Is Alfalfa Hay Good for Rabbits?

Is Alfalfa Hay Good for Rabbits
Is Alfalfa Hay Good for Rabbits

Alfalfa hay is suitable for young growing rabbits that need the extra protein and calcium found in this type of hay.  Alfalfa is higher in calories and fat which is also desirable for young bunnies but can cause issues in adult rabbits.  Small amounts of alfalfa in adult rabbits is fine, but it is a good idea to monitor them for weight gain or other health issues that are common when feeding too much alfalfa.

Many new rabbit owners don’t realize there is a difference between alfalfa hay and hay made from grasses, they look similar, and both come in common forms like cubes and pellets.

Feeding too much alfalfa regardless of its form can be harmful to your adult rabbit.  The high content of calcium in alfalfa can cause serious health issues, and the high calorie and fat content can cause your rabbit to become obese.   The key to feeding alfalfa to adult rabbits is to do so in proper moderation.

What is Alfalfa?

Alfalfa is considered a legume type of plant in the pea family.  It is not a grass like other hays often fed to rabbits.  Alfalfa is often grown for animal feed and is a crop that can be grown all over the world. 

Most people like to feed alfalfa hay to younger animals or animals recovering from surgery due to the high protein levels.  When properly cured, alfalfa is the best of the legume hays from a nutrient standpoint (Anderson Hay).  It is also is considered to be an excellent high energy hay dense in vitamins, which makes it an appealing option for animal feed. 

How much does Alfalfa cost?

Are Alfalfa Pellets Okay to Feed to Rabbits?

Yes, alfalfa pellets are fine to feed your adult rabbit daily, the recommended feeding allowance is no more than a ¼ cup of pellets per 5 pounds of weight per day. 

Baby rabbits start to eat solid foods, in addition to their mother’s milk, around 2-3 weeks old.  Often babies will start with the hay nearest to the nest box. 

Rabbit breeders will provide an alfalfa rich diet for the baby bunnies, but will still include other important hays, like Timothy grass to ensure a properly balanced diet. 

Over the next couple of weeks, the babies will start to add other foods such as alfalfa pellets and fresh vegetables to their diets.  It is vital that babies are still drinking their mother’s milk at this time and not fully weaned until eight weeks old. 

When bringing home, a new rabbit, you will ideally know what the baby was eating before you picked it up.  Likely the food will be a mix of hays and pellets, but try to stick to the same brand in the beginning if you can.  Changes can be tough on rabbits, so try and keep as many things the same if you can.

If your baby bunny is between 2 months to 5 months old, you will want to continue to feed a higher alfalfa-based diet.  When they reach the age of 4-5 months old, you will want to slowly transition their alfalfa intake to one more appropriate to adult rabbits.

How Much Alfalfa Should My Rabbit Eat?

How much alfalfa a rabbit should eat depends on their age, weight, and overall health. 

As we mentioned earlier a more concentrated alfalfa diet is healthy for young rabbits, but that does not mean they should receive an unlimited supply of alfalfa.  If you give your young rabbit an endless amount of alfalfa it is likely that will be all it consumes.  Young rabbits are not that different from young children and need to be taught to eat healthy from the beginning. 

For adult rabbits, we listed the proper alfalfa intake based on their weight.  However, the one thing we didn’t mention is that if you have an overweight rabbit, the last thing you will want to do is feed alfalfa based on how much they weigh.  Because alfalfa is higher in fat and calories, it often contributes to obesity in rabbits.  If your rabbit is overweight you will want to reduce if not eliminate alfalfa from their diet.

If you are unsure if your rabbit is overweight, you can feel their sides to see if you can feel the ribs underneath all of their fur.  If you can’t or if it is difficult there is a good chance your rabbit has a weight issue. 

The behavior of your rabbit is another way to tell if they are overweight.  If your rabbit is more prone to lay about instead of hop about, they may need to lose a pound or two.  Also, if your rabbit isn’t suitably cleaning themselves it might be because they are unable to, due to their girth. 

