January 31, 2020

How to Transition Your Pet’s Food

How to Transition Your Pet’s Food

Dianne Cook LVT

There are numerous reasons you may want to change your small herbivore’s diet. Perhaps your furry friend is battling a chronic illness, has moved to another stage in life’s journey, or your veterinarian recommended a nutrition overhaul. Maybe your kiddo is a recent addition to the household and was previously fed a diet that didn’t fit your preferences as a pet parent. Or maybe you’re just looking to switch to a higher-quality, fortified pelleted diet. Regardless of the reason, a proper diet transition is essential to ensure your beloved companion takes to the new food as seamlessly as possible and doesn’t overwhelm their gastrointestinal tract.

Why Transition?

As many small herbivore parents know, our little friends, and the specialized bacteria living within their digestive tracts, are very sensitive to even the most subtle changes in their environment, diet included. Though two diets may appear similar from a visual comparison, the ingredients, formula, and nutritional profile can be quite different. These differences, even if they appear subtle, necessitate an adjustment phase. Though some little ones can tolerate a “cold-turkey” transition, it is much safer and easier on them and their digestive tract to do a gradual food transition. Any abrupt change in diet can cause gastrointestinal irritation, a negative impact on the microbiome resulting in stool changes, intestinal discomfort, and even life-threatening gastrointestinal stasis. A gradual transition helps guard against upsetting their delicate system by allowing them to acclimate to the new diet. Small herbivores are concentrate-selectors by nature, which means they tend to be quite picky when it comes to food. As prey species, this tendency served their wild ancestors well, helping to ensure they consumed the most nutritionally dense, non-toxic vegetation, but it can make for a frustrating diet transition in our domesticated companions. Providing your small herbivore with a gradual diet transition allows time for your pet to get used to the different textures, flavors, and aromas of their new food.

How to Properly Transition

Properly transitioning a pet onto a new food, especially from a muesli mix (a mixture of seeds, nuts, pellets, and colorful mystery pieces) to a fortified, uniform pelleted diet is often not an easy task. In fact, it is a process that takes time and commitment to complete. Though many pet parents have heard of, and even completed, the standard 7-day diet transition with their dogs and cats, small herbivores need quite a bit more time to adjust to a new diet. During this process, patience and persistence are is key. When transitioning diets, we strongly encourage pet parents to follow a minimum of a 4-week transition schedule. This drawn out, gradual process gives your little one a good opportunity to become familiar with the new characteristics of the food. There are many tactics that can be employed to ease the transition such as adding chopped up pieces of their favorite greens or veggies to the blend of new and old pellets, essentially making a “pellet salad.” Owners have also found success mixing in small amounts of fragrant herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley that often encourage your little one to sample the new pellets, and can help ensure a quicker, smoother transition for everyone involved.

Transitioning between diets can be confusing at any volume, but when we are discussing a feeding volume as small as one-eighth of a cup, the difficulty can be amplified. It is important to always use an actual measuring device to ensure the correct volume is being offered, as over-feeding pellets is a common nutritional issue. Below you will find diet transition charts to help walk you through the transition process at our most commonly recommended feeding volumes. 


Transitioning Between Brand Lines and Life-Stages

Offering multiple premium food options and life-stage diets allows Oxbow to provide a diversity of options to help us meet the unique needs and preferences of as many pets and their pet parents as possible. 

Check out a side-by-side look at Oxbow foods.

Learn more about the importance of a  young diet.

Though all Oxbow foods are nutritionally complete and balanced, each takes its own individual ingredient path to achieve a similar premium nutritional profile. It is the variation in the ingredients which result in a difference in taste and aroma between different diets and life-stage lines. Because of these flavor/aroma differences, and the fact exotic companion mammals are notoriously selective, small herbivores will often refuse a food with which they are unfamiliar, even if it is produced by the same company. This makes it just as important to follow the appropriate transition schedule outlined above when transitioning between Oxbow diet lines, or from a young formula to an adult diet.

As concentrate selectors, our small herbivore friends are very adept at picking up slight differences between bags of food. It is important to remember that there are naturally occurring variations in the ingredients that may result in slight differences in taste, aroma, and texture, even within the same diet. We humans are often unable to detect these subtleties, but occasionally our small friends with a more refined-palate are not fond of these differences. Keeping these individual tastes and personalities in mind, the most important suggestion we offer pet parents is not to wait until you are completely out of one bag of food to purchase another.

