There’s no denying that hay is a super important part of any rabbit’s diet. High-quality hay has lots of fiber to keep your bun’s digestive system going and is fantastically yummy (to say the least). While Timothy hay is the classic choice, but alfalfa hay for rabbits is also a healthy choice. How will you ever choose between the many different types of hay? We know… it can get confusing.
That’s where we come in. We’ll help you understand the differences between these two hays, along with other popular picks, and then we’ll explain which hay is best for your rabbit.
Timothy Hay for Rabbits
Most rabbit owners feed their bunnies Timothy hay because it’s considered the “gold standard” of nutrition. It comes in three different cuttings and each one has their benefits. Timothy hay is a go-to staple in any happy bunny’s diet.
The three cuttings of Timothy hay are 1st cutting, 2nd cutting, and 3rd cutting:
- 1st cutting Timothy hay is full of fiber and is the perfect pick for buns that may have GI issues or who need to lose a little weight. 1st cutting is high in stem and low in leaf, meaning that it isn’t quite as soft as 2nd cutting Timothy hay, but it’s still delish. Any hungry bun will eat it up.
- 2nd cutting Timothy hay is a perfectly balanced for any bunny because it has great amounts of fiber, protein, and fat. This everyday hay is an example of the high-quality hay that should make up 80% of your bunny’s diet. It helps clean teeth, gives something to forage for, keeps the GI tract moving, and so many other great benefits. For how delicious 2nd cutting Timothy hay is, we might even try some ourselves… no joke. Well, maybe slightly joking.
- 3rd cutting Timothy hay is super soft, super green, and high in leaf. This cutting has lower levels of fiber, but higher levels protein and fat, which makes it the perfect hay for buns who need to gain a little weight, baby bunnies, or any bunny that’s looking for a delicious treat. 3rd cutting Timothy hay can be fed alone or used to mix up your rabbit’s hay game so they don’t get bored. You might be surprised how fast they munch this stuff up.
Good Timothy hay can make a world of difference for your bunny’s health. But, there are many other types of hay for rabbits.
Alfalfa Hay for Rabbits
Sometimes, whether due to health issues or just a picky bun, alfalfa hay is better for rabbits. But, there are some things to consider. Alfalfa hay is much higher in protein and calcium than Timothy hay, which is why it’s often given to baby buns to help them grow big and strong. The rich nutrition facts of alfalfa hay give these little ones everything they need to grow into healthy, happy bunnies.
The higher calcium levels in alfalfa hay, though, can actually be dangerous for an adult bun if they’re fed too much. Bunnies metabolize calcium and get rid of the excess in their urine, but this can cause urinary stones if they’re getting more than they need. Alfalfa hay has about 1.2% calcium, while Timothy hay only has 0.4%.
But this doesn’t mean that alfalfa is a bad hay. It’s really rich and high in all those goodies, which makes it the perfect treat hay to mix into your rabbit’s food here and there. In the wild, your bunny would eat a bunch of different hays as they’re exploring around, so we hoomans need to mix up their diet to keep things interesting. Feeding alfalfa hay for rabbits is one delicious way to do that.
The Differences Between Timothy and Alfalfa Hay
One of the reasons why alfalfa hay is so much richer and higher in calcium than Timothy hay is because it’s a legume hay and Timothy belongs to the grass family. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Isn’t all hay the same?” Nope. It’s not. There are actually many differences between the two and these differences are what make feeding alfalfa hay for rabbits such a hot topic.
Legume hay, like alfalfa hay, is super rich because it is:
- Higher in protein
- Higher in calcium
- Higher in fat
- Higher in calories
- More dense
You can also think of legume hay as being similar to the legumes we eat as humans, like beans and lentils. Yes, legumes are a super source of protein and fiber, but they pack calories and we wouldn’t want to eat them for every meal.
Grass hay is more common to feed bunnies than alfalfa hay for rabbits because it has:
- Less protein
- Fewer calories
- More balanced nutrition
Examples of grass hay are: Timothy, orchard and oat. Also, you can feed more grass hay to bunnies without worrying as much if they will be eating too many calories or gaining too much weight.
The Cases for Each Type of Hay
Good quality, hand-selected hay is the goal, whether it’s Timothy, orchard, or alfalfa hay for rabbits. But, each type of hay suits different types of bunnies.
Alfalfa hay should be fed to bunnies less than a year old who are growing like crazy and have extra nutritional needs. The high levels of calcium, protein, fat, and fiber in alfalfa make it a great choice for these hungry little babies. You can also feed alfalfa hay to pregnant or nursing bunnies to give them the extra good stuff they need to raise their little ones. But you should stop feeding alfalfa hay after about a year because of the considerations mentioned above.
Alfalfa hay also makes a delicious treat for those lucky bunnies. Its rich, decadent flavor makes it nearly irresistible and it’ll be gobbled up in no time. Even the pickiest buns will be interested in eating if a little alfalfa is sprinkled in from time to time.
Timothy is a good all-around hay for the general dietary needs of bunnies. It has balanced levels of protein, fat, and fiber and will help keep your bunny happy and healthy. If, for some reason, your little fuzzy refuses to eat Timothy, you could try orchard or oat hay. With so many selections, you’re sure to find one your rabbit loves.
Many bunny parents ask themselves: “Which is better, Timothy hay or alfalfa hay for rabbits?” Now, you can see the difference between these two common types. Timothy is a great everyday hay for adult buns, while alfalfa hay should only be fed as a treat hay because of its high levels of calcium and fat. It can also be fed to baby buns less than a year old and used to entice even the pickiest little bunny to eat their greens.