Hay is an essential part of any rabbit’s diet.
It should be fed in large quantities and replenished daily. Here are some providers of quality hay for house rabbits.
For many rabbits, the litter box serves a dual purpose – the obvious, as well as healthy snack time.
Essential for your rabbits, but not always easy to find, so here are some tips
Importance of Hay to Rabbits
Once a rabbit finds hay that they like, they can’t get enough!
Hay is the most important part of your rabbit’s diet, and high-quality hay should be available at all times. Consumption of hay keeps their sensitive digestive systems moving, helping to avoid the serious condition of GI (gastrointestinal) stasis. The roughness of the hay also helps to wear down a rabbit’s teeth, preventing development of sharp points known as molar spurs.
Because rabbits like to eat while they are using their litter box, it is often convenient to keep a handful of clean hay available at one end of their litter box. If your rabbit is like mine, and ends up nesting in it rather than eating it, you might find it less messy to attach a hay rack to the side of their cage.
Types of Hay
Timothy Hay or Orchard Grass: Best for most rabbits. (For rabbits who are under age 1 or pregnant/nursing, see Alfalfa Hay). Either First Cut or Second Cut hay, as long as it was properly harvested and stored, is good for your rabbit. Some will prefer one over the other, so you may have to experiment. Hay should be greenish in color (not yellow/brown), clean, dry and free of dust and mold.
- First Cut. The first hay harvest of the year, this hay is coarse and includes many stems and seed heads. If you are allergic to hay, opt instead for Second Cut Timothy or try Orchard Grass.
- Second Cut. This is the second hay harvest of the year. Softer than first cut, it includes more leaves and fewer stems or seed heads. It often has a higher percentage of crude protein and fat, and a lower percentage of crude fiber than First Cut.
- Third Cut. If there is time for a third hay harvest of the year, the third cutting is very soft, primarily leaves and small stems. It may be more palatable to picky rabbits, but it is not as effective as First or Second Cut in providing the roughage that a rabbit needs. A better option for picky rabbits may be to mix some Orchard Grass with First or Second Cut Timothy Hay.
Oat Hay. Typically coarser than First Cut Timothy Hay, and the nutritional value is slightly lower. Oat Hay should be mostly green, but starting to turn honey-colored. Mix it with Timothy Hay or Orchard Grass as a little treat for your bunnies.
Alfalfa Hay. Typically suitable only for young (under age 1) rabbits or pregnant/nursing does, Alfalfa Hay provides the high calorie content needed for their development. On the advice of a vet, it may be suitable for an elderly rabbit. Alfalfa Hay is higher in calcium and protein than Timothy Hay. If fed to a typical adult rabbit, it can cause urinary/kidney problems and can cause obesity. Thus, after age 7-12 months, it is best to switch your bunnies to Timothy Hay or Orchard Grass.
Sources of Hay
By the Bale: If you have a place to properly store a full bale of hay, this is likely to be your most economical option for providing hay to your rabbit. Be sure that you are buying horse-quality hay, not cow quality, since horses (like rabbits) have much more sensitive digestive systems than cows. Please also keep in mind that hay from the same source might vary in quality year-in and year-out based on many factors. If you buy hay locally by the bale, examine it for color (more green than brown). It should be clean, dry, and have a fresh smell.
Hay cannot be grown year-round in most climates, so it must be harvested and stored. If not properly stored in a dry place, or not properly dried before baled, it can get moldy and unsuitable for your rabbits. Also, hay must be stored by the farmer, vendor and buyer in an area that raccoons do not have access to (a parasite in raccoon poop–raccoon roundworm–can affect rabbits). Finding a year-round source of hay that is properly harvested and stored is very important for the rabbit caregiver.
Once you bring it home, hay is best stored in a cool, dry location away from sunlight (e.g. garage, shed or dry basement). Store in a box or other container that is not completely air tight, so the hay can breathe. For example, I store my bale in a cardboard box, or on my garage floor draped in an old bed sheet. Do not transfer the baled hay to sealed plastic bags or airtight containers.
By the Package: If you do not have a cool, dry place to store a full bale of hay (a bale can be as much as 4 feet long by 2 feet wide by 16 inches high), then most local and online pet stores sell it by the package. Favorite brands are Oxbow and Sweet Meadow. Save some money by watching for coupons or signing up for frequent-shopper programs.
Try mixing some Oat Hay with your Timothy Hay and/or Orchard Grass. Oxbow also sells Botanical Hay that can be an enticing mix-in for your bunny.
As the most important food item in your bunny’s healthy diet, wherever you find your hay, keep it clean, keep it fresh, keep it dry, and make it always available to your treasured furry friend!
Please do not shop where rabbits are sold. If you see a rabbit for sale (i.e., not a rescue’s adoption arrangement), politely tell the manager that you will buy your pet supplies elsewhere until they no longer sell rabbits.
Please always remember to check the quality of your hay if purchasing by the bale. Bale quality will vary throughout the year and from vendor to vendor depending on a variety of factors. If the hay is not dry, fresh smelling, free of mold and mostly green in color, then please do not purchase for your rabbit. Hay quality by the package is usually reliable, since brands like Oxbow, Sweet Meadow, KayTee, etc., adhere to their own standards before packaging for sale.