- 1 Importance
- 2 Types
- 3 Quality
- 4 Where to buy
- 5 How to store hay
- 6 Dispensing hay
- 7 Not Eating Enough Hay
- 8 Further Reading
- 9 See Also
- 10 References
Hay is the most important part of a rabbit's diet. It is the prime source of fiber to keep the GI tract of a rabbit working properly and also helps grind down teeth to prevent overgrowth. See Teeth for more information as to what sort of problems a lack of fiber in their diet can cause. Hay can also serve as entertainment as it takes a while to chew. Some bunnies like digging and rearranging their hay. Rabbits will not gain weight on an unlimited proper hay diet.
Do note that a rabbit eating only hay is not sufficient for a healthy nutritious long-term diet. Not only can too much indigestible fiber lead to an impacted cecum, but rabbits also receive very little nutrition from hay because it passes so rapidly through the gut. Vitamin content is either in very low amounts or nonexistent in hay. In addition to hay, rabbits require more easily-digested foods from which to obtain the nutrition necessary to maintain their bodies. If a rabbit were fed only hay, it would very slowly become malnourished and eventually die over a period of several months. However, it is completely safe if you need to put your rabbit on a hay-only diet for a couple of weeks or even months due to problems like an overproduction of cecotrophs.
The following links contain more information about the importance of hay in a rabbit's diet.
- San Diego House Rabbit Society, Hay is the Basis of a Healthy Rabbit Diet
- House Rabbit Society, Natural Nutrition Part I: The Importance of Fiber
- Marcus Clauss, PD Dr. med. vet, MSc, Dip, ECVN, Clinical Technique: Feeding Hay to Rabbits and Rodents
- MediRabbit, Camilla Bergstrøm, Feeding the house rabbit 1: Hay and straw
- Examiner.com, Phyllis O'Beollain, What is hay and why should a pet rabbit eat it?
There are many types of hay available on the market, however, rabbits should only be consuming either alfalfa (a legume hay) when young or grass hays when older. Additionally, if you decide to buy by the bale, make sure the hay is horse quality, not cow quality, because horses have comparable sensitivity to rabbits while cows are more tolerant.
Here are some links for more general information and pictures on various types of hay in addition to the rest of the information already provided in this article.
- San Diego House Rabbit Society, Types of Hays and Grasses
- Atascadero Hay & Feed, Hay
- Phyllis O'Beollain, What types of hay are appropriate for house rabbits?
- KMS Hayloft, About Our Hays
- Barbi Brown's Bunnies, Hay
Some hays will also come with a choice of first, second, or third cuttings. The links below provide more information on what this means.
- The Rabbit Haven, Oxbow Pet Products, Dawn Hromanik, Rabbit Hay: First and Second cuts
- House Rabbit Society, Linda Sterett-Fogarty, Hay in Your Bunny's Diet - Quality and Quantities for Healthy Digestion
- Phyllis O'Beollain, What does the first or second cutting of hay mean?
- Small Pet Select, 1st Cut Timothy Hay for Rabbits
- Small Pet Select, 2nd Cut Timothy Hay for Rabbits
- Small Pet Select, 3rd Cut Timothy Hay for Rabbits
Alfalfa is a legume hay, not a grass hay. It is also known as lucerne. It is high-fiber like grass hay but also contains more protein, energy and calcium. As a result, alfalfa should only be fed to growing young bunnies under the age of 7 months. For the older bunny, constant alfalfa hay consumption can lead to gummy droppings, weight gain, sludge, and cecal pellets not being eaten. Additionally, the calcium in alfalfa hay can predispose rabbits to urolithiasis when fed in large amounts.
Alfalfa is typically distinguished by their usually brittle stalks with flat green to brown leaves. Hay can vary from dark lime-green to yellow, green, or brown depending on the season. 
The following is crude analysis for various types of alfalfa hay from the 2012 Feed Composition Tables compiled by R.L. Preston, Ph.D.
|Alfalfa Hay Early Bloom||90||19||28||1.41|
|Alfalfa Hay Midbloom||89||17||30||1.40|
|Alfalfa Hay Full Bloom||88||16||34||1.20|
|Alfalfa Hay Mature||88||13||38||1.18|
Timothy hay is the most popular hay fed to rabbits. It looks like a dried fairly wide blade of grass, and its color is a soft green to grey or brown-green. Timothy hay also has "solid cattails" which distinguishes it from Orchard grass which has "broken cattails."
