When it comes to caring for your pets, you are always going to want to make sure that you are doing everything that you can to give them a happy life. After all, they look to you as their owner for most of what they need, from food and water to social interactions.
Because of this, it is usually highly recommended that you do a heavy amount of research on what your pet is going to need and what you can do to ensure that your pet gets what it needs before you invest in it.
Take rabbits as an example. Rabbits make wonderful and enjoyable pets for people of all ages, but as with any other pet, you will want to make sure that you are well-equipped to deal with potential problems that will arise when owning a rabbit.
Naturally, you should have an idea of what rabbits eat and what foods you will be investing in for the sake of your rabbit’s health. With that being said, you should know that approximately 80% of your rabbit’s diet should be natural grass hay.
However, as many people with pets know, there will always come a situation where your pet is not doing something that “all” pets should do, and as the owner of your rabbit, you need to learn when this is a normal variation of behavior and when it is an indication that there is something going on.
For rabbits, there are some circumstances that are perfectly healthy and expected that will lead to your rabbit not eating hay. Other times, if your rabbit has stopped eating hay, it can be indicative of something going on with your rabbit’s health.
To fully understand when it is a problem that your rabbit isn’t eating hay, and when you should intervene (and how), and what might be causing your rabbit to do this, you first need to understand what the normal and expected hay-eating behavior is for most rabbits.
From there, you can learn to gauge how problematic your rabbit’s habits have become, and you will be able to devise a solution based on the causes.
Rabbits and Hay
At their core, rabbits are entirely herbivores. This means that they have evolved to be able to draw all of the nutrients that they need from plant matter alone, and that more often than not, they cannot process animal matter very well if that gets into their diet.
Because of this, most rabbits (both in the wild and domesticated) will eat exclusively plant matter.
In addition to this, rabbits are also considered to be grazers. This means that they need to eat small amounts of food on a frequent basis, as their complex digestive system works to process the food they eat very quickly.
One of the best substances that is easy for your rabbit to graze on is going to be hay, as rabbits can get almost all of their daily nutrients from most types of grass hay.
This is a little bit different than how wild rabbits eat. Aside from the rare circumstances where a wild rabbit lives in a farm environment where grass hay is readily available, most wild rabbits will never encounter hay in their lives.
Instead, they will stick to grasses, leaves, and fallen fruits. In the wild, rabbits are considered to be opportunistic creatures, meaning that they will go after any suitable food that they come across.
Because grass hay and standard grass are much the same, it is usually easier to feed your rabbit hay. You can’t really dedicate large expanses of grass for your rabbit to eat throughout the day, and it is far easier to purchase, store, and maintain grass hay for the rabbit to eat, which is why it is such a staple of the domesticated rabbit’s diet.
Typically, when it comes to feeding a domesticated rabbit, most veterinarians will recommend that the rabbit has an unlimited supply of grass hay that it can eat at any point it desires.
Most grass hay will be acceptable, but when your rabbit has finished growing, you should stay away from alfalfa hay, as it will have too much protein and calcium for a healthy diet.
The most important part of hay is going to be the fibers in it. For a rabbit’s complex and herbivore digestive system, the fiber plays an enormous role in keeping everything healthy, and hay tends to have a high amount of it. Most rabbits require hay to be healthy.
In some cases, you may feed your rabbit hay pellets instead, although this has the risk of causing obesity in your rabbit. The rest of a domesticated rabbit’s diet should include a limited number of pellets, and some fresh vegetables.
Considering that hay becomes such an integral part of your rabbit’s digestive health, if you realize that your rabbit is not eating enough hay, then you may worry that something is wrong.
There are a few things to consider before you begin to really worry about your rabbit’s health though, as some circumstances can lead to a relatively healthy life without hay, although this is not entirely ideal.
The Problem with Pellets and Hay
Most people who own rabbits will feed them pellet food, and because of this, the rabbit can easily fill its appetite with the nutrient-rich pellets that you are feeding it.
In fact, despite how important hay is for a rabbit’s health, many rabbits actually prefer eating the pellets over the hay. You can think of it as a young child wanting to eat the “tasty” part of a meal and leaving the unwanted vegetables for last.
Because rabbits tend to prefer pellets over hay, they will commonly overeat and fill themselves up with the pellets. This will lead to them being uninterested in the fibrous hay that they need to eat, leading to a situation where your rabbit is not actually eating the hay it needs, but not for any other reason than the rabbit ate its “dessert” before its “dinner.”
This habit can be dangerous if it is established from a young age, as your rabbit may not ever develop a liking to hay, making it even harder to try and help your rabbit eat the hay that it needs.
