Why do rabbits need hay?
Hay is the basis of a rabbit’s diet, so it is essential to understand why and how to give your rabbit hay. The supply of essential substances, regulation of transit, wear of teeth, occupation of the rabbit ; all good reasons to give it without restriction, following certain rules. This will be the best guarantee for a healthy and fit rabbit!
Why is hay essential to the rabbit’s Diet and balance ?
It is always interesting to go back to the feeding behavior of wild rabbits, even if pet rabbits cannot be totally compared.
In the wild the rabbit is prey to many predators, and its life span remains short, no more than a few years.
The same is true for farmed rabbits, which only live for a few months.
A pet rabbit will stay with you for many years, and you certainly want to keep it happy and healthy. Its diet is therefore a fundamental element of its good health.
The fact that the rabbit is in perpetual danger in the wild has a significant influence on its feeding behavior, and even on its digestive system.
For example, it is not a ruminant, which will keep and ruminate for a long time in its mouth.
It will immediately cut and swallow its food, which will start to be digested in the stomach. Indeed, it must be able to immediately flee if danger arises and it must be able to continue its digestion.
In the wild, Buns adapts to what it finds and will have a very varied diet. If he can, he will choose what he likes the most because he has a very developed sense of smell.
He will prefer young, tender leaves. In winter it will be satisfied with stems or dried leaves. The search for food will occupy most of its time.
For pet rabbits, hay will have many virtues because it is a low-calorie food, so it will be able to consume a lot of it, it will occupy it, it will sort the strands, choose. Hay therefore has a first quality, that of occupying it, of bringing it closer to an instinctive and natural behavior.
Hay, as we will explain in detail, will provide the rabbit with a food that will regulate its digestion and transit, and prevent the dreaded transit stops.
At the level of the teeth, it will allow them to wear out since they grow continuously in rabbit. Finally, hay provides essential nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D.
For all these reasons, hay is considered the essential and indispensable element in the rabbit diet.
What should be the composition of a good rabbit hay?
The hay is made from herbaceous plants mowed in a meadow. It has been used for a very long time to feed animals when the season no longer allows grazing.
The herbs are mowed and then dried (haymaking) using several techniques. It is important to control the moisture content so that the hay does not rot and retains its nutritional qualities.
Grasslands can be natural or seeded.
By nature the hay will vary according to the composition of the meadow. The quality of the hay will depend on the following elements:
The floristic composition, the plant species:
The nature of the soil, the fertilization influences the nature of the plants.
From the moment of cutting, on a meadow, there will be 3 or 4 cuts. At each cut, the composition of herbaceous plants, their stage of development, will vary in their nutritional characteristics.
Hay from the first cut is less fibrous and richer than hay from the last cut.
The season, weather and drying conditions (haymaking)
Its storage and distribution
The hay will provide a diet rich in fiber needed by the rabbit, calories (energy), protein and amino acids. Hay also provides essential elements: minerals, vitamins…
As hay is an essential part of the diet of many farm animals, it is subject to a great deal of care and analysis in order to obtain hay with optimal nutritional qualities.
What is the difference between hay and straw?
Hay comes from grassland composed of herbaceous plants. The grass is mowed or grazed and will grow back, there will be several cycles and therefore several cuts. Hay is composed of light green leaves and stems.
The straw comes from the stalks of certain cereal grasses, wheat, barley, oats, rye. These are stems that will dry. It is not a food for rabbits. Straw cereals are annual. If you want to know more about straw, here is a link Straw
How to choose your rabbit hay?
How to choose your rabbit hay ; Criteria for choosing rabbit hay
The type of pasture, the cut, the haymaking will influence the characteristics of a hay.
This is important for you to consider when making your choice, and to take into account certain points that may be important.
The most important criteria for choosing a hay are :
The composition of the hay in herbaceous, its origin.
The hay should come from meadows with many species.
It should not be forgotten that the nature of the hay will vary with the cut. On each hay you will find the herbaceous composition of the hay.
Appetence and palatability
Palatability is the quality of a food that is well consumed by the rabbit.
Appetence is the desire, the urge for the rabbit to consume the hay. If he throws himself on it, you understand that he really likes it
These are very important points for the rabbit, he must want to eat the hay, and all the hay, not just the leaves.
You have to let him finish the strands, because this is important for his teeth and to give him a balanced diet. He must eat everything in his hay.
A green, well-smelling hay will be a good palatability enhancer.
If your rabbit does not like the hay you offer him, this is a very important criterion. If he doesn’t like any hay, it’s different, and you will find tips to make him want it.
The hay must be visually attractive when you choose it, the smell is extremely important for the rabbit.
The dust content
This is an important point, because dust can be allergenic and especially irritating for your rabbit, but also for you.
They irritate the rabbit’s respiratory tract and will promote rhinitis.
Good quality hay is very low in dust.
The calcium content
Hay should contain calcium, but not in excess, read our chapter on this subject.
Rabbit hay is hay with all the quality guarantees. They will be more expensive, but will give you the certainty that your rabbit will appreciate the hay.
