Rabbit hay is simply the most important item that you can feed your pet. In fact, because of the way a rabbit’s digestive system is designed, without it there is a good chance a pet rabbit won’t survive.
Because of this, it’s natural that rabbit owners want to be sure that they’re doing the very best for their pet in the hay that they feed. And the choice of hay you make for your pet is not only vital for their health, but makes up the greater part of the money you spend on the rabbit’s nutritional needs. There are so many factors to consider when considering your rabbit’s food and nutrition, but hay is at the very core if their diets.
Not only this, but all hays are not made equal. So whilst buying hay might at first seem a straightforward and simple action, having a little knowledge about what you’re spending your hard earned dollars on will both ensure the best fodder for your rabbit and mean that you get the best value for your money as well.
Why do we Feed a Rabbit Hay?
There are two main reasons why we feed a rabbit hay. They are as follows:
Rabbit Hay – Reason #1: As a High Fiber Food
To this day rabbits exist in the wild and their digestive systems are perfectly adapted to this lifestyle. Rabbits are grazing animals; they munch away on grasses and vegetable matter for a greater proportion of the day and night (although in the wild rabbits will be most active during the hours of dusk and dawn).
The high fiber food they eat throughout each 24 hour cycle means that the rabbit constantly has food moving through his digestive system (or gut). Fiber, in exactly the same way as it does with humans, draws water into the gut, allowing the body to draw the nutrients it needs and ensures that the waste matter remains soft enough to travel on through to be passed as droppings.
If a rabbit doesn’t get this vital fiber on a daily basis, what happens is that the movement of the food through the digestive system slows down. The worst case scenario is that it can stop altogether, leading to a dangerous condition that’s known as gastrointestinal stasis (GI stasis for short). It’s a serious illness and one that can cause the death of a rabbit in just a few hours.
Happily, we can easily provide our pets with the necessary fiber they need to prevent this by simply feeding a rabbit hay.
Hay, after all, is dried grass. And fresh or dried in the form of hay, grass provides exactly what your rabbit needs to keep his digestive system working in the way it should.
Rabbit Hay – Reason #2: Bunny Teeth: An Ever-Growing Issue
Another miracle of evolution is the way that Mother Nature gives her creatures the tools they need to cope with their lifestyle. The constant munching of grasses and other matter in the wild meant that naturally a rabbit’s teeth became worn down with use. So what better way to deal with this than for their teeth to constantly renew?
Rabbit teeth grow throughout their life, and this is another reason that they need to be constantly chewing, in order to keep those gnashers wearing down on a daily basis. Now, our pet rabbits don’t have the need to munch on as many tough items as their wild relatives, simply because we provide them with hay and other food each day, and they don’t have to make do with whatever food they can find in times of scarcity.
However, they do need to use those ever-growing teeth each and every day to grind them down. And by providing your rabbit hay to eat every day you provide him with his daily dental workout.
If a rabbit’s teeth don’t get worn down sufficiently they can grow to excess – a condition known as malocclusion.
This is a serious problem, where the teeth grow either too long, or unevenly, becoming sharp and causing injury to the tongue and inside of the teeth. If this becomes too severe it will cause the rabbit to stop eating, simply because he’s unable to chew. Exactly the same as with GI stasis, the condition of malocclusion – if left untreated – can be fatal. Read more about why hay is so important for your rabbit.
History of Hay
Humans have fed hay to various different species of animals back for as long as we’ve kept animals for work and a food source. In the past, hay was generally produced and fed to animals such as horses and cattle during the winter months when fresh grass was scarce. But now hay is fed to many other animals – such as our rabbits – and other small pets as well.
The farmers who produce rabbit hay and hay for other animals have generally inherited this skill from their fathers and forefathers. And making hay really is a skill, and although machinery and technology have made the process somewhat easier over the centuries, the general process remains that same as it ever was.
- Growing the hay
- Cutting the hay
- Drying the hay
- Storing the hay
Grass grows strongly during the late spring and early summer months. The skill of the farmer will determine exactly when the point of cutting arrives. He’ll look at various issues, including the flowering of the grasses, percentage of moisture in the grass and, very importantly, the weather at the time. This is because after cutting, the grass has to lie on the ground exposed to the elements to begin the drying out process. Being doused in torrential rain at this point will make the finished hay product of much lower quality than if the sun is shining.
The next step is storage. Thanks to equipment such as baling machines, this is a far less laborious process than that of years gone by, when farmers had to stack hay by hand and then tie it into bundles before hauling it by horse and cart to safe storage.
Even the storage of hay is an art, because once stacked the hay will continue to dry out. It needs to be stacked and stored in the correct manner and in a dry area to ensure this process continues. Get it wrong and the hay can become dusty, moldy and even unusable, meaning the farmer loses out on his whole crop.
Different Types of Rabbit Hay
Hay for bunnies can be found in two different types:
- Grass Hay
- Legume Hay
Of course, both of these are dried grass, but this is where the similarities end. Choosing which type of rabbit hay your pet needs depends on many circumstances. We take a look at these in the following section, but right now let’s discuss the difference between legume hay and grass hay.
Unsurprisingly made of grass, there’s an abundance of different grasses that can be used to produce this kind of hay. But in terms of rabbit hay, the most common type used is timothy grass, so making the produce that we know as timothy hay.