Blending from one bag of food to the next helps broaden a pet’s palate by regularly experiencing a slight variety of tastes and aromas. This simple step will help limit picky eating tendencies. This process does not have to be as detailed and drawn out as a full diet transition. Once you are down to about a week’s worth of feedings in one bag, begin transitioning to the next by adding enough food from the new bag to make a 50/50 mixture. This is a good idea regardless of what brand of food you feed, and should also be standard practice between hay bags to curb a potential finicky response.

Potty Patrol

Once you’ve started your pet’s diet transition journey, it is essential you continue to monitor your little one closely for any changes in normal behavior or routine. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping a close eye on their fecal output. Some changes in fecal color may be noted, especially if the ingredients between the two diets are quite a bit different, but fecal consistency, size, and frequency should remain relatively constant. If you notice your pet is starting experience loose stools, small or unusual-shaped fecal pellets, or diminishing fecal production all together, stop the diet transition and contact your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible. The same is true if your kiddo has stopped eating, has become withdrawn and/or less active, or begins to show signs of gastrointestinal discomfort. As prey species, small herbivores are naturally hard-wired to hide signs of disease or illness, so it is always best to share a discussion with your exotic veterinarian if changes are noted. 

Learn more about how to tell if your rabbit is sick.

Rushing a diet transition can lead to digestive upset and blatant diet refusal, so remember to be patient with the process and with your small friend. Whatever the reason behind your small herbivore’s updated diet, the best way to ensure a smooth and successful diet transition is to plan ahead and make sure the process is gradual and positive for everyone involved. Most importantly, ensure your veterinarian is kept in the loop and is consulted if any changes are noted in your kiddo’s feces, appetite, or overall demeanor. 

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January 22, 2020

Critical Care Tips and Tricks

Critical Care Tips and Tricks
Dr. Cayla Iske and Dianne Cook, LVT 

As a pet parent, you’re no doubt familiar with everyday nutrition in the form of hays, fortified foods, and healthy treats.  But, what about those unexpected, more critical situations that sometimes occur in a pet’s life?  Some critical situations your pets might encounter could include:  

  • Recovery from surgery 
  • Gastrointestinal issues  
  • General lack of appetite  
  • Weight loss 
  • Injury  
  • Additional illnesses  

Any time a pet is experiencing one of the above scenarios, the animal should always be taken to an experienced exotics veterinarian for a complete physical exam and potentially additional diagnostics to determine the underlying problem. In some instances, your veterinarian may determine that a product specially-formulated to provide complete nutrition in times of illness or convalescence (such as Oxbow’s Critical Care) may be appropriate to improve your pet’s health. 

Getting to Know Critical Care

There are two distinct formulations in the Critical Care line: Timothy hay-based Critical Care - Herbivore and chicken and egg-based Critical Care - Carnivore. Both formulas are designed to meet the unique nutritional needs of their intended species - herbivores (rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, tortoises, iguanas, and others) and carnivores (ferrets, cats, hawks, monitors, snakes, and others), respectively. Mixing the two products can also help support omnivorous species such as bearded dragons, rats, and hedgehogs.  Critical Care - Herbivore comes in three flavors, including anise, apple & banana, and papaya to stimulate your animal’s appetite. As mentioned before, our Critical Care products are most commonly used to provide complete nutrition for your sick, geriatric, and/or convalescing friends. In these times when animals can’t or won’t eat, Critical Care products can be mixed with water and fed to aid in recovery by providing complete nutrition in nutrient-dense format. 

Why is Critical Care Only Available Through My Veterinarian?

Your veterinarian is the appropriate expert to determine if Oxbow’s Critical Care products are appropriate for your pet’s current condition.  In some cases, a pet’s visible symptoms are symptomatic of a more serious underlying condition.  Without a proper diagnosis, your pet runs the risk of having their condition worsen. 

Different Ways to Offer Critical Care to Your Pets

One of the biggest benefits of Critical Care is the versatility of the product. Depending on your animal and their willingness to eat, the feeding method can be adjusted. Common feeding methods include:  

  • Sprinkle dry as a top dressing 
  • Combine wet with pet’s food  
  • Offer wet in a bowl or by spoon 
  • Syringe or tube feed   

Top Dressing

In some cases, offering Critical Care can be as simple as using the product as a topper by sprinkling the dry powder on your animal’s usual food. This can offer added flavor and stimulate appetite. 