Their nutritional values are controlled and also give you the assurance of a balanced composition.
Alfalfa hay has particular indications
Alfalfa is a leguminous plant, there are a hundred different species. They are plants close to clovers.
Cultivated alfalfa is very rich in protein, between 15 and 25%. It is also very rich in Calcium, so its use in rabbit food must be controlled.
For a young rabbit of less than 6 months old, hay rich in alfalfa or very rich in legumes is indicated, but not afterwards, because these hays are too rich in Calcium. They can cause kidney stone problems.
Alfalfa hays can be added and mixed in small quantities with other hays.
Alfalfa can be found under different names, alfalfa in particular.
Should rabbit hay be changed often?
In general, if your rabbit is fussy and has adopted hay, you should avoid changing it.
However, it may be worthwhile to mix it with other hays to provide hay with different nutritional characteristics.
In all cases, avoid sudden changes in hay. Mix hay gradually.
What is important in rabbit hay?
Hay is the basic food for rabbits and contains many essential nutrients: long fiber, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, vitamins.
Among the most important elements :
Fibers essential for a good digestion.
Fibers are vegetable elements that cannot be completely broken down by digestion.
However, they have 2 fundamental roles,
To ensure good intestinal transit ( prevent GI stasis in rabbits). Alot of hay will also contribute to satiety and limit the consumption of richer food.
Participate in the constitution of the intestinal microbiota, which by degrading will contribute to the proper functioning of the intestine and the absorption of certain essential substances.
Proteins and amino acids Hay provides energy in the form of protein, as the concentration is not extremely important, it can be eaten at will. We advise a daily quantity, the volume of the rabbit, but in general, this usually corresponds to hay at will.
Calcium is essential for the organism, however, it must be controlled. It is the kidney that will filter it and eliminate the excesses.
Some rabbits, especially if they don’t drink much, risk making stones. Therefore, if your rabbit is prone to stones, choose hay with low calcium content.
Hays that contain little alfalfa are lower in calcium ; In phosphorus with an ideal phosphor/calcium ratio.
The phosphocalcic ratio is important mainly for bones and bone mineralization. Phosphorus and calcium are intimately linked in the phenomena of bone mineralization.
Vitamin D is necessary for calcium metabolism and will be present in greater quantities in sun-dried hay.
Vitamin D comes either from food or from synthesis in the skin under the influence of the sun (ultraviolet rays). It is therefore also important to allow your rabbit to go outside from time to time in daylight and some sunlight. (This does not work behind glass!).
It is important to know that hay, which is used for cattle feed, is the subject of many studies, and dosages, to ensure the best possible balance.
Many factors are involved in its nutritional value and digestibility, and this varies greatly from one hay to another. It depends on the nature of the meadows, the cut (1st , 2nd, or 3rd cut), the type of drying…
For this reason, specific hays are selected and offered to you for the rabbits. Their composition is adapted to the rabbit and their quality is constant.
How much rabbit hay should I give?
It is considered that Buns should consume the equivalent of its body volume in hay per day. This is a simple way to figure out how much to give.
This gives you an indication, but the hay must be at will.
It must be available 24 hours a day
As a reminder, in addition to hay, a quantity of about 8% of bunny’s weight should be given as fresh greenery.
How to store your Bunny’s hay?
It is important to keep your rabbit hay in a dry and cool place, away from light.
It should be stored in a non airtight, airy and opaque container.
Hay must be kept low and constant in moisture content, otherwise there is a risk of mould growth.
Light will affect the quality of the hay.
Hay is a dry, desiccated food, so it will keep quite easily and for a long time. It is also the principle and the interest of hay that allows livestock to be fed during the long winter months.
Allergies, respiratory problems: which hay for rabbits?
Respiratory problems in rabbits are mainly due to dust irritation. Allergy is rare.
A certain number of rabbits and people have allergic ground, which rabbit hay to choose to minimize the risks and allergic manifestations.
The most important point is the amount of dust. The greater the amount, the more allergenic the hay is.
The amount of dust is due to the varieties of grasses that make up the hay, some release much more dust than others.
The quality of a hay depends a lot on the herbaceous species that make it.
Allergenic elements are contained in the dust and pollens in the hay.
Coarse hay whose cut includes many stems and seed heads will inevitably bring pollen, and therefore will be more allergenic.
In general, the second cut of hay contains fewer seed heads.
Crau hay, whose quality is particularly defined, provides guarantees in terms of reduced dust and grass species with a low pollen concentration.
Oxbow Timothy hay is a dust-free hay and is therefore particularly suitable for rabbits with allergies or respiratory problems. It is a high quality hay that comes from the United States.
Hay Allergy for Humans:
Hay fever is primarily related to grass pollens. If you have a pollen allergy, hay with very low pollen content, i.e. with grasses that have not gone to seed, should be used. Some cuts of hay will have less pollen. To minimize the effects, put on a mask when you handle the hay and air the room.
If your rabbit suffers from coryza or rhinitis, you should :
Use low-dust hay
Shake it to make the dust fall off before putting it at your disposal.
