Way even before they were housed as pets, rabbits and guinea pigs are herbivores that lived in the wilderness and fed predominantly on grass. Today, their eating habits remain unchanged. In fact, their whole gastrointestinal system, from their teeth to their gastrointestinal tract, has been adapted for this high-fibre diet.
The importance of hay in your rabbit’s and guinea pig’s diet
Providing these little animals with sufficient hay is an integral part of maintaining their health, and this is why:
Maintains healthy teeth
Most people don't know this, but rabbits and guinea pigs have teeth that are continuously growing. Imagine that! Just like how we need to give our hair a trim whenever they grow overly long and unruly, these small animals need the means to wear down their teeth so that they don’t grow too long. Providing hay for our small animals is one such method. As they chomp on coarse hay, the chewing helps to whittle away their teeth bit by bit to keep them at a natural and healthy length. When left to grow out or if their teeth are not worn down sufficiently, the elongated teeth can exert pressure on the opposing teeth to cause dental issues and diseases!
Promotes a healthy digestive system
Hay is also crucial for a rabbit’s and guinea pig’s digestion because it provides the fibre that is necessary to keep their digestive systems healthy and motile. Since fibre is an insoluble component that keeps the gastrointestinal system moving all the time, it prevents the digestive tract from becoming compact. This is also known as gastrointestinal stasis, a deadly condition in which the digestive system slows down or stops totally due to a low fibre diet, lack of exercise or stress. As such, in order to ensure that their gastrointestinal system functions optimally, it is critical to provide your guinea pig or rabbit with a high-quality, high-fibre diet.
Increases activity levels
Making sure that there is always a large quantity of good quality hay in our small animals’ dwellings is also highly beneficial for their mental enrichment. Rabbits and guinea pigs are curious creatures, and they would need a healthy way to express that curiosity lest they become depressed or act out through destructive behaviours. Having access to hay would sate their curiosity, as well as encourage natural behaviours like foraging and burrowing.
How much hay should your guinea pigs and rabbits eat?
There is no exact amount of hay that you should feed your rabbit or guinea pig; neither is there a limit on how much they can eat every day. As a general rule of thumb, hay should make up about 80% of your pet’s diet. We recommend leaving hay lying about your pet’s cage or living space so that they can graze and forage whenever they like!
What type of hay is best for rabbits and guinea pigs?
There are plenty of various types of hays available that are excellent sources of vitamin A, calcium D, and protein. Some grass-based hays that you can feed your little pet are timothy, orchard, oat, meadow, herbal, bluegrass, fescue, marsh and ryegrass hay. Clover hay and alfalfa hay are great too and contain a high amount of calcium. However, it is important to note that alfalfa hay should not be given to an adult rabbit on a regular basis. For young rabbits that are 6 months or younger, alfalfa hay should be the primary source of food since the rich amounts of calcium and protein would be beneficial for a growing rabbit.
All in all, hay should take up a significant portion of your rabbit’s and guinea pig’s diet as it is extremely essential for their physical and mental well-being. Small animals like them have a delicate digestive system, and while they’re in our care, the onus is upon us to ensure that they are fed a proper diet so that they live a happy and healthy life.