Over thousands of years, rabbits have adapted to eating grasses and herbs. Therefore hay, which is dried grass, contains precisely the nutrients they need in the right proportions. Still, contrary to common belief, not all hay is the same.
As much as 80-90% of your rabbit's daily food intake should comprise hay. And because hay is such an essential part of their nutrition, it's important to ensure it is always fresh, and it's the right type with the correct balance of nutrients.
Proper rabbit nutrition is based on feeding hay. This is something all responsible rabbit parents know.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
So, which type of hay should you feed your bunny, and which brands offer the best quality to keep your pet healthy, happy, and thriving? Let's find out.
What Hay is Best for Rabbits? – Quick Guide
A quick guide to choosing the right hay for your rabbit:
- grass hay like timothy or orchard hay for adult rabbits
- legume hay like alfalfa for growing bunnies under the age of 7-12 months
- a mix of grass and legume hay for senior rabbits with geriatric issues
Make sure the hay
- is fresh and stored properly
- has a green color and a sweet smell
- is hand-selected to reduce dust
Pro tip: Rabbits eat a LOT of hay. Buying in bulk may seem easier, but if you're not storing the hay properly, it will lose nutrients and its freshness. Instead, go for the flexible repeat order to have fresh hay delivered to your doorstep whenever you need it – it's easy AND saves you money.
So, know you know what to look for. But what hay is best for rabbits? Here are a couple of our favorites.
Best Hay for Rabbits
The best hay for rabbits is timothy hay if your bunny is a normal weight adult rabbit. Other grass hays like orchard hay are also suitable. However, the best hay for young, growing rabbits is alfalfa hay, and for senior rabbits is a mix of grass and legume hay. Choosing the best hay will help your rabbit avoid health problems.
Best Timothy Hay for Rabbits
Timothy hay is the best choice for healthy adult rabbits
1. Small Pet Select Second Cut Timothy Hay – The Premium Choice
What we like about this hay:
- High-quality timothy hay
- Packaged loosely to avoid dust
- Hand-selected and packaged in small batches
- Cardboard box for easy storage
- Fresh, leafy, and soft
- Promotes digestive and dental health
- Good fiber to protein ratio for adult bunnies
This second cut timothy hay is a premium choice for your rabbit. It has an excellent ratio of leaves, stems, and seed heads, and an ideal nutritional balance for bunnies.
The cardboard box allows the hay to breathe while protecting it from sunlight and moisture. It keeps the hay fresh and enables easy storage. Your bunny will love the taste and texture!
2. Oxbow Western Timothy Hay – Excellent quality
What we like about this hay:
- Consistent quality
- No additives
- Grown in the USA
- Hand-sorted and hand-packed to avoid dust
- Supports digestion and dental health
- Good nutritional balance
- Taste and texture bunnies love
This highly popular and vet-recommended hay is a great choice for your rabbit.
It has all the right nutrients, and it's high in fiber to promote digestion. It's grown in the USA and hand-packaged to minimize dust. Your bunny will love the taste and freshness.
3. Kaytee Timothy Hay – Great budget choice
What we like about this hay:
- All-natural with no preservatives
- Grown in the USA
- High in fiber for digestive health
- Low in calcium to support urinary health
- 1st and 2nd cut hay for a good leaf to stem ratio
- Hand-selected to avoid dust
- Tasty and fresh
This well-liked timothy hay from Kaytee is the perfect choice if you're on a budget, but you want to ensure a balanced diet for your rabbit.
This hay is low in protein and calcium to prevent weight gain and bladder sludge but high in fiber for supporting digestion. It is hand-selected to ensure quality and reduce dust, and also carefully packaged to guarantee freshness and nutrients.
Containing mostly 1st cut hay, it offers a lot of stems to chew on, which supports your bunny's dental health.
Best Alfalfa Hay for Rabbits
Alfalfa hay is best for for growing bunnies under the age of 7-12 months.
Oxbow Alfalfa Hay Small Animal Food - Best Hay for Baby Rabbits
- All-natural high-quality alfalfa hay
- Grown in the USA
- High in calcium to promote healthy bones
- High in protein to support growth
- Contains important vitamins and minerals
- Tasty and fresh
This alfalfa hay from Oxbow offers the perfect nutritional balance for growing baby rabbits or nursing females. It contains more calcium to promote healthy bones and teeth and more protein to help support growing muscles.
