Hay is good for rabbits and is the single most important staple in a rabbit’s diet. In fact, vets recommend that a rabbit’s diet should consist of 80% hay, 10% commercially-prepared fortified dry food pellets and 10% fresh food like vegetables and fruits. A rabbit should eat approximately its own size of hay everyday.
Importance of Hay for Rabbits
Hay keeps a rabbit’s gut moving. A rabbit’s gut needs to be constantly moving, otherwise it may develop a potentially fatal symptom known as gut stasis. Hay is high in fibre and due to its long strands, hay helps to push things through a rabbit’s gut including hair and other items that a rabbit may accidentally ingest.
Hay helps to keep your rabbit’s teeth from becoming overgrown A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing and can grow at a rate of 1 cm per month. if a rabbit does not chew enough, it risks having overgrown teeth which may push towards their eyes impact on their tear ducts. Tooth spurs may also develop, causing pain to the rabbit which then results in them chewing or eating less. As a result, a rabbit gets into a vicious cycle of overgrown teeth.
Different Types of Hay
It’s not uncommon for new pet rabbit owners to wonder what is suitable for their rabbits when there are many types of hay available on the market. We present 4 options here.
Timothy Hay is our top pick of a staple hay for rabbits. It is a thick, coarse hay with good fibre-content. It can come in 1st, 2nd and 3rd cutting, which refers to harvests done within the same growing year.
The 1st cut is the first harvest of the season, usually in late spring. It has a lot of stems and seed heads, and it is the coarsest of all the cuts. It is high in fibre.
The 2nd cut is done about late summer and is a balance blend of leaves and stems. There is a lower level of fibre, but a higher level of fats and proteins.
The 3rd cut is usually in autumn and consists mainly of leaves, making it a much softer hay. The 3rd cut has the highest level of fats and proteins, but lowest in fibre. Generally, timothy hay is easily digested, and is believed to have a higher vitamin content than varieties of hay.
Oaten Hay is readily available in Australia and so is more affordable to most pet rabbit owners. It is high in fibre and fat, while being low in calcium content. The color ranges from green to yellow, depending on when it is harvested. It often has some seed heads attached, which are a big hit with the bunnies. Be aware that these seed heads are fattening. Occasionally the seed heads may be found buried in amongst long fur and pierce a rabbit’s skin, which is a good reason to check on your rabbit’s regularly.
Grass hay is a soft hay, which is high in fibre and low in protein. The strands are a lot finer than oaten hay and a lot softer to chew, and as a result, is a good choice for those rabbits who have dental issues or missing teeth. It is not recommended as a regular staple hay for rabbits due to it being too soft to be useful for wearing down their teeth.
Lucerne hay, known as alfafa hay, is high in calcium. Therefore, it should be fed only in small quantities. Lucerne is good for lactating rabbits and juvenile rabbits (under 6 months) to help them gain weight and improve bone density. Vets do not recommend lucerne hay for long-term use due to its high calcium content as it can cause bladder sludge, kidney or bladder stones. It’s fattening, so you can think of it as akin to feeding chocolate to your rabbits!