I love to share advice and tips gleaned from my own experiences.
Hay, pellets and water are vital element of a rabbit's diet. Together all of these will help keep your rabbit's body in good shape.
A rabbit’s diet needs to include hay as well as pellets because hay is a high fibrous substance that not only helps in the wear and tear of a rabbits teeth over their lifetime but it also encourages movement of food within the intestines.
A high fibre diet ensures that rabbits have regular bowel movements because blockages in the intestine can become serious health problems.
One such condition that can arise which is extremely dangerous for rabbits is Gastrointestinal Stasis. This condition will slow down or stop bowel movements in a rabbit’s intestinal track and lead to a build-up of substances.
If you clean out the rabbit’s hutch or bedding area on a regular basis, you will be aware of their eating and bathroom habits. You will then immediately notice any changes then in their habits which allows you to take immediate action.
It might be something simple that you need to do like changing the brand of pellets or hay that they eat. Or it could an indication of an underlying problem that needs to be dealt with immediately.
According to Beef2Live, California is the largest producer of Alfalfa hay.
What is Hay Made From
The hay that a rabbit eats is either made from a grass or a legume. The difference between the two is the nutritional content of the final product.
Hay made from legume is denser with a higher protein and calcium content.
However, hay made from grass is coarser, has a higher fibre but lower protein and calcium content. This is the hay a rabbit owner is advised to give to their rabbit once they are over 8 months old as part of a balanced diet.
Alfalfa hay which is made from legume is most often given to very young rabbits and very weak rabbits. It helps them gain weight but if it is given to a healthy rabbit, it is done so as a treat and given sparingly.
Other hays like timothy, orchard, oat and meadow hay are given to rabbits once they get older. As hay is a very important part of a rabbits diet and some rabbits can be fussy eaters, some owners will often have to test different types of hay to find one that their rabbit will enjoy.
Nutritional Hay Chart
Rabbit Food Intake
According to the House Rabbit Society, rabbit’s intake of hay must account for 80% of their dietary needs. While other foods such as pellets and greens are also important, it is hay which is often referred to as roughage, which makes up a large part of their diet.
Alfalfa hay is legume hay which is high in protein, high in calcium and low in fibre. It grows well in hot countries and contains a lot of stems as well as leaves with a protein content of up to 16%.
It is a good hay to help increase a rabbit’s weight gain, especially until they are 7 to 8 months old. If a rabbit is sick or needs to be enticed to eat, this hay can also be given to the rabbit to help them get stronger.
This is starter hay and once your rabbit is old enough, you will switch to another hay which is higher in protein and lower in calcium and protein.
Depending on the type of cut you get, this hay will either be long, thick and coarse or short and thin with very few leaves.
Hay harvested from the first cut is very thick and coarse hay. It will have lots of stiff stalks as well as plenty of seed heads within the hay. This hay might be difficult for some rabbits to eat as the strands are thicker and harder to chew. If a rabbit eats this hay, it will help with the wearing down of the rabbit’s teeth, which continuously grow over their lifetime.
The second cut won't be as coarse or as hard as the first cut. This hay is much finer in appearance compared to the first cut and is often the preferred type of hay loved by many rabbits. This cut will mostly contain grass and leaves with the occasional seed head included.
Third cut hay will be a lot finer and softer compared to the first and second cut. This hay will have been harvested in late summer. One disadvantage of this hay is that the protein content isn't as high as the other two cuts. If you are feeding this to your rabbit, it would be better to mix it with another hay to ensure that the rabbit is getting enough fibre.
Some popular brands like Oxbow and Jo Jo Best sell different cuts of hay online. If you are unable to get hay locally in your town it's bet to buy from online sellers.
It will really will come down to what hay your rabbit will enjoy the most as not all rabbits will like the same flavour or brand.
Orchard Grass Hay
Orchard Grass Hay
This hay is also harvested a few times a year but depending on the cut you get, the product will contain coarse stalks with few leaves but some seeds heads or lots of leaves, grasses and little or no seed heads.
If you get the first cut, you can expect to see some stalks with little or no leaves but lots of seed-heads. If you get a second or third cut, you can expect much more grassy hay which is softer and contains more leaves with very little seed heads.
It's very similar in composition to Timothy hay in that it is made from a grass and it is high in fibre, low in protein, and low in calcium.