Because it tastes great, this hay appeals to kittens transitioning to hay from their mother's milk. It can also be a good way to get your adult bunny eating and getting the energy needed for post-operation recovery. The hay is hand-sorted for less dust and consistent quality.
Best Hay for Bunnies – Buyers Guide
Hay makes up about 80-90% of a rabbit's daily food intake. Therefore, it is the most important food in your bunny's diet and needs to be the right kind and of high quality.
You should feed your adult bunny with grass hay like timothy, orchard grass, or oat hay. You can either feed one of these of go for a mix that offers some variety in the diet.
Younger, growing rabbits should be fed alfalfa hay, which is legume hay and rich in protein, but they should be switched over to grass hay as their growth stops at about 7-12 months of age.
- Always ensure the hay is fresh, has a green color to it, and smells sweet.
- Your rabbit should have unlimited hay available at all times.
It can become expensive, as rabbits much through quite a big pile every day. Still, buying in bulk is not always recommended as freshness is very important, and hay may lose nutrients and go bad if not properly stored.
A repeat order from an online store can save you some money while having the hay delivered to your doorstep whenever you need it.
Why Do Rabbits Need Hay?
Hay is an essential part of a rabbit's diet. This is why:
Hay provides fiber
Fiber is vital for your rabbit's gastrointestinal health. Their digestive system works fast and relies on indigestible fiber (long roughage) that keeps the food moving together with water. The fiber is not broken down, but it encourages peristalsis, which are muscle contractions that move the food forward in the digestive tract.
If your bunny doesn't receive enough fiber if their food, their digestive system will not function properly. It may even lead to the movement of food slowing down in their gut, causing a severe and possibly fatal state called gut stasis, which is a medical emergency and warrants prompt veterinary attention.
Hay also contains digestible fiber, which is fermented by bacteria in a small sac at the end of the small intestine. This sack is called caecum, and it is where the microbes produce important nutrients that are passed as soft droppings called cecotropes.
The rabbit eats these droppings to further digest nutrients like B vitamins and fatty acids. If your rabbit doesn't get the roughage it needs to produce the cecotropes it needs, it may become malnourished quickly.
Hay supports dental health through chewing
Rabbits have ever-growing teeth that need to be worn down by chewing. Otherwise, your bunny's teeth will become painfully long and need to be trimmed down by the vet.
Rabbits dislike being handled by unknown people. Although the trimming is performed under sedation, the handling part remains uncomfortable. That is why it is better to prevent over-grown teeth than to have them treated.
Because rabbits have open rooted teeth that grow throughout their life, they need to eat something that constantly helps wear them down by chewing and grinding. And hay is perfect for keeping those teeth trim!
Prevents behavioral problems
As grazers, rabbits are used to spending a lot of time eating and enabling this behavior for your pet rabbit will also prevent behavioral problems. Hay is a low-calorie food that keeps your pet healthy while they continuously chew on it.
Things You Should Consider When Buying Hay for Rabbits
Because it is such an important part of your pet's diet, you should pay attention to the quality of the hay you buy – although, because hay is a natural product, color, texture, and nutritional values will vary.
Still, there are a few key things you should keep in mind when choosing hay for your rabbit.
- The hay your buy should be fresh, or your rabbit may refuse to eat it. Also, fresh hay has more nutrients.
- The hay should have a greenish color, which indicates that vitamins haven't started to degrade. Brown hay may have lost some of its nutrients. Fresh hay also has a sweet smell with no musty odor.
- Hay should be loosely packed and protected from sunlight, and the package should not be airtight to keep the contents from going bad.
- Rabbits can be sensitive to dust, and some hay brands are dustier than others. Try to opt for hay that has the least dust in it. Hand-selecting will reduce dust, as will packaging it loosely in a box.
3. Size of the package
- Buying hay by the bale is often cheaper, but you need to have space for storing it properly, or it may become moldy. Buying packaged hay in smaller portions is often a more convenient solution because although it is not as cheap, it is readily available, easier to store, and the consistency is better.
- Although the brand is not important in itself, you should look for brands that are known for safe, high-quality products that ensure consistency.
- Rabbits will much through a big pile of hay every week. Although it may be tempting to buy the cheapest one you find, remember that your rabbit's health depends on the food (and most importantly the hay!) it eats. The easiest way to save money is to avoid trips to the vet.