Combining Critical Care with Your Pet’s Existing Food 

You can also use wet Critical Care in the same way by mixing it with water and stirring into your pet’s food. 

Offer Wet in Bowl or by Spoon

If your animal is refusing to or can’t eat any of their usual food but still has an appetite, Critical Care can be mixed with water to create a paste that can be offered in a bowl or on a spoon. 

Syringe or Tube Feeding

For those animals who won’t eat on their own, Critical Care can be assist-fed via syringe or tube feeding. For these methods, you can find suggested feeding volumes based on weight on the package and it is always best to divide this volume into 4-6 daily feedings. Tube feeding is most often conducted by your veterinarian, but you may be asked to syringe feed your animal once they leave the vet office. This may seem intimidating if you’ve not done it before, but there are some tips and tricks to make it easier.

Syringe Feeding Tips and Tricks 

Use a syringe with the largest tip possible.   

This will help prevent clogging, helping you avoid mess and frustration in the process. Feeding syringes with a large, smooth opening made specifically for administering gruels or Critical Care-type products are typically most effective. Most veterinary hospitals will have these syringes on hand or can order them upon your request. 

Mix the dry product and water in a bowl and draw product up through the syringe.

If the product seems overly thick during mixing, you can add additional water to achieve a thinner consistency. The extra water also provides the added benefit of additional hydration. Though many pet parents take the plunger out of the syringe to “spoon” the mixture in through the top, you can actually “suck up” the product from the bowl. 

Find the right “flavor fit” for your pet

If you are having difficulty syringe feeding or your animal doesn’t like the anise or apple banana flavor, you may want to request Critical Care Fine Grind (papaya flavor) from your veterinarian. Fine Grind provides the same nutritional profile as our anise and apple-banana products but is ground into an ultra-fine powder, which often makes administration of the product a bit easier. 

Avoid slick surfaces and administer from a stable position

Many pet parents find it easiest to syringe feed their kiddos while sitting.  This allows their little ones to securely sit on their lap or the floor in front of them. Others find it easiest to stand with their pet positioned on a table or countertop. Regardless of the surface, it is important to remember that slick surfaces should be covered with something that will provide traction, so your pet doesn’t slip and increase the risk of injury. If you opt to feed on a counter or table, it is essential that you keep a gentle, yet secure hold on your pet to prevent them from startling and bolting off the surface.

Aspire Not to Aspirate  

  • Remain relaxed and gentle during syringe feedings. Assist feedings can be stressful for all involved, so speaking softly and continually reassuring your pet throughout the feeding can help make the experience as positive as possible.  
  • You may choose to gently wrap them in a towel. The act of receiving nourishment from a plastic syringe is unnatural and some pets will instinctually resist no matter how tasty the food. Wrapping them in a towel can provide a calming effect and make them easier to handle. 
  • Always keep your pet in a natural position during syringe feeding. All four feet should be in contact with the ground, and their spine should be in a natural, neutral position.  
  • Keep your pet’s natural line of sight in mind. Many prey species have laterally placed eyes, leaving them with a blind spot directly in front of the nose. So, try to avoid touching their nose or prying open their incisors with the syringe. Instead, insert the tip of the syringe into the side of the mouth, in the space behind the incisors/canines and in front of the molars.  
  • Administer very small amounts at a time, aiming for the center of the mouth and not the back of the throat.  
  • Don’t rush! Remove the syringe between mouthfuls to allow your pet time to chew and swallow. Forcing too much food into your pet’s mouth or not allowing them time to swallow is the most common cause of aspiration. Additionally, if your syringe clogs in the middle of a feeding, remove the syringe from your pet’s mouth and dislodge the clog before continuing the feeding. 
  • Practice makes perfect! Until you get the hang of syringe feedings, practice before feeding your pet by loading a syringe with a small amount of mixed Critical Care and testing how much pressure is required to get the desired amount of food to come out. 

Don’t Let the Leftovers Go to Waste! 

If you find yourself with extra Critical Care once your animal has recovered and your vet gives the ok to stop syringe feeding, there are some fun and unique ways to use the leftover powder. Critical Care can be mixed with water, formed into shapes, and left out to dry overnight to create treats for your little ones. While you may want to bake the treats, it is best not to expose them to such high heat to keep the vitamins and other nutrients from degrading. These treats can be stored for 1-2 days and are a great way to get creative to provide nutritional enrichment for your pet.  

