March 06, 2020

Ask The Small Pet Vet: How Much Hay Should My Rabbit or Guinea Pig Eat Every Day?

Hay: it’s the nutritional foundation of herbivore health and a topic every new rabbit or guinea pig owner should be thinking about.  As obligate herbivores in the wild, rabbits and guinea pigs naturally eat many types of different plant materials each day.  As these small animals have made the transition “from wild to child,” it’s important for us as pet parents to remember the importance of the ideas of variety and diversity when it comes time to offer hay to our bunnies and piggies.

So, where do you start when it comes to knowing how much hay your pet should eat every day?  Start by focusing on having ample amounts of high quality, high fiber hay in your rabbit or guinea pig’s cage at all times.  One thing we don’t often think or talk about is that your pet will not only eat this hay, but they will also use it for bedding, burrowing, bathroom time, and more.  These activities are all part of their normal daily routines and one of the many reasons that keeping ample amounts of hay in their cage is extremely important. 

How Much Hay Should I Feed Daily?

The short answer is that you really can’t put too much hay in a rabbit or guinea pig’s habitat.  The more hay they have available, the greater their opportunity to constantly forage and graze, which is extremely important not just for their physical health, but for their mental stimulation as well.  At the end of the day, the more hay you can reasonably offer your pet, the better.    

So, Why Is Hay So Important?

Hay is essential to your rabbit or guinea pig’s diet for many reasons, several of which we’ve just discussed.  But, two of the most important functions of hay to keep in mind when it comes to your pet’s health are dental and gastrointestinal health.   

1. Healthy Dentition

Did you know that rabbits’ and guinea pigs’ teeth never stop growing? Hay provides natural mechanical wear and tear that keeps their teeth worn to healthy levels, preventing dental disease.       

2. GI Health

One of the most important functions of hay is that it’s responsible for keeping the GI system moving.  This process is called peristalsis.  Fiber (particularly the insoluble components) are what keep the GI tract moving at all times.  A happy, healthy rabbit or guinea pig is one that is consuming large amounts of hay and pooping out fiber regularly. 

What Types of Hay Are Best?

As we mentioned, small herbivores such as rabbits and guinea pigs are constantly accessing a wide diversity of different types of plant material in the wild.  So, what types should you offer?  All grass hay varieties are appropriate and interchangeable.  While Timothy Hay is a great place to start, we also want to think about feeding different types.  Access to a variety of tastes and textures has many benefits, including preventing picky eating habits and keeping mealtime fun and enriching.    

What About Alfalfa?

It’s important to understand the difference between alfalfa and grass hays (such as Timothy) to understand how much alfalfa you should offer your rabbit or guinea and why.  Alfalfa is a legume that is a member of the sweet pea family.  As such, alfalfa contains more protein and calcium than grass hays.  Alfalfa can be offered freely to pets with higher energy needs, including young/growing and pregnant/nursing pets, but should only be offered as a treat for healthy, adult animals. 

If you focus on having ample amounts of high quality, high fiber hay in your rabbit or guinea pig’s habitat at all times, your munchkin will be going down the right nutritional path.