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hamster in cage for hay guide for small pets

The Buyer’s Hay Guide For Small Pets

Small pets live in a world of their own, filled with tiny adventures and big personalities. From scurrying through tunnels to cuddling up in cozy nests, these furry friends never fail to bring joy to their human companions. This article is dedicated to being your hay guide for small pets, including the benefits of different hays, their use cases, and how to mix and match hay products per different situations that are specific to your pet.

Healthy pets are happy pets! Here’s a bit of a breakdown of our hay products in a visual form.

visual 6 hay product buyer's hay guide for small pets infographic

Why Do We Grow All of our Hay Products at High Altitudes?

hay field for small pets

High-altitude cultivation of our hay products promotes slower growth, which enriches the nutrients and enhances the hay’s digestibility. By high altitude, we mean that we grow our hay products thousands of feet above altitude in the beautiful Blue Mountains, located in the Pacific Northwest. Before we get into our hay guide for your small pet, here are just several more reasons why we grow our hay products at high altitudes:

  • Cooler temperatures help maintain the nutritional quality of the hay, as heat and humidity can cause nutrient loss and spoilage.
  • Harsher growing conditions at high altitudes can reduce pest pressure and limit the need for pesticides and herbicides.
  • High-altitude environments typically have higher oxygen levels, which can enhance plant growth and development.
  • Slower growth rates and an extended growing season can result in hay with a sweeter taste, as the plants have more time to accumulate sugars and other flavorful compounds.
  • High-altitude hay may have a longer shelf life, as the cooler and drier climate can help preserve the hay and reduce the risk of mold and other spoilage. 

Hay Guide Tables

We’ll first show you a table that explains 6 different hay products and their nutritional statistics.

Product
(see hay mix ideas)
ProteinNon-Structural Carbs (dry weight)FiberPalatabilityMinerals (dry weight)NutrientsUSP
Alfalfa HayHigh protein (15-22%) (one of the highest protein hays)5-10%Max 35%Very soft≈2-3%High fiber, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and vitaminsHigh protein; high minerals; high palatability
Orchard Grass HayHigher protein (10-16%) 40-45%Max 35%soft≈2-3%Protein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and vitaminsHigher digestibility; good balance of nutrients; generally lower sugar content
Organic Meadow HayLower Protein (7-12%)40-45%Max 32%Between soft and crunchy0.3-0.6% calcium, 0.2-0.3% phosphorus, 1-2% potassium, and 0.2-0.4% magnesiumProtein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and vitaminsHigher in fiber than most hays; organic
Organic Oat HayLower protein (7-11%) but high fiber content 25-35%Max 32%Very crunchy0.4-0.6% calcium, 0.2-0.3% phosphorus, 1.2-1.5% potassium, and 0.2-0.3% magnesiumProtein, fiber, energy, vitamins, mineralsHigh in protein and energy; highly palatable; fibrous
Teff Grass HayModerate protein (9-15%) 10-15%Max 35%Very soft0.3-0.6% calcium, 0.2-0.4% phosphorus, 0.1-0.3% magnesium, 1.5-2.5% potassiumProtein, high fiber, NSC’s, vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and other mineralsHigh in protein, calcium, and other essential minerals; low in sugar and starch; very palatable
Timothy HayModerate protein (7-14%) 10-12%Max 35%Between soft and crunchy0.3-0.5% calcium, 0.2-0.3% phosphorus, 0.2-0.3% magnesium, 1.5-2.5% potassiumProtein, high fiber, vitamins, minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc), significant source of waterHigh in fiber; easy digestibility; fairly affordable

Here’s a table that details out which hay products are good for different small pets.