Many people who are allergic to hay have the worst symptoms with timothy hay. Consider switching to a less dusty hay if you are allergic to hay. Many rabbit owners have seen great improvement when switching to orchard grass hay.
The following is crude analysis for various types of timothy hay from the 2012 Feed Composition Tables compiled by R.L. Preston, Ph.D.
|Timothy Fresh Pre-bloom||26||11||31||0.40|
|Timothy Hay Early Bloom||88||11||32||0.58|
|Timothy Hay Full Bloom||88||8||34||0.43|
If bun's diet is high in oat hay, the pellets she produces will be larger, lighter in color, and will look like sawdust if crushed. Many bunnies would benefit from eating more oat hay, an excellent preventative for GI Stasis.
The following is crude analysis for oat hay from the 2012 Feed Composition Tables compiled by R.L. Preston, Ph.D.
As one can see, oat hay is a perfectly acceptable alternative to the more popular timothy, orchard grass, and meadow hay and is also considered a grass hay. The "oat" in the name may be misleading, and some may think it is more fattening and should be a treat, but the hay is cut before the actual oat kernel is fully mature. As a result, the seed heads consist of mostly oat husks that are rich in fiber.
Oat hay can also differ greatly in color from a pale green to a golden yellow, depending on how close to maturity the hay is harvested. The closer to maturity, the more golden the hay will be. A good-quality cereal hay is harvested when the grain is immature (soft dough stage) and the leaves and stems are still green, and therefore higher in digestible nutrients. If the cereal hay is harvested after the grain is removed, it is no longer considered hay but straw.
This hay is made from the same grass common in many lawns.
The following is crude analysis for various types of bermuda grass hay from the 2012 Feed Composition Tables compiled by R.L. Preston, Ph.D.
|Bermudagrass Coastal Hay||89||10||30||0.47|
The following is crude analysis for various types of orchard grass hay from the 2012 Feed Composition Tables compiled by R.L. Preston, Ph.D.
|Orchardgrass Fresh Early Bloom||24||14||30||0.33|
The following is crude analysis for various types of hay not in the above categories from the 2012 Feed Composition Tables compiled by R.L. Preston, Ph.D. These are all also safe to feed your rabbit if you wish, but please be careful of the higher calcium and protein contents in the legume hays. Like alfalfa, legume hays are not appropriate to feed to adults regularly as part of their diet but is okay as a treat.
|Elephant (Napier) grass hay, chopped||92||9||24||0.35|
|Fescue KY 31 Hay Early Bloom||88||18||25||0.48|
|Fescue KY 31 Hay Mature||88||11||30||0.45|
|Rye Grass Hay||90||10||33||0.45|
|Wheatgrass Crested Hay||92||10||33||0.33|
|Birdsfoot Trefoil Hay||89||16||31||1.73|
|Clover Ladino Hay||90||21||22||1.35|
|Clover Red Hay||88||15||30||1.50|
|Clover Sweet Hay||91||16||30||1.27|
|Pea Vine Hay||89||11||32||1.25|
Straw is the dried stalks of cereal plants like wheat and a by-product of harvest. If any seeds or grains remain on the stalks, it is by accident. Hay refers to grasses or legume plants cut down fresh and baled for animal feed. Grain hay such as oat, barley, and wheat hay may sometimes have a coloration similar to straw's when harvested closer to maturity, but the hay is cut before the seedheads are fully developed, so the nutrition is still in the stalks and not all in the seedheads. Grain hay should also have most of the seeds and grains on the stems. Hay bales are usually greener than straw bales, and the plant material finer. Straw bales are also usually half to a third of the weight of a hay bale due to the mostly hollow stalks.
Although rabbits eat it, straw is not recommended because it is low in nutrients and will lead to deficiencies if it is a major part of the diet. However, straw can be safely used as a bedding, especially for outdoor hutches during the winter.
The following is crude analysis for various types of straw from the 2012 Feed Composition Tables compiled by R.L. Preston, Ph.D.
|Fescue (Red) Straw||94||4||41||0.00|
|Pea Vine Straw||89||7||49||0.75|
Below are some links that go into greater detail about the differences between hay and straw.
- HubPages, Do Rabbits Need Straw or Hay?
Below are some links with more information about choosing good quality hay.