For fussy rabbits that don't enjoy eating Timothy hay, this might be an alternative hay to use.
Oat hay is high in fibre and low in protein. Some rabbits love eating the husks. When oat hay is harvested the husks are usually still intact.
Depending on when the oat hay is actually harvested, the husks will either not be fully developed and still soft enough to break or fully developed and harder to break.
The earlier this hay is harvested the higher the quality of the hay and the more beneficial it will be nutrition wise.
Barr-Ag Limited is Canada’s leading exporter of timothy hay.
Meadow Grass Hay
Unlike other hays, meadow hay is a combination of different grasses, leaves, flowers, plants and whatever else you would expect to find in a meadow.
When buying meadow hay, choose one that has been harvested early on in the season. Some meadow hay can contain clover which is not good for a rabbit as it leads to gas. If a rabbit has gas they can get a sore tummy which might later lead to a trip to the veterinarian.
Some rabbits love this type of hay as it has a combination of different textures due to the different ingredients within the hay.
This hay can vary in price depending on where you live and might be a cheaper hay alternative.
Top Hay Tips
- Ensure that fresh hay is given to the rabbit on a continuous basis to help wear down their teeth and to ensure that the digestive tract remains unblocked. Rabbits should always have a supply of hay in their feeding area.
- Choose the correct hay for your rabbit. Young rabbits under 8 months should be given Alfalfa hay but once they get older it's best to switch to Oat, Timothy or Orchard Hay or a combination of a few.
- Choose a variety of hay that your rabbit will enjoy. Some hays can have dandelions, herbs or bark included within the hay. Some rabbits might enjoy this but others might hate it. Shop around and try different varieties till you find one that your rabbit will enjoy.
3 Tips for Purchasing Hay Online
- Don't buy hay from websites you don't know because they could be selling a substandard product or a stale product.
- Always check the reviews of a sellers to see how good their product and service is prior to buying anything from them.
- Check online rabbit forums to see feedback from other rabbit owners who have experience relating to purchases from this website.
5 Tips for Buying Hay
- When purchasing hay, try to determine how the hay is cut. You don't want short cuts as this can lead to excessive waste.
- Be cautious when buying pre-packaged hay as you are unsure how long it has been on the shelf. Look at its composition, its colour and its smell prior to purchasing it. Fresh hay has a pleasant smell.
- If the hay looks to be very loose, has short cut stalks and appears very fine, it could be hay that was harvested later in the season or it cut be a lower quality product which means lower fibre content.
- Hay colour can vary between green and gold. Any other colour could be an indication that it's poorer quality hay. Some varieties harvested later in the season could have being baled while wet and then left to dry in the field which could account for its colour.
- Make sure that the hay doesn't contain dust as this could be a sign that it's an old batch or out of date hay.
Farmers store their hay in sheds without any packaging but away from water and sunlight.
It's important to keep your hay in a cool area free from dampness, sunlight and heat.
Also hay should be stored loosely in a bin or some other container which allows air to circulate within it.
Where to buy Hay
There are a number of ways you can purchase hay for your bunny rabbit. If you live in the countryside, you could look for local farms that sell bales of hay for horses.
If you live in a town or a city and don't have farms in your locality, then try looking on Amazon or from other well-known online pet stores.
The final place where you could buy hay from is your local pet store.
It's best to shop around and see which works out the cheapest for you in the long run.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Sp Greaney
Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on May 21, 2018:
@Louise Powles, they are very adorable pets.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 19, 2018:
Unfortunately I don't have a pet rabbit, but I would love one. They are such lovely little animals.
Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on May 04, 2018:
@Chitrangada Sharan, thank you. They are definitely a pet that will bring you lots of joy.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 03, 2018:
Nice, informative article, about Rabits as pets, and what they should be fed.
I don’t have Rabits as pets, right now, but I have a desire to keep one in future, and your suggestions would be very helpful then.
Thanks for sharing this excellent information!
Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on May 02, 2018:
@Mary Norton, they are so popular now as pets.
@Abubakar Mughal, thank you.
Abubakar Mughal on May 02, 2018:
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 01, 2018:
I don't have a rabbit but other family members have. I have not hands on about feeding them but I will pass on the information you gave here.