For many rabbit owners (and rabbits), hay is a lifesaver. It’s got everything a rabbit could possibly need! Being that rabbits have one of the most sensitive stomachs in the pet circle, that is saying something.
Do we know that Hay is literally the whole package for rabbits but is it the only package? Can you feed your rabbit anything besides hay?
Thankfully you’ve got us to help you out.
Can Rabbits Survive Without Hay?
Hay is usually the go-to for most Rabbit owners. It has all the nutrients that a rabbit could possibly need and the chewing of it by the rabbit allows the rabbit to wear down its ever-growing teeth. It also ensures a seamless and efficient metabolism for the rabbit.
Many vets recommend hay should make up for up to 75% of your rabbit’s daily feed. With the different types of hay made available, the rabbits can even have a healthy variety. This makes it difficult to substitute hay for anything else. “Difficult” does not, however, mean impossible.
Yes, your rabbit can live without hay but only on the condition that the alternative or substitute provides exactly (if not more) than the benefits that hay provides. This means that you should not attempt to substitute hay with pellets, fruits or snacks.
Pellet, fruit or snack concentrated diet for a rabbit will cause your rabbit serious health problems. For one, its teeth will not be worn down and your rabbit will be in excruciating pain. It will also be overweight as well as have multiple stomachs and/or digestive issues. This may come as a surprise seeing as many people may believe that carrots are a common food for rabbits.
Unfortunately, this is false. What then is a good substitute for a rabbit? Stick around and this article will answer all your questions.
How Can Rabbits Die From Not Eating Hay?
A rabbit’s digestive system is complex. It can easily get blocked. Rabbits will eat anything they are presented with and that poses a problem because they cannot digest everything. To “move things along” in the digestive system, the rabbit needs a high-fibre diet.
Your rabbit can easily contract an illness known as Gastro-intestinal Stasis in which the bacteria in a rabbit’s stomach that help to digest food are disrupted in the population. This slows the passage of food and will cause bloating, constipation as well as other diseases that can affect the kidney or the liver. This, in the long run, can lead to death.
Besides that, the rabbit’s teeth are called Elodonts because they have no true roots (all roots are open) and hence, their teeth never stop growing throughout their lives. The teeth of a rabbit grow at least 1 cm every month. If left unworn, the rabbit’s teeth will experience serious painful dental problems, wounds and ultimately, difficulty eating anything. This difficulty will lead to starvation and starvation will lead to death.
Also, if the rabbit cannot eat, abscesses will begin to form on its face. Hay helps the rabbit wear down their teeth because it takes effort to chew it. It also involves almost all of the rabbit’s teeth. Hay will help with the alignment of the teeth.
Also, because hay is low in calories, and carbs and high in fibre, it reduces the likelihood of diarrhoea. Other foods that do not offer the same options as these will actually increase the chances of diarrhoea which in rabbits is fatal and can lead to death.
If a healthy alternative is not found to provide all the food requirements of the rabbit found in hay, it is not easy to say how long your rabbit will survive. It could range from weeks to years but not without several complications.
How to Tell If Your Rabbit Lacks Hay in its Diet?
A lot about a rabbit’s metabolism can be found in their poop. A rabbit’s poop is one of the most unique things about it. The rabbit poop is almost quite literally a “dropping” because it is round and appears like a little pellet.
They stick together and are a bit hard. They are usually without scent and look a lot like a tiny pea. The rabbit’s poop varies in colour: from a darker shade of brown to a really light shade. A rabbit can produce anywhere between 200 and 300 poop pellets per day.
Knowing how the rabbit’s poop looks, any variation from it usually indicates an underlying issue. If your rabbit lacks hay in its diet, its poop may become harder than usual and may begin to smell.
The hardening of the poop indicates the lack of fibre which hay would have otherwise provided. This is usually the fastest and earliest way to detect such changes. Other ways would often involve a complication such as GI stasis.
In Gastrointestinal stasis, your rabbit will have a decreased appetite (which is problematic because the rabbit is always almost eating), depression and bent posture.
You may also notice that your rabbit may be in pain because its teeth have not been filed down. This will lead to other difficulties such as weight loss and abscesses. In essence, a lack of hay or hay alternatives will lead to an almost total change in the rabbit’s metabolism. Undoubtedly, it is a risky thing to cut off hay from a rabbit’s diet but it may be doable without the complications.
How Can I Prevent Rabbit from Dying of Lack of Hay?
Seeing as he is one of the most important staples for rabbits, it is understandable that a lack of it can cause such tragic consequences as death.
Unfortunate, but understandable. The best way to prevent your rabbit from dying from a lack of hay is to give it some hay. Of course, this article does provide an alternative to the lack of hay.
However, it is right to point out that owning a rabbit is a commitment to the responsibility of caring for and meeting its needs. It implies that whatever the rabbit may need will be gotten despite its financial, physical or emotional cost/inconveniences. We provide this alternative with the assumption that you as a rabbit owner have searched for the much-needed hay or are in a position where you cannot get it at the moment.
We should also point out that there are different types of hay and one may be easier to get if the other is not available. The types you may search for in absence of the more popular Timothy hay are:
- Alfalfa Hay (we should be served with caution and is best for younger rabbits).
- Orchardgrass Hay.
- Meadow Hay
- Herbal Hay.
What Can I Feed My Rabbit Instead of Hay?
This article provides both a short-term and long-term healthy alternative to hay.
- Pellets: Pellets are usually bought as healthy supplements to hay. In fact, they are mostly made out of her. To feed your rabbit only pellets even on a short-term basis, ensure that they are of quality. Make sure to read for their ingredients and nutritional information. We do not recommend an exclusive pellet feeding for anything more than two days because pellets are high in calories and can make your rabbit overweight.
- Broccoli: Broccoli is incredibly high in fibre. However, like pellets, they should not be depended on exclusively because of their high calories for the rabbit as well as their probability to be rejected or affecting your rabbit’s stomach/digestive system.
- Spinach: Spinach is high in fibre and will not have adverse effects on your rabbit. However, due to dental concerns, do not depend on it exclusively.
- Other alternatives to provide the Rabbit may include Collard Greens, Mint, Cilantro, etc.
The longer-term alternative for hay is none other than his fresher form: grass. In the wild, rabbits have no access to hay and are more attuned to eating glass which they have learnt to identify as healthy for them.
It is important to mimic to a great extent the diet regularly to their species. Grass offers all the benefits of hay, however, your rabbit may be unused to it and will need to be introduced to it gradually.
Rabbits cannot eat all types of grass. They should stick to the fresher forms of the Hay they already eat or grass that is suitable for them. These may include oat grass, wheatgrass, Bermuda grass etc.
You may also consult your veterinarian for information on how to feed them as well as grass that may be suited to your rabbit’s needs. It is important to note that you may not be able to feed one type of grass to your rabbit all year long because some grass grows in particular seasons.
Taking care of your rabbit’s nutritional needs is very detailed work. Their sensitive stomachs may cause them trouble if we risk unrecommended alternatives. For their sakes and yours, it may be best to stick to the basics.