Timothy hay for rabbits has become a popular option among pet owners, because it provides exactly what your pet needs to give him both the fiber he requires and the daily dental workout to grind down those teeth. The stalks of the hay are tough yet pliable, and the calorie and protein content is lower than that of legume hay. Timothy is the most common type of rabbit hay you’ll find sold in pet stores and other outlets.
Hay is determined by the types of plants that make it up, and a legume hay is higher in protein and energy than a grass hay. In general, this tends to be a plant called alfalfa – and it’s often referred to as just this. This hay is richer and higher in calories than a grass hay, and only fed at certain points in a rabbit’s life.
Alfalfa hay looks somewhat different to a grass hay, containing dried flowers and is usually a darker green color and softer to the touch.
What Type of Hay does my Rabbit Need?
Rabbits, exactly the same as humans, have nutritional needs that alter throughout their lives. This will, naturally, have a direct effect on the food and hay that you feed your pet.
Times of Increased Energy Needs
Every rabbit owner needs to keep in mind that there might be certain times when their pet requires extra energy in their diet. Of course, very often your veterinary surgeon can advise on this, but in general the following might be times when you might need to feed a rabbit hay of a higher protein and calorie source.
- Growing rabbits. When a rabbit’s first born and in the first few months of his life it takes a huge amount of energy to grow. Rather like human babies, this crucial growing perios is vitally important for future health, and the extra calories in alfalfa hay helps to ensure this.
- Pregnant and nursing mothers. For both the mother and the babies, extra energy is needed not only whilst pregnant, but after birth as well for the mother to produce the necessary milk to feed her young.
- Poorly and rehabilitating rabbits. Times of injury or illness are very often a time when a rabbit requires extra energy to regain full health. Alfalfa is often necessary to feed on these occasions, providing your rabbit with those vital extra calories to help with the recovery period.
- Geriatric rabbits. It’s often the case that as a rabbit gets older he might lose his appetite somewhat, leading to an issue with keeping on enough weight. Feeding alfalfa hay at this time of his life might be something that’s necessary to consider.
Apart from the circumstances mentioned above, in general most rabbits need timothy hay, as opposed to alfalfa, in their diet.
What to Look for in a Good Timothy Grass Hay for My Rabbit
Once you’ve seen top quality timothy grass rabbit hay you’ll never mistake it for a poor quality one. However, the challenge for many rabbit owners is to find good quality hay in the first place, as much of what is sold as suitable for rabbits can be very much sub-standard.
Good quality timothy grass hay versus poor quality
|Good Quality Timothy Hay||Poor Quality Timothy Hay|
|Green in color||Brown or yellow in color|
|Smells sweet & fragrant||Little or no smell|
|No sign of dust or mold||Dusty and/or mold spots (black or white specks)|
|Pliable fibrous stalks||Stalks break or crumble to the touch|
|Contains only hay||Contains foreign matter such as stones, dirt, earth and other plants|
But undoubtedly the one thing that will tell you the difference between a sub-standard rabbit hay and a top quality one is the way that your rabbit tucks into it! Once you’ve seen how voraciously a rabbit munches into a pile of best timothy hay, you’ll never want to feed him anything other than this. Not only does he enjoy it, but you’ll see huge difference in the amount of wastage – because he won’t leave any of it!
And this is possibly one of the most important aspects of buying rabbit hay; because the last thing any of us want is to waste money on what we purchase. So even if the initial cost of buying a top quality rabbit hay might be a little dearer, in the long run you actually save money because what you have to throw away is minimal. Not to mention the satisfaction you get from providing your pet with the very best nutrition possible.
Where to Buy Top Quality Rabbit Hay
The biggest challenge facing any rabbit owner is finding a reliable and affordable source of best quality hay. For whilst it’s true that you can easily purchase hay at the local pet store, very often the quality is somewhat to be desired!
While there are many contributing factors to this, one of the main reasons boils down to the following;
- And that is that hay is a very fragile product.
Hay is, after all, simply dried grass. And exactly the same as any plant, fruit or vegetable, every time it’s handled, transported and packaged it undergoes stress. And this stress damages it to some extent. Mass production of rabbit hay doesn’t really take this into account. This means that the product that reaches your rabbit is often of a very different quality than that which originally left the farmer’s field.
And the difficulty for many owners is to find a reliable supplier of rabbit hay; and not only reliable, but one who’s providing hay specifically for rabbits and other small pets.
But…if you’re looking for the best place to get your rabbits hay, then look no further…
Small Pet Select now offers a service to buy timothy hay online that’s been selected, produced, packaged and shipped specifically for rabbits and other small pets. With quality, service and ease at the top of our customer satisfaction process, at last rabbit owners throughout the nation can get their hands on hay that’s not only as Mother Nature intended, but that your pets will absolutely love eating.
Rabbit Hay Summary
So, you can see that the subject of hay is both complex and interesting, and as responsible rabbit owners we need to take the health and welfare of our pets very seriously. Hopefully this paper on rabbit hay will have given you an insight into the most important aspects of hay – and it’s something that we at Small Pet Select take extremely seriously.
We’re dedicated to providing rabbit owners with the very best information possible to aid you in the best welfare of your pets. Not only that, but happy pets = happy owners – and the reason we keep our rabbits in the first place is because of the joy they bring to our lives. So have fun, and don’t forget:
Till next time, love those bunnies….