For those of you, who are in a hurry: Here is my top pick, the Thimothy hay of Oxbow.
Pet ownership involves many responsibilities, and one of the most important is ensuring that your critter has the proper diet. When you’re the proud pet parent of a lagomorph, learning about their unique nutritional requirements is a must. Above all, rabbits need unlimited access to hay daily, making it a necessary staple no matter your bunny’s size or age.
Finding the best hay for rabbits does involve some research, but we’ve rounded up the best options to make it easier. Plus, we’ll cover what you need to know about each hay type. You can also look for pellet-type food in my article “Best Rabbit Food & Pellets For A Healthy Diet“.
In this article I am going to discuss the following types of hay:
- Timothy hay (view my pick on Amazon)
- Alfalfa hay (view my pick on Amazon)
- Meadow hay (view my pick on Amazon)
- Orchard grass hay (view my pick on Amazon)
- Oat hay (view my pick on Amazon)
Top 5 Best Hay Options For Your Rabbit
It’s easy to think all hay is the same, but that couldn’t be more wrong. When shopping for this essential bunny food, you want to look for all-natural options that will be suitable for your pet’s age and health needs. These are our top choices for the best hay for rabbits of all ages; just make sure to choose the option that fits your bunny’s age and dietary requirements.
Timothy is a type of grass hay, and it’s a reliable choice for all rabbits, no matter their age. It’s recommended to introduce Timothy hay into your rabbit’s diet as soon as possible, even if they’ve never had it before. That’s because it’s gentle on their GI tract and easy to digest.
It’s a sweet-smelling grass that will stimulate your bunny’s appetite and keep them munching all day long. It smells so good, I catch myself sniffing the bag now and then! Your bunny will also love the texture since it’s a mix of leaves and stems, resulting from second cutting.
One thing to know about this type of hay is that it’s lower in protein and other nutrients than other options. That’s why it’s a good idea to make this the base of your rabbit’s diet and add different types to fill in any gaps.
Still, this type of hay is always a good foundation for your bunny. They’ll chew on it all day to keep their teeth healthy and keep their digestion moving. Overall, Timothy hay is an excellent all-around choice that every rabbit owner should have on hand.
I recommend to opt for the Timothy hay of Oxbow. You can check it out on Amazon.
- 100% all-natural with no additives or binders
- Grown specifically for small pets
- Hand-sorted and packed
- Grown in the USA
- Quality is sometimes inconsistent
- Could be too crunchy for some rabbits
Alfalfa hay is an excellent type to mix into a young rabbit’s diet. Not only is it high in fiber, but it’s an option that’s rich in other nutrients, too. That’s because alfalfa isn’t a type of grass; it’s a legume.
This type of hay is harvested during the spring and summer months, and it’s high in minerals.
That’s why it’s such a good option for baby bunnies. It’s packed with the nutrients they need to stay energized and grow.
In general, alfalfa helps add variety since it is high in calcium and other essential nutrients like amino acids.
Another positive of alfalfa hay is that it has lower sugar content than grass hay. This doesn’t mean it should substitute staples like Timothy hay, though. Instead, mix or alternate the two types to balance your bunny’s diet and keep them interested in their meals.
I recommend to opt for the Alfalfa hay of Viking Farmer. You can check it out on Amazon.
- Free of additives, pesticides, preservatives, and GMOs
- Rich in nutrients for healthy digestive
- Excellent for baby rabbits under six months
- High in fiber
- Beautiful green color
- It contains several stems and leaf dust
- High in calcium
This Meadow hay is a second cut option, so it has a much softer texture. It’s not a specific type of grass, but a combination of grasses that naturally occur. The different grasses are mixed and dried together in a special kiln.
This type of hay doesn’t typically have many soft clippings, which is more common in second cut hay. But it does have a lot of different textures since it contains a mix of grasses. Your bunny will love it for the variety it offers.
The mix of grasses has a downside, though. You can wind up with hay that also contains other plants and debris like rocks. These can be dangerous to your bunny if they accidentally ingest them.
To avoid this, learn about the farm where the grass is grown and try to find out what types are included.
While it’s good to be wary, do know that this isn’t a regular problem. Reputable farms with a long history of producing quality hay are good about making sure their product is up to par.
I recommend to opt for the Meadow hay of SMF. You can check it out on Amazon.
