Do you want your rabbit to thrive on a healthy, natural diet? The key is choosing the right hay and grass! Rabbit diets mostly consist of high-fiber grass hay and leafy greens to maintain a happy, healthy bunny. But with so many options from timothy to oat to orchard grass, how do you pick the best hay? What about fresh wheatgrass and meadow grasses? This ultimate guide reveals the different grass hay and fresh green options, their nutritional value, and how to select the highest quality hay for happy nibbling. You’ll learn timothy hay’s top benefits, why rabbits love orchard grass, which fresh grasses to feed, and how much hay your bunny really needs. Get ready to discover the ideal hay and grass to keep your rabbit hopping with outstanding nutrition and dental health!
More About Grass
Grass makes up the majority of a rabbit's diet and provides them with fiber needed for healthy digestion. Grass hay is lower in calories, protein and calcium than legume hay like alfalfa. Grass also contains silica, which helps wear down constantly growing rabbit teeth. The fiber in grass hay promotes gut motility to prevent deadly GI stasis. Grass hay offers a high fiber, low energy food source ideal for adult rabbits.
Many factors impact the nutritional quality of grass including plant variety, time of harvest and storage conditions. In general, grasses harvested at earlier growth stages have more nutrients. Cool, dry storage preserves nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin E and carotenoids. Proper curing also helps retain nutrients. Well cured hay retains green color rather than turning brown.
Rabbits selectively graze preferred grasses. In the wild, they choose tender shoots and leaf blades which contain more nutrients and moisture. You can offer grass hay freely but also provide some fresh grass for added variety. Introduce new grass gradually to allow the digestive system to adjust. Always ensure any grass is free of pesticides, fertilizers and parasites.
Rabbit Hay and Grass to Choose From
There are many types of grass and grass hays to choose from for your rabbit. The specific variety you select depends on the rabbit's age, health status, preferences and availability in your area. Some top grass hay options include Timothy, orchard, oat, brome, Bermuda, meadow, wheat, barley and ryegrass hay. You can also offer fresh grasses like wheatgrass and Bermuda grass.
Timothy Hay: This is a top choice for adult rabbits. It is lower in calcium and protein than legume hay. The long fibers promote dental health.
Orchard Grass Hay: Has high fiber content. It has a coarser texture than Timothy hay.
Oat Hay: Lower in fiber than Timothy hay but soft and palatable. Good for underweight rabbits.
Brome Hay: Contains more protein than Timothy hay. The coarse stems provide fiber.
Bermuda Grass Hay: A good alternative to Timothy but higher in oxalates. Best in moderation.
Meadow Hay: This mix of grasses provides variety. Ensure it does not contain legumes.
Wheatgrass and barley grass: Nutritious, low calorie fresh forage. Best as a supplement due to oxalates.
Bermuda Grass: A nutritious fresh grass but feed in moderation. High in oxalate and calcium.
Ryegrass: A winter grass higher in NSCs. Only feed in limited amounts.
Specialized Hay and Grass:
In addition to regular grass hay, there are some specialized grass hay products made just for rabbits. These include:
- Hay cubes or pellets – Dried, compressed grass hay for less mess
- Pre-bagged grass mixes – Timothy/orchard or oat/Timothy mixes
- 3rd cut Timothy hay – Higher protein, lower fiber than 1st or 2nd cut
- Organic grass hay – Grown without pesticides or chemicals
- Hand-selected, leafy hay – Lower stem content, rabbits' preferred parts
- Fresh wheatgrass – Can be grown at home for a nutritious treat
These tend to be more expensive but can offer added convenience or nutrition. Consider if the extra cost is worth it for your needs.
Selecting the Right Rabbit Hay and Grass
Here are some tips for selecting the best grass hay and fresh grasses for your rabbit:
- Choose grass over legume hays like alfalfa, clover or lucerne for adult rabbits
- Select fine-stemmed hays for smaller mouths or elderly rabbits
- Avoid hay with excessive dust, mold or insect damage
- Whenever possible, buy hay from a trusted producer or rabbit expert
- Look for soft, pliable hay that retains its aroma and greenness
- Try pre-bagged hay for convenience or to sample new varieties
- Introduce new grass slowly over a week, watch for soft stools
- Always inspect fresh grass and prevent exposure to chemicals
- Rotate grass hays for variety to ensure adequate nutrient intake
- Grass hay pellets can minimize waste but don't provide dental benefits
Providing a range of grass hays and sometimes fresh grasses will keep your rabbit interested in this key part of their diet. Monitor their preferences and stool quality to find the best options.
Timothy hay is regarded as the top choice for adult rabbits. Here's an overview of its benefits:
- Lower in calories, protein and calcium than legume hay
- Higher fiber content promotes healthy digestion
- Long strands wear down constantly growing teeth
- Pleasant aroma appeals to most rabbits
- Widely available, relatively affordable rabbit hay
The fine stems in Timothy hay are readily eaten by rabbits compared to coarser grasses. It has a lower nutrient content more suitable for maintaining most adult rabbits. Timothy hay helps provide the high fiber but low calorie and protein levels required in rabbit diets.
