You’re looking outside, watching the view and notice a couple of wild rabbits nibbling on the grass in your yard. That gets you wondering about your own rabbit. Why do we feed them dried hay when there is all this fresh grass around? It seems like a natural way for rabbits to eat, so shouldn’t our pet rabbits be able to eat grass too?
Grass is safe to rabbits in very high quantities. It contains a wide variety of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber that all work to aid a rabbit’s health and digestion. Fresh grass also has more effective silica along the blades that are great for preventing rabbit teeth from overgrowing.
Even though grass is safe to feed rabbits, that doesn’t mean you should switch them to an entirely grass-based diet overnight. The cellular structure of grass changes when it dries. If your rabbit is used to a hay (dry grass) diet, their digestion needs time to adjust to a diet made up of mostly fresh grass.
It’s also important to consider the practicality of giving your rabbit a fresh grass diet. For most people, it would be difficult to grow enough grass to feed a rabbit all summer long if they don’t also provide some added hay.
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The benefits of grass in a rabbit diet
Grass is an excellent addition to any rabbit’s diet. In fact, the grass-based hay that we give our rabbits on a daily basis is (you guessed it!) basically just dried grass. However, even though these are essentially the same food, they are not exactly identical on a nutrient level.
During the drying process, many of the nutrients and vitamins are eliminated from the grass. This means that fresh grass has a much richer variety and denser amount of healthy vitamins and minerals than the dried hay does. In addition, fresh grass has more water and can help encourage better hydration. By eating fresh grass, rabbits are able to get a lot of the natural water that they need from their diet and won’t need to drink as much from their water bowl.
Fresh grass is also great for rabbit dental health. Grass has a coating of silica that it sucks up from the ground around it to create a rough spiky surface. This layer is microscopic, making it too small to see with the naked eye, but it still plays an important role in grinding against rabbit teeth to keep them from growing too long. Overgrown rabbit teeth are one of the most common health problems of pet rabbits.
Hay maintains this layer of silica as well, which is why hay is also known to be great for rabbit teeth. But this silica layer tends to be rougher and stronger in fresh grass, making it that much better for keeping rabbit teeth from overgrowing.
Can rabbits eat grass instead of hay?
If grass is basically just fresh hay with more nutrients intact, then why don’t we just feed rabbits grass in their normal diet? Rabbit bodies and digestions are capable of living on a fresh grass diet, but it’s usually not an easy arrangement for rabbit caretakers. Grass doesn’t grow year round for rabbits to eat and a sudden transition from dried hay to fresh grass is likely to unbalance a rabbit’s digestion and cause health problems.
You need to be careful when making these changes and be prepared to make them every year as the seasons change. Most people choose to stick to a dried hay-based diet with some fresh grass added in for variety and nutrients rather than going for a strictly grass diet.
Transitioning a rabbit to a fresh grass-based diet
Rabbits can eat grass instead of hay, however it’s not a change that should be made overnight. This kind of major change in a rabbits diet needs to be made in a slow transition over the course of a few weeks. The cellular structure of hay is more rigid than fresh grass, which means they are digested in very different ways. A sudden change would be sure to cause digestive health problems, such as GI Stasis or runny stool.
The first few days, you should only give your rabbit a couple cups of fresh grass, or about 15 minutes out on the lawn to nibble at fresh grass. Slowly increase the amount of grass you cut for your rabbit or the amount of time they are given to nibble grass in the yard. As they eat more fresh grass, they’ll naturally be eating less hay until you hardly need to provide any extra for them on a daily basis.
Access to hay vs. grass
Before you decide to make the change to a grass diet, it’s also important to think about the practicality of your decision. To keep a rabbit fed and satisfied you would need a lot of grass, and you would need it year round. Even in the spring and summer months, it would be difficult to feed a rabbit on fresh grass instead of hay unless they have access to a large lawn. Even then, you’ll need to take care of your lawn in a way that will make it safe for your rabbit (see lawn care section below)
Hay is conveniently dried and can be stored year round. There’s little worry about it spoiling or dying. It’s a way to keep your rabbit on a high fiber diet (which is what their digestion needs) all year long.
If you want to give your rabbit a large amount of grass in their diet, I advise continuing keeping them on a partial dry hay diet. You’ll give them both grass and hay in the spring and summer months. Then it will be easier to transition them back to just hay over the fall and winter.
Considerations for lawn care when feeding grass to rabbits
If you want to allow your rabbit to eat grass from your lawn then you need to take some precautions to make sure it’s safe. Pretty much any conceivable type of grass will be okay for your rabbit, but many lawns are treated in ways that could poison them.
You’ll want to keep as natural and organic a lawn as possible. Do not use pesticides at all, since almost all types of chemical pesticides are toxic for rabbits. You also want to pay attention to the fertilizer that you use. Natural fertilizers are generally okay, but many commercial types have added chemicals or even pesticides included.