- Includes a variety of textures and flavors
- Fresh smell and color
- Excellent supplemental hay
- Great for maintaining healthy teeth
- Inconsistent nutrient ratios because of the variety of grass
- May contain other plants or debris
Orchard grass hay is another terrific source of fiber while being low in protein, making it perfect for your rabbit’s sensitive digestion. This grass has a nice soft texture and a sweet, aromatic smell that will entice your rabbit to eat.
I’d suggest using this for picky eaters (which isn’t uncommon for rabbits). Even if your bun isn’t picky, there could be times their appetite drops. Things like changes in the environment or stress can cause your bunny not to eat, but remember that they need constant food.
A sweet smelling grass hay like this is excellent for stimulating a rabbit’s appetite. The texture is also inviting and makes your bunny want to nibble. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bun that can resist this one!
One thing I noticed is that not all rabbits respond to this type of hay. Mine liked it, but it’s not something I will always give them because they stopped eating it after a while.
I recommend to opt for the Orchard grass hay of Oxbow. You can check it out on Amazon.
- High in fiber
- Meets the nutritional requirements of rabbits
- Recommended by vets
- Soft in texture
- Sweet flavor rabbits can’t resist
- May contain a lot of stems
- Not all rabbits like this type of hay
If you’re looking to add variety to what your bunny munches on, oat hay is an excellent choice. That’s because oat hay contains, you guessed it, oats! These are a nice surprise that most buns can’t get enough of because they add a new texture to their food.
As much as rabbits love this one, there are some things you should be aware of when it comes to oat hay.
It’s primarily meant for healthy adult rabbits because it is not as gentle on the digestive tract as options like Timothy hay. Oat hay is also supposed to supplement their regular hay, but this isn’t always the case. If you find that your rabbit is allergic to Timothy hay, this is a good replacement.
If you do decide to introduce it, make sure to do it in small amounts and gradually increase the serving size over a few weeks. Oat hay may be excellent for diet diversity, but it’s high in calories, so proper portions are essential.
I recommend to opt for the Oat hay of Viking Farmer. You can check it out on Amazon.
- A tasty way to add variety
- Ideal for preventing GI stasis
- High in fiber
- Added texture and flavor from oats
- Not suitable for baby rabbits
- High in calories
Why Do Rabbits Need So Much Hay?
Rabbits have evolved over tens of thousands of years to get everything they need out of grass or hay. This is why it’s their primary source of nourishment, but there’s more to it than vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Rabbits need a constant supply of hay available to stay healthy because their digestive system requires it. Unlike other animals like dogs or cats, rabbits need food that will quickly move through their digestive tract while still delivering the nutrition they need.
On top of that, these small animals need a constant food supply to prevent their digestive system from going into gastrointestinal stasis. GI stasis is when food slowly passes through the GI tract and causes blockages. Stasis is extremely dangerous for rabbits and can even lead to death.
Hay provides most of the nutrients your rabbit needs. It has the perfect balance and levels of vitamins, minerals, and other essentials. In fact, most rabbit pellet blends are mostly hay with few other ingredients. Hay meets these nutritional guidelines for bunnies:
- 12% protein
- Less than 2% fat
- 14 to 20% fiber for maintenance
These numbers can increase slightly depending on the growth or size of your rabbit. Not all hay is made up of these exact percentages, and it can vary based on the following factors:
- The quality of the soil
- The type of seed
- The age of the plant when it’s cut
- How the producer stores the hay
Rabbits have 28 teeth, although you wouldn’t know it since we can only see their front two. Their teeth continue to grow throughout their life, so they need something fibrous and tough that can wear them down.
Their constant need for grazing also helps ensure their teeth stay in tip-top shape. If they are eating enough, their teeth can grow too long and cause significant problems.
Overgrown teeth can be painful for your bunny and lead to other problems like GI stasis. By having a constant supply of hay, you can ensure they always have something to chew on. It’s the best insurance you can invest in to ensure that your rabbit’s teeth stay healthy and strong.
Straw Hay vs. Grass Hay
Stray hay and grass hay are two common kinds of hay rabbit owners use. But is one better than the other? To answer that question, it’s important to understand the difference between these two types of hay.
Grass hay is the primary food source for rabbits. It’s essentially cut grass that has been dried. There are different types of grass hay like Timothy, Meadow, and Alfalfa. Each one provides the fiber your rabbit needs and has its own unique smell and nutrients. Certain ones are also not suitable for baby rabbits.
