Remember that Hay (and water) are the most important things for rabbits to eat! In this article, we’re going to be talking about why rabbits need to eat hay.
We all know that rabbits need to eat a plant-based diet mostly composed of hay but do you actually know the reason why your rabbit needs constant access to forage?
There are many reasons but to understand them first we need to know how the rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract works.
How do a rabbit’s gastrointestinal track work
Rabbits are classified as something called hindgut fermenters. This means they use fermentation to digest what they eat in the large intestine and in the cecum. They perform this fermentation by using bacteria to help digest cellulose which is the main component of vegetable fibers.
In rabbits, the majority of fermentation occurs in the cecum which is very large. It spirals and fills the whole abdominal cavity and comprises about 40 percent of the digestive tract.
Rabbits also have the ability to sort out indigestible fiber from the other nutrients in their food and expel it from the body. After fermentation has been completed the rabbit expels a cecotrope or a soft night poop. From start to finish it takes about eight hours for the rabbit to produce that cecotrope.
The rabbit will then ingest the cecotrope in order to take advantage of all the nutrients in its diet.
Due to the rabbit’s physiology their extremely high metabolic rate and their symbiotic microbe they require a diet of at least 20 to 25 percent fiber and constant forage.
Why do rabbits need hay?
Fiber is critically important in maintaining gut health preventing enteritis and encouraging appropriate gut motility.
Without an appropriate amount of fiber, the rabbit may experience reduced motility, reduced cecotropes formation, and enteritis.
Additionally, it is important to note that rabbits do not do well on a high starch diet as starch can cause rapid growth of the bacteria in the cecum. Therefore high starch levels can lead to enteritis and possible death.
It is very important to severely limit the number of grains provided to the rabbit to aid in their digestion and prevent life-threatening situations.
Rabbits also digest calcium differently than other species and are unable to excrete it in the same way as other animals. So it is important to be mindful of the calcium levels in their diet.
Alfalfa-based diets can cause kidney damage due to the high calcium levels, which is why adult rabbits do better on grass-based forages.
In the end, hay only helps to keep the rabbit’s ever-growing teeth short but it also plays a very important role in maintaining gut health. It keeps the bacteria in the cecum in check and encourages healthy gut motility which reduces the chance of blockage.
Lastly, foraging is a very natural behavior for rabbits so providing ample hay will decrease stereotypes such as fur chewing and encourages natural behaviors, and helps decrease boredom.
Thanks so much for reading everybody.
Also, read What to feed a baby rabbit [5 Important things to consider].
FAQs on why rabbits need hay
What happens if you don’t give rabbit hay?
Lack of hay consumption can slow down a rabbit’s intestinal processes and lead to major issues, such as GI stasis.
How often should a rabbit have hay?
A minimum of one large bundle of high-quality hay per day is required for rabbits.
Can rabbits live on hay alone?
Although rabbits may survive on just hay and water, we advise giving them access to some fresh green vegetables and a tiny quantity of commercial feed.
Do rabbits need hay in their cage?
In your pet’s cage, there should always be an unlimited supply of grass hay.
Can I feed my rabbit grass instead of hay?
The switch from hay to grass for rabbits can be made, but it shouldn’t be made immediately. A few weeks must pass while making a gradual adjustment to this kind of significant modification in a rabbit’s diet.
Can a rabbit eat too much hay?
There is no such thing as an extreme hay eater among rabbits. Teeth in rabbits are continually growing. Their small teeth are maintained by grazing on hay. It will need to have its teeth filed down by a veterinarian if your rabbit isn’t consuming enough hay.
Do rabbits need a hay feeder?
If your rabbit is reluctant to eat, a hay feeder may even get them to consume more hay.
How many bales of hay do rabbits eat?
One bale can sustain one rabbit for several months if it is kept in a cool, dry place.