Small PetsMost Important Addition to DietRelevant Hay Products
RabbitsRabbit diets should be high in fiber and should not be fed sugary or starchy treats. (see high fiber hay mix ideas)Organic meadow hay (high in fiber) is grown organically without synthetic chemicals and contains balanced array of nutrients.
Timothy hay (good option for rabbits that struggle with weight) contains relatively low sugar and starches.
Teff Grass Hay (low-sugar) is a great high-protein hay product for low-sugar rabbit diets.
Guinea PigsGuinea pigs should have plenty of fiber in their diet and also avoid sugary or starchy treats. (see high fiber hay mix ideas)Organic meadow hay helps prevent digestive problems like bloating or diarrhea in your guinea pig.
Timothy hay should be a staple of any guinea pig’s diets, regardless of reproductive status. For those who are pregnant or lactating, adding in alfalfa is recommended due to its higher calcium and protein content.
Teff Grass Hay  (low-sugar) is a well-suited dietary addition for adult or malnourished guinea pigs (advisably not lactating or pregnant guinea pigs).
HamstersHamsters do well on commercial biscuits with some other foods (fresh greens, fresh dried grains, ect) for enrichment. They should not consume too many enriching foods that the base pellet/biscuit diet is not upheld. Young hamsters do well with protein of up to 25%, while older hamsters need much less. Hay is not a staple in the diet for hamsters. (see high protein hay mix ideas)Alfalfa hay is very high in protein and calcium and particularly great for lactating, pregnant, and malnourished hamsters (advisably not for adult hamsters who struggle with weight).
Organic oat hay is high in fiber. It’s a great, sweet dietary addition for adult and malnourished hamsters.
Organic meadow hay has a well-balanced mixture of nutrients and a variety of grasses and forage.
ChinchillasChinchillas need quality hay that is high in fiber. (see high fiber hay mix ideas)Timothy hay, which is low in sugar and starch, should be the base hay option for chinchillas.

Organic meadow hay is cultivated without the use of synthetic chemicals and is abundant in fiber, providing a balanced assortment of nutrients.
GerbilsA gerbil’s diet should contain around 12-16% protein with a low fat content. (see high protein hay mix ideas)The base of a gerbils’ diet includes commercial pellets.

Timothy hay provides gerbils with an excellent source of fiber intake.
ParakeetsParakeets need a diet containing high quality pellets, with other foods as supplements (hay is not a significant part of a parakeet’s diet). Orchard grass hay is a low-sugar and nutritionally balanced diet that enhances digestibility in parakeets. Additionally, it can be an optimal protein source for parakeets that are growing.
Alfalfa hay is high in energy which is good for mature animals. 
RatsRats need a high-quality, nutritionally balanced diet, including protein. Rats do best on a commercial pellet/biscuit for rats as their base diet. They should not primarily be fed hay (balanced diet), but may include some hay if on an enrichment scheme. (see high protein hay mix ideas)Alfalfa hay, a great source of protein, is a great hay product to add to a rat’s diet.
Organic oat hay, a protein supplier and energy-giver, is another great dietary addition.
Orchard grass hay is a low-sugar option for rats. This is good since rats should avoid a lot of fatty and sugary foods.

Hay Guide for Specific Small Pets

Hay should make up the majority of guinea pig, rabbit, and chinchilla diets. As a grower and producer of high-altitude grown, fresh hay products, we’d love to ship our hay products directly to your door!

a rabbit for the hay guide for small pets

Rabbits

Rabbits are herbivorous mammals that require a diet high in fiber to maintain their digestive health. Learn more about why organic oat hay is a good solution for rabbits. They also require a consistent supply of fresh water in a bowl, as dehydration can lead to serious health problems. Additionally, rabbits need a balanced diet – hay, vegetables, and a small amount of pellets – to provide essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.

For that reason, organic meadow hay, a hay rich in fiber without synthetic chemicals and contains a balanced array of nutrients. Plus, it’s grown organically without synthetic chemicals. Timothy hay, a low-sugar option, also is a great addition to a rabbit’s diet. Teff grass hay is an excellent high-protein hay product for low-sugar rabbit diets. Our ultimate guide on hay for rabbits is a resource you may enjoy. (If you have questions about RHDV2 in rabbits, read an article from our veterinarian.)

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    Organic Oat Hay

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    Teff Grass Hay

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guinea pigs eating for hay guide for small pets
guinea pig by hay for hay guide for small animals

Guinea Pigs:

Guinea pigs are herbivorous rodents that require a diet high in fiber to maintain their digestive health. They should be fed a diet that consists primarily of hay, with small amounts of pellets and fresh vegetables as supplements. Additionally, guinea pigs need a consistent supply of fresh water and should avoid foods that are high in sugar and fat.

By providing higher fiber contents than most hays, feeding your guinea pig with organic meadow hay can aid in preventing digestive issues such as bloating or diarrhea. Our meadow hay is also organic, allowing your guinea pig to happily munch away on real, down-to-earth hay.

Adding alfalfa hay to the diet of pregnant or lactating guinea pigs is a great nutritional choice, as it is also suitable for pets struggling with weight management.

Teff grass hay, which is low in sugar, is a suitable addition to the diet of adult or malnourished pets. However, it is not advisable for pregnant or lactating guinea pigs. (Learn more about timothy hay for guinea pigs through our article.)

