Coniglio Ariete nano mangia del fieno

Hay for dwarf rabbits: the basis of the diet (types, cuts and use)

Why hay? How does my rabbit’s diet work?

Imagine a pyramid of food for rabbits. What do you see at the base? If you’re thinking of pellets, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, this idea is often induced in pet stores or in stores selling food and accessories. Our idea of rabbit food then becomes a mix of pellets, following the trend of kibble often used for other animals. However, these are often rich in unhealthy additives and corn kernels.

So what do we actually find at the base? The most important ingredient in your rabbit’s diet, and therefore at the base of our pyramid, is hay.

Fresh hay should be available to your rabbit at all times, so they can nibble on it whenever they want.

Fibers for digestion

Rabbits have a digestive system that naturally adapts to the breakdown of plant fibers. And hay provides them with the necessary fiber to keep their digestive system healthy and moving.


Unfortunately, the interruption of your rabbit’s digestive cycle can cause a real intestinal blockage. Gastrointestinal stasis, as it is called in medical terms, consists of the formation of a compact block of food inside the rabbit’s intestine that does not allow for evacuation.


Providing your rabbit with fresh hay and designing a healthy and balanced diet is the only way to prevent this serious illness, which can become fatal.

Hay for dental health

The hay is not necessary solely for the health of your rabbit’s digestive system. In fact, it also allows for the wear of teeth, which would otherwise grow constantly. Regular consumption of hay prevents excessive development of teeth, particularly incisors and molars. These can become real traps if not regularly consumed, favoring malocclusion, a condition more frequent in some breeds, such as the dwarf lop rabbit.

What kind of hay

For baby rabbits, alfalfa hay provides the necessary high calorie intake for their development. When your rabbit reaches seven months of age, it is ideal to gradually switch from alfalfa hay to timothy, grass, or oat hay.

If you or someone in your family is allergic to hay, I recommend using second-cut hay. The first-cut hay, during harvesting, remains coarse and does not lose its stems and seeds, and therefore, the pollen. Second-cut hay remains softer and consists of a greater number of leaves and fewer stems and seeds, reducing the likelihood of an allergic reaction.

Where to buy hay

Hay can be easily purchased at any pet food store, especially those specialized in small animals and rabbits. However, the most economical and healthy choice, if possible, is to buy it from a local farm. On a farm, hay can be purchased in bales at a much lower price than at a store.

But if you, like me, live in the city and your rabbit is a city dweller, don’t worry. You can buy hay online and have it conveniently delivered to your home, even in large quantities. Nowadays, there are numerous online retailers, and the trick is to find the best hay that suits your rabbit’s tastes.

Types of hay

If you want to learn more about the topic, below you will find a complete guide on the different types of hay and the three types of cutting or selection.


Alfalfa comes from the Alfalfa plant native to Iran. It belongs to the legume family, specifically to peas, and is an evergreen flowering plant. Alfalfa is characterized by a high content of minerals and ten different vitamins. If cut during the first flowering period, it can contain up to 20% protein, while if cut during the last flowering period, the percentage drops to 11%.


Alfalfa hay should be a source of nutrition for your rabbit as a puppy until about seven months of age.


Timothy hay is a perennial plant that grows in tufts and is used for forage in the colder seasons. Its growth is slow and has low yields in terms of harvest. The first and second cutting of Timothy hay are the ideal food for animals with a very delicate digestive system, skin and coat problems, diarrhea or weight issues.


Timothy hay can contain up to 18% protein (in very rare cases) if cut before flowering, and up to 4-6% protein if cut after flowering.


Orchard grass hay, also known by its Latin name dactylis or as cock’s-foot grass. The plant is native to Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia, but has been widespread in North America for over two centuries. This plant also grows at low temperatures, in tufts and is characterized by fibrous roots.


It begins to grow at the beginning of spring, develops rapidly, and blooms between the end of May and the beginning of June, depending on the temperature and climate. The plant tolerates heat and drought much better than Timothy hay and grows faster at low temperatures. Furthermore, the protein percentage is higher than Timothy hay, ranging around 18% in the initial stage and 8% in the final flowering stage, but the typical average quantity is 12%.


