We all know that rabbits are herbivores. We might have seen them portrayed in shows and movies nibbling on nothing but carrots and lettuce. Do not be fooled by this; it is not accurate. Grass hay is probably the most common and readily available food item that you could give to a rabbit.
But, can rabbits eat orchard grass? While yes, it is safe for rabbits to eat orchard grass; they are well known for being picky eaters. Rabbits much prefer a variety of hay or grass hay to choose from. Only giving them orchard grass will most likely not fully satisfy their taste buds.
Any major changes to their diet will need to be acquainted at a slow pace in order to make sure that they will accept the new food, and their body can become accustomed to processing it. Anything that is given as a treat should not be given to them in large amounts or too often.
Overall, a proper diet for your rabbit consists of meals mixed with veggies, grass hays, and pellets. They should be allowed full access to the grass hay since it is rich in fiber. Orchard grass is a good option to use and can be beneficial to rabbits. Even though orchard grass is higher in calories, it is also higher in protein than timothy hay.
Orchard grass is a great source of calcium and phosphorus, as well as making fiber easier to digest. Like any other grass or hay, you can give them as more than enough; this would allow them the chance to eat it throughout the day just like you would spot a wild bunny foraging. They should eat enough to match their body size.
- Protein – 7% to 10%
- Calcium – 0.33%
- Phosphorus – 0.23%
- Fiber – 34%
The best way to present the food to them is by giving them a large but enclosed space outdoors so that they can mimic the act of grazing around for the different variations of the grass hay. If you do not have any open space outside, you can get a big cage or playpen for the inside and lay some newspapers down or even just let them roam the house and find it themselves.
Baby vs. Adult Rabbits Diet
The first seven weeks after a rabbit is born, they should be kept to their mother’s milk. However, after three weeks, you may begin to test out alfalfa hay since that hay is between 15% to 20% higher in protein than grass hay such as orchard grass. Baby rabbits require lots of protein and calcium, but as they get older, they will not need as much. You can also begin to give them tiny veggies, but not leafy greens yet.
- Protein – 13% to 19%
- Calcium – 1.2% to 1.4%
- Phosphorus – 0.24%
- Fiber – 28% to 34%
After about 5 months, that is when you can start gradually incorporating the orchard grass until their bellies are tolerant enough of it that you can completely rid them of the alfalfa hay. They should also receive fewer pellets too. The goal is that by the end of the year, the rabbit will have full access to the orchard grass along with smaller amounts of pellets and a plethora of veggies to choose from.
In the beginning, a rabbit may not view the hay as something edible. In order to trick them into trying it out, you can put the hay in various places of its pen or cage that keeps it from reaching other things like a plastic igloo or tunnel. Or if they suddenly feel like eating but are too lazy to hop over to the pellets, the hay may end up as their alternative. Placing the hay around where they are sleeping will aid in this.
Keep them away from anything that is too high in sugar and carbs. These types of fruits and veggies will destabilize the bacteria within their gastrointestinal tracts. Despite what cartoons show you, carrots are actually high in sugar and can’t be given to your rabbit in large amounts.
Plus, too many fruits and veggies will not only give them a bellyache but may cause them to turn away from eating the orchard grass. Grass hay should really be what contributes most to their diet as it provides them with most of their nutrients.
Rabbits have the most sensitive digestive tract in the entire animal kingdom and are hindgut fermenters. If they do not receive enough fiber in their diet, they can develop a gastrointestinal (GI) disease. And too much calcium will cause bladder sludge. Another reason why alfalfa hay is better for younger, pregnant, or lactating rabbits and orchard for adult rabbits.
Other Acceptable (Grass) Hays
Besides orchard grass, grass hays, in general, are the key part of a rabbit’s diet. Hay will secure their intestines and keep them from chewing on their own fur which can then result in hairballs, yuck. Grass hays also aid in maintaining the proper level of bacteria in their cecum. Always make sure the grass hay is fresh, dry and not moldy.
Giving your bunny’s food variety will help to ensure that they are, in fact, receiving all the nutrients necessary for their health and growth. These are some other grasses and hays that you can feed to them alongside their orchard grass:
- Timothy Hay – This is actually highly favored for bunnies (you can get it on Amazon). You can easily tell this apart from orchard grass by how Timothy hay has what is called solid cattails, while orchard grass has broken cattails. Before being harvested, carbs are stored within the cattail as it continues to grow.
- Protein – 6% to 10%
- Calcium – 0.38%
- Phosphorus – 0.17%
- Fiber – 30% to 34%
- Oat Hay – This kind of hay is often confused with straw because of how alike the colors are. Rabbits mostly like it for the oats, but this hay can help prevent GI stasis. The harvest begins before the seeds are fully ripened, but then are of no nutritional value once they are ripe.
- Protein – 8% to 10%
- Calcium – 0.29%
- Phosphorus – 0.23%
- Fiber – 28%
- Bermuda Hay – This is lower in calorie content and provides the same nutrients as orchard grass and Timothy hay. The only problem is that rabbits do not typically prefer it for some reason. However, it is cheaper than Orchard or Timothy.
- Protein – 7% to 10%
- Calcium – 0.43%
- Phosphorus – 0.16%
- Fiber – 28%
A good variety of hay will be what encourages your rabbit to eat more, which they should. This, too will provide them with stimulated senses and will heighten their natural need to forage for the right food to eat just like a wild bunny would—the reason why you want to give them an open space in their cage.
Each type of hay works on their teeth differently, and as long as your rabbit is nibbling, their teeth will not grow to be too long. Constant chewing will prevent malocclusion which is when their teeth overgrow and do not align correctly thus creating some discomfort and the inability to eat properly.
If, for any reason, your rabbit does not seem to be eating any of the hay, reduce pellets and veggies. If they still do not touch their hay or eat at all for a 12 or even 24 hours, then there might be something medically wrong. You will want to get them checked out as soon as possible. A healthy bunny is always a happy bunny.