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a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

Hay for Rabbits: 19 Answered Questions 

When it comes to your beloved rabbits, do you ever stress over their diet? We understand. As experts in our field, we have compiled an article that answers the most common questions concerning hay for rabbits. And if you’re searching for organic, quality hay, we at Blue Mountain Hay, have you covered. 

Ready to become a hay expert?! We thought so. 

a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

Is hay good for rabbits? 

Yes, hay is wonderful for rabbits! It’s an essential and highly beneficial component of a rabbit’s diet. A few of the overall benefits of hay for rabbits include the following: 

  • High-fiber content
  • Proper digestion 
  • Helps prevent gastrointestinal issues 
  • Promotes dental health 
  • Natural foraging behaviors 
  • Keep mental stimulation going 
  • Creates a well-rounded diet 
a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

High fiber content 

The fiber-rich aspect of hay helps regulate a rabbit’s weight, preventing obesity and related health issues. In contrast, rabbits that have a “high-carbohydrate/low-fiber diet” may contract gastric stasis; thus, it is imperative that rabbits receive a diet of up to 90 percent hay.  

Proper digestion 

The fibrous content of hay promotes proper digestion by moving food through the digestive system, helping to ensure the absorption of essential nutrients.

a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

Helps prevent gastrointestinal issues 

According to Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents, enteritis complex – one of the serious GI health issues in rabbits – can manifest as soft stool, and in the worst cases, it can lead to severe problems such as “enterotoxemia, sepsis, or even death”. As a common sickness, it’s important to keep an eye on your rabbit’s health to catch and treat it early. The addition of hay – with its high concentration of fiber – is one way to help to address and aid in the prevention of enteritis. 

Promotes dental health 

The constant chewing and grinding of fibrous materials, like hay, also contributes to wearing down their continuously growing teeth, preventing dental problems.

Natural foraging behaviors 

Rabbits are avid foragers, getting joy out of scratching through natural substances like hay. For pet rabbits, hay gives the opportunity to keep them engaged with the environment around them.

You can even get creative with the process of encouraging foraging. For example, place hay in paper bags, brown cardboard tubes, or small boxes with holes in the side. What’s the point? By adding these little effects, you are helping to create an atmosphere where rabbits can have a blast poking hay through these objects. Hay for rabbits has endless possibilities! 

a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

Keeps mental stimulation going 

Through the option of foraging, rabbits are able to receive continued mental stimulation. This, in turn, keeps their overall health up

Creates a well-rounded diet 

The nutrients found in different hay types for rabbits – fiber, protein, and calcium – help to create a well-balanced diet for rabbits. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that rabbits need more than just hay in their daily food intake. 

a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

How important is hay for rabbits? 

Hay is extremely important for rabbits! To emphasize the need for a hay diet, hay should make up to 90 percent of a rabbit’s food intake! In fact, it can’t be stressed how imperative it is for rabbits to receive their needed amount of fiber through a consistent diet of hay. 

Hay provides the needed fiber intake that helps to prevent GI conditions within rabbits. Let’s dive into a specific example. It’s crucial for rabbits to have a high-fiber diet because it helps protect them from a condition called enteritis. The indigestible part of food (lignin), which is commonly known as fiber helps keep the movement of food in the rabbit’s digestive system normal. 

This process is called cecocolic motility, which is the movement of food between the cecum and colon in the digestive system. In rabbits, the cecum is a pouch-like structure where fermentation of fibrous plant material occurs. The colon follows the cecum and is involved in the absorption of water and electrolytes.

hay for rabbits

Hopefully, you did not zone out there. Ready for the bottom line? 

Diets low in fiber can slow down this movement (cecocolic motility), leading to fermentation issues and the buildup of undigested food. High-fiber diets also reduce the risk of a dangerous condition called enterotoxemia, caused by too much carbohydrate in the hindgut. Additionally, feeding rabbits diets high in calories and protein (without their needed fiber), can increase the chances of digestive problems. 

