Hay - What's all the fuss?
The ideal rabbit diet should be made up of 80% hay and 20% greens. There is a lot of discussion about hay; what types of hay, and how much to feed. The following information aims to explain hay, what is best for your bunny and why.
Hay is the MOST important part of your rabbits diet.
Firstly: the indigestible part of the fibre helps to keep the complex digestive system of the rabbit in proper working order
Secondly: the action of chewing on high fibre hay assists in grinding down the teeth or your rabbit, which grow continuously throughout their life
Thirdly: rabbits who are deprived of appropriate hay are more likely to chew on their own fur and thus predispose themselves to intestinal obstruction from hairballs. Hay eating rabbits are more likely to drink water and therefore will urinate more, which helps to protect them against the formation of bladder stones.
TYPES OF HAY
In Australia, the most common types of hay available are Oaten, Timothy, Grass/Meadow and Lucerne. Straw is also commonly found though not strictly a hay.
The ideal diet for a heathy happy rabbit should contain approximately 0.4% calcium. Calcium is used to make their teeth which grow constantly and to keep their bones strong.
Different types of hay have different amounts of calcium and this can vary depending on the time of year, location of the hay grown and even each bale produced!
We recommend your main hay for a healthy bunny to be Oaten hay.
Straw is what is left over after harvesting hay and is often sold as 'bedding' for pets and livestock. Straw is not a food and has very little nutritional value for our rabbits.
What type of hay should I feed my bunny?
If your bunny is normal weight, has good teeth and is otherwise healthy, then timothy, oaten or orchard / grass hays are an obvious choice. Many rabbits prefer a mixture of these hays, if you can provide it, however the most simple option is for a diet of mainly oaten hay.
Lucerne hay can be used for lactating does, or rabbits needing extra calcium or to put on some weight – if this is the case, contact your vet for more specific advice.
What should I look for when buying hay?
Hay should look and smell great! Hay that is damp, dusty or moldy should be avoided, as is hay with any obvious mites or insects present (there is a slight risk of myxomatosis transmission through insect contaminated hay).
How much hay should you feed your bunny?
Ideally a rabbit should eat a pile of hay a day roughly the size of their own body. You should provide fresh new hay every day – even if they haven’t finished all of yesterdays. Rabbits have such a great sense of taste that they can tell the difference between hay from the same field that has been harvested late in the day vs first thing in the morning (the later hay has a higher sugar content, which bunnies prefer!). Presenting your rabbit's hay in their litter tray is a great way to contain some mess and encourage hay intake. Alternatively a 'hay rack' above the litter tray can work well.
I’ve heard Lucerne hay is bad for rabbits…?
As you can see from the above table, it has a much higher average calcium content than other hays, and is some rabbits this can lead to increased calcium excretion in urine (also know as sludgy urine). Different rabbits have different requirements for calcium – not all rabbits are the same. So it’s not “bad” for rabbits, but it isn't not ideal for everyone. If you are not sure discuss this with your vet.
What can I do if bunnies do not like hay?
Some rabbits don’t like hay as much as their pellets and veggies and treats, so they will eat everything else before doing so. In this case give them the hay first, and reduce the amounts of other foods (but if your rabbit stops eating contact your vet!).
Some rabbits stop or reduce the amount of hay they eat as an early sign of dental disease – if your bunny used to love hay but now doesn’t – get your vet to check them over. Providing a mix of different hay types, spraying hay with apple juice, or hiding their pellets / treats in the hay often increases a bunnies consumption!
Chaff is also an option for rabbits which is cut up hay and this can be added into a bowl of 'pellets or mixes' to encourage hay intake and be a good transitional option!