Rabbits are herbivores that enjoy eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and berries. However, about 80% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of dried hay and grass. But is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
Rabbits can eat hay until they’re full without any notable side effects. It is recommended to keep a full stock of hay on hand for a pet rabbit. Hay makes up the majority of a rabbit’s diet and it’s necessary to maintain healthy teeth and keep their digestive system in good shape.
There are some foods that rabbits will overeat on, but hay isn’t one of them! The high fiber content and rough texture are perfect for their diet and the maintenance of their teeth. To explore some additional benefits of hay, the best types to use, and storage ideas, read on below.
Hay Health Benefits
Rabbits are herbivores and grazers by nature. They may not eat big meals all at once, but prefer to nibble on their food throughout the day. Having hay constantly available will satisfy several instinctual habits that your rabbits have.
First of all, it addresses their diet. Although pellets are available, the majority of a rabbit’s diet should be dry hay. Eating small portions throughout the day will keep their digestive system full and stimulated.
Rabbits tend to develop hairballs as well, and these can get stuck in their digestive system if it isn’t constantly processing something. Hay provides the main nutrients that rabbits require, as well as high fiber content.
Rabbits require a fibrous diet for many reasons. First of all, it is good for their nutrition and digestion. Rabbits have sensitive digestive systems, and food that has too much protein, sugar, or carbs can cause their digestive bacteria to grow out of control and make them sick.
Hay is low in calories but high in fiber. This combination makes it safe for rabbits to eat a lot of hay without trouble. Fiber also helps keep their teeth ground down to the proper length and their digestive tracks moving. It’s one reason hay is the go-to food to give if you notice your rabbit has diarrhea. Check out the 10 Best Foods For Rabbits With Diarrhea to solve this health problem if this is something your rabbit is struggling with.
Rabbits have teeth that will grow without interruption. To keep them at a healthy length and size, rabbits need to chew on tough, fibrous materials such as chew toys and hay to keep their teeth from overgrowth.
See my articles Do Rabbit Teeth Grow Back if They Fall Out? and Ever Wonder Why Rabbit’s Teeth Keep Growing? to give you some more answers! The common “bucktooth” characteristic that is so popular in rabbits is, of course, one of their most distinctive characteristics…but why? And is it healthy?
Aside from the health benefits, your rabbits will also enjoy nibbling on hay from time to time to alleviate boredom and satisfy their desire to chew. One habit that rabbits and humans share is that when we’re bored, we sometimes just end up snacking!
Hay is a safe food that rabbits should always have access to. Many other foods should be closely monitored and regulated, but rest assured that hay is 100% safe for rabbits at any time!
Rabbits should also have a supply of clean water available 24/7. This is another important part of a healthy digestive system, so make sure their water setup is easy for them to access.
5 Best Hay Varieties for Rabbits
Even though it seems simple, there’s more that goes into that than you might expect! Hay is basically a collection of dried grasses, and it’s a good idea to offer your rabbit a mixed variety. This will help balance out their nutrition, as well as keep their diet a bit more interesting.
Hay is different from straw though, so make sure you’re getting the correct type. Straw is hollow and yellow/gold in color. It offers very little in terms of nutrition, although rabbits may still chew it from time to time.
Hay is made up of long, leaf-like stalks and stems. It is also more green/grey in color. Hay is just grass that has been cut, collected, and dried.
Timothy hay is one of the most popular options available for rabbit food. It’s considered to be the best all-around option, but the other varieties of hay can be great as a supplement or replacement if your rabbit won’t eat it.
Timothy has a high fiber and low protein content, making it great for rabbits to snack on anytime throughout the day.
Most timothy hay varieties include a mix of the leaves and stems of the grass. It’s a dried food item and most options are organic, without any pesticides or chemical preservatives.
Orchard hay is cool-season hay, and it has a softer texture compared to timothy hay. They both have a similar ratio in terms of high fiber and low protein, but orchard hay has a higher dose of calcium.