So, a high-fiber diet is essential for a rabbit’s overall health and prevents potential complications. Don’t forget: without a diet of hay (and other high fiber sources), your rabbit may experience GI issues.

a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

What kind of hay Is Good for rabbits? 

Now, we’re getting into the really fun and interesting part! Maybe you understand the need for hay in your rabbit’s diet, but are now wondering what kinds of hay are available and which ones are the best options. You’re not alone in this journey. As hay supplies, we are concerned about the overall health and well-being of your cherished furry friends. Thus, we will outline and describe the pros, cons, and nutritional values of the following hay options for rabbits: 

  • Timothy Hay 
  • Orchard Grass Hay
  • Alfalfa Hay 
  • Meadow Hay 
  • Organic Oat Hay
  • Teff Grass Hay 

But as you educate yourself on these different hay options for rabbits, remember that there are 

a rabbit who is on a diet of hay

Timothy Hay

Of all the hay options available, timothy hay is the most popular source of hay for rabbits! In fact, you do not have to worry about overfeeding your rabbit timothy hay (unless instructed otherwise by your vet). 

Pros

Like we’ve already discussed, rabbits need a great amount of fiber in order to help prevent GI issues. Timothy hay not only provides an excellent source of needed fiber, but it also retains a balance of calcium and protein for rabbits, with a lower amount of sugar and starch. For this reason, we recommend choosing the second cut of timothy hay which is full of needed nutrients and fiber.

Because rabbit’s teeth are constantly growing, the fiber content in the stems of timothy hay help to keep their teeth in optimal condition. Unhealthy mastication (chewing) can occur when a rabbit has irregular tooth growth. 

Cons

Timothy hay is not the cure-all for weight related rabbit issues. If your rabbit is underweight, do not passively wait for change. Contact a veterinarian immediately! For additional information on timothy hay for rabbits, read our in-depth article. 

Orchard Grass Hay 

For your rabbits that have issues chewing tough textures, orchard grass hay might be exactly what you need. 

Pros

Because of the softer texture of orchard grass hay, rabbits that are sick, picky eaters, or in need of a softer hay alternative may find this to be their golden ticket to a well-balanced diet. Additionally, orchard grass hay is less dusty than other types of hay, making them less likely to develop allergies in comparison to timothy hay. 

Maybe you would like your rabbit to nibble on timothy hay, but find that they are not enthused? We’ve got good news for you. Orchard grass hay is a great substitute hay option; simply mix it in with other hay options to create a wonderful, nutritious blend. 

Orchard grass hay offers a good balance of nutrients: protein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins. 

hay for rabbits

Cons 

Compared with timothy hay, orchard grass hay is slightly higher in protein. While this may seem like a great addition to the benefits section, it simply depends on the needs of your bunny rabbit. For baby rabbits less than six months old, this will not be an ideal choice;  add alfalfa hay in their diet, not as a sole source of hay, but as strong addition of protein to their overall diet. 

Alfalfa Hay

Have a colony of cute baby rabbits? You’ve found the ideal hay choice! 

Pros

If your rabbits are under seven months old, alfalfa hay is a wonderful choice since it is high in both protein and calcium. This will help your young rabbits grow strong and healthy. Additionally, pregnant and lactating rabbits may also benefit from the nutritious value of alfalfa hay. 

a rabbit who is on a hay diet

Cons

Alfalfa hay should not be given as a staple to adult rabbits. In fact, it should rarely be given as a treat or addition to a rabbit’s diet. Too much alfalfa hay (even for pregnant or lactating rabbits) can result in very negative health problems. Although not definitive, the high calcium content of alfalfa hay may lead to urinary bladder stones in rabbits. 

To clarify once again, do not give alfalfa hay to your adult rabbits as a daily part of their diet. For further information, read our article on alfalfa hay for rabbits

Meadow Hay 

Meadow hay offers a natural and varied composition (sometimes including bits of dandelions and other plants) giving rabbits easy foraging and a wide range of needed nutrients. 

hay for rabbits

Pros

Generally, meadow hay is easy to access and cheaper than some other types of hay for rabbits. Because it is rich in fiber, it will help to aid in digestive health for your rabbits. Additionally, meadow hay is low in sugar content. 

