There are a couple of reasons that a rabbit may not be able to eat hay.

  • Occasionally for a dental misalignment issue a rabbit will have it's teeth removed.
  • When a rabbit is sick it may be unable to eat hay.

We know that lack of fiber can lead to digestive issues so maintaining fiber in the diet would seem to be important. What are healthy alternatives to hay to supply fiber in a rabbit's diet?


3 Answers 3


Of course the staple of any rabbit's diet should be hay, but there are some instances, as mentioned, where eating coarse hay may not be an option for a rabbit to eat.

Hay is essential to a rabbit’s good health, providing roughage which reduces the danger of hairballs and other blockages. Rabbits have digestive tracts that are specially adapted to break down fibrous vegetation. Hay provides the fiber necessary to keep their digestive systems healthy and motile.

A disruption to a rabbit’s digestive cycle can cause gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, a condition in which the contents of the digestive tract become compact, and the rabbit has difficulty passing the mass through. Providing unlimited, fresh hay helps deter this serious, potentially deadly condition.

This article, Rabbits and Rodent Dental Care, is very thorough and discusses many issues with rabbit teeth, as well as allowing your pet rabbit who has had dental work done to obtain the nutrients it needs and to eventually get back to its original diet composed mostly of hay:

As in all aspects of veterinary dentistry, the diagnosis is the first step to understanding the prognosis. Treatment plans must be established based on the needs of the rabbit and the owner. We must address pain and the nutritional needs of these animals.

Many of these animals need help with eating initially, however it is very important to get tham back to eating a diet composed of long stem hay with fresh vegetables. Balanced nutrition with normal chewing can promote tooth wear needed to offset the continual dental growth. For rabbits unwilling or unable to eat hay, Herbivore Critical Care Formula (Oxbow Pet Products) can be very helpful during the transition back to an optimal diet.

Rabbits with dental disease should be periodically evaluated by the family veterinarian. The frequency required for professional care is based on the rabbit's oral and dental health. Some rabbits will require very frequent occlusal adjustments when they are unwilling or unable to eat an optimal diet.

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Post-surgical diets can also be used for rabbits that have undergone any type of surgery (such as teeth removal, as mentioned above) where he may not be able to eat hay:

If your bunny does suffer complications from surgery that cause him to stop eating, you may need to hand-feed for a few days afterwards to help get the GI tract back to normal. Ask your veterinarian for advice about whether this is necessary. Products made specifically for recovery feeding include Critical Care (Oxbow Hay Company) and Critter be Better (American Pet Diner).

If your rabbit cannot eat hay for a longer period of time, it is important to consult your veterinarian to see if any vitamin/fiber supplements should be given to your rabbit during the recovery process to maintain good health.


I have used clean, unprinted cardboard for my very healthy 5 year old minilop Toki for 3 years now. This seems to be a good substitute for the roughage of hay. His droppings are normal and he produces plenty of cecotropes. He's a very happy bunny! Be sure the cardboard is clean, no chemical scents and no printing or glue present. Paper towel tubes are the best toys as well since Toki loves to play with them. With the botulism in the hay problems I was terrified of losing Toki for he is my only baby! Cardboard is easily obtainable, cheap if not free, and much less messy than hay and straw. And it works as the roughage substitute in every way! His teeth have never overgrown, they are straight, healthy and white. Toki does great with this substitute!

  • 1
    cardboard contains glue and i dont think it is good for pets to feed them glue. Dec 20, 2017 at 9:33
  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. I have done a lot of research on botulism and found that 12 hours of air will destroy the toxin We "Fluff" the hay when we open the bale and let it rest for 12 hours before feeding. Dec 20, 2017 at 10:29

In nature rabbits eat more leave-like greens than grass (what hay is produced from). So you could use any rabbits' taste fitting leaves, like European acorn, dandelion, European oak, apple, plum, daisy, strawberry, raspberry, peach, carrot, garden radish, cabbage (if you do not feed grains), hazel, European chestnut, European linden tree...

There are lots of possibilities! From all plants mentioned above, I speak about their leaves. Most of the time, the fruits are too rich in energy to be a base for good food. Some could be given as treats, but one needs to have in mind, that these fruits in the nature are only available 2-3 months per year.

(If you think about the "European" in front of the trees, this is because the domestic rabbits descend from the European rabbit, so the European kind of tress and bushes are these ones, they could eat safely. I do not know whether it is the same in case of American or other kinds of the same family, so it may be a risk to feed them.)

PS: In nature the rabbits would always choose fresh leaves instead of dried ones or hay. The most time of the year fresh leaves are available, so pet owners have no need to force their rabbits to eat hay, when they eat enough fresh leave-like greens instead.

  • Side note: It may be advisable to transition slowly (if possible, of course) from dry hay to fresh greens, to give the GI tract the time to adapt instead of stomaching (pun intended) a sudden switch.
    – Stephie
    Oct 14, 2020 at 19:12
  • @Stephie Thank you... this I forgot every time ^^ Oct 14, 2020 at 20:12

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