This is considered to be the most common reason why rabbits refuse to eat hay, although there are some simple solutions that you can try to encourage your rabbit to eat its dried greens.
Knowing When it Is a Behavioral Problem or a Health Problem
As with all animals, your rabbit cannot directly communicate when a problem it is having is rooted in a learned behavior (such as filling itself up on pellets and not wanting to eat the healthier hay) or if it is a medical issue that needs to be solved (such as gastrointestinal distress leading to a loss of appetite).
This means that it will be up to you, as the pet owner, to try and determine what is going on with the rabbit when you notice that it is not eating as much hay as it should. There are a few signs that you can rely on to help you determine who you should turn to if you want to solve this problem.
If the problem of your rabbit not eating hay is a recent problem, and your rabbit previously ate hay as it should and even enjoyed eating hay before it seemed to stop completely, then this is a strong indication that it is not a behavioral problem that needs to be corrected.
Any sudden change in your rabbit’s appetite and eating patterns needs to be taken seriously and should be examined by a licensed professional.
On the other hand, if your rabbit commonly eats all of its pellets but seems to only eat a little bit of hay each day, and will eagerly enjoy a treat, this is an indication that your rabbit is simply not leaving enough room in its belly to eat the hay.
This will mean that you will want to follow some steps to try and orient your rabbit’s priorities to the hay and not its pellet food, but you can feel assured knowing that it is not likely that your rabbit is sick.
In general, when you are trying to determine if this is a health or behavioral issue, you will want to step back and look at your rabbit’s appetite in whole. If your rabbit is happily eating everything besides the hay and is otherwise bright-eyed and excited for treats, then there’s a good chance that it is simply behavioral.
If your rabbit’s dietary changes are sudden and lead to your rabbit not eating pellets or treats in addition to the hay, then this can be a sign that there is more going on underneath the surface that you will need to have a vet examine.
Teaching Your Rabbit to Eat Hay
In cases where it appears to be a learned behavior that your rabbit prefers treats, vegetables, and pellets to the rather mundane hay, you are going to have to work with your rabbit to try and guide it toward eating hay more frequently.
All rabbits are different, and some of these methods might work better than others for your rabbit’s lifestyle, so if one method doesn’t work, you should consider working through the others as well.
First things first, you will want to experiment with different types of hay. While hay is usually pretty simple to people, to a rabbit whose diet should be almost entirely hay, the type of hay that you use can make all the difference.
Hays will have different smells, textures, and tastes to your rabbit, and if your rabbit is not a fan of one type of hay, it may actually just prefer another. Most people will usually use either meadow, timothy, or grass hay for their rabbits.
Alfalfa hay should be reserved for young, growing rabbits or rabbits that need to gain weight per doctor’s orders.
If your rabbit has not found a preference in hay yet, you may need to try and make the hay more appealing to the rabbit as well. If you go back to the analogy of the hay being the leafy greens on a child’s dinner plate, think about how you would season or spruce up the greens to be more appetizing to the child. For a rabbit, you can consider adding dried herbs (that are rabbit-safe) to the hay.
The dried herbs will have a much stronger scent than the rest of the hay, which will draw your rabbit’s attention, and will encourage the rabbit to try and forage in the hay for the strange and enticing new scent. It will also add a different texture to the hay, which can pique a stubborn rabbit’s interest.
On the idea of foraging for hay, you can also make the experience more interesting for the rabbit. In a sense, you will turn the “chore” of eating hay into something that will be more interesting to your rabbit. A good way to do this is to move the hay’s location around the rabbit’s home.
If you have a multi-level rabbit home, you can move the hay between stories. You can put the hay directly on the floor, or you can mount hay racks to the cage. Much like how different types of hay will cause your rabbit to become more interested, a different position of its food can also have the same effect.
Finally, you can consider putting the hay directly beside its litter tray. While this might seem rather unsanitary to most people, many rabbits actually enjoy being able to graze while they are relieving themselves, making it an ideal solution for rabbits who are not eating enough hay.
At the very least, it will encourage them to eat at least a little bit of hay while they are doing their business.
It is heavily recommended that you purchase a hay rack to mount onto the cage, rather than placing the hay directly onto the litter. Doing the latter can lead to your rabbit associating the hay with bedding, reducing the chances that it will want to eat the hay even more.
With all of these methods that you can use, you can feel confident in knowing that you will be able to get your rabbit to eat the proper amount of hay for its diet. Before you know it, you will be making regular stops for more hay and your rabbit will be healthier and happier than ever.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.