Cons

Because it is lower in protein, meadow hay is not a great choice for baby rabbits (also called “kits”) under seven months of age. 

Oat Hay 

Packed with fiber and good nutrients, oat hay is a dietary source you will want to keep on hand around the clock! 

Pros 

With its high-fiber density, organic oat hay helps promote a healthy and wonderful digestive system in your rabbit, which in turn, should result in healthy rabbit droppings. Win, win, win! 

Additionally, rabbits genuinely love to indulge in oat hay, finding pleasure in the crunchy make-up of this hay. Because of the extra calorie content of oat hay, this hay solution may be what you need for underweight bunnies. But do not rely on oat hay to be the golden ticket to your rabbit’s overall weight health. Always consult a trusted veterinarian for advice on your rabbit’s weight loss. Our organic oat hay offers excellent minerals and vitamins for your rabbit without putting your pet in danger of chemicals, synthetics, or other harmful products. 

best hay for rabbits

Cons

Sometimes the strengths of a product are also the inverse weaknesses. If your rabbit consumes too much oat hay, the high calorie content may result in excess weight gain if exercise is not frequent or recurring. For an in-depth explanation on the pros and cons of organic oat hay for rabbits, read our ultimate guide. 

Teff Grass Hay 

With a low-sugar content, this is a great addition for rabbits who are in need of lower sugar intake. 

best hay for rabbits

Pros 

Teff grass hay gives your rabbit a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and other minerals. 

Cons 

Like meadow hay, teff grass hay isn’t the ideal option for young rabbits since it does not have a high source of calcium and protein. 

Hay For Rabbits Table

In order to keep everything easy to understand and access, we’ve created a table outlining the different types of hay for rabbits. If you would like more information, see our resource on a buyer’s guide for small pets

Hay Type Crude Fiber Crude Protein Crude Calcium Pros Cons Appropriate Age
Timothy 32-35%7-14%0.3-0.5%High in fiber; good balance of protein and calcium; lower sugar and starch content; good dental healthRabbits may need more calorie intake Adult rabbits
Orchard Grass33-35%10-16%0.33%Softer; less dusty; tasty Not suitable for baby rabbitsAdult rabbits 
Alfalfa25-35%15-22%1.2-1.4%High in protein and calcium; help rabbits grow strong and healthyToo much calcium and protein for adult rabbits; may lead to diseases such as urinary bladder stonesRabbits 3 weeks to 7 months; used as a supplement for adult rabbits 
Meadow32%7-12%0.3-0.6%Aids in digestive health; natural foraging, easy to access, cheaper than some other typesLower in protein; not an excellent choice for baby rabbits Used as a supplement for adult rabbits; mix with other hay types 
Organic Oat 31-32%7-11%0.4-0.6%High in fiber and other nutrients; promotes a healthy digestive system; adds a cruchHigh in calorie intake; may lead to weight gain Adult rabbits 
Teff Grass30-35%10-15%0.3-0.6%Great source of protein, fiber, and other minerals; low sugar content Not ideal for baby rabbits Used as a supplement for adult rabbits; mix with other hay types 
rabbits on a hay diet

Safety

When it comes to your loved rabbits, we understand the need and desire for safety. That’s why we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions regarding safety concerns with hay for rabbits. 

Is all hay safe for rabbits? 

In short, no. When it comes to choosing the correct hay for your rabbit be sure to avoid the following:

  • Moldy hay
  • Dusty hay
  • Hay with pesticide residue
  • Hay from polluted areas
  • Hay with excessive levels of calcium or protein

What do we mean by “hay with excessive levels of calcium or protein?” How is that harmful? Alfalfa hay is a hay source that is loaded with calcium and protein. While this is a great benefit to young rabbits under seven months of age, adult rabbits that consume alfalfa hay may experience dangerous health issues. For example, too much alfalfa hay in rabbits may result in urinary bladder stones. Bottom line: ensure that you eliminate alfalfa hay from your adult rabbit’s diet or give it on very rare occasions as a special treat. 

a rabbit on a hay diet

What hay is safe for rabbits? 

