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3 Tips for Choosing the Right Hay for Your Small Animal

3 Tips for Choosing the Right Hay for Your Small Animal

Are you new to owning small animals? Did your five-year-old beg for a friendly, little hamster for their birthday to snuggle with and entertain them? Maybe you’re joining the world of 4-H, and your middle schooler is excited to start out with a rabbit project? Or maybe you jetted off to college and wanted a small, furry friend to keep you company? Selecting the proper forage type for your small companion animal can be confusing, especially if you’re a newbie!

While rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, prairie dogs and other small animals each have specific nutrient needs, including fortified foods, we’ve shared three tips below for finding and choosing the perfect hay for any of them.

Tip 1: Match the nutrient content of the forage to the nutrient needs of the animal.

Forage generally comes in one of two types: legume forage and grass forage. Common examples of legume forage are alfalfa and clover, while grass forage includes timothy, orchard, meadow or mixed grass. The legume forage will have a higher nutrient content. Therefore, alfalfa forage will contain more protein, calories and calcium compared to grass forage. Legume forage (alfalfa) should be selected for young, growing animals or pregnant, lactating or underweight animals. Mature small animals that are not involved in these activities should be fed grass forage. Feeding a legume forage with more protein and calories than they need can cause them to become overweight. To learn more about the right type of forage to feed your small animal read or blog post from May, 2019 - What type of forage is best for your small animal?

Tip 2: Select a forage that is soft but has some fiber.

Forage that is soft to the touch and not brittle or poky will be consumed the best by rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and other small animals. If forage is too mature (meaning it’s grown past its ideal time to be cut and baled), it will contain very coarse, tough stems and your small animal will not want to eat it. Forage that contains all leaf with very little stem is well consumed but lacks enough fiber to stimulate proper digestive health and tooth wear.

The best approach is to select forage that you can bend and twist without hearing the shattering of coarse stems. If you buy your feed online or in a store where you can not physically see it until the box or bag is open, purchase from a forage company you can trust to offer consistent, quality forage for your small animal, such as Standlee Premium Western Forage.

Tip 3: Rotate forage selection to enhance palatability.

In the wild, your small companion animal will select and eat a variety of different forages based on taste and availability. It is always beneficial to rotate your grass forage selection or to feed more than one type of grass to stimulate proper forage consumption. For example, feeding both timothy and orchard grass will stimulate good forage consumption for your small animal.


Our three take-aways for feeding your rabbit, guinea pig, hamster, gerbil, chinchilla or other small companion animal, the most ideal forage are:

  • Choose the right nutrient content forage type for your small animal’s life stage or activity – a legume with more protein and calories or a grass with less protein and calories
  • Provide a soft forage, but not so leafy, with little stems that they lack the fiber needed in their diet for proper digestive health and tooth wear
  • Offer a variety of forage types to mimic their natural eating behaviors

If you have questions, please contact the nutritionists at Standlee Premium Western Forage, or consult with your veterinarian.

By Dr. Stephen Duren
Standlee Nutritional Expert - Performance Horse Nutrition

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