It is especially important to ensure that weanling and young rabbits eat plenty of hay.
Grass is high in fibre (20-25%), has moderate levels of protein (approx. 15%) and is low in fat (2-3%). The bulk of the diet of the pet rabbit should consist of grass (fresh or freeze-dried) and/or good quality meadow/timothy hay which is available at all times.
Ideally pet rabbits should be able to graze an area with a variety of grass and plant species, however for many rabbit owners this is impractical. Whilst grazing is preferred grass can be cut and offered fresh, but lawn mower cuttings should never be offered as they ferment rapidly and can cause digestive disturbances. Hay is used as a substitute for grass, or fed in addition. Good quality meadow hay should be sweet smelling and not dusty. Dried grass products that retain colour and are highly palatable are also available. Hay can be fed from racks or nets to minimise contamination and increase the time spent feeding. Eating these fibrous foods throughout the day will keep the rabbits occupied and stimulate activity, preventing boredom and behavioural problems. Feeding hay also makes rabbits drink more water, which helps to keep their bladders healthy.
There are many reasons a rabbit may not eat hay including overfeeding of concentrates, offering poor quality or mouldy hay, soiling of hay when used as bedding, not offering hay to young rabbits and dental disease. Hay intake can be encouraged by gradually reducing concentrates. It may take several weeks for hay intake to increase as the rabbit adapts to the change in diet. Good quality hay should be provided away from bedding to prevent soiling. Toilet rolls, hay racks, paper bags, cardboard boxes and toys made to hold hay can all be used. Rabbits often deposit droppings where they eat so providing fresh hay by the litter tray for indoor rabbits may be beneficial. Experimentation with hay made from different grass species is effective in some rabbits. Concentrates, dried herbs and treats can be mixed into the hay to encourage foraging.
If hay is continually rejected a full dental examination by the vet to rule out dental disease may be required.