Can Rabbits Die Without Hay?

Categorized as Bunny Facts

Last Updated on October 16, 2022 by Rei Garnet

A rabbit’s diet should consist of 80–90% hay (fiber). Without it, your rabbit could suffer from digestive and dental issues that can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

The reason why hay is so important in your rabbits’ diet is that their gut can stop moving if they’re not eating enough fiber (hay), which can lead to death if not treated.

Also, eating hay helps your rabbit grind down its continuously growing teeth.

If their teeth are not filed down properly, it can lead to overgrown teeth, which can lead to death if not treated.

Now that I’ve given you the gist of the article, read on as I explain in more detail why your rabbits can die without hay:

How can rabbits die from not eating hay?

In order to know how important hay is to your rabbit’s diet, you must first understand what would happen if your rabbit stopped eating it.

Here are the ways your rabbit could die if they’re not eating hay:

Overgrown teeth.

Because rabbits’ teeth continuously grow at around 1 cm per month, their diet should be hard enough to grind their teeth.

Unfortunately, pellets and veggies are not adequate enough on their own to grind down a rabbit’s teeth.

Dental problems like overgrown teeth in rabbits are extremely dangerous and can even lead to death if not treated.

A rabbit that’s in pain due to a dental problem would refuse to eat or only eat a little.

A rabbit that’s refusing to eat would eventually develop some kind of digestive problem like GI stasis.

Rabbits need to constantly eat for their gut to function properly.

Here are the symptoms that your rabbit might be suffering from malocclusion or overgrown teeth:

  • Weight loss. Rabbits that are suffering from overgrown teeth would likely suffer from weight loss. Rabbits that are in pain due to overgrown teeth will only eat a little or refuse it altogether.
  • Drooling. Rabbits that are suffering from overgrown teeth would likely find it difficult to completely close their mouths. This, in turn, could lead to drooling.
  • Wet paws. You might also notice that your rabbit always has wet paws when they’re suffering from overgrown teeth. Rabbits that have overgrown teeth would have difficulty shutting their mouths. Their paws might get wet from all the drool when they are trying to wipe their mouths.
  • Stool changes. Rabbits that are suffering from overgrown teeth would likely develop some kind of digestive problem like GI stasis due to the inability to eat enough fiber. Watch out for changes in your rabbit’s stool, both in size and consistency.
  • Uneaten cecotropes. Rabbits that have overgrown teeth would likely suffer from uneaten cecotropes because they wouldn’t be able to eat their cecotropes. Watch out for an increased pile of cecotropes on your rabbit’s cage or hutch.
  • Abscesses. A facial abscess can also form due to overgrown teeth.
  • Eye problems. Your rabbits can also suffer from eye problems like runny eyes due to abscesses and pressure on the tear ducks from elongated roots.

You can also manually check your rabbit’s teeth if they’re overgrown.

Here’s a great video by PDSA on how to check your rabbit’s teeth:

Gastrointestinal Stasis.

GI stasis is also possible if your rabbit is not eating hay.

GI stasis happens when the balance of bacteria in your rabbit’s gut is disrupted due to a high-carb, low-fiber diet.

This disruption would cause painful gas that would eventually lead to organ failure and death if not treated immediately.

The signs of GI stasis are:

  • Depressed
  • Hunched posture
  • Bruxism
  • Decreased appetite/anorexia

Hay is the best source of fiber for rabbits; without it, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll meet their required fiber for the day.

If you notice any of these signs, immediately bring your rabbit to a veterinarian.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea in rabbits is often caused when a rabbit is fed the wrong diet.

Rabbits’ diets should be high in fiber and low in carbohydrates.

Diarrhea in rabbits is often life-threatening if not managed properly, especially in young rabbits.

How to tell if your rabbit lacks hay in its diet?

You can tell if your rabbit is not eating enough hay by assessing its poop pellets.

Normally, your rabbit’s poop is crumbly, golden in color, full of fiber strands, and it should also have no smell.

While rabbits that are not eating enough hay would likely have harder pellets, no visible fiber strands, and be smellier. 

Here’s a great poop chart to help you determine if your rabbit’s poop is normal.

How long can a rabbit survive before dying of a disease caused by not eating hay?

The amount of time a rabbit can survive without eating hay will depend on the rabbit.

Some rabbits can survive for a long time on a purely vegetable-based or pellet diet.

Some would die after a few weeks of not eating hay.

Young rabbits are more likely to die from a lack of fiber than adult rabbits.

Young rabbits are more susceptible to digestive problems like diarrhea and GI stasis.

How to prevent your rabbit from dying from a lack of hay in their diet?

You should feed your rabbits enough high-quality hay like alfalfa or timothy hay.

The amount of hay your rabbit would need would depend on its age and weight.

Here’s a diet calculator for rabbits to help you determine the amount of hay you should feed your rabbits:

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Diet Portion Calculator For Rabbits

When should you bring your rabbit to a veterinarian to prevent them from dying from being fed the wrong diet?

If your rabbit is exhibiting any changes in its behavior or if you notice that their poop is different, it’s always a good idea to call your veterinarian and tell them that your rabbit is not eating hay.

Rabbits are really good at hiding pain.

That’s why rabbit owners are often shocked that their rabbit died “suddenly,” when in fact their rabbit had been sick for a while and they just did not notice.

Conclusion

A rabbit’s diet should be 80% hay.

Without hay in their diet, their likelihood of getting some kind of life-threatening condition is high.

Rabbits that are not eating hay would likely suffer from digestive conditions like GI stasis, diarrhea, and soft uneaten cecotropes.

Additionally, rabbits that are not eating hay can develop overgrown teeth because rabbits need to chew on them to grind down their teeth.

Digestive and dental problems in rabbits are oftentimes fatal without treatment, so make sure that your rabbit is eating enough hay.

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Cite this article:

Bunny Horde (December 8, 2022) Can Rabbits Die Without Hay?. Retrieved from https://bunnyhorde.com/can-rabbits-die-without-hay/.
"Can Rabbits Die Without Hay?." Bunny Horde - December 8, 2022, https://bunnyhorde.com/can-rabbits-die-without-hay/

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Sources

Image credit – Uwe Gille, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Pinakpani, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons,

By Rei Garnet

I’ve loved and cared for rabbits since I was 9 years old, and I’m here to share my passion for rabbits. My objective is to help rabbit owners give their rabbits the best life possible.