Pet parents of small herbivores such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas spend a lot of time thinking about hay, and with good reason. This amazing, fiber-packed forage is the cornerstone of every small herbivore’s diet and should be available 24/7. Hay is essential to the daily health of your pet and offering it can be as easy as making sure a big pile of fresh hay is in your little loved one’s habitat at all times. However, the fun news is that feeding hay can be fun and enriching for both pet and pet parent. Here are five of our favorite ways to add fun to hay feeding time.
1. Mix It Up Each Day
The digestive system of rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small herbivores is designed to have food passing through it at all times. This action facilitates constant motion called peristalsis which is essential to digestive health and health overall. The ideal material to facilitate this constant motion is grass hay. That’s why it’s so essential that fresh hay is available at all times for your pet.
Some rabbits and guinea pigs will gladly gobble up any variety of hay you serve up at mealtime. Others…not so much. Just like their human counterparts, all pets are unique and some herbivores, in particular, can be quite picky. Unlike a child who may be finicky around their veggies at supper time, however, a pet who is picky when it comes to eating hay can have serious and more immediate consequences.
If your small herbivore stops eating hay, even for a short amount of time, it can result in a dangerous and life-threatening condition called gastrointestinal stasis. We’ve provided a comprehensive look at gastrointestinal stasis (including why it occurs, how to avoid it, and how it’s treated in this article) and encourage every pet parent to take the time to learn more.
Prevent Picky Eating (and GI Stasis in the Process)
One important step every pet parent can take to avoid having to deal with GI Stasis is to practice habits that prevent picky eating. If you’re pet parent to a picky eater (or two), there are some surefire tricks to help build a less picky palate:
Offer multiple varieties of hay each day. Regularly munching on multiple flavors and textures will help expand your pet’s palate which prevents picky eating in the future. If your bunny or piggie is accustomed to eating Western Timothy every day, try mixing in a little Orchard Grass for a soft, sweet touch. For some additional inspiration, check out our fun hay recipes. Better yet, make your own!
Use a plastic tote to make mixing a breeze. A regular old plastic storage tub makes a great hay storage container for hay and will keep your house or apartment clean when mixing hay varieties together. Use a cordless drill to add a few air holes in each side for ventilation. This will prevent hay from retaining too much moisture and becoming moldy.
No two bags of hay are exactly alike and some variation in texture, color, and taste is natural and common. With this in mind, it’s a great idea to always mix between bags, even if you’re feeding a single variety. Before finishing up a bag, mix in some hay from the new bag. This will help your pet smoothly handle the transition and can lessen picky eating tendencies over time.
2. When in Doubt, Accessorize
It’s fun to get creative when it comes to making sure your pet is consuming an adequate amount of hay. One super fun (and enriching) way to keep hay on the top of your pet’s mind and menu is by adding some enriching hay-based accessories to the habitat. There are several great hay-based options available to help you turn your herbivore’s habitat into a veritable hay palace. Some great options include:
Woven Hay Bungalows & Mats
Items like our Timothy Club Bungalows and Mats are a versatile, enriching option when it comes to adding more hay to your pet’s life. These all-natural, hand-woven accessories are made of 100% premium Timothy. Because they don’t contain any wire or string (or anything other than hay), they are completely safe if consumed. Best of all, these items provide your natural prey species pet a place to rest and relax throughout the day.
Timothy-Based Chews & Treats
Herbivores love the taste and texture of hay, so it’s no surprise that Timothy hay-based chews are some of their absolute favorites. With so many options available, it’s fun and easy to regularly offer a new and exciting hay-based option for your rabbit, guinea pig, or chinchilla. Some fan favorites include Timmy Pops, Timbells, Timothy Popsicle, and Timothy Lollipops.
Similarly, all of our baked treats are made with premium Oxbow Timothy hay. This helps health and happiness-minded pet parents ensure that even treat time includes an element of essential nutrition for their beloved bun or piggie.
3. Create an Enriching Foraging Experience
By definition, foraging means “to search widely for food.” When foraging in their native habitat, prey species such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are accustomed to searching far and wide for adequate nutrition. In the process, they are wired to obtain the largest amount of energy in the least amount of time. In the wild, this opportunity would be likely to change daily, with many factors including weather, season, presence of predators, etc.
While you may not have even realized it, your small herbivores retain their foraging instincts even as domesticated pets. With that said, not all foraging opportunities are created equal. Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are expert foragers and enjoy searching for tasty morsels in hard to find places. Hay makes the perfect “hiding spot” for rewards such as appropriate types of fresh fruit, healthy, appropriate veggies, or healthy treats. Simply hide one or two pieces of your pet’s favorite snack deep inside a pile of hay, sit back, and enjoy watching those instincts at work.
4. Just Add (Even More) Enrichment
To create an even more tactile and entertaining experience, you can offer hay (and your foraging treasure of choice) using one of multiple enriching feeder options. The following enriching accessories are designed to nurture your pet’s instincts to explore and play.
Hide & Chew Roll
Pets love this simple, interactive chew and it’s even more entertaining and enriching when stuffed with your pet’s favorite hay and treats. The Hide & Chew Roll is made of pet-safe corrugate, offering an attractive and ideal chewing texture for small herbivores. Your pet will have hours of fun rolling this item around their environment and you’ll have just as much watching and even joining in the fun with them.
Do you love seeing your pet’s mind at work? This forage pot is a must-have for any small herbivore habitat. The high-quality clay pot easily attaches to habitat walls and can be filled with small pieces of hay, pellets, or treats for a mentally engaging addition to every habitat. Simply fill the pot, place on the lid, and watch your pet forage away!
Apple Stick Hay Feeder
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the more hay, the better! In addition to free-standing piles in various locations throughout the habitat, it’s always great to offer your pet’s favorite hay in various unique locations. Our all-natural Apple Stick Hay Feeder is an enriching favorite when it comes to feeding hay. In addition to providing a vertical hanging option, your chewer will delight in chewing on the natural apple stick!
Another natural hay feeder your pet is sure to love! Our hay forager attaches easily to the habitat and is made with natural burlap and untreated wood for your little loved one’s safety and enjoyment. Just load the front opening with your pet’s favorite hay (or, better yet, a mix!) and attach it to your location of choice.
Timothy Club Hay Barrel
This accessory is a fun hay feeding option with the added benefit of being made of 100% hand-woven Timothy hay. Simply stuff the Hay Barrel with long strands of grass hay and enjoy watching your pet forage and play throughout the day. For extra enrichment, hide a few treat pieces in the center of the hay bundle.
5. Keep The #1 Forage in the #2 Location
Eating in the bathroom may sound like a slightly strange (okay, very strange) concept to us as pet caretakers, but many small herbivores fancy munching on their favorite grass while doing their business. And, while this may not technically qualify as a “fun” way to offer hay on most lists, providing a steady supply of fresh hay in the litterbox is a tried and true way to make sure your small pet is consuming adequate amounts of hay each day.
Grass hay is the simple, high fiber foundation to your pet’s daily nutrition. The most important rule every herbivore pet parent should follow is to offer unlimited amounts of high-quality hay each day, in as many locations as possible. With this basic need met, it’s easy to realize to offering hay can a fun and enriching activity for pets and pet parents alike.