What Is the Best Hay for Rabbits? A Nutritional Overview

by Emily Bingham
Best hay for rabbits

Hay is the most crucial part of a rabbit’s diet. From the time you bring them home, it should be the bulk of what you’re feeding your pet rabbits. 

As herbivores, rabbits need a variety of different plants in their diet. This includes more than hay and pellets, but also fruits, vegetables, and other leafy greens. (And don’t forget treats!)

Many people will tell you that timothy hay is always the best type of hay for rabbits, and while that is essentially true, it’s certainly not your only choice. Keep reading to learn what types of hay is best for your pet rabbits.  

Why Hay Is So Important for Your Pet Rabbits

In the wild, grass and leaves are pretty much all that rabbits ever eat. That’s it, that’s all. Sure, they might get some vegetables or herbs if they sneak into your garden, but that’s pretty rare. 

Your rabbits are really no different. Like I said earlier, even their pellets are made from hay. Hay and grass should be the biggest part of your pet rabbits’ diets.  

Here are some reasons why feeding your pet rabbits hay is so important. 

Digestive Health

A rabbit’s digestive tract is extremely crucial to their health. By feeding your pet rabbits hay, you’re helping them grow healthy gut flora and prevent gastrointestinal problems like hair blockages or GI stasis.

Dental Health and Chewing Needs

Rabbits need to chew things to help keep their teeth from overgrowing and locking up. Not just their front teeth, but their back grinders as well. Hay, paired with some types of wood like apple or willow will help your rabbit keep their teeth at the right length.

Can Prevent Boredom

If you have an insatiable chewer, you can deter them from chewing for a while by giving them more or different hay. It’s an enriching way to distract them for a while, as natural foraging occupies their minds, and the chewing motion helps with that oral fixation. 

You see, your pet rabbits, like other plant-eating mammals, are natural grazers. Grazing occupies a big part of their day, so if they’re enticed to stay with their hay, then it can prevent them from becoming bored while they’re in their cage. 

Best types of hay for rabbits

What Are the Best Types of Hay for Rabbits?

Hay is essentially just dried grass. There are all types of different hay grasses, like the most famous, timothy and alfalfa, and others you may have never heard of before like oat hay or orchard grass.

In this table, you can see the approximate nutritional value of each hay type. Nutritional value varies due to the soil it grows in, the time it’s cut, weather, etc. We’ll explain more about each type of hay in the section below.

Hay TypeCrude FiberCrude ProteinCalcium
Timothy Hay32-34%8-11%0.4-0.6%
Oat Hay31%10%0.4%
Orchard Grass34%10%0.33%
Alfalfa Hay28-34%13-19%1.2-1.4%
Meadow Hax33%7%0.6%
Source: therabbithouse.com

Here are the best types of hay you can feed your pet rabbits.

Timothy Hay

Timothy Hay is the most popular choice when it comes to feeding your pet rabbits. It has a great flavor rabbits love, is firm and crunchy, and is great for your pet rabbits’ digestion and oral health. Timothy hay also has the perfect balance of low protein and high fiber that a rabbit’s digestion depends on.  

Best for: 

  • Adult rabbits

Helps with:

  • GI functions
  • Digestion
  • Dental health

Oat Hay 

Oat hay is the crunchiest hay of them all. It’s the grass that oats are sown from. The firmer texture of oat hay provides better dental health for your bunny and may stop them from chewing so much. You can rotate it with some softer hay for better digestion. 

Best for: 

  • Adult rabbits
  • Rabbits who don’t chew enough for their teeth
  • Preventing destructive chewing 

Helps with: 

  • Dental health 

Orchard Grass

Orchard Grass is a cool-season grass that is longer and thinner than timothy hay and grows in bunches. This sweet and soft grass is perfect for weanlings and older rabbits because it is low in protein but packed full of fiber and has a high vitamin content.

Best for: 

  • Young rabbits (in addition to Alfalfa) 
  • Senior rabbits 

Helps with:

  • Vitamin supplementation 

Herbal or Botanical Hay 

Botanical or Herbal hay is a blend of Timothy hay and aromatic herbs. It has a much sweeter flavor because of the added plants and the texture is a middle-ground between crunchy and soft. Oxbow’s Botanical Hay blend features chamomile leaves, lavender leaves, lemon balm leaves, and clover.

Best for: 

  • Picky eaters 
  • Older rabbits

Helps with:

  • Diet enrichment 
  • Digestion

Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa is the sweetest and softest hay variety. Because of its richness and high calcium content, you shouldn’t feed Alfalfa to your adult rabbits as it can cause obesity and kidney or bladder stones. This type of hay is best suited for growing rabbits under 6 months of age who’ll benefit from the extra protein and calcium content.

Best for:

  • Rabbits under 6 months of age
  • Pregnant and nursing rabbits
  • Sick or underweight rabbits

Helps with:

  • Nutrition building
  • Weight gain

The Best Way to Feed Hay to Your Rabbits

How to feed hay to rabbits

As mentioned, hay should make up 80% of a rabbit’s diet. Kibble should make up 10-20% with some fruits and veggies added in for extra enrichment. 

Your pet rabbits should have access to it all the time, no matter the age, breed, or size.

A Pile of Hay

The simplest option is to just put a pile of hay on the floor of their cage. They’ll enjoy nibbling it right there on the spot. Although, if your rabbits tend to spread the hay around and it ends up getting covered with feces and urine, you might want to use some kind of container.

Grazing Box 

Grazing boxes are a great way to let your rabbits graze naturally. This is easy and inexpensive, especially if you’re feeding your rabbits more than one type of hay at a time. However, these can become a mess quite quickly and take up more room than hay feeders. 

Hay Feeder 

Hanging hay feeders, like bottled water feeders are connected to the cage by a wire. These are a good idea if your pet rabbits make a mess. They have less waste and are easy to fill back up. Do keep in mind that rabbits can get their head stuck in some types of feeders so make sure to choose one where it’s not possible for them to squeeze their head through.

The Best Hay? The One Your Rabbits Enjoy the Most

Other than Alfalfa, all listed types of hay (Timothy, Oat, Orchard Grass, and Botanical hay) are suitable for your adult rabbits. The best hay is the one your rabbits love to eat the most.

While Timothy hay is the reigning champ of most recommended, you’re not limited to that. In fact, it’s a good idea to enrich their diet with different types of hay. 

Personally, I feed my rabbits a little bit of everything (other than Alfalfa) to give them variety. Because my rabbits are different, I also look at their specific needs. For instance, my older rabbit prefers herbal and botanical hay, but I mix a little bit of orchard hay in there for the vitamin content. 

No matter how or what you do choose to feed your rabbits, make sure it’s always available, but not the only thing they’re eating. They can also get bored pretty easily, so you can switch it up every now and again.

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