A Long Cecum Is Found In What Group Of Animals Choosing the Right Hay For Your Rabbit’s Health

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Choosing the Right Hay For Your Rabbit’s Health

Hay is the most important element in your rabbit’s diet, but not all hay is created equal. Hay is made by cutting and curing grass, such as Brome or Timothy grass, or some legumes, such as alfalfa. The importance of hay in a rabbit’s diet is due to its high fiber content. Rabbits, like horses and some other animals, are Hindgut Fermenters. This means they process less digestible plant matter, such as cellulose, in a part of their gut called the cecum. The cecum contains a veritable bacterial soup, which when in a healthy state of balance is able to efficiently process materials the rabbit would otherwise be unable to digest. Also, fiber maintains digestive health and “regularity” in rabbits just as it does in humans. This is even more important for rabbits, however, because of their caring behavior. Rabbits clean themselves by licking their fur, like cats. Unlike cats, they are unable to regrow hairballs, meaning they must pass the hair as waste. The long strands of fiber in the hay stalk provide the raw materials needed to propel these hairballs through the digestive system. If this process does not occur, the rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract will become blocked and the rabbit will starve to death. This is one of the most common causes of death for domestic rabbits.

There are three main nutritional components to hay: fiber, protein and calcium. Fiber is beneficial in unlimited amounts, for the reasons mentioned above. Protein is also necessary for growth and energy, but can cause problems in excess. A rabbit’s metabolism will easily convert excess protein into fat, and this can quickly lead to obesity. Also, excessively high protein levels will disrupt the balance of bacterial cultures in the cecum, causing diarrhea and other digestive ailments. Finally, calcium is needed for bone growth in young rabbits, but excessive ingestion can cause bladder stones and other urinary problems.

There are several types of hay commonly sold as rabbit food. The most widespread is alfalfa. Alfalfa is a legume, which puts it in the same plant class as beans and peanuts. As one would suspect from these relatives, alfalfa has a fairly high concentration of protein. It also contains a relatively high amount of calcium. This makes it a high-calorie food that is ideal for young, growing rabbits – under six months – or pregnant or lactating rabbits. Mature rabbits that are not pregnant or lactating should not be subsisting primarily on alfalfa, as they will be deficient in fiber and high in protein. However, it can certainly be included as part of their diet, mixed with low-protein hay.

Perhaps the best staple food for mature rabbits is timothy grass. This is a very high fiber grass hay with little protein and calcium. It can be fueled by “free choice”. in other words, as much as your rabbit wants – and it has the added advantage of being inexpensive compared to many other hays.

Brome hay is similar to timothy hay in terms of nutrition, but has a slightly different smell and taste and wider leaves. If your rabbit seems uninterested in timothy hay, you can try substituting or mixing in some brome hay.

Garden grass is another variation on the theme: low protein, low calcium, high fiber. It has a very sweet, almost fruity scent that many rabbits find irresistible.

You can also try oat hay, which is cut to include unripe seed heads, which rabbits may enjoy as it adds variety and quality to the diet.

Whatever hay you decide to use, remember to offer plenty of it. Even if they don’t eat it all, your rabbits will enjoy laying on it, foraging through it and rearranging it. Plenty of fresh hay is the best way to simulate the grassy meadows that would be your rabbit’s natural environment in the wild.

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