You can also humidify it very slightly with a vaporizer to fix the dust, during the acute phases.
Why does my rabbit sort the hay?
Rabbits have a highly developed sense of taste and smell. He will therefore choose, as in nature, the strands that he likes best and that have the best taste. He will eat them first.
Your rabbit is a gourmet that must be respected. Let him taste his hay, choose his strands. If he doesn’t like the hay, he will sulk.
A good method to give him a varied food is to mix the different hays, to put treats in the hay such as dehydrated herbs or flowers… This way you will both distract him and encourage him to taste new flavors beneficial to his diet.
My rabbit doesn’t want hay, what can I do and what are the risks if he doesn’t eat hay?
Despite the importance of hay, many rabbits are reluctant to eat it.
This is often due to the availability of tasty but less healthy food.
As a result, your rabbit may develop poor eating habits that may be difficult to change later.
Not eating hay for a rabbit is a major factor in rabbit’s health issues , especially dental and digestive diseases. Some rabbits from rescues, or from pet stores, have simply never tasted hay! It should be introduced gradually.
Here are some tips to encourage your rabbit to eat more hay:
- Reduce the use of dry pellet type feed.
- Some foods are tastier than hay, but like humans, rabbits need to eat a balanced diet, not just the foods that taste best.
- If your rabbit always has pellets available, there is no reason to eat hay. It’s like asking a child to choose between candy and vegetables!
- Offer him the more palatable rabbit hay. Not all hay is the same. They come in different varieties and flavours. Try different types of hay to see what your rabbit likes best. Make sure the hay is of good quality and well stored.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for hay samples to have him try it ; Timothy hay is particularly fragrant and many very picky rabbits have adopted it easily.
- If your rabbit doesn’t like hay, try fresh grass first and then combine it with hay.
- Mixing other feeds with hay
- You can hide treats, dried herbs, flowers or fruit or other foods he loves in the hay. This will keep him busy and will inevitably make him taste the hay.
- Place the hay in strategic locations. Rabbits are more likely to eat hay if it’s close by at times when they feel like eating. Rabbits often like to eat while they relieve themselves. Therefore, they should be allowed to do both.
- Put hay next to your fluffy’s litter box. You can also use a rack litter, which allows you to combine the two and ensure that hay is always available.
- Avoid using hay as bedding, otherwise it will need to be changed very often.
- Include rabbit hay in toys and games.
- You can create games with hay, e.g. fill a cylinder with hay on each side, this can be a simple cardboard cylinder with toilet paper or fill a wicker ball with hay.
- You can block the entrance to his tunnel with hay. He will have to remove it to get in. There are a lot of possibilities, it’s up to you to imagine them with your rabbit’s toys.
Why is hay good for rabbit teeth?
Rabbits’ teeth grow regularly, so if they don’t wear out, they will quickly become prominent and become a real problem, interfering with feeding and injuring the mouth. It is therefore very important for a rabbit to wear its teeth regularly.
This is precisely what happens with hay, because the rabbit will make horizontal shearing movements, and hay is rich in fiber and silica, which promotes wear and tear… When the bunny eats pellets, the movement of the teeth is rather vertical, to act as a pincer and he will bite.
Rabbit hay is therefore essential to good dental hygiene.
What kind of hay for your rabbit when he has stones or must not have too much calcium?
A minimum of calcium is necessary for the good health of rabbits.
But in some rabbits, for various reasons, too much calcium will lead to Diseases , exactly kidney stones, which are very painful and can lead to complications.
Calcium has a renal elimination, the kidney will filter the calcium, and if the concentration is too high, there is the risk of kidney stones. The stone will block the elimination of urine and cause a lot of pain (equivalent to renal colic in humans).
To avoid this in rabbits that have already made calculations, and therefore have a pre disposition, feed and hay low in calcium should be taken, and make them drink a lot, taking care to always make water available to them.
Alfalfa hay is very rich in calcium, and outside the first 6 months, it should not be used. Other hays will provide you with their calcium levels.
Oxbow Timothy hay is a timothy hay, which is low in calcium.
Oxbow hay is a top-of-the-range hay that is dust-free and therefore suitable for rabbits with allergies or respiratory problems.
How do I Give my rabbits hay?
The hay can be made available to the rabbit in several places, as we have seen.
If you have your rabbit at liberty, and depending on its habits, you have several possibilities.
Some rabbits love to take the hay directly from the bag and rummage it. However, he has to eat everything, not just the leaves!
Another solution is the Rabbit Litter Rack which meets a physiological need of the rabbit that eats and defecates at the same time.
This allows him to have a space with the hay that is not mixed with his litter, and there is less hay wasted. This product is a great success. It is available in 3 sizes to meet the different sizes of rabbits.
There are also other racks if you already have a litter box.
let’s wrap this up
Hay is your rabbit’s main food, it will keep him healthy.
It must be fragrant and palatable to satisfy your rabbit’s highly developed taste and sense of smell and to please him.
Never abruptly change the type of food you feed your rabbit.
It’s up to you to find, according to his space, the best way to give him some and to occupy him with this extraordinary food