Is alfalfa hay for rabbits okay?
Hay is hay, right? Actually, no it’s not – there’s a big difference and it’s important to understand which type to feed your bunnies and when. There are times when your rabbit is going to be better off on timothy hay (a grass hay) and other times when alfalfa hay for rabbits is a good choice.
Legume hay – such as alfalfa and clover – is different from grass hay (such as timothy grass) in various ways. It has a different leaf and root structure, contains more protein (and therefore calories) and calcium than grass hay. It also has less fiber than grass hay. When you look at legume hay you’ll notice that it looks and feels quite a lot different to grass hay. It’s more brittle, with a lot of stalks and may contain alfalfa or clover flowers as well. Alfalfa hay in particular smells very rich. If you feed alfalfa hay to rabbits, they are probably going to like it, but there is some caution that needs to be made here.
Keeping your rabbit’s weight at a controlled level is essential for his or her good health. In fact, it’s essential as obesity in rabbits can be fatal. Therefore, legume hay is only fed sparingly to healthy adult rabbits to give a little variety to their grassy hay, or it makes sense to feed it to rabbits that are in need of the extra calories – in general this means rabbits less than six months of age and pregnant or nursing mothers – unless there are special circumstances advised by your veterinarian.
The high protein and calcium in alfalfa hay also has other effects on rabbits. High protein is hard on the kidneys and too much calcium is associated with the formation of bladder stones.
However, when looking into the best bunny care possible, alfalfa hay can and should be fed as part of your rabbit’s diet in the following circumstances:
1. Bunnies less than six months in age. The extra calcium is necessary for growing bones. Just take care to mix in grass hay with their diet as well, otherwise when the time comes to change them over they may decide they don’t like the taste of timothy!
2. Pregnant or nursing mothers.
3. Undernourished rabbits – such as those that have been rescued, ill or recovering from major surgery.
4. Older rabbits that are enjoying the winter of their years. Some older bunnies develop a reduced appetite, and you might like to consider tempting them with alfalfa hay.
As you can see, most rabbits thrive just fine on regular grass hay. A small amount of alfalfa hay fed every once in awhile to add a little variety is fine, but it shouldn’t be the main course. Always make sure your rabbits have access to high quality timothy hay, that way you know that you’ll be providing your rabbits with the best nutrition possible.
Understanding as much as possible about rabbit nutrition and health is something all of us who love our small pets are keen to know. Here at Small Pet Select we enjoy sharing our knowledge with others, and we’re in the middle of creating a rabbit handbook that’ll cover pretty much everything to do with bunny health, nutrition, common ailments and many FAQ’s.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and till next time, love those rabbits…