Mixed hay is actually a mixture of alfalfa and other types of plants, usually orchard grass. The concentration percentages of a species can vary greatly from one quality to another. This type of hay arises on different occasions from the farmer’s choice to plant in an already existing field of a certain variety, seeds of different varieties with the ultimate goal of creating this mix.


The protein percentage depends on the concentration of the different varieties.

Hay cuts

First cut: The hay that is harvested first during the year is called first cut hay. Some people do not consider it a good product for their rabbit’s nutrition, while others tend to disagree. It is believed that if the plant is cut and harvested in its first stage, the pre-flowering stage, the quality will be higher because it has not been allowed to grow and lose its high nutritional values during the development phase.

Second cut: The appropriate period for harvesting the second cut of hay depends naturally on the variety and some atmospheric factors, particularly nighttime and daytime temperatures. It takes about 40-45 days for alfalfa, mixed grasses, and timothy to regrow between the first and second cuts. The second cut is usually richer in foliage and contains fewer stems and seeds and a higher percentage of proteins and fats, while maintaining a lower percentage of fibers. More carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and proteins are contained in the leaves than in the stems. These sugars are easily digestible and therefore make the hay of good quality.

Third cut: The climatic conditions do not always allow for a third period of growth. In cases where this is possible, the result of the harvest will be hay with many leaves and few stems. Thus, it is often rich in nutrients but poor in fibers. Some believe that being poor in fibers makes it unsuitable to be the only type in your rabbit’s diet. However, it can be used if mixed with hay that has a higher fibrous content.

A recommendation from many experts is to use different types at different times of the day in your rabbit’s diet to eliminate any impurities.

What is the best way to store hay?

Not only is it important to know the characteristics of hay and buy the most suitable one for your bunny, but you also need to know how to store it. The hay must remain dry. You need to keep the hay packaged on a surface raised off the ground.


There should be no drafts in the area where you store it, but it should also be protected from rain or general humidity. You can wrap the hay in a cloth, but be careful not to create moisture and mold. Just leave a little space for air circulation, but not too much.

What to do if the rabbit does not eat hay

It may happen, more often than you might think, that your rabbit doesn’t eat enough hay. What to do in these cases? The reason usually is an excessive habit of your rabbit for particularly tasty foods. This happens especially when your rabbit has been given the wrong diet for a long time, maybe in the breeding or because you weren’t particularly experienced, but don’t worry!


I can suggest two strategies that will allow you to make the transition as easy as possible:


  1. Gradually reduce other sources. As already mentioned, your rabbit has probably developed a “special” taste for certain foods. This leads him to snub the hay. Try to gradually reduce the amount of pellets and other “treats” that your little one likes so much, in such a way as not to cause digestive problems.
  2. Make mealtime fun. Insert the hay into tubes or cardboard boxes: rabbits love to play with them. In this way, hay will be associated with a positive experience. In addition, you can crumble some pellets or vegetables inside the hay to make it more appetizing.

If you follow these little “tricks,” you should have no problem gradually getting your rabbit used to eating more hay.

Why do rabbits need fiber?

Fiber is essential for the health and survival of your little dwarf rabbit. It keeps the rabbit’s intestinal bacterial population balanced and healthy. Even with the help of bacteria, much of the fiber in a rabbit’s diet remains undigested, an indication of how important fiber is to your rabbit’s health. Just to give an example with another animal, cows, with their four stomachs, digest 44 percent of the cellulose they ingest, while rabbits digest only 14 percent.

Fiber contributes to the normal functioning of your rabbit’s intestines, not just as nourishment. Undigested fiber keeps the intestinal tract moving. An adequate amount of fiber helps to increase intestinal transit times and eliminate blockages. It also reduces or controls the speed at which fiber is processed and reduced into simple carbohydrate parts and is essential for keeping dangerous bacterial populations under control.

Pellets, even the best ones you can find, don’t have enough fiber. So always remember to offer your bunny some additional hay. And let’s face it, rabbits love to be there nibbling away.