Adult and baby rabbits can eat the following hay at any time:

Of course, if your rabbit is experiencing allergies (i.e. sneezing and red eyes), take them to the veterinarian immediately and explain their diet in great detail. 

a rabbit who is on a hay diet

How much hay should I feed my rabbit? 

Your rabbit’s diet should consist of up to 90 percent hay intake. One way to measure this is to feed your rabbit the same amount of hay based on their size. For instance, if your rabbit could fit in a small Amazon box, fill that box full of hay. Easy enough! 

a rabbit who is on a hay diet

How often do you give rabbits hay?

Since up to 90 percent of your rabbit’s food pallet consists of hay, you can ensure that they have clean, fresh hay every day of the week. You can create a simple routine of checking the hay every day to know if everything is as desired. Easy task, happy rabbit. 

Should rabbits have constant access to hay? 

Yes! As long as you are not giving alfalfa hay to your adult rabbit, you can ensure that your furry friend is given a mixture of timothy hay, organic oat hay, and timothy grass hay. Like we said before, always stand by the “up to 90 percent rule.” 

a rabbit who is on a hay diet

Can rabbits overfeed on hay? 

Absolutely. Adult rabbits should not be given large amounts of alfalfa hay because it can result in health issues. Additionally, if you notice that your rabbits are becoming overweight, you may want to consult your veterinarian. 

Does hay for rabbits go bad? 

Yes, hay for rabbits can absolutely go bad. Here are a few of the ways in which your rabbit’s hay may become spoiled or unfit for consumption: 

  • Mold 
  • Dust
  • Pollution and foreign objects 

Mold 

When hay is exposed to moisture or stored in damp conditions, it becomes susceptible to mold development. Moldy hay poses a serious health risk to rabbits as it can contain mycotoxins, causing respiratory problems, digestive issues, and even toxicity. 

hay for rabbits

Dust 

Additionally, hay that is not stored in a cool, dry place may accumulate dust, which can lead to respiratory discomfort in rabbits. Excessive dustiness can irritate the respiratory tract, resulting in conditions like snuffles. 

Pollution and foreign objects 

Furthermore, hay harvested from areas with pollution, pesticides, or invasive and toxic plants can compromise its safety. It’s essential for rabbit owners to carefully inspect hay for signs of mold, dust, and foreign objects. Of course, proper storage also helps to maintain freshness and nutritional quality, looking at the well-being of each furry companion.  

a rabbit who is on a hay diet

Can my rabbit live off just hay? 

No, even though up to 90 percent of your rabbit’s diet consists of hay, your rabbit will need to be given a variety of food options in order to ensure a well-rounded, healthy diet. Adult rabbits may be given small amounts of pellets, less than 1/4 cup for every five pounds of rabbits. Keep in mind that this may be too much, per some veterinary nutritionists.  Some examples of greens that make wonderful supplements for rabbits include dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, bok choy, green carrot tops, kohlrabi, endive, and mustard greens.

Of course, hay can be given to rabbits in unlimited amounts. Just ensure that it isn’t the end of your rabbit’s food pallet. 

Hay for rabbits: what’s the correct age for consumption? 

To clear any questions about hay consumption, we are going to explore the hay needs for each age category: 

  • Baby rabbits (up to three weeks)
  • Young rabbits 
  • Adult rabbits 
a rabbit who is on a hay diet

What hay for baby rabbits?

If your baby rabbit is less than three weeks old, no hay should be given. Once your rabbit has been weaned (around three weeks old), add alfalfa hay to their diet, which will provide an excellent source of calcium and protein for your baby rabbit. Their mama rabbit will already be with them, so will already be eating timothy or other grass hay, in addition to alfalfa. 

What hay for young rabbits? 

For rabbits that are three weeks to seven months old, alfalfa hay ensures a boost of calcium and protein. As a result, your young rabbits will receive the necessary amounts of nutrition to grow into healthy adult rabbits. Which brings us to the next question…

hay for rabbits

What hay for adult rabbits? 