How to Store Critical Care 

All Critical Care is best when mixed fresh at each feeding. Product mixed with water should be used within 24 hours of mixing and may need some added water to reach desired consistency after sitting. Opened bags of Critical Care Herbivore can be stored sealed at room temperature for up to 30 days. Critical Care Carnivore has a very high level of fat and should be stored in the fridge and used within 7 days after opening. Unopened bags of Critical Care can be stored in a cool, dry location for up to 2 years after the manufacturing date (see Best By Date on the bag). Freezing may extend the shelf-life of the product by slowing oxidation and vitamin degradation, but too many freeze-thaw cycles can have negative effects, particularly on vitamin stability.  

Coming Soon – Updates & Enhancements 

Following years of clinical usage feedback and additional research and development at Oxbow, our Critical Care line will be getting a new look and some notable enhancements to select formulas.  

New Look and Measuring Scoop  

The updated packaging will feature a fresh new design and the products will now include a tablespoon scoop for measuring out the powder.  

Critical Care Herbivore Formula Enhancements

Our nutrition experts are constantly reviewing product formulations to ensure that Oxbow products provide the highest level of nutrition to small animals.  As a part of this ongoing review, we identified an opportunity to enhance the nutritional profile of our Critical Care - Herbivore and Critical Care - Herbivore Fine Grind products.  The addition of key ingredients provides an enhanced nutritional profile via additional sources of beneficial amino acids, Omega 3&6 fatty acids, prebiotics, and an all-natural preservative for product quality & freshness.  

Critical Care: There for Pets in Life’s Critical Situations 

Proper nutrition is always vital, and especially so for a sick or recovering animal. This is precisely why our Critical Care products were created 20 years ago. These products provide the correct nutrition using the highest quality and most biologically correct ingredients for their intended species. So if your pets are ever under the weather, know that Oxbow’s Critical Care products are there to help with a fast and safe recovery. 

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January 22, 2020

January Pet of the Month

January Pet of the Month

Congratulations to our Pets of the Month, Tomato (she’s hanging out in the wooden ship) and Sprite! These adorable little ladies are 3-4 years old and love Natural Science Digestive Support. Thanks for being fans!

Would you like your pet to be considered for Pet of the Week? Follow Oxbow on Instagram or Facebook and follow the instructions on our Pet of the Week posts to submit your photos!

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January 21, 2020

How to Litter Train Your Rabbit

How to Litter Train Your Rabbit

Many of the commonly asked questions we receive regarding rabbit care pertain to bathroom behavior. “What do I need to successfully litter train?” “How do I litter train in a rabbit in a cage?” “How long does it take?” “Is my bunny too old (or too young) to litter train?”

As many bunny pet parents know, rabbits are naturally very clean animals. Other than habitat maintenance, brushing, nail clipping, and the occasional spot cleaning, bunnies rarely need human intervention when it comes to hygiene. Like many other small animal species, they are also creatures of habit when it comes to elimination, making them perfect candidates for litter training. Litter training your bunny can seem like a daunting task, but Oxbow is here to help you find the best way to move forward with your furry family member.

What Do I Need in Order to Litter Train?


We recommend avoiding clay litters that contain crystals, such as litters found in the cat aisle of your local pet store. These crystals are not formulated for the rabbit species and may be toxic to your pet. We also recommend not using cedar shavings/chips or pine, as these softwoods are not safe for rabbits to ingest.

We’re often asked about using newspaper in litter pans. Newspaper can be highly absorbent, but, as many pet parents know, rabbit urine tends to have a strong odor. Finding a way to combat odor while tackling absorbency can be tricky. Rabbits are known for chewing on their litter, so ensure that whatever product you decide to use is fit for small animal species and will not cause digestive or respiratory issues for your pet.

We recommend using a small species formulated wheat-straw based litter such as Oxbow’s Eco-Straw. Eco-Straw is clumpable, scoopable, environmentally friendly, and is safe if consumed in small amounts. Use at least one inch of Eco Straw in the bottom of your pet’s pan.

Litter Pan & Scoop

Cat litter boxes are a great place to start when it comes to litter pan selection. When introducing the pan to your bunny’s enclosure, make sure that there is still plenty of room for their water source, food, and toys. It is imperative that your rabbit is able to stretch out in their litter box as well, as they tend to spend a lot of time in their box and need to be as comfortable as possible.

