one particular food is the same way hay has different flavors. Keep introducing variety into your bunny’s diet in order to create novelty and encourage it to eat more.
You could also get your rabbit to eat more hay by stuffing hay into any of its favorite toys. I usually stuff hay into my rabbit’s toilet paper tubes or a maze made out of cardboard. That way, eating becomes more entertaining and fun for your bunny and it would begin to increase the amount of hay it eats.
Another way to get your rabbit to eat more hay is by infusing tiny treats into its hay. You could slice tiny bits of carrots into its hay. This would encourage it to forage and eat more of the hay.
Can a Rabbit Eat Too Much Hay?
Technically, rabbits eat about their body size in hay every day. Eating a huge portion of hay twice or three times a day does not qualify as eating too much hay. As stated earlier, hay should constitute 80% of your bunny’s diet. Thus, there is no such thing as eating too much hay. However, there are certain kinds of hay that are not suitable for your bunny’s system. Eating these kinds of hay in large quantities would hurt your bunny. A typical example is feeding Alfalfa hay in large quantities to your adult rabbit.