The Importance of Hay
in Your Rabbit's Diet
Rabbits need to eat hay because its high fiber content helps keep their digestive tracts moving, as well as keep their teeth ground down (because otherwise their teeth will just keep growing!).
Not just any hay should be fed to your rabbit. Rabbits should be fed Timothy or Orchard Grass hay, and it should be fed in unlimited quantities.
General food stuff ratio for your rabbit’s diet should be:
- 80% Timothy or Orchard Grass hay
- 10% Fresh Foods
- 5% Timothy-based pellets
- 0 to 5% Fruit treats.
- And of course, fresh water available and accessible 24/7.
The most common rabbit health problems are gastrointestinal issues and dental disease. Improper nutrition is often the key contributing factor in each of these widespread problems. Feeding 80% hay is preventative health care.
Why do Rabbits Need to Eat Hay?
Facts About Hay and Rabbits
The fiber in hay keeps cecal flora in balance, promoting a healthy gut
Because hay helps keep rabbits’ guts moving, it also helps prevent fur blockages in the intestines (especially important for Angora and long-haired breeds)
Repetitive, rapid chewing movements of eating hay helps maintain dental health
Rabbits eat hay to satisfy natural snacking and chewing urges
Hay provides a key nutritional component of your rabbit’s diet
Having access to free-choice hay encourages natural behaviors such as foraging & grazing, which may diminish boredom, increase activity, and provide a sense of security
Why do Rabbits Need to Eat Hay?
Types of Hay Explained
Adult rabbits need low protein and calcium hays. Examples include grass hays such as Timothy, Orchard, Meadow, and Bermuda Grass. These are the best hays to feed your rabbit.
House Rabbit Resource Network recommends Timothy Hay as most rabbits’ main hay staple.
Some people find they’re allergic to timothy hay; if you’re one of those who suffer from allergies, Orchard Grass Hay is a good alternative. Bermuda is another grass hay that some rabbits prefer.
Alfalfa or Clover Hays
You may have heard to feed your rabbit Alfalfa or Clover hays, and while these types are tasty for rabbits, they are far too rich in protein and calcium to be fed freely to healthy, adult rabbits. Feeding Alfalfa or Clover hay to adult rabbits can lead to “urine sludge” and in severe cases cause the urine to become paste-like and kidney and bladder stones develop.
Baby rabbits should be fed alfalfa hay because they need the extra protein and calcium, but consult with your veterinarian to know when to switch over to Timothy hay at the correct time.
Orchard Grass Hay
Orchard Grass Hay is the softest hay, making it popular with picky eaters and is a great alternative if your rabbit is allergic to Timothy Hay. It is high in fiber and low in protein and calcium which is ideal for keeping the digestive tracts of rabbits functioning properly.
Orchard Grass, like Timothy Hay, can be fed free-choice to your rabbits and should be a mainstay of their diet. Free-choice feeding means that the hay is constantly available and the rabbits can balance their own diet, without increased risk of weight gain or digestion issues.
Where To Purchase Hay
At House Rabbit Resource Network (located in Pflugerville, TX), we sell Timothy Hay and Orchard Grass Hay in different sizes at our Bunny Boutique Shop. Unfortunately, we cannot ship hay due to the cost of shipping being far too high.
Another great option is to order hay online and have it dropped at your doorstep from Small Pet Select. (Click the below button to get 15% off your order and HRRN gets a donation!).
Small Pet Select sells quality Timothy Hay, rabbit pellets that are correctly formulated for house rabbits (as opposed to many feed stores that sell meat and show rabbit pellets that are far too high in fat and protein), toys, and treats for all your house rabbit needs.
They also have a great blog that has a ton of interesting articles related to all things bunny. One of our favorites is their article about the different types of “cuts” of hay and their coinciding fiber content.
Check out: Hay Basics
Oxbow Hay Company
Oxbow Hay Company sells Timothy Hay, rabbit pellets, treats, and pretty much all things you need for your bunny, and once again you can have it all shipped right to your door.
Oxbow also hosts a blog with helpful articles, as well as educational videos.
Diet Related Health Problems
Watch the Poop
It sounds silly, or maybe gross, but it is recommended to always keep an eye on your bunny’s excrement.
A rabbit’s feces should be plentiful, round like peas and of a uniform size and shape. No feces or a lot fewer than usual, misshapen feces, or those strung together with hair (“pearls”) may mean something’s “off” internally and your bunny needs to see a vet.
If there are no feces for 12-24 hours contact your vet immediately.
You can read more about how to identify problems in your rabbit by their feces by reading our article “Good Poop vs Bad Poop”.
Watch Your Rabbit's Body Language
Watch for subtle signs in your bunny. Anytime a rabbit stops eating, drinking, or looks crunched in on themselves, it’s a red flag and reason for concern. They’re most likely in pain and need to see a vet immediately.
Even if your rabbit seems bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with everything appearing normal, but they’ve suddenly stopped eating either all food, or even just one of the items in their diet, they could be having some teeth issues (known as Malocclusion) and need to see a vet.
When a rabbit doesn’t eat their food and also seems lethargic or uninterested in their food, this is a sign something is wrong. You can try the Crainraisin Test by offering your rabbit a cranraisin, AKA dried cranberry. Almost all healthy rabbits will gobble a cranraisin right up. A rabbit who denies a cranraisin may be experiencing Gut Stasis and need to see a vet asap.