You also need to consider what wild animals have access to the grass you are feeding your rabbit. Some wild animal urine can carry diseases, so it’s best to try to prevent any animals from urinating in your rabbit’s grass (including neighborhood dogs).
You can do this by clipping grass for your rabbit and washing it the same way you would for normal leafy greens before giving it to your rabbit. If your rabbit has roaming access to the lawn, this is a little more difficult. The best you can do is try to prevent wild animals from entering the rabbit area by adding fences to create an isolated rabbit run.
You also want to avoid giving your rabbit clipping from a lawnmower. When grass is clipped in a lawnmower, it goes through a brief period of very high heat next to the lawnmower engine. This causes the blades of grass to ferment much faster than typical fresh grass, which makes them dangerous for rabbits to eat.
Growing your own grass inside
Even if you don’t have a lawn, you can still easily grow grass inside your house or apartment by using sunlight from your windows. While I love the idea of growing a garden for my rabbit to give her tasty, fresh treats all the time, I’ve never been great with plants. I have trouble keeping even the most hardy plants alive, but even I can grow some grass!
I found a little pet wheatgrass growing kit and decided to give it a go and see if I could get some of it to grow for my rabbit. It comes with the soil, seeds, and instructions. After watering the seeds I just had to wait a few days before I started to see little blades of grass poking up. After a couple weeks, I could cut some blades off for my rabbit too munch on.
I’ve only been able to find this particular brand of wheatgrass growing kit at Small Pet Select (my favorite store for natural rabbit toys and hay). The Pet Greens Meadow is pretty cheap there (check out the current price) and you can get 15% off your purchase if you use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout.
What kind of grass can rabbits eat?
Rabbits can eat just about any kind of grass. The best kinds of grass are the types that are used to make dried-grass hay (timothy hay, orchard hay, oat hay, etc.). However these are not typically the types used for lawns, since they have a tendency to grow very tall.
Grasses that are used for lawns tend to be grown with the overall look in mind, and not rabbit nutrition. They are safe for rabbits to eat, but will give your rabbit limited options. To help give your rabbit the most nutritious lawn they can have, try planting a few different varieties of grass seeds. You can make your lawn more like a yummy meadow that would naturally have different types of grass growing all around.
If you are growing your own grass in a planter or window box for your rabbit, the easiest kinds to find are wheatgrass or meadow grass. These tend to have higher nutritional value for rabbits than typical lawn grass seed.
Safe types of grass for rabbits include (but are not limited to):
- Meadow grass
- Bermuda grass
- Fescue grass
- Orchard grass
- Timothy grass
- Oat grass
Can rabbits eat wet grass?
I’m not exactly sure where this myth came from, but you’ll see many places online advising you to avoid feeding wet grass (and other wet greens) to rabbits because it will cause an upset stomach or loose stool. As a result, rabbit caretakers will avoid feeding their rabbit grass with any amount of rain drops or dew on the blades, and make sure to thoroughly dry any fresh greens that are given to their rabbits.
This is simply unnecessary. Extra water on grass and leafy greens is just extra water. It can actually help rabbits to stay better hydrated, especially in the hot summer months. Don’t worry about dew on grass or droplets left over after washing. It’s still safe, and even healthy, for your rabbit to eat.
The only possible source I can find for this myth is that wet vegetables will start to ferment if they sit in water for a long period of time. This would be a precaution you might need to take if you were foraging leafy greens from around a lake or river, but generally not something you need to be concerned about when giving your rabbit fresh grass from your lawn.
Young rabbits (less than 6 months) are also more likely to have digestive problems when given a lot of fresh foods at once. However this is due to a digestive system that is still developing and has nothing to do with added droplets of water on fresh greens or grass.
Can rabbits eat grass seed?
Grass seed is not normally something I would give rabbits as a treat, but a small amount wouldn’t hurt them. Too much grass seed can lead to weight gain or an imbalance in their digestive tract, so it’s best to avoid or keep it to a minimum.
If you’re worried that your rabbit might try to dig and eat up grass seed that you’ve just planted, then you can try to section off the area until the grass has had time to grow. Many rabbit will like to dig up and eat seeds or eat new shoots, making it difficult to grow grass in an area when your rabbit has access to it. It’s also a good idea to get uncoated or untreated seeds just in case your rabbit manages to get at them and eat them.
- Marie Mead with Teresa Bradley Bays DVM, “Dental Disorders in Rabbits.” House Rabbit Society. January 21, 2013. https://rabbit.org/dental-disorders-in-rabbits.
- Moore, Lucile. Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing. 3rd ed. 2017, pp. 77, 106-107.
- “New to Rabbits.” Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/ownership/new-to-rabbits.
- “Types of Rabbit Hay and Grass.” Vancouver Rabbit Rescue & Advocacy. https://www.vrra.org/wp-beta1/wp-content/uploads/bunphotos/Types-of-Rabbit-Hay.pdf.
- “What is a Healthy Food Diet for Pet Rabbits?” RSPCA. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rabbits/diet.