Which Hay is Best for Rabbits?
- The best hay for adult rabbits is timothy hay.
- The best hay for your rabbit under 7-12 months of age is alfalfa hay.
Mixing up different types is recommended as well.
You can mix up hay types to give your rabbit a varied diet since different hays and grasses have different nutritional values. They taste different, too, so your bunny will enjoy the change.
Benefits of mixing up the type of hay your offer:
- Variety encourages rabbits to eat more hay
- It prevents selective eating and accepting only one type of hay
- It allows a more varied and balanced diet
This table will give you an idea of the difference nutrition-wise:
Types of Hay for Rabbits
Hay is vital for keeping your bunny healthy, but there is more to hay than you may think. Different types have specific nutritional values, and some types are more suitable for rabbits than others.
The ideal nutritional values for adult bunnies would be:
- 12% protein
- less than 2% fat
- 14-20% fiber
(For young, growing rabbits, 16% protein, 2-4% fat, and 14-16% fiber is recommended)
The nutrient content may vary depending on the type of seed, quality of the soil, at what stage the plant is cut, and how the hay is stored once it's dried.
1. Timothy Hay for Rabbits
- Most popular, readily available, and an excellent choice for your pet
- Doesn't have to be limited
- High in fiber to promote digestive health
- Low in protein to prevent weight gain
- Low calcium content
- Best choice for adult rabbits
Timothy hay, which is dried timothy grass, is an excellent choice for adult rabbits. First cut timothy hay contains less protein and fat, and it can also be higher in fiber, which is good for overweight bunnies.
The second cut, on the other hand, is a great choice for any rabbit, while the third cut is a bit higher in protein but lower in fiber, which is why it suits young rabbits the best. The greenish color ensures higher levels of vitamins A and E.
2. Orchard Hay for Rabbits
- Soft and leafy texture
- High in fiber to promote gastrointestinal health
- Low in protein to prevent gaining weight
- Low in calcium
- Excellent for picky eaters
- Sweet smell and taste make it more palatable
3. Meadow Hay for Rabbits
- A natural mix of several types of grasses
- Protein and calcium content may vary
- Should be limited because the nutritional values are not known exactly
- Softer and contains more leaves
- Can provide variety for your rabbit
4. Oat, Wheat and Barley Hay for Rabbits
- High in fiber to support digestion
- Contains many minerals and vitamins
- Low in protein
- Best when mixed with other grasses
Oat, wheat, and barley are usually grown for their cereal grain, but if harvested before the seed heads become ripened and the color turns yellow, they can be fed like other types of grass hay. After the plant turns brown, it becomes straw, which is not nutritionally sound and more suitable as bedding.
Oat hay can also be a great choice if you're allergic to hay and looking for a hypoallergenic alternative.
5. Dried Grass for Rabbits
Dried grass (also called barn dried hay) has been dried quickly to prevent loss of nutrients. It looks a bit greener due to the drying process and contains more protein than hay. It is closer to fresh grass in nutritional value and should, therefore, be introduced gradually if your bunny has a sensitive stomach.
It is very palatable and a good choice for picky hay eaters. Still, it should be mixed with hay when feeding it to overweight rabbits because it's high in protein.
6. Herbal Hay for Rabbits
- Usually, timothy hay with herbs like chamomile or dandelion added
- Tasty and flavorful
- Encourages foraging
Herbal hay can be a great way to encourage foraging and to offer your bunny a varied diet. The diversity of tastes and smells will offer stimulation and variety for your rabbit.
7. Alfalfa Hay for Rabbits
Alfalfa is actually not hay of grass but a legume. Therefore, it is a richer food with more protein than grass hay and contains too much energy for the average adult bunny.
It is more suitable for young, growing kits that need the extra energy for putting on weight or adult bunnies struggling to maintain a healthy weight. Pregnant or nursing females may also benefit from the extra protein.
Also, because alfalfa is higher in calcium, it may lead to bladder sludge and urinary stones in adult rabbits. Young bunnies, however, need the extra calcium for healthy bone growth.
If you want to offer your adult rabbit some variety, you can mix alfalfa hay with other types like orchard hay, which is lower in calcium. Still, ensure your pet is not getting more calcium in its food than it should.
