Hay v. Staw

I had an email about the difference between hay and straw earlier this week. It’s a topic that confuses a lot of people.


Hay is fed to rabbits as a substitute for fresh grass. It is grass that has been cut and left to dry. Good hay should be green and smell sweet, not be dusty or smell musty (excuse the pun). The greener hay is the closer it is nutritionally to grass. Old brown hay will have plenty of fibre but is not so good for providing all the other nutrients a rabbits needs. It’s also less tasty… not that I’ve personally tried it.

There are different types of grass such as Timothy, Meadow and Orchard. Sometimes grass is also grown with legumes like Alfalfa. This increases the protein level which makes it too fattening to feed as the main diet for the average adult rabbit, although it can be good for growing youngsters or putting weight on an older rabbit. Alfalfa is also higher in calcium, again good for growing youngsters but too much can be bad for adults.

Find out more about types of hay (with pictures)

rabbit hay


Straw is the stalks from grain crops after the grain heads have been taken off. It’s yellow and the stalks are hollow like a drinking straw. Straw is great for insulating so it is used for bedding to keep rabbits warm on cold winter nights. Straw has a lower nutritional value than hay so it’s not suitable to feed as a replacement for grass. If you use it for bedding, add some hay on top for your rabbit to snack on. It’s perfectly safe if your rabbit does nibble the straw a bit too though.

rabbit straw

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10 Responses to “Hay v. Staw”

  1. D. Moll says:

    I linked you up with today’s post, I got some Snack Snack balls for my rabbits and have written about them, plus two mini movies. Thanks for the good info on your blog. I am slightly envious that you have an actual hare………

  2. Mint says:

    Is the hay supposed to have bugs?
    I’m not sure whether it’s normal bugs that eat the hay or fleas..
    but is it normal for the hay package to have the bugs??
    can my rabbits eat the hay or am i supposed to do something to the hay first??
    will the bugs hurt my rabbits or will the rabbits just ignore them & eat the bugs as well as the hay??

    please help me..

    • Tamsin says:

      No, hay shouldn’t have bugs in. Fleas and mites can transmit diseases and if your rabbits catch them you’ll have to pay out to buy treatment. The bugs may also be a sign the hay is poor quality or damp so it may not be good for your rabbits to eat.
      I would return the hay to where your bought it and complain. Check the hay before you get a replacement and if it all has bugs in then go somewhere else. If you can’t find hay at a pet shop try a horse feed store or farm.

  3. charlie smythe says:

    why cant you feed grass to your rabbits that you cut with a mower

    • Tamsin says:

      Hi Charlie, mowers tend to finely chop and crush it which starts it fermenting quickly – if you stick your hand in the middle of a pile of grass cuttings you’ll find it gets very warm. This isn’t good for bunnies so best to hand chop them some before you mow :)

  4. […] understand that hay and straw are two very different things.  Hay is cut grass that has been dried for future use –  it smells sweet, and is usually […]

  5. Cherrie says:

    I use straw for my rabbits hutch for bedding have seen him nibble on it, is this ok too? There is always fresh hay on top too.

    • Tamsin says:

      Straw doesn’t have any nutritional value, but it won’t cause any harm either. As long as he has plenty of hay it’s fine if he nibbles straw now and then too :)

  6. Gabby says:

    Hi there!
    Slightly different question – one of my young rabbits goes to the toilet in his litter tray on the ground floor of the hutch and when he comes into the house (which is fantastic!), I used paper based (non expandable) rabbit litter and lined the front of the tray with some nice Timothy hay to encourage him to go there.
    My other bunny however keeps doing his business in several corners of the hutch but mostly in the area they tend to sleep. I really would like to discourage this! Any ideas?
    I’m thinking maybe it’s because I am only using hay around the hutch – should I change to straw in the sleeping area? I’m wondering if this will put him off going to the toilet there? (of course with a small amount of hay on top). Or will bunnies not go in the same tray? :s
    Thanks :)

    • Tamsin says:

      Hi Gabby,

      I think straw is unlikely to make a difference, although you could try it out anyway as it’s good extra insulation for winter. Is bunny number two neutered? That can make a difference as it reduces marking. It’s also a good idea generally with two boys and it gets rid of the hormones that can cause squabbles as they mature.

      They will often share trays but I think that’s more that they’ve both independently decided that’s the best spot to go, whereas it sounds like your two have come to different conclusions about best locations. I would try a second tray and put it in one of the places he likes to go, then mop up any ‘accidents’ and add them to tray and clean the area with white vinegar (removes odors). If you can get him to consistently use the tray in his preferred places, you can then gradually move it closer to the original one with the aim of eventually combining them.

      A tray big enough for them to have a corner each may help too – a large cat tray or underbed storage box if there is space.

      You might find this helpful too: http://www.therabbithouse.com/behaviour/problem-litter-training.asp

      Good luck!

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