- Countryside & Small Stock Journal, Lester Vough, Evaluating hay quality
- Mark Llewellyn, Hay Selection for Horses
- Equusite.com, Cheryl Sutor, Choosing Good, Quality Hay
Where to buy
Pet stores will carry a variety of hay (i.e. Timothy, orchard grass, alfalfa, etc.). Typically, the amount that can be bought will range from about 24 oz up to 5 pounds. Although it is convenient to buy hay at a local pet store, this is often an expensive option. A 64oz bag will usually last a couple of weeks at ~$8. Additionally, most pet store brands offer lower quality hay that is very hard and stalky. The recommended popular hay brand is Oxbow, although this may be quite expensive since they carry a premium price compared to other commercial brands.
Some brands may offer fruit mixed in the hay -- DO NOT BUY THESE. Only buy bags of hay with only hay in them and no other treats. Dried herbs are acceptable, however. You can feed fresh healthy treats on the side, independent of the hay and easily rationed.
Through the local rabbit rescue
If you live in a location with a House Rabbit Society chapter or rescue, check and see if they sell boxes, flakes, or bales of hay at a cheap price! Of course, buying a bale yourself will be cheaper, but if you do not have the space to store it, support your local HRS chapter or rescue! They will most likely sell fresh hay at a better rate than the small bags at pet stores. Your bunny will most likely love and wallow in the fresh hay.
Some examples of House Rabbit Society chapters and rescues that sell hay include the following:
- San Diego House Rabbit Society, San Diego, CA -- $12 for 7-8lbs of hay.
- House Rabbit Society Headquarters, Richmond, CA -- $5 for a flake (garbage bag full) of hay.
- Missouri House Rabbit Society, Kansas City, MO -- $23 for 12.5lbs, $45 for 25lbs, $75 for 40lbs.
- Lowcountry House Rabbit Society,Charleston, SC -- $17 for 10lbs, $25 for 20lbs.
Online in bulk
Some bunny owners like buying their hay online in bulk. These suppliers also typically ship much fresher hay than the average commercial brand. When bought in a large enough order, costs can be around $1/lb of hay depending on supplier.
The following is a list of reputable online retailers in the US:
- American Pet Diner
- Alfalfa King
- Bingaling Bunnybox Store
- Drs Foster and Smith, Oxbow
- KMS Hayloft
- Organic Hay Co.
- Rabbit Hole Hay
- Sierra Valley Pet Hay
- Small Pet Select (Use the coupon code ‘House Rabbit Hay’ to receive free shipping on any timothy hay product you purchase from Small Pet Select. Additionally Small Pet Select will donate 10% of the purchase price of your timothy hay to HRS.)
- Sweet Meadow
Here are some online dealers in the UK:
- Bunny Bazaar
- Hay for Pets
- The Hay Experts
- Nature's Own
- SPH Supplies LTD
- The Willow Warren
By the bale
The cheapest option typically is a bale of hay. One bale, usually ranging from about 70 to 110 lbs depending on type, can feed one rabbit for approximately a year. However, this requires space to properly store the hay as it is easily perishable when wet.
You can obtain a bale of hay at local animal feed stores, select rabbit rescues, or farms. Be sure that if you purchase from a feed store or farm, the hay is horse-quality, not cow-quality. Cows have much more tolerant stomachs while horses are comparable to rabbits.
See Hay Bale for more details on how to split and store hay.
Craigslist ads and word of mouth
Sometimes, you may be able to find private owners that wish to share a purchased bale of hay to make it more manageable. You may be able to get great deals this way. Look for owners of rabbits, chinchillas, or guinea pigs as they have similar hay requirements.
How to store hay
It is very important to keep hay dry and out of direct sunlight. Dampness will cause mold in the hay, and sunlight may leech out nutrients in the hay over time. The best location to store hay is in a cool indoor location out of direct sunlight.
Some good containers to store hay are cardboard boxes and plastic containers with holes drilled into the sides for air flow. Plastic garbage bags can also be used if you leave the top open for moisture to escape. Other ideas include laundry hampers and plastic totes.
If you must store hay outside, invest in a waterproof tarp along with some bricks to keep the hay off the ground to prevent mold. Otherwise, if your hay is properly dry, a watertight deck box or large plastic tote can be appropriate.
If properly stored, hay can keep to over two years. However, the hay will lose vitamins A & E after the first year.
The following links contain more information and options on how to properly store hay.