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    Organic Meadow Hay

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    Timothy Grass Hay

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hamster in cage for hay guide for small pets
several hamsters for hay guide for small pets

Hamsters

Hamsters are small, omnivorous rodents that require a balanced diet with a variety of foods such as commercial pellets, fresh vegetables, fresh dried grains, and greens. Young hamsters should receive a 25% protein; older hamsters should receive less than that amount. Additionally, it’s important to provide them with fresh water and to avoid overfeeding or giving them foods that are high in fat and sugar.

Alfalfa hay contains a high amount of protein, making it a suitable option for hamsters that are pregnant, lactating or malnourished. However, it is not recommended for adult pets that are struggling with their weight. 

Organic oat hay is high in energy (organic – no synthetic chemicals). It’s a great, sweet dietary addition for adult and malnourished hamsters.

Organic meadow hay contains a diverse range of grasses and forage, providing a well-balanced mix of nutrients.

grey chinchilla for hay guide for small pets

Chinchillas:

Chinchillas are herbivorous rodents that require a diet high in fiber to maintain their digestive health. They should be fed a diet that consists primarily of hay, with small amounts of pellets and fresh vegetables as supplements. Additionally, chinchillas require a consistent supply of fresh water and should avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calcium.

Timothy hay is a the base diet for a chinchilla, as it provides a healthy balance of nutrients, and a low level of sugar and starch. For a complete overview of the benefits of hay for chinchillas, read our article.

Another hay solution for chinchillas is found in organic meadow hay. This source is produced without the use of synthetic chemicals and is rich in fiber, which offers a balanced array of nutrients. It’s a great option for chinchillas, who need that fiber-rich diet!

white gerbil eating hay for hay guide for small pets

Gerbils

Gerbils are omnivorous rodents that require a diet that is high in protein and low in fat. The base of their diet should be commercial pellets. Any other food (such as fresh vegetables) is simply supplementary and enriching. Additionally, gerbils need a consistent supply of fresh water and should avoid fruits and foods that are high in sugar and calcium.

Orchard grass hay is a nutritionally balanced diet that is low in sugar, making it easier for gerbils to digest. It is also a good source of protein, which is ideal for growing or lactating gerbils.

Reinforcing the balanced diet side of a gerbil’s appetite, organic meadow hay is a mixture of diverse grasses and forage, containing a balanced blend of nutrients. It is organically grown without synthetic chemicals, making it a suitable dietary option for adult pets with high-fiber needs. However, lactating, pregnant, malnourished, or young gerbils may benefit more from alfalfa hay.

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    Alfalfa Hay

    From  Original price was: $16.99.Current price is: $9.99. or subscribe and save up to 15%
  • SALE open box of orchard grass hay for sale

    Orchard Grass Hay

    From  Original price was: $16.99.Current price is: $9.99. or subscribe and save up to 15%
parakeets in cage for the hay guide for small pets

Parakeets

Parakeets, also known as budgerigars, require a diet including vitamins, minerals, and protein. They should be fed a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods such as commercial pellets, fresh vegetables, and occasional seeds and nuts. Additionally, parakeets require a consistent supply of fresh water and should avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. Although hay is not a regular part of a parakeet’s diet, it can be fed to them from time to time.

For parakeets, orchard grass hay provides a low-sugar and nutritionally balanced diet that promotes better digestibility. It can also serve as an excellent protein source for growing small pets.

a rat as an example for small pet hay buyers

Rats

The most important aspect of a rat’s diet is pelleted foods. Rats are omnivores and should be fed a diet that includes a mix of commercial pellets, fresh vegetables, and occasional treats (should not be fed primarily hay). However, it’s important to avoid feeding them too many fatty or sugary foods and do not feed your rat seed or nut mixes.

Organic oat hay can be a beneficial dietary addition as it provides protein and energy to small animals.

Orchard grass hay can be a suitable low-sugar option for rats, which is important as they should limit their intake of fatty and sugary foods.

Mix & Match Hay Products

You can always mix and match hay products as well to achieve certain benefits for your pet. Here are a few ideas.

High Protein Diet:

If you are looking to achieve a high protein diet for a small pet, such as a young, growing rabbit or a pregnant or lactating female, you can mix alfalfa hay with other high protein hay options such as orchard grass hay.

However, remember to first consult your veterinarian.

High Fiber Diet:

A high-fiber diet is important for the digestive health of small pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. Here are some hay products that can be mixed together to achieve a high fiber diet for small pets:

As always, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to determine the appropriate diet for your small pet based on their individual needs.

