You’ve heard it over and over again. Hay needs to be the majority of a rabbit’s diet! Feeding a rabbit only pellets is just not good enough. But why? Your bunny probably much prefers to eat pellets and other yummy vegetables. It’s so hard to say no to that adorable bunny face when they beg for more. But we have to resist to make sure our rabbit’s eat more hay.
Why is hay so important for rabbits? Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. It keeps their digestion healthy and it prevents rabbit teeth from overgrowing. Eating hay is also a way for pet rabbits to engage in natural behaviors, like foraging and chewing, without damaging anything in your home.
Hay is so important for rabbits, that we should be giving them an unlimited supply. Even if they prefer other foods, rabbits should be munching on hay all day long. Pellets and leafy greens should be limited to encourage rabbits to eat more of the healthy hay. Let’s look into the ways that hay is excellent for a bunny’s health, so that you can make sure you have a happy and healthy bunny companion.
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Hay keeps a rabbit’s gut healthy
Hay should make up a majority of a rabbit’s diet. Their bodies are designed to process high levels of high-fiber foods, like hay. It keeps a rabbit’s gut health balanced and it keeps their digestion moving along speedily. Hay also contains essential nutrients for rabbits to maintain healthy bodies and keep up high energy levels.
An abundance of hay keeps the bacteria in a rabbit’s gut healthy. Your rabbit will be able to produce a healthy balance of fecal pellets (the ‘cocoa puff’ poops) and cecotropes (the poops your rabbit reingests). This means your rabbit will be able to gain nutrients from their diet while they also keep their gut moving at a steady pace.
Prevent GI Stasis
Hay is undeniably important in preventing Gastrointestinal Stasis (GI Stasis) in rabbits. GI Stasis is a condition that occurs when a rabbit’s gut slows down or stops moving. In this state, the rabbit will be unable to poop and therefore unable to eat comfortably. It’s incredibly dangerous and can be fatal if the rabbit does not receive emergency veterinary care.
Keeping your rabbit on a balanced diet with a lot of hay is the best form of prevention for GI Stasis. The high fiber content is necessary to keep their gut moving along at a regular pace. The natural strands of hay are just better equipped to help a rabbit’s digestion than processed pellet rabbit food.
Hay keeps rabbit teeth healthy
Hay is also an essential part of keeping a rabbit’s teeth healthy. Because wild rabbits live on a diet of rough foliage, their teeth evolved to grow continuously throughout their life (like fingernails). This means that without those rough foods as part of their diet, rabbit teeth will grow longer than they should.
Processed rabbit food pellets are not a rough enough food to keep their teeth trimmed down. Rabbits rely on hay as part of their natural diet to keep their teeth healthy and trim. The frequent chewing of the rough strands of hay cause the necessary wear and tear that rabbit teeth need.
Malocclusions are overgrown rabbit teeth. When a rabbit does not have enough to chew on, their teeth become so long that they can no longer eat easily. Overgrown teeth can also cause infections in a rabbit’s skull and bacterial growth in their mouths.
An improper diet isn’t the only cause of Malocclusions, but a diet that’s high in hay is the best way to prevent it. By giving your rabbit the rough strands of hay, their teeth will have enough resistance to wear down simply by eating their daily diet. A variety of chew toys can help a rabbit keep their front incisor teeth trimmed down too, but they won’t be effective in preventing a rabbit’s back cheek teeth from growing too long.
Hay encourages natural rabbit behaviors
Having access to hay also gives rabbits a way to express their natural behaviors in a way that is not destructive. Rabbits are very curious creatures, and it’s important for their mental health to have ways to express that curiosity. Without it, rabbits are much more likely to become depressed or engage in destructive behaviors around the house.
In the wild, rabbits are foragers. They may not need these skills much in their safe environment in your home, but they still have those same natural instincts. Foraging for food is a way to give pet rabbits a form of mental enrichment that keeps them mentally healthy and happy bunnies.
Hay is a much better way to mimic foraging behavior for rabbits than other types of rabbit food. With a pile of hay, rabbits will naturally nose through it until they find the pieces that they like best. It won’t be just a bowl of pellets set in front of them, but instead an adventure for their nose. They can search out and pull at the many strands of hay, deciding which ones to eat.