- FurryButts, How to Store Hay
- Misty Hollow Farm, How to Store Hay
- Guinea Pig Compendium, Seagull's Storing Hay
- Guinea Lynx, Selecting, Purchasing and Storing Grass Hay
There are many options available to dispense hay to your rabbits. Some owners directly place a layer of hay in the litter box. Other use hay racks to minimize the amount of waste from pee and poop soiling. Commercially made hay racks can be easily found in pet stores and online. If you have extra wire grids left over from making a NIC cube condo for your rabbit, you can easily fashion a hay rack from those, too.
Be careful that your rabbit will not be able to jump in or get his head stuck in the hay dispenser.
Below are some custom made hay racks you can buy online.
- Leith Petwerks Inc., Mega Hay Rack - 12 inch wide
- Leith Petwerks Inc., Mega Hay Rack - 20 inch wide
- Wabbit Works, The Screwy Rabbit Hay Buffet
- SaveABunny, SaveABunny's Hay Saver- Double Hole Box
- SaveABunny, SaveABunny's Three Hole Hay Saver Box
- TheBlissfulBunny, Rabbit Litter Box / Hay Feeder
- BunnyBale Hay, Feeder Ordering
- Small Animal Rescue Society of BC, No-waste Hay Racks
- Sewing 4 A Cause, Hay Hammocks
The following links provide some options for non-commercial hay racks, either re-purposed household items or DIY solutions.
- Cooking Code with Bunnies, DIY Hay Rack
- Rabbit Advocates, Barbara Ray, Creative Hay Management: Making Hay Holders and Accessories
- Bunny Approved, Rabbit Hay Racks – What are the Options?
- BinkyBunny.com, New DIY Free Standing Hay Rack!
- BinkyBunny.com, DIY hay rack?
- BinkyBunny.com, Homemade Hay Rack
- Guinea Pig Zone, Lis Vesurai, Make a Cool Coroplast Hay Rack for Three
- RabbitsOnline.net Is there a DIY hay rack?
- eHow, LissaJ, DIY Hay Rack
- Rabbitweb.net, How to Make a Hay Rack
- Special Bunny, Special Bunny's All Season Hay Feeders
- Bull Rock Barn and Home, How To Make a Rabbit Hay Feeder
- The Goat Spot, Home Made Hay Rack for about $8
Some repurposed items that could be used as hay racks are the following:
Below are image galleries of hay racks that people have made.
- Guinea Pig Cages, Hay Racks
Here are some video reviews of hay racks that rabbit owners have tried.
- YouTube, 101rabbits, Hay Rack Review!
Not Eating Enough Hay
At the bare minimum, rabbits should be encouraged to eat at least 3 oz. of hay a day.
Here are some links to read for more information on getting your rabbit to eat more hay.
- The Rabbit House, 5 Ways to Get Your Rabbit to Eat More Hay
- Colorado House Rabbit Society, Nancy J. LaRoche, If Your Bunny Won't Eat Hay
- Examiner.com, Phyllis O'Beollain, Getting your rabbit to eat more hay: part two
- Ontario Rabbit Education Organization, Hay
- Kathy Smith, Hay, Hay, Hay
- Wisconsin House Rabbit Society, Susan Smith, Hay Demystified
- eHow, Emily Jacobson, Difference Between Timothy Hay & Meadow Hay for Rabbits
- Journal of Animal Science, J. A. Newlander and W. H. Riddell, Rate of Vitamin D Formation in Hay
- University of Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station, Snider, H. J., Chemical composition of hay and forage crops as affected by various soil treatments
- Lucille Moore, Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing, 1e, 2011.
- Krishona Martinson, PhD, and Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota, What is the vitamin content of grass hay?
- Rabbit Awareness Week, The Research
- Atascadero Hay & Feed, Hay
- San Diego House Rabbit Society, Types of Hays and Grasses
- BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets, 4e.
- BeefMagazine.com, R.L. Preston, Ph.D., 2012 Feed Comp
- Healthy Choice Pet Products, Oat Hay
- Mark Llewellyn, Hay Selection for Horses
- Root Simple, My mental glitch: hay vs. straw
- Amazonails, Hay vs. Straw: A Look at Key Differences
- The British Rabbit Council, Anna Meredith, The Importance of Diet in Rabbits
- San Diego House Rabbit Society, Hay Sales throughout San Diego County
- Yelp, House Rabbit Society
- Missouri House Rabbit Society, Products and Services
- Lowcountry House Rabbit Society, Rabbit Hay Sale
- House Rabbit Society, Shop for Rabbit Supplies
- Carey Williams, Ph.D, Ask the Expert -- Farm and Pasture Management > How long can one store hay?
- Marinell Harriman, House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit, 4th edition