Low-Sugar Diet:

A low-sugar diet is important for small pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs that are prone to digestive issues. Here are some hay products that can be mixed together to achieve a low-sugar diet for small pets:

It’s important to note that while the hay is generally low in sugar, some hay varieties may contain higher sugar content than others. It’s important to check the sugar content of hay options and avoid feeding small pets hay that is too high in sugar as obesity may be occur. It’s critical to consult with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to determine the appropriate diet for your small pet based on their individual needs.

High Energy Diet:

If you’re looking to achieve a high-energy diet for a small pet, such as a very active rabbit or a growing, energetic guinea pig, there are some hay products that can be mixed to increase the energy content of their diet. Here are some hay products that can be mixed together to achieve a high-energy diet for small pets:

It’s important to note that a high-energy diet should only be fed to small pets with specific dietary needs, such as very active rabbits or growing, energetic guinea pigs. Feeding a high-energy diet to adult pets that do not have these specific needs can lead to health problems such as obesity and kidney disease. It’s crucial to seek advice from a veterinarian or an animal nutritionist to determine the suitable diet for your small pet, taking into consideration their specific requirements.

Texture Diet Combos

You may want your pet to have a soft-textured diet. Or, maybe super crunchy. Here are several combos you can try. Of course, consult with your veterinarian for your pet’s specific needs. 

Soft Diet

If your pet has a sensitive palette, a soft-textured diet is a great option. Consider combining teff grass hay and alfalfa hay to create a soft diet for your pet!

Crunchy Diet

If your pet needs that extra crunch in their diet, try combining timothy hay and rye grass hay. Timothy hay is a common choice for small pets and provides a good crunch. Mixing it with rye grass hay, which has a coarser texture, can add an extra level of crunchiness to the diet.

Sweet Diet

A sweet diet is another way that you can mix and match hay products, like combining timothy hay and alfalfa hay. Timothy hay provides a mild sweetness, while alfalfa hay has a naturally sweet taste. Combining these two hays can create a diet with a pleasant and sweet flavor profile for your small pet.

aerial field view for hay guide for small pets

How to Analyze the Freshness of Hay

Your pet deserves to be fed only fresh hay. Here are 5 ways that you can determine the freshness of a batch of hay. 

Appearance

One of the first signs of fresh hay is its appearance. Fresh hay should have a vibrant green color, indicating that it has been recently harvested. The hay should also have a soft and leafy texture, with minimal dust or debris. Avoid hay that is discolored, brown, or has a musty smell, as these can be signs of mold or decay.

Aroma

The smell of the hay can provide valuable information about its freshness. Fresh hay should have a sweet, grassy scent that is pleasant and inviting. If the hay has a strong or unpleasant odor, it may be a sign that it is stale or spoiled. Trust your nose and choose hay that has a fresh, natural fragrance.

Texture

The texture of the hay can also indicate its freshness. Fresh hay should feel soft and pliable when you touch it. It should not be overly dry or brittle, as this can be a sign that it has been stored for a long time. Hay that is too dry may lack the necessary nutrients and moisture that your pets need. Opt for hay that feels fresh and has some moisture content.

Taste

Although it may not be practical to taste the hay yourself, you can observe your pets’ reaction when they eat it. Animals that are accustomed to fresh hay will eagerly consume it and show signs of enjoyment. If your pets show disinterest in the hay or refuse to eat it, it may be an indication that the hay is not fresh or lacks the necessary nutrients. Keep an eye on their eating habits to ensure they are getting the best quality hay.

Storage conditions

The way hay is stored can significantly impact its freshness. When purchasing hay, inquire about the storage conditions at the supplier. Fresh hay should be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area to prevent mold growth and maintain its nutritional value. If the hay is stored inappropriately, such as in a damp or humid environment, it may spoil quickly and lose its freshness. Ensure that the hay you choose has been stored properly to guarantee its freshness for your pets.

Wrapping it up…

We hope this hay guide for small pets is a helpful resource as you find the perfect diet for your little friend! If you also need a fresh, warm bedding material for your small pet, we also offer high-altitude grown bedding straw.

If you’re interested, just hop on a recurring order subscription and save up to 15% on each order! (Or, if you’d like information on straw bedding for chickens, read our article.)

Well, that’s a wrap on our hay guide for small animals! Happy healthy pet food hunting!

Want to learn more about what we offer at Blue Mountain Hay? Check out our organic garden straw mulch for your garden, or take a look at our organic litter pellets for small animals.

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