Do Rabbits Eat Hay or Straw?
Rabbits eat hay, not straw. The difference between hay and straw is that straw has lower nutritional value and will not substitute fresh grass in your rabbit's diet like hay. Although it is completely safe for your pet to chew straw, rabbits should have access to unlimited hay to ensure a nutritionally sound diet.
The difference between hay and straw is that straw has lower nutritional value and will not substitute fresh grass in your rabbit's diet like hay.
Oat, wheat, and barley hay are examples of grasses that are harvested before their seed heads are ripened, and they turn to straw, which is not as nutritious and better used as bedding for bunnies. These grasses can be fed just like any other grass hay if they have been harvested at the right stage.
Which Cut of Hay is Best for Rabbits?
First cut hay is the first growth of the year for a field. It is sometimes considered lower quality hay to feed pets, but if the hay is cut early on before it becomes coarser, it can be an excellent choice for your rabbit. If the hay is left to growing too long, it will be more unpalatable, less nutritious, and hard to digest.
Second cutting is the second crop of the year from the field. The hay has more leaves, and it is finer and softer than the first cut. On the other hand, there is more crude protein and fat, but it's usually lower in fiber.
A third cut may be possible if the growing season is long enough. The hay in this cut is typically soft and mostly leaves with very few stems. It is usually lower in fiber, which is why it's not ideal for rabbits if not mixed with other cuts.
Do Rabbits Eat Grass?
Because in the wild rabbits are grazers, grass is the most natural food your rabbit can eat. Ideally, you would keep your bunny outside in a pen and allow them to graze freely.
Rabbits eat grass, so why do I need hay?
Feeding your pet rabbit with grass is not usually very practical. The quantity of grass that rabbits need every day is huge, and providing them hay, which is basically dried grass, is more convenient. There are many reasons for choosing hay, including:
- Many bunny owners don't have a yard.
- By letting your rabbit outside to feed, you are exposing it to all kinds of risks like dangerous terrain or predators.
- Plants in the garden may not be safe for the rabbit.
Hay is more easily stored and readily available. Although it is not quite as nutritious as grass, it's usually the best choice, all things considered.
You can grow grass in pots or cut your rabbit some delicious grass from the backyard if you want. However, the amounts of grass rabbits need every day are considerable, and grass is usually more of a supplement while hay makes up most of their daily feed.
If your bunny isn't used to eating grass, it should be introduced gradually to avoid any stomach upsets.
How Much Hay Should I Feed My Rabbit Each Day?
Hay should make up about 80 % of a rabbit's diet, but they should have unlimited hay available at all times. In the wild, bunnies spend most of the day foraging and grazing. The constant chewing of hay is what keeps their digestion working properly, and their teeth trimmed.
When it comes to estimating the quantity, you can start with a ball of hay the size of your bunny. Check how much has been eaten after 12 hours and 24 hours to determine if you should add more hay to the daily offering.
Grass hay such as timothy can be fed without limitations, while alfalfa hay needs to be limited or completely restricted from the diet of adult rabbits.
Related reading: What Do Rabbits Eat and Drink?
How often should I change my rabbit's hay?
You should top up your rabbit's hay once a day and change it completely every week when cleaning the cage. If the hay is wet or has been soiled, it should be changed straight away.
Having a hay rack will help you keep the hay clean.
How to keep rabbit hay fresh?
The hay you provide your rabbit should always be fresh and clean. First of all, you should ensure your buying hay that is fresh and has not lost too many nutrients. A greenish color and a sweet smell are signs of fresh hay.
Buying in bulk by the bale may be cheaper, but storing the hay to protect it from going bad and becoming moldy may become an issue.
Ideally, hay is stored
- in the dark
- away from the moisture
- in a breathable bag or box
- in a cool environment
Best Hay Feeder for Rabbits
- Keeps the hay clean and fresh
- Reduces waste
- Safe and fun
- Easy to fill and clean
- Works for all types of cages and habitats
- Keeps the hay clean
- Reduces waste
- Durable and easy to use
- Suitable for most wire cages
- Keeps your bunny's hay clean
- Minimizes waste
- Durable and bite resistant
- Easy to fill up and clean
Can you overfeed a rabbit hay?
