Rabbits have become one of many fur lovers’ favorite animal companions. If you have a pet bunny, you’ll surely want him to live and long and healthy life. Well, feeding him right is one means to achieve that goal. That’s probably why “do rabbits need hay” is a question many new bun parents ask. So let’s find out if they do and why.
Feeding Your Rabbit
Before we discuss hay in detail, let’s first talk about how to feed your precious fur baby.
Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they eat plants. They also eat continuously, which is why they’re called grazers. But because of their complex digestive system, providing the right food is extremely important. Otherwise, they can suffer from health issues, some of which can even lead to death.
Rabbits need large amounts of fibrous foods. That’s why experts recommend a diet that’s made up of 80% hay. You can supplement with leafy greens and fresh veggies, pellets, and occasional treats, but hay should be the mainstay of your pet’s meals.
Water should also be available 24/7, so top off or replace the contents of your bun’s water bowl or bottle regularly.
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But Why Do Rabbits Need Straw Hay?
The long fibers that make up hay are good for your bun, and here are the reasons why.
Your Rabbit’s Gut Needs to Move
Owing to your fur baby’s complex digestive system, he has to eat constantly throughout the day to keep his gut moving. But not just any food will do. Rabbits need fibrous material to help the muscles in their digestive tract stay strong and push whatever they eat along their intestines. Otherwise, blockages may form.
Many things can cause blockages in your bun’s gut. Matted fur, chewed-up carpet pieces, paper, and cardboard are just some of them. If they don’t get pushed down the intestinal tract, his digestive functions can slow down, which can lead to GI stasis, a potentially dangerous condition for rabbits.
Rabbits Must Wear Down Their Perpetually Growing Teeth
Your bun’s teeth have open roots which keep those pearly whites growing for the rest of his life, and the growth rate is pretty fast. Rabbit teeth usually lengthen by around 3-5 inches a year.
In the wild, rabbits eat tough plant material that helps grind down those ever-growing teeth. That’s a good thing because if left unchecked, long teeth can cause health issues such as dental diseases and eye infections that impact a bunny’s health.
Domestic rabbits don’t usually have access to the natural vegetation that keeps the length of their teeth in check. That makes hay a vital element of your pet’s diet. Chewing the long fibers that hay contains provides the right side-to-side jaw-action needed to grind down his teeth.
Rabbits Need Mental and Physical Stimulation
Like humans, rabbits get bored and lonely, too, if they have nothing to do. Even buns who have free rein over the house will long for some activity. Hay encourages natural bunny behaviors like grazing and foraging by making them search for the best tasting portions of the stalk and chewing on the rigid material. Grazing and foraging keep your pet busy, which helps prevent boredom.
How Much Can Rabbits Eat?
Because hay is so important to rabbits, they need to eat a large amount (as much as their body weight). That’s why experts recommend that you provide an unlimited supply to your pet 24/7. However, you’ll need to replace his stock as it gets stale, which makes it unappealing to eat. Make sure your bun has access to freshwater, too, which will make the hay go down nicely.
The stale hay won’t go to waste as you can use it for your pet’s toilet needs.
Can Rabbits Eat Straw of Any Kind?
Not all hay is the same. Various types range from cheap, dusty, and yellow bits (which you should avoid!) to sweet-smelling and luscious fresh hay. Timothy hay is the more popular variety, and many bun parents feed it to their adult pets. Still, you have other options such as oat hay and grass hays like brome, bluegrass, orchard, and ryegrass.
Alfalfa hay has higher levels of calcium and protein, which makes it an excellent choice for baby rabbits but not for grown ones.
What to Do If Your Rabbit Won’t Eat Hay
Rabbits who have gotten used to pellets will sometimes ignore hay. That’s because pellets are mostly made up of carbohydrates, and bunnies prefer carbs over fiber. However, your pet needs hay, so you’ll have to find ways to make them eat it.
One way to do so is by limiting their pellet intake. You can even eliminate pellets for a while. That is until your fussy eater gets used to a daily meal that’s made up mostly of hay. Grown rabbits can get all the nourishment they need from good quality hay, so taking away your bun’s pellets for a while won’t hurt him.
A word of caution, though. Slowly reduce your bun’s pellet servings, especially if they form the bulk of his meals. Remember, rabbits are sensitive creatures, so sudden changes in their diet and routine can have negative consequences.
If your rabbit is on the thin side, he may still need the carbs he gets from pellets, so you can resume feeding him some eventually. Just exercise some restraint on the portions you give so he doesn’t stop eating his hay.
How to Make Your Rabbit Eat More Hay?
Yes, rabbits can live on hay and water alone. However, providing a smaller amount of fresh veggies, fruits, pellets, and treats adds variety to your pet’s meals. Still, some buns will turn to tastier stuff to munch on if given a choice. Fortunately, there are ways to make your bunny eat more of what’s good for him.
Here are some tips:
- Try various types of hay and grasses. You’ll likely find some that your bun particularly likes.
- Because rabbits love sweet things, you can try spraying a small amount of pineapple juice on some hay. Let it dry and feed it to your bun.
- Stuff some hay in cardboard tubes or other toys to make eating hay part of the games he plays.
- Put hay into small piles and include some tasty bits, such as dandelion and herbs, to encourage your pet to forage.
- Place a fresh pile in their litter tray. Rabbits usually munch on hay when they go to the toilet.
Rabbits give us such great joy, so in return, we should ensure that we give them the best of care. Along with that, learning the right way to feed your bun will add to the years you can enjoy his company.
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