Tips and Tricks for Litter Training

  • After you add the litter pan to your rabbit’s favorite area of their habitat, make sure to spend time daily watching and interacting with them. If they happen to lift their leg or “get into position” when they are not in their litter box, simply say “No,” and gently herd or place them in the litter box. As with any behavioral training, never shake, scream at, or become physically aggressive with your rabbit. Rabbits take their time but are creatures of habit. Once they begin to understand what it is that they’re meant to do and they develop a routine, they will most likely stick with it. When it comes to adjusting bunny behavior, patience is the key. While your pet is never too young or too old to try their hand at litter training, it may take time for them to adjust to your expectations of where it is and isn’t appropriate to eliminate waste. Much like other animals when it comes to house training, if rabbits aren’t caught in the act of eliminating, they shouldn’t be reprimanded for it later.
  • Once they’ve established where the litter box is located, we don’t recommend moving it unless absolutely necessary. However, if you find that they’re using one specific area where the litter box isn’t located, simply move the litter box to the preferred area.
  • Rabbits will oftentimes kick their litter out of the box. If this becomes an issue, we recommend purchasing a hooded litter box if it will fit in your rabbit’s habitat.
  • When litter training, we recommend leaving your bunny be when they are in the litter box. Much like their human counterparts, invading their space and territory in the midst of “using the facilities” is frowned upon and may result in behavioral issues. This includes waiting to scoop and/or clean their litter pan when they are not using it.
  • One of the most difficult parts of litter training is being able to identify a training fail vs. marking territory. Rabbits will oftentimes leave pills outside of their litter boxes to send out the alert (especially to their fellow bunny friends) that this territory is theirs. This also helps them to identify what territory isn’t theirs (think of your favorite rug or the sofa).
  • Accidents do indeed happen, and there are many pet-friendly products on the market to clean stains and odor from carpet and other surface materials.
  • Adding hay is a great way to encourage your pet to spend time in the litter box.

How Can You Clean Out the Litter Pan When It’s Time and How Often Should You Clean?

We recommend cleaning regularly. Many pet parents spot clean litter pans daily and find that completely emptying out all of the litter and replacing it once per week works well. If you want to help keep your habitat even cleaner, we recommend washing your litter pan once per month. Our friends at the House Rabbit Society have mentioned that white vinegar works well for rinsing litter boxes. Soap and hot water are also appropriate cleaning detergents. Just ensure that the pan is completely dry before refilling it with litter.

Did you know that some litters, especially the organic varieties, can be composted? Learn more about composting your pet’s litter here.

Learn More

To learn more about litter training or how to troubleshoot common issues, check out the House Rabbit Society’s Litter Training Guide 

How to Prevent and Treat Bladder Sludge in Rabbits and Guinea Pigs 

Oxbow’s Guide to Rabbit Housing 

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January 16, 2020

Can I Compost My Guinea Pig’s Poop?

Can I Compost My Guinea Pig’s Poop?

What’s the Scoop on Composting Poop?

When pet parents clean their rabbit’s, guinea pig’s, or chinchilla’s habitat every week, the pet’s feces and uneaten hay are commonly thrown in the garbage. However, more and more pet parents are learning that composting their companion herbivore’s feces can yield amazing compost! This blog post will cover the basics of how to compost your pet herbivore’s waste.

Home Composting

If you currently compost at home, simply add your pet’s waste to your existing compost pile and stir. Small amounts of uneaten hay can also be added to compost along with the waste, just ensure that the compost pile is balanced in its overall content (too much of one organic is not always good!). While the chance of hay sprouts is minimal, try to avoid including seed heads that can be found in hays like our Western Timothy Hay.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Decomposition

It is important for every home composter to practice good composting standards for aerobic decomposition. Stirring, turning, watering, checking the temperature, and covering your compost every few days will allow for efficient decomposition over the future months. Monitoring your compost in this manner will ensure that the mixture does not undergo anaerobic decomposition. Anaerobic decomposition is the same kind of decomposition that takes place in landfills. It tends to make decomposing organic matter very pungent, produces large amounts of methane, and takes many more months for organic matter to fully decompose as compared to aerobic decomposition.

When your compost is ready to go you can use it in your own garden, or offer it to neighbors, families, and friends. They might be surprised at first to learn how your small herbivore contributed, but it’s likely that they’ll find the compost to be a high-quality source of nutrients for soil and plants!