Rabbits enjoy chewing and munching on any number of items. It’s an important rabbit behavior that likely developed as a way to help them keep their teeth healthy. For our pet rabbits, this means that they can gain a lot by having something to munch on all the time. Chewing on hay can even be a way for rabbits to comfort themselves if they get a little stressed or anxious.
Having a lot of hay to chew on also means that a rabbit is less likely to chew on items that they shouldn’t. Almost all rabbits will be little troublemakers sometimes, but having enough hay to chew on will make them less likely to insistently go after wires, baseboards, and furniture with their teeth.
If rabbits are left alone all day with nothing to chew on or play with, then they will get bored. Bored rabbits can become depressed, irritable, or obnoxious. Without enough hay for enrichment, rabbits are more likely to loudly thump and rattle the sides of their enclosure. They may also become angry and irritated, making them more likely to snap or lunge at you. Sadly, rabbits can also become depressed and lose all their adorable energy and curiosity.
Providing lots of hay can be an excellent way to give your rabbit some mental enrichment and help them continue to be happy bunnies. They can munch on hay all day long to keep from being bored.
You can also use hay in some fun toys for your rabbit to give them even more to play with. Hide treats inside handfuls of hay or even sprinkle some herbs into a rabbit’s hay trough so they can try to find them. This is great mental stimulation for rabbits and helps them eat more hay, giving them a healthy mind and a healthy body.
How much hay should rabbits eat?
There is not a limit on how much hay a rabbit should eat every day. Hay is nearly impossible for rabbits to overeat, so you want to encourage rabbits to eat as much as possible. You’ll want to give your rabbit an unlimited amount of hay everyday. Combined with your rabbit’s daily pellets and leafy greens, hay should make up about 80% of your rabbit’s diet.
“Unlimited” just means that you want to make sure your rabbit never runs out of hay. You may need to do some guesswork at first to see how much they actually eat in a day. Give your rabbit a large pile of hay, but check on it before the end of the day to make sure they don’t run out. Add more if you need to. Eventually you’ll start to get an understanding of how much your rabbit can eat in a day, and you won’t worry about them eating it all before the day is over.
What kind of hay is good for rabbits?
The best kind of hay to give pet rabbits is timothy hay. This kind of hay is high fiber and has very rough strands that are great for rabbit digestion and teeth.
However pretty much any kind of grass-based hay is good for a rabbit’s teeth and digestion. In fact, offering your rabbit multiple types of hays can give them a wider variety of nutrients. It can also provide more mental enrichment as the rabbit forages through different types of hay and enjoys many different flavors.
Some types of grass-based hays to give to your rabbit include:
A common type of hay that you don’t want to give your rabbit on a regular basis is alfalfa hay. Alfalfa is actually not a grass-based hay, it is a legume-hay in the pea family. This kind of hay has a much higher calcium and protein content, that is not great for an adult rabbit diet.
The exception to this rule, however, is young rabbits. Rabbits that are about 6 months and younger should have alfalfa hay as their main food source. Since young rabbits are still growing very rapidly, the high amounts of calcium and protein are good for them.
Where to get fresh hay for rabbits
While you can get hay for your rabbit from pet stores, you’re not going to be able to get fresh and enticing hay. Instead I recommend going straight to the source and finding a local farmer who sells bales of hay.
The other option is to turn to online stores that specialize in hay and natural rabbit products. I get my rabbit’s hay from a store called Small Pet Select and I have been impressed by the quality of their hay. I get fresh green hay from them every time, and my rabbit loves it!
I recommend their 2nd cutting timothy hay for most rabbits. If your bunny is particularly picky, you might want to go for the 3rd cutting timothy hay instead. It’s a little softer, making it easier to eat. They also sell other types of hay, including oat hay and orchard hay.
If you do choose to get your hay from Small Pet Select, you can use the code BUNNYLADY to get 15% off your first order!
- Ramnaraine, Amy. “The Importance of Hay.” House Rabbit Society. March 8, 2017. https://rabbit.org/the-importance-of-hay.