While your fluffy cottontails and popcorning piggies may look happy enough grazing on grass and snacking on veggie scraps, these ‘pocket pets’ need access to at least their body size in fresh hay every day in order to meet their dietary requirements for fibre.We tried asking some of our fluffiest buddies why hay was so important to them but we didn’t get much beyond an unintelligible sniff and squeak. Best to keep the advice to human experts – like the SPCA, who recommend feeding your guinea pigs and rabbits a diet of around 80-90% hay for the health of their guts and teeth. This should be provided alongside fresh water, pellets and produce.
Hey, hey, it’s needed every day!
In terms of digestion, hay is an essential ingredient to keep things moving in a healthy way for your pets. Hay, grass, weeds and twigs are high in cellulose, which locks the nutritional value of the food away. To access it, guinea pigs and rabbits have a specially developed digestive system, which separates digestible and indigestible fibre in its processes.
The digestible stuff is ingested and sent to the cecum, a part of the stomach filled with good bacteria. This allows the nutrients locked in the food to be absorbed, making for strong and happy little buddies. The indigestible fibre is also essential as it moves through the digestive system, keeping the bowels healthy and…ahem…productive.
For teeth, as well as tums…
As these creatures have ever-growing teeth, hay helps keep the dentist away by whittling toofs down. Other offerings such as apple tree branches or pet store wood chews may also help with this – but make sure you check before introducing anything new as some timbers can be toxic or may have been sprayed.
These kinds of supplementary offerings can help to provide enrichment for your pets, too, as they will enjoy foraging and chewing and even bouncing over them. For treats, guinea pig and rabbit owners should provide about a cup per pet of fresh vegetables and fruit. Mixes such as Meadow Medley can give your pet some variety, as well as nuggets and feed like Rabbit and Guinea Pig Muesli. However, these should all be provided additional to their daily haystack.
…and a foraging fix
Providing a regular stash of fresh hay encourages the natural foraging behaviours of pocket pets. They love to dig and snuffle their way through hay – even hiding in it which can involve the release of some unpleasant additions to the hay pile. That’s why it’s good to put some fresh, eating-only hay in a basket or tube attached to the side of the hutch where it can be pulled out and chewed when they’re feeling peckish.
What the hay?
Hay is not all created equally – some grasses have a different nutritional profile and certain types will taste better to the tiny taste buds of rabbits and guinea pigs. Look for dry hay that appears healthy with a golden hue and a pleasant smell. If it’s got any moist looking darker green or brown tinges in it, there may be some rot which can make for upset bunny tummies. Good choices are Meadow Hay which includes a blend of nutritious grasses and clover or Timothy Hay which is sweet to the taste of tiny flavour receptors. Blending a selection of hays together is a good way to encourage natural foraging behaviour.
There’s also lucerne (alfalfa) hay – a high fibre legume hay that contains more protein, digestible energy and calcium than grass hay. While it’s great for young, breeding or growing herbivores, it should be kept as a special treat for mature rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas because of the higher calcium content/
With plenty of hay, the odd treat and a bit of enriching, social fun, your pocket pets will be popcorning and bouncing into old age with energy and vitality.
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