Commercial Composting

If you live in a larger town or a city, it’s possible that a commercial composting facility is near you and accepting household organics. These facilities can often take large amounts of organics for a small monthly fee. Composting through a facility like this takes the guesswork and maintenance requirements out of composting for many households. It also allows those who can’t compost at home to still effectively divert their organics from the landfill.

One of the easiest ways you can investigate the availability of a commercial composting facility is to Google search “composting facilities near me.” If there is a facility in your area, reach out to them through a phone call or email and explain that you want to regularly transport your herbivore’s waste and uneaten hay to have it composted. They will be able to tell you if the organics you want to dispose of are desired at their facility, as well as provide you information about memberships, fees, and any potential benefits (sometimes finished compost is available for members to purchase at discounted rates).

Depending on where you live, some facilities can pick up composting materials curb-side, just like recycling or trash. In other areas, organics will have to be personally transported to either the facility or to specific drop-off points. Make sure to understand the collection method of your composting facility, and plan to invest in a compost receptacle that is appropriate for the type of collection the facility is capable of.

Tips for Compost Health and Composting Success:

  • Our small herbivores at home are similar in some ways to large herbivores like cows and horses. This is partially why rabbit, guinea pig, or chinchilla feces are such a great addition to compost piles!
  • Do not compost the waste of any animals who are ill, contagious, or taking medication, as these unwanted elements may wind up in your soil.
  • Litter can also be composted! Plant-based litters, such as our Eco-Straw, can be composted along with feces. The same rules of composting apply to litter: make sure there isn’t too much of one type of organic in your compost pile.
  • Herbivore waste can be composted at home, but it is not recommended to compost the waste of carnivores due to the possibility of parasites or harmful disease organisms being present in these feces. There is mixed information and opinions on whether the waste of omnivores should or should not be composted at home, so it’s best to refrain from composting it on your own. If you have a membership to a commercial composting facility, contact them about their capabilities before sending any animal feces with other organics to compost.
  • Follow good practices on storing backyard compost in order to avoid attracting pests or stray animals. There’s always a chance that some animals, particularly predators, might be attracted to your organics when the scent of a prey species’ waste is present.
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January 10, 2020

The Expert Guide To Selecting Fresh Hay Your Pets Will Love

The Expert Guide To Selecting Fresh Hay Your Pets Will Love

Whether your rabbit or guinea pig is a picky eater or the type of pet that eats all types of hay with unbridled enthusiasm, it’s always a good idea to select the freshest hay possible.  Fresh, premium hay is most likely to be consumed regularly by small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas.  Given the essential importance of hay in the daily diet of small herbivores, it’s important to know what to look for and select the best hay available.  In this article, we’ll take a look at the following quick, helpful tips to help you choose hay your pet will enjoy meal after meal.

Expert Tips for Selecting Fresh, Premium Hay Include:    

  • Check the “Freshest By” Date
  • Give the Bag a Squeeze  
  • Take in that Farm Fresh Aroma
  • Go for the Green Stuff  
  • Talk to the Experts in the Aisles
  • Use the Dust Test

Check the “Freshest By” Date

Hay is a natural product that doesn’t expire in the traditional sense of the term.  When stored in the proper conditions, hay will retain its nutritional value for many months.  Hay is required to feature a “freshest by” date that you will typically find on the back side of your hay packaging.  For Oxbow hay, this statement can be found in the lower right corner of the back side of the packaging.

Freshest By Date on Oxbow Hay Bag

Over time, the fresh, natural aroma of hay that pets love will fade, so it’s a good idea to use your hay within its “freshest by” range.  When shopping the hay aisle, always check the best by dates to ensure your retailer is keeping fresh hay in stock.   

Give the Bag a Squeeze

The freshness “squeeze” test isn’t just for cantaloupes in the produce aisle!  When you are trying to determine which bag of hay to purchase for your beloved pet, feeling the texture of the hay can be a useful indicator of how long it’s been on your retailer’s shelf. 

Most varieties of fresh hay should be soft and pliable.  Many small pets prefer hay that is softer in texture, so your rabbit, guinea pig, or chinchilla is likely to appreciate you selecting a soft hay.    