For adult rabbits, alfalfa hay should be avoided or given in very small portions. Of course, pregnant or lactating mother rabbits could use a supplement of alfalfa hay, but even so, it must be in small quantities. Adult rabbits benefit from a mixture of hay sources such as timothy hay, organic oat hay, and grass hay

AgeHay Type Serving Size 
Less than 3 weeks No hay (milk)none 
3 weeks Alfalfa Slow introduction
4 weeks – 7 months Alfalfa Unlimited 
7 months and older Timothy, Organic Oat, Organic Meadow, Orchard, Teff Grass Unlimited 
a rabbit who is on a hay diet

Making a Rabbit Home: Hay for Rabbits

Of course, we’ve covered the nutritional and health benefits of hay for rabbits. But are you aware of the ways that you can use hay to make a comfortable, mentally stimulating home for your pet? If not, no worries! Let’s keep exploring our options…

How often should you change hay in a rabbit cage? 

Overall, the hay in a rabbit’s cage should be changed every couple of days, or whenever you notice it has become musty and dirty. You don’t want your furry critter to be uncomfortable in their little haven or come in contact with any diseases. 

What is the best bedding for indoor rabbits? 

There are many bedding options for indoor rabbits:

  • Hay or straw
  • Paper-based bedding 
  • Aspen shavings 
  • Fleece blanket/towels
  • Hemp bedding 
  • Commercial pelleted bedding 

For the purpose of this article, we will focus on hay as an indoor bedding option. When you place hay in your rabbit’s cage, you create an atmosphere where foraging becomes a seamless part of your rabbit’s life. Consequently, you’ll notice that your rabbit will be mentally stimulated, distracted from the boredom that a cage can foster. 

a rabbit who is on a hay diet

Purchasing Hay for Rabbits 

As we are nearing the end of this article, you may have decided you want to amp up the hay content in your rabbit’s diet. But maybe that leads you to questions of where to purchase hay and how to find quality, affordable sources…

What is the best affordable hay for rabbits?

When it comes to the safety of your rabbits, we know that you are committed to their health and well-being. The best hay option for rabbits are hay products which are organic, ensuring that your beloved rabbits do not come in contact with pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, or other harmful substances. With organic products, you can rest assured that your rabbit is getting the desired nutrients without any worrisome effects. 

Where to buy hay for rabbits? 

At Blue Mountain Hay, we harvest our hay products from the high altitudes of the Pacific Northwest, enabling slow-growth for our hay. As a family business, we are committed to ensuring that all of our hay products are fresh, organic, and overflowing with nutrients in every bite.  

a rabbit who is on a hay diet

FAQs

How do you introduce new hay for rabbits? 

Animals and humans alike are not always so enthusiastic about change, even when it is necessary and good. If you find that your rabbits are in that category, don’t stress out about introducing new hay products to them. Take it slow. Over the period of just a few days, gradually give them small amounts of the new hay products. Gage their reception to each new hay for rabbits and adjust accordingly, if needed. 

Is the 1st cut or 2nd cut hay better for rabbits?

Overall, the second cut of hay is better for rabbits. Dense in needed nutrition and fiber, this cut gives you the piece of mind that your rabbit’s dietary needs are taken care of. Additionally, the second cut of hay is softer than the first which makes it easier for rabbits to chew. 

hay for rabbits

In conclusion…

It’s important that your rabbit receives a diet of up to 90 percent hay. With this in mind, at Blue Mountain Hay, we are thrilled to source quality, organic hay for your rabbits of any and every age! Our hay undergoes a meticulous storage process for four months before shipment to ensure the prevention of RHDV2 transmission to your cherished rabbits. From alfalfa hay to timothy hay, we have you covered. 

Happy hay day!

bio for Dr. Vickstrom 5713
As a veterinarian of over thirty years, Dr. Vickstrom brings her authoritative knowledge of exotic animal health to each blog post Review. To read her full bio, click here