No, if you choose the right type of hay, you will not overfeed your rabbit. Timothy hay is a good choice for adult rabbits because it's low in protein but high in fiber. Kepp unlimited timothy hay available, and your bunny will eat as much as it needs.
Although hay is very important for rabbits, they can sometimes be reluctant to eat it. Not eating enough hay often results in dental and digestive issues, so it is vital for keeping your bunny healthy.
Here are a few tips on how to get your rabbit to eat hay:
- Different types of hay taste different. Some types are tastier, while others are not so palatable. You can try different types to find which one your bunny prefers.
- Always make sure that the hay is fresh, it's greenish in color, and it has a sweet smell.
- Rabbits often like to munch on hay while they are using their litter tray. Your pet may prefer a certain spot, so try to figure out which one works the best.
- Hay can also be a great way to keep your pet active. Getting your pet to nibble on hay may encourage them to start eating it. For example, block a tunnel with hay, so your bunny will have to have a taste when trying to remove it.
- Reduce dry food and veggies. Bunnies may prefer other tasty options they may have gotten used to. Still, eating hay is important for their health, so it should be encouraged by limiting other foods.
What brand of hay is best for rabbits?
The best brand of hay for rabbits is Small Pet. It is a well-liked premium brand that uses cardboard packaging to keep the hay fresh and minimize dust.
There are many popular brands of rabbit hay on the market. Because hay may vary in quality depending on, for example, where it was grown, when it was harvested and how it was stored, the consistency is not always ensured.
Kaytee is one of those well-known brands with good-quality products that are readily available. Oxbow is another popular brand and often considered somewhat better than Kaytee hay. Small Pet is also known for its excellent quality.
Instead of buying commercially packaged hay, you can also buy it by the bale at farms. Although cheaper, storing it may be an issue, and the quality may not be consistent.
Is meadow or timothy hay better for rabbits?
While timothy hay is just dried timothy grass, meadow hay consists of a variety of grasses and sometimes also pieces of other plants. Although meadow hay may provide variety for your bunny, nutritional values are not consistent. It can also lead to selective eating as picky eaters may only choose to eat the tastiest bits, often leading to weight gain.
It is recommended to feed mainly timothy hay to your bunny, as it has the optimal nutritional content for adult rabbits. Mix it with some meadow hay now and then will offer variety, encourage foraging, and offer your pet additional nutrients.
What is better for rabbits, timothy, or alfalfa?
Timothy hay is better for adult rabbits. There is no need to limit timothy hay because it contains exactly what your bunny needs. It is high in fiber to support digestion, low in protein to prevent obesity, and the calcium content is low to reduce the risk of bladder sludge and urinary stones.
Alfalfa hay, on the other hand, is rich in protein and calcium but contains less fiber. It is more suitable for young rabbits that benefit from the extra energy that supports their growth. Underweight and pregnant or nursing bunnies may also benefit from alfalfa hay, but always check with your vet first.
Can a rabbit live on hay alone?
Yes, rabbits can live on hay and water alone. Still, it is recommended to add leafy greens, vegetables, and pellets into their diet.
In the wild, rabbits eat grass. Hay is essentially dried grass, but it has lost some of the nutrients in the drying process. Therefore, by adding fresh produce and pellets into your pet's diet, you will ensure he gets all the essential nutrients.
Can a baby bunny eat timothy hay?
Yes, baby bunnies can eat timothy hay. Alfalfa hay is considered better for rabbits under the age of 7-12 months, but they can feed on timothy hay as well. If your baby rabbit prefers timothy hay, it is recommended to feed them alfalfa pellets. Still, rabbits will grow up healthy with timothy hay too.
Read Next: Best Food For Rabbits in 2021
Proper rabbit nutrition is based on feeding hay. This is something all responsible rabbit parents know. What most do not know is that hay is, in fact, dry grass that retained most of its nutritional content.
Both wild and domestic pet rabbits have the same digestive tract. However, their feeding habits are different – while wild rabbits graze on fresh grass, modern city rabbits lack that luxury. This is where hay comes in handy. Namely, the hay serves as a good substitute for fresh grass. It is rich in vitamins A and D, calcium and has trace amounts of proteins.
However, hay lacks moisture, which is why you should add some fresh veggies to your beloved rabbit’s menu.
To make things more interesting for your bunny, you can stuff the hay in a specifically designed treat toy. Your furry baby will love this.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your rabbit’s specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.