Orchard hay also has a distinctive sweet smell. This, plus the softer texture, can make orchard hay a great choice for picky rabbits.
Oat hay is very similar to timothy hay and is a variety of hay that is safe and delicious to rabbits. It offers just a tiny bit less fiber and a tiny bit more protein than timothy, but the two are very similar otherwise.
Some extra dried seed-heads are included in oat hay as well!
Rabbits who don’t like timothy hay might find that they develop a liking for oat hay. Try to introduce your rabbit to both varieties, and rest assured that either option is totally safe for them to eat.
Meadow hay isn’t a specific type of hay, but rather a mashup of multiple different types of grass, hays, and other plants. Think of it as a green salad for rabbits!
The variety of meadowgrass can make this hay more intriguing to your rabbit and it’s also easy to get ahold of meadow hay in most areas.
There is a wide selection of meadow grass options, but they also come with varying degrees of nutrition and health benefits. Meadow grass can be a bit of a mixed bag, but it could also be a great supplement to your rabbit’s hay routine!
Finally, there’s alfalfa hay. This is good starter hay for young rabbits as they need the extra calories and nutrients it provides. It also gets your rabbit used to the idea of eating hay!
However, according to the experts at VCA Animal Hospitals, alfalfa should not be fed to adult rabbits because of its high protein and calcium. Once your rabbit is more than 7 months old, you should start switching their alfalfa hay to a new variety, such as timothy hay.
Storage and Feeding Setups
So now we know that hay should be readily available to your rabbit at all hours of the day. But what’s the best way to give it to your rabbit, but also make sure it doesn’t get everywhere?
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution to this problem. No matter what we do, it’s likely that hay is going to end up on the floor of the pen! Rabbits love to pull hay out, chew on it, and then leave loose pieces on the ground.
This isn’t always a bad thing though! Extra hay can serve as bedding for your rabbit, as well as pad the ground for their sensitive feet.
If you use dried straw as a bedding/padding material, it’s actually a good idea to put a layer of hay on top of it. This will prevent your rabbit from snacking on the straw, which isn’t very healthy for them.
There are a few ways to serve hay to your cotton-tailed friend though. Feeders can be bought online, at pet stores, or even made at home!
Curious about how to store other types of rabbit food? See How to Store Rabbit Pellets – the Do’s and Don’ts to help ensure you and your rabbit get the most out of the pellets you are providing!
Hay feeders can be made of plastic, wood, metal, cloth, or any combination of the 4.
If you want a small, simple device that’s perfect for a rabbit enclosure, I recommend the Mkono Hay Feeder. This is an upright plastic box with a wireframe in the front. This makes it easy for the rabbits to see and access the hay, but it also keeps it contained in a small area so it’s harder to make a mess.
For more information on this feeder, including price, dimensions, and delivery options, see the Mkono Hay Feeder on Amazon here.
Another good option is a hanging cloth bag like the Geegoods Rabbit Hay Feeder Bag. This bag is bite-resistant and it has a couple of openings that rabbits can pull hay through. This is great for indoor and outdoor enclosures and it can’t be tipped over. It’s also easy to refill because it can be opened from the top.
For more information on this feeder, including price, dimensions, and delivery options, see the Geegoods Rabbit Hay Feeder Bag on Amazon here.
If you’re drawn to a more DIY approach, there are many easy ways to make a homemade hay feeder for your rabbits. Below is a walkthrough video for one of my favorite designs. All you need is a plastic storage bin, a couple of metal hooks, and a drill to make a couple of holes.
This craft is cheap, simple, and quick to assemble. It will also hold up well over time, and the clear material of the plastic makes it easy to get your rabbits interested in the food inside.
Once you’ve got a feeder bought or assembled, all you need to do is make sure it stays full of delicious, nutritious hay! Your rabbits will be happier and healthier if they have constant access to hay.