Some considerations when evaluating hay texture:

  • Some hays are more compressed in the package than others.  If your preferred brand comes in a more compressed package, squeezing the bag may not be the best indicator.
  • Some varieties like Oat Hay will be crunchier by nature.  If your rabbit or guinea pig enjoys crunchier hay varieties like Oat, you don’t need to worry as much about the overall texture of the hay. 
  • There are many great benefits to providing a variety of hay textures. To maximize your pet’s daily nutritional enrichment, offer at least two varieties mixed together at all times.  New to offering a variety?  We recommend the Crunch & Munch as a great DIY mix for variety beginners!

Take in that Farm Fresh Aroma

There’s nothing quite like the smell of a field of hay at harvest time.  If you’re an experienced hay purveyor for your pets, you likely already know and love the rich, natural smell of fresh hay.  Even in a sealed package, it’s easy to smell and evaluate the aroma of hay on the store shelf.

Beautiful Green Oxbow Hay Field

So, what should fresh hay smell like exactly?  Fresh hay that has been grown and harvested under the right conditions should have a sweet, natural smell.  To evaluate the smell of hay, simply give the bag a squeeze and take in that farm fresh aroma.  Even premium hay loses its aroma over time; if your hay has a dull or non-existent aroma, there’s a good chance it’s been in inventory or sitting on the shelf for a while. 

Avoid Hay With a Musty or “Off” Smell

A musty smell can be an indicator of mold.  Exposure to mold can result in health problems for your pet, so hay with a musty smell should be avoided at all times.

Go for the Green Stuff  

One of the hallmarks of fresh, high quality hay is the kind of nice, green color you would expect to see in nature.  Green high is most likely to have been harvested under the ideal conditions for producing premium hay. 

There are many factors that can affect the color of hay, including:

  • Maturity
    • Hay that is harvested at an immature stage of growth is most likely to have the nice, green color you like to see in the package.  As a hay plant matures, it focuses its energy on reproduction and will send all of its nutrients into the seed head.  This results in yellowing throughout the rest of the plant.   
  • Humidity & Precipitation
    • Untimely moisture is the enemy of premium hay.  Water droplets on the hay plant can accentuate the sun’s effect and lead to bleaching or loss of color.  
  • Sunlight
    • Once hay is cut, it spends time curing naturally in the field with the help of the sun.  Hay that cures for a longer period of time (often due to factors including temperature, humidity, and precipitation) can begin to bleach (lose its color) due to prolonged exposure to the sun.  Once harvested into bales, even the greenest, most beautiful hay can lose some color on the outsides of the bale if exposed to direct sunlight in storage.   
  • Temperature
    • Generally speaking, dry and hot conditions are ideal for producing the most premium hay possible.  Cool and moist or humid conditions can predispose hay to losing some of its color.    

Talk to the Experts in the Aisles

If you find that the hay on your local retailer’s shelf consistently lacks a fresh, natural aroma, feel free to ask questions about their inventory and rotation practices.  If the hay on the shelf doesn’t smell fresh, there’s always a chance they have fresher inventory in the back that they can pull for you. 

In addition to answering your questions about hay freshness, knowledgeable store associates will be able to provide guidance and recommendations to help you select the varieties of hay your pet is most likely to enjoy!

When in Doubt, use the “Dust Test”

If you purchase your pet’s hay from a physical, brick and mortar location, try performing the “dust test.” Products that sit on the shelf for a long time will inevitably collect dust on the packaging.  If the hay you’re shopping for lacks the freshness characteristics you know your pet is most likely to enjoy, check on the dustiness of packaging.  

Hay that has been on the shelf a long time can have a bleached appearance. 

Storage Tips

So, you’ve successfully brought home the freshest, most beautiful bag of hay for your beloved bunny, piggie, or chin.  Congratulations!  Now what?  There are some simple, important steps you can take to ensure your hay keeps it fresh smell, beautiful green color, and soft texture for as long as possible.  To preserve the quality and maximize the storage life of your hay, we recommend the following tips:

  • Keep your hay in a cool, dry location
  • Store your hay out of direct sunlight
  • Keep hay in its original packaging or a container with adequate ventilation

Expert Variety Tip

As referenced earlier, we always recommend offering a variety of hays at all times.  Many pet parents find it easy and enjoyable to use a larger container for mixing and storing multiple varieties of hay.  A large plastic tote with a lid makes a great container for hay.  To provide adequate ventilation, simply drill a series of small holes along the sides of the container. 

Want to learn more about hay?  We encourage you to check out these great resources:

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