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Why Won't My Rabbit Eat Hay? (I've Tried Every Kind!)

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian with over 40 years of experience in the field. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.

If all a rabbit's nutritional needs are already being met, they may refuse to eat hay (and that's okay).

If all a rabbit's nutritional needs are already being met, they may refuse to eat hay (and that's okay).

How Can I Get My Rabbit to Eat Hay?

"I have a 2-year-old mini lop/lionhead mix girl named Poppy. She is funny, smart, beautiful and very diva-like in her wants. When I first adopted her, she ate hay like a champ. Over the last year, she has slowly refused to eat hay.

I have tried organic versions of hay, meadow grass, alfalfa, different brands, room temperature, refrigerated, and added a bit of water. I have had her to her regular doctor, and they can't find anything wrong with her. Her teeth have been checked numerous times. I even tried different bowls, hanging feeders, etc.

She is on a diet of Oxbow pellets in the morning and then she receives fresh (raw) throughout the day (kale, spinach, parsley, apple, blueberry, banana, sweet potato, carrots, etc.). She has salt licks and I add a multivitamin with vitamin C to her water. I don't know what to do to get her to eat hay, which I know is critical. Thanks." —Tammy

Do Rabbits Really Need to Eat Hay?

I would have checked the teeth first, as that is typically the most likely problem. But since Poppy isn't having issues in that area, we have to ask ourselves if there is a problem in not eating hay?

Hay provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but Poppy may already be getting those nutritional needs met otherwise. Here are a few non-hay sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that it sounds like Poppy eats daily.

Sources of Fiber

A rabbit needs about 18-22% fiber in their diet. (1)

  • Pellets: The Oxbow adult food you are giving is high-quality food and 25% fiber.
  • Fresh Fruit: Even a relatively sweet fruit like apple provides a lot of fiber, about 4 grams. (2) Bananas also provide about 2.5 grams of fiber.
  • Leafy Green Vegetables: You mentioned kale and parsley, both of which are high in fiber.

Sources of Vitamins and Minerals

  • Pellets: Nutritionally complete, but may not contain enough of some vitamins.
  • Fresh Fruit: Contain vitamin C and other antioxidants that are not found in the pellets.
  • Leafy Green Vegetables: Good trace mineral source.

Maintain Her Current Diet

If hay were a requirement to keep her healthy, I would suggest providing only hay and no pellets. (She is getting enough to eat and is not interested in the hay.) But since her fiber needs are being met, go ahead and maintain her current diet. If she is not eating her pellets, she may need to be supplemented with probiotics to keep her gut healthy. (3)

Many commercial operations and breeding colonies do fine giving their rabbits only pelleted foods. That is probably not the life you want for Poppy, but I do not think you need to worry about her because she will not eat hay.

You may need to keep a closer eye on her teeth as she gets older—if she shows problems with eating (dropping her food when eating, losing weight) you will need to have them checked and the molars may need to be filed down.

Other than that, she sounds like she has a great life! Poppy is lucky she found you.

Sources

(1) Ograin, Vicky, MBA, RVT. (2022). Nutrition Know-How: Pet Rabbit Nutrition. Veterinary Technician, 32(9). Retrieved from https://www.vetfolio.com/learn/article/nutrition-know-how-pet-rabbit-nutrition

(2) Nicklas TA, O'Neil CE, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Consumption of various forms of apples is associated with a better nutrient intake and improved nutrient adequacy in diets of children: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2010. Food Nutr Res. 2015 Oct 5;59:25948. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v59.25948. PMID: 26445211; PMCID: PMC4595465.

(3) Chen SY, Deng F, Jia X, Liu H, Zhang GW, Lai SJ. Gut microbiota profiling with differential tolerance against the reduced dietary fibre level in rabbit. Sci Rep. 2019 Jan 22;9(1):288. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-36534-6. PMID: 30670754; PMCID: PMC6342909.

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Mark dos Anjos DVM