Choosing The Right Hay For Your Rabbit

Mikelle Roeder, Ph.D. - Multi-Species Nutritionist

Hay is an important part of every rabbit’s diet. This natural grazer keeps your pet’s gut moving and teeth working properly. But how do you know which hay to choose? Keep reading for expert advice on hay selection from Ph.D. Multi-Species Nutritionist Mikelle Roader.

Provide Your Rabbit With A Complete Diet

two rabbits

Most diets manufactured for small pets like rabbits are sold as complete diets. In other words, this diet is formulated to be the sole source of nutrition for your animal, no need for supplemental hay, veggies or other treats.

Providing treats in small amounts can help you bond with your pet, but overfeeding them may cause nutritional imbalances or lead to obesity. In order to manufacture a complete diet, nutritionists take into account the nutrient requirements of that species.

In complete diets like Mazuri® Timothy-Based Rabbit Diets, various ingredients are mixed together to account for the correct amount of protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals required for optimal health.

Get To Know The Difference Between Alfalfa Hay And Timothy Hay

“Both hay sources are excellent forages to provide to your herbivores, but there are some differences between them nutritionally,” says Dr. Roader. To understand how those differences impact your animals, some background information is needed.

Alfalfa hay and timothy hay are both forage sources commonly used in complete rabbit diets. Nutritionally speaking, however, they are very different. Alfalfa contains higher concentrations of protein and calcium compared to timothy hay (Table 1). When alfalfa or timothy are used in a complete rabbit feed, the nutrients of the hay source used are taken into account and mixed with other appropriate ingredients to obtain a final diet formula that meets the needs of rabbits. For example, while calcium is much higher in alfalfa than in timothy, in a complete feed, the amount of additional calcium sources (such as calcium carbonate) would be lower in an alfalfa-based diet compared to a timothy-based formula.

Minimize Excess Calcium

Calcium metabolism in rabbits is unique compared to other species. Rabbits are efficient calcium absorbers and excrete excess calcium in their urine. For this reason, rabbit urine may leave a white, chalky residue. Because of this unique metabolic system, rabbits are prone to urinary stones if fed too much calcium. Therefore, when feeding an adult rabbit supplemental hay in addition to a complete diet, it is preferable to provide timothy hay to minimize excess calcium. If alfalfa hay is used, be sure to balance the total diet to prevent feeding excess calcium.

Table 1. Nutrient composition of alfalfa hay and timothy hay, dry matter basis*

choosing the right hay - table

* National Research Council. Nutrient requirements of small ruminants: Sheep, goats, cervids, and New World camelids. National Academies Press: 2006; Washington, DC.

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