Rabbit Hay: Why is Hay Essential for Pet Rabbits?

Rabbit hay should be freely available for pet rabbits

Very often, new rabbit owners don’t understand the importance of including rabbit hay as an indispensable part of their pet’s diet. Rabbit hay is an essential component of a pet rabbit’s diet, and performs a number of functions that are essential for keeping your pet healthy and happy. In the wild, rabbits will happily munch on all sorts of things, including grass, roots, shoots, and wild fruits and leafy vegetables. This not only ensures that they have a balanced diet, and that their nutritional requirements are adequately met; but it also maintains an overall healthy condition by keeping the digestion system functioning efficiently, and keeping the teeth worn down.

Dietary Requirements

Rabbits need to eat a diet that consists largely of fiber – ideally 95% of the diet should consist of hay. Roughage is essential in the diet to aid digestion and prevent gastrointestinal stasis – a life-threatening condition in rabbits. By supplying you rabbit with fresh hay every day, you will be providing your pet with a diet rich in fiber, which will ensure that the gut keeps moving efficiently to prevent gastrointestinal problems. Rabbit hay should ideally consist of hay that is high in fiber and low in calories, to ensure that your pet doesn’t succumb to health problems related to a diet too rich in protein. A diet high in calories can result in obesity, while excess protein and calcium can cause bladder stones, which are very painful, and difficult to detect in pet rabbits.

Timothy Hay for Rabbits

While there are a number of different types of rabbit hay that can be fed to your pet, timothy hay is the most suitable for use as rabbit hay, as it is high in fiber and low in calories, protein and calcium, yet still contains the essential nutrients that are vital for your bunny’s well-being.

Alfalfa Hay for Rabbits

Alfalfa hay is rich in calcium and protein and can be offered to an adult rabbit in moderation. However, because alfalfa is the main ingredient in rabbit pellets, which are also fortified with other minerals and vitamins to provide your pet with a balanced diet, generally adding extra alfalfa to your pet’s diet is not necessary. There are some exceptions, however. Baby rabbits, and pregnant or nursing mums will benefit from the additional protein and calcium content in alfalfa hay, which will assist with growth and building healthy bones and teeth.

Teeth

Rabbits are herbivores, and in the wild they nibble and gnaw on plant matter, twigs and pine cones as they forage for food. This constant munching action naturally wears down the rabbit’s teeth. To prevent the teeth from wearing down and not being able to function properly, their teeth continue to grow and can grow as much as 12cm a year. While this mechanism serves a rabbit well in the wild, it can lead to problems in domestic rabbits if they are not fed a diet that will keep the teeth worn down sufficiently. If a pet rabbit’s teeth grow too rapidly they can suffer from sharp points on the teeth that make eating painful, or from malocclusion where the teeth become misaligned. Both conditions could result in a rabbit struggling to eat and drink, which can lead to a slow death from starvation. To prevent this from happening, it is essential that a rabbit’s diet include a large percentage of roughage in the form of hay.

Featured Image By jpockele, via Flickr

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