Straw hay is the leftover stalks of grain crops after the grains have been removed. It has a golden yellow color, and the stalks are hollow, similar to a straw. This type of hay is lower in nutrients, though. The lack of minerals and nutrients means it’s not an appropriate replacement for grass hay. However, your rabbit can still snack on it.
Another good way to use straw hay is for insulation. Lay some down in your rabbit’s cage as bedding, especially during cold winter months.
First Cut Hay vs. Second Cut Hay vs. Third Cut Hay
As if choosing hay wasn’t already tricky enough, there’s first cut hay, second cut hay, and third cut hay. The cut of the hay refers to the age of the plant when it was cut. The texture and flavor of the hay are directly affected by the cut.
First cut hay is the first cut of the season before the plant blooms. It has a lower nutritional value than other cuts of hay, and it’s also longer and stalkier. While this isn’t the best option to get your bun everything they need, it does grind their teeth down.
Second cut hay is cut a little later in the season after the first cut is removed and the crops bloom. This type of hay has a higher ratio of leaves to stems. The stems are also finer and softer. The texture makes it perfect for digestive maintenance and nutrient absorption.
This is a less common variety of hay that is softer, leafier, and heavier. This kind of hay only comes about if the season is long and hot enough. If this is the case, a third cutting is done towards the end of the year. Typically, this kind of cut only applies to alfalfa hay.
How to Choose the Right Hay
The first thing you should consider when choosing the best hay for your rabbit is their age. Different varieties of hay may be harder to break down for young or old rabbits.
You should also consider their weight. Certain types of hay, like Oat hay, are higher in calories. This is good if your bunny needs to put on a little weight, but could mean trouble for a rabbit with a normal or heavier weight.
Another familiar problem rabbit owners face is picky eating. These lovable furballs can be extremely picky and may not eat certain styles of hay. Sometimes a bun will even stop eating the hay that they formerly liked.
Times like these may call for you to incorporate other hay varieties into their diet to boost their appetite. If this is the case, try to introduce different options slowly. The digestive system of a rabbit is sensitive, so any changes can quickly disrupt movement in their GI tract.
Hay is the cornerstone of your rabbit’s diet, so choosing a natural option that is good for their digestive system is vital. Most experts recommend Timothy as the best hay for rabbits. Introducing Timothy as soon as possible is ideal since it’s high in fiber and gentle on your pet rabbit’s GI tract. But you can supplement this with other types of hay along with some pellets, leafy greens, and vegetables.
Learning to feed your rabbit the proper diet can sometimes be confusing. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions from newbie rabbit owners.
Can Baby Rabbits Have Timothy Hay?
Timothy hay is 100% safe for rabbits of any age, including babies, because it is so gentle. It’s recommended to introduce your bunny to Timothy hay as early as possible, even if they’ve never had it before.
How Much Hay Do Rabbits Eat in a Month?
The exact amount of hay a rabbit can eat depends on the rabbit’s size, but it’s safe to say they need as much hay as their body size per day. This translates into anywhere from 12 to 18 pounds of forage per month.
Can a Rabbit Survive on Just Hay?
Yes, your furry friend could survive on just hay and water. However, a healthy balance of pellets plus leafy greens and other vegetables is ideal for a healthy bun. Make the bulk of their diet something gentle like Timothy hay, serve limited pellets each day, and offer fresh produce in small amounts, too.
Can I Give My Rabbit Grass Instead of Hay?
Although it’s easy to assume that grass is a good substitute for hay, this is not the case. Rabbits can eat grass, and you can mix it into their diet, but they need hay specifically. That’s because it has the fiber they need to maintain a healthy digestive system, and it keeps their teeth strong and filed down.
Grass provides the same nutrients, but it’s also 70 to 90% water, meaning your rabbit would need to eat significantly more to get the exact amounts. It’s clear when it comes to caring for your bunny, there is no substitute for hay.
You might also be interested in the following articles:
- 8 Best Rabbit Harnesses That Are Safe & Comfy (Review & Guide)
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- 7 Best Outdoor Rabbit Hutch (Review & Guide)
- 7 Best Indoor Rabbit Cages (Review & Guide)
- 6 Best Rabbit Beddings That Are Safe & Cozy (Review & Guide)