If you have a rabbit with health issues, then it is best to consult with your vet if alfalfa is still a safe food option.

What are the Common Health Issues Associated with Alfalfa?

Listed below are the common health issues associated with rabbits who consume too much alfalfa.

  • Obesity – Just like in humans, obesity can cause problems for a rabbit’s heart and joints.  The more obese they are, the harder the heart and joints have to work.
  • Urinary Stones – These are stones found in the bladder that have a definite shape and have the consistency of a chalky stone.  Urinary stones are caused by too much calcium and not enough water in a rabbit’s diet.

The bladder is not the only area urinary stones can be found.  They can also be in the kidney duct, the urethra, and the uterus.  Urinary stones may appear in the litter box if you see one contact your veterinarian so they can verify if there are more stones still inside your rabbit.

Symptoms of urinary stones in rabbits:

  • Hunching when urinating
    • Discoloration of urine such it being brown, cloudy, beige or red from blood
    • Showing signs of pain (crying or grunting) and discomfort when handled, moving about, or when urinating
    • Depression or lethargy
    • Teeth grinding
    • Changes in eating or drinking habits
  • Urinary sludge – This is from a buildup of calcium salts in the bladder, but unlike stones never fully form or become firm.  Urinary sludge is grainy and thick in appearance, and in severe cases, it can be as thick as grainy toothpaste.  Urinary sludge is gray or white in color and not the typical light-yellow color of urine. 

Like urinary stones, the bladder is not the only area urinary sludge can be found. Urinary sludge can also be in the kidneys and uterus.

Symptoms of urinary sludge in rabbits:

  • Frequent need to urinate
    • Discoloration of urine including blood
    • Change in the consistency of the urine
    • Straining, pain, or discomfort when urinating
    • Urine scald a skin rash near the area they urinate
    • Loss of appetite
    • Depression and Lethargy              

What is the Nutritional Content of Alfalfa?

Though we know, alfalfa has a high content of calcium and protein.  Alfalfa also has high amounts of minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, sulfur, iron, cobalt manganese and zinc.  In addition to its high mineral content alfalfa also is an excellent source of vitamins like vitamins A, E, D, & K.  Alfalfa needs to be correctly sun-cured to provide the maximum amount of vitamins possible.

As far as the guaranteed analysis the average alfalfa hay has:

Crude Protein (min) 12.35%

Crude Fiber (max) 30.28%

Crude Fat (min) 1.57%

What Form of Alfalfa Should I Buy?  The type of alfalfa that you buy depends on your rabbit.  If you have baby bunnies that are just beginning to eat then buy alfalfa hay, it’s easy for the bunnies to access and eat.

If you have an adult rabbit hay is fine, but less easy to measure out.  Pellets and treats are easier to regulate the quantity your rabbit is receiving.  The alfalfa cubes are okay, but if you have a smaller rabbit you will need to break these apart to ensure you’re not overfeeding the alfalfa.

There are many opinions on feeding alfalfa to rabbits.  Some believe unlimited pellets are safe for rabbits because they claim the sugar content is lower than grass pellets and some believe alfalfa should be eliminated from a rabbit’s diet after they reach adulthood.  Ultimately this is something that is best to discuss with a veterinarian to determine how much if any alfalfa your rabbit can safely consume.

Related Questions

How do you know if alfalfa hay is good quality?  When buying alfalfa hay be sure that it is still green, smell sweet not like mildew or mold, and not dusty.

Is it safe to buy alfalfa in bulk? Purchasing alfalfa in bulk sounds like a good idea, but when it comes to hay, you want to be more conservative.  Alfalfa loses its nutritional content the longer it sits.  Also, it needs to be kept in a well ventilated, dry, dark place to ensure it doesn’t become moldy or overexposure to the sun will decrease its nutritional content as well.

What is the average price of alfalfa? Alfalfa averages $0.50 an ounce for loose alfalfa, pellets containing alfalfa average $0.14 an ounce and alfalfa cubes averages $0.77 per ounce.