Timothy hay digests slower, providing a constant source of gut fill. This promotes motility to prevent deadly stasis issues. The long fibers also chip away at rabbit teeth, helping wear them down at the same rate they grow.
When shopping for Timothy look for fresh, green color and a pleasant odor. Discard any hay that smells musty, is easily crushed or has a brownish tint. Also inspect the hay and remove thick, stiff stems rabbits may avoid. Offering the leafiest portions encourages hay consumption. Gradually transition to new batches of Timothy hay.
Orchard grass hay is another top choice for adult rabbits. Key facts about orchard grass include:
- Higher fiber than Timothy hay but lower protein content
- Coarser, rougher texture than soft Timothy stems
- Bright green color when fresh, dries to pale green/yellow tint
- Strong grassy scent, potent aroma appeals to rabbits
- May encourage chewing and grinding more than Timothy
The crude fiber in orchard grass hay ranges from 28% to 35%, higher than Timothy's 25% to 30%. It contains less protein, averaging under 10% versus Timothy's 12% or more. Orchard grass hay promotes dental health with its tough, fibrous stems. The rougher texture causes more grinding than softer Timothy hay.
When feeding orchard grass, watch for choke hazards from the thicker stems. Orchard tends to become brittle when old so check for musty patches. Look for vibrant green hay that maintains its aroma. Slowly transition between old and new batches to allow an adjustment period.
Meadow grass consists of a blend of various pasture grasses harvested together. Typical meadow grass hay includes ryegrass, clover, brome and fescue. Key facts about meadow grass hay include:
- Mixed composition provides nutritional variety
- Protein and fiber content varies based on blend
- Often more palatable and softer than single grass hay
- Important to ensure legumes like clover are not included
- Lower cost alternative to grass hays like Timothy
The diverse blend of grasses can increase palatability for picky rabbits. They enjoy the mix of textures and subtle flavor differences. Meadow grass is often very leafy and soft too. Rabbits consume more of the plant versus single grass hay where they pick out only preferred parts.
Check labels to ensure meadow grass does not contain legumes. These are higher in calories, protein and calcium inappropriate for most adult rabbits. Carefully inspect meadow grass hay for any moldy, crushed or browned areas indicating spoilage. Slowly transition between meadow grass batches to allow adjustment.
Some Regular Questions and Answers on Hay for Rabbits
Should I Stick to One Hay Type?
It's fine to feed only one grass hay type if your rabbit readily consumes it and maintains good health. But rotating hays offers benefits including:
- Prevents boredom from monotony
- Ensures adequate nutrient intake if composition varies
- Provides diversity in texture for dental health
- Allows evaluation of preferences to find optimal hay
Try different grass hays like Timothy, orchard, oat or brome hay. Mix two or three types and see which are consumed most. Rotate every few months or offer a blend daily. Just transition slowly between hays.
What Are the Most Important Attributes of Quality Rabbit Hay?
The key attributes of high quality grass hay include:
- Fresh, green color without brown, yellow tint
- Pleasant, strong scent appealing to rabbits
- Minimal dust, mold, insects or foreign objects
- High leaf to stem ratio, lots of soft leaves
- Good texture – no thick, coarse stems or sticks
- Little wasted damaged by rainfall, improper storage
- Harvested, cured and handled properly
- Free of pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers
Grass hay that possesses these qualities will have the highest nutrition and palatability for fussy rabbits. Always inspect hay well and ask suppliers about their harvest and storage practices.
What Quantity of Hay Should I Provide for My Rabbit?
Rabbits should have unlimited access to grass hay at all times. Provide a generous pile that lasts most of the day before replenishing. Rabbits are grazers and prefer to nibble hay steadily versus large meals.
A good baseline amount to offer is:
- 1/2 cup daily per 2 lbs body weight
So for a 4 lb dwarf breed, provide at least 1 cup of hay per day. Increase or decrease based on actual consumption. Growing, pregnant/nursing, or active rabbits need more hay. Observe hay intake and adjust to ensure leftovers.
Always have hay available in the enclosure, even if also feeding at set times. This gives rabbits the chance to graze whenever hungry. Never run out of hay – it promotes good digestion and dental health.
Choosing suitable grass hay and fresh grasses is key to keeping an adult rabbit healthy. Focus on staple grass hays like Timothy, orchard and oat hay as the basis of the diet. Then supplement with some fresh grasses for variety. Select hays that are green, fragrant and stem-free for maximum palatability. Rotate grass hay types to encourage consumption. Always feed unlimited hay so your rabbit can graze freely. Monitor their preferences, stool quality and dental health to ensure the grass hay meets their needs. With high quality grass hay as the dietary foundation, your rabbit will enjoy excellent nutrition.