Not eating hay

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Supporting Member
Oct 8, 2015
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North Carolina
Every afternoon, when I clean my babies' enclosures, I've noticed that they aren't eating much of their hay. Their pellets always get eaten, and their fresh salads, and of course treats always disappear, but a lot of hay gets wasted.

I clean every day because they haven't quite made the connection of the litter boxes yet, and poop is absolutely everywhere, so it all gets swept up and put back in the litter box, so I must be doing something wrong that they're not getting it yet? But should I be concerned that they largely ignore the hay as much as possible? Should I reduce pellets and fresh greens to nudge them toward the hay?
What 'babies' are we talking about? Actual baby rabbits, or full grown adult rabbits and are they fixed? Is this a change, from being good hay eaters and now they're not?
Three are close to a year old, the fourth is almost 14 weeks old. The two oldest used to eat the hay a little bit better than they do now. The younger two still do, but even they won't really pay attention to the hay until there's nothing tastier available. I've been thinking I should reduce pellets. They get the oxbow young rabbit pellets, which are primarily alfalfa, I believe (I don't have the bag in front of me). One of the (few) things we were taught in vet tech school was that rabbits will nearly always choose alfalfa over timothy, but at a certain point in development, alfalfa is a bad choice because of weight gain. Oh, and none are fixed yet...we are working on that!!!
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Alfalfa is a great choice for getting rabbits to grow fast, which is useful for growing lifestock. And, yes, rich food tastes better, pellets are made to taste great. If you give kids free choice between Happy Meals or vegetable stew, what will they grow up with? ;).

I use pellets as treats and reward, as an about 10% supplement. Now I have a 3 week old litter and use some damp pellets and oatmeal, also mix in the veggies the adults get, to get them used to being handled. But their mainstay food now is hay, that will be gradually be replaced by grass and forage once it becomes available.
If they're filling up on pellets, veg, and treats, they aren't going to be as interested in eating hay. How much of the pellets are they being fed each day and what's their approximate body weight? How much veg and treats do they get each day? Are they maintaining a good body weight and condition on their current diet, or are they overweight or underweight at all? Do they have healthy looking fecal balls and no excess or mushy cecotropes?

Monitoring your rabbits weight

Yes, rabbits will usually opt for eating alfalfa based foods over grass based, which is why I prefer and recommend not feeding alfalfa hay exclusively to young rabbits (adult pet rabbits are best with a grass based diet). It can also make for picky buns and make it difficult to transition them to a grass hay. And yes, alfalfa can lead to weight gain if too much is fed as it's high in protein, or bladder/kidney issues if an excess is fed and if bun is prone to calcium sediment issues.

Low Calcium Diet for Rabbits

If your rabbits are pets and will not be breed/show rabbits, with most of your rabbits being considered full grown, it would probably be good to begin a gradual transition to an adult grass based pellet. Particularly if they're fixed, and particularly the older buns if you're still wanting to keep the young bun on the young rabbit pellets for now.

Components of a balanced diet

Rabbits are considered litter box trained if they're consistently peeing in the litter box. Poop is a whole other issue. How good a rabbit is at keeping poop in the litter box depends on if the rabbit is fixed, if this is a new area to the rabbit - as they like to mark their territory, if there are other rabbits around (particularly ones they aren't bonded with) - as rabbits again will want to mark their territory, if their litter box and eating area is set up well - as rabbits tend to poop while eating, and it's also based on an individual rabbits personality (some rabbits are more tidy than others).
They each get about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pellets depending on size. The two oldest and the youngest are minilops, so the two that are done growing get 1/2 cup. The youngest is still growing and currently the same size as my Holland lop, so those two get a 1/4 cup. Green leafy veg is about 1 cup. Treats are given sparingly.

They're all good weights, coats are in great condition. Nails are in constant need of trimming, as it's a battle every time and usually requires two people willing to be clawed like Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in order to get the job done (which means it never gets done all at once). Other than that issue, they're all happy and healthy. Neuters will be started next month, beginning with the boys.

Fecal materials look as they should, no excessive cecotrophes, no diarrhea. Honestly, everything is as it should be, I just wasn't sure I should be more concerned about their hay consumption.
You could try gradually reducing pellets over the next week, to 1/4 cup for the 2 mini lops, and 1/8 cup for your Holland lop, and the younger one too if he's not eating a pile of hay the size of his body, per day. If the minis are around the typical 5-7 lb mini lop size, 1/4 cup is the generally suggested amount for an adult pet rabbit that size, that is also eating free fed grass hay. And especially since these are higher protein young rabbit pellets.

The most important things when reducing pellet amounts, is making sure the rabbit starts eating lots more hay and poop size doesn't get small, and closely monitoring weight/body condition for unhealthy weight loss due to the change in diet.

If reducing pellets doesn't get them eating more hay, try different varieties or brands/sources of grass hay to see if they just don't like the hay you're currently feeding. Even the same type of grass hay can vary in taste between different batches and farm sources.

But if they still aren't eating hay well with the reduced pellets and trying different hays, and you start seeing smaller poops because of the reduced pellets and lack of hay eating, then you'll need to put pellet amounts back up so not to risk GI stasis, and may need to schedule a vet check. Dental problems can be a common reason a rabbit will refuse to eat a particular type of food, so that may need to be checked out as a possible cause.

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