Feeding Hay to Herbivorous Pets

Here I will be investigating the need to feed hay and it’s alternatives.  I will mostly cover small rodents and rabbits but will also mention farm animals and horses.

What is Hay?

Hay is dried grass.  It’s as simple as that.

It is usually cut from fields in the late Summer/ Early Autumn and then is sold throughout the rest of the year.  Hay can have differing colours with newly cut hay being a much greener colour than older hay.

The type of hay purely depends on the type of grass or crop that was cut and dried.

Hay can be cut to different lengths, made from different grasses and contain other plants. For instance, the hay I feed Carl contains Dandelion and Marigold.

Hay tends to be fed when either it’s not possible to feed grass all of the time or there isn’t enough grass.

Small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas tend to be kept in cages with little access to grass much of the time.

With large animals such as horses or cattle, however, hay may be fed when there isn’t access to enough lush grass.  Though hay may not always be as good to feed as grass. The nutritional value of grass may reduce as it dries and it containing less water means more needs to be drunk.  However, as a replacement to grass, hay is usually completely fine.

 

Why is hay important?

Grass, hay or alternatives to hay is the staple dietary component for most herbivores.  Not only does this mean sheep, cows and horses need to eat it but also rabbits and guinea pigs.

 

These animals have digestive systems that rely on a very high fibre diet and a large amount of roughage (grasses/ hays) needs to pass through it to keep the guts moving.  If they stop eating this or don’t eat enough they are at risk of their guts stopping.  This is worsened by many of these animals being unable to vomit.

Why is this important?

Rabbits, for instance, groom lots so develop hairballs in their stomachs.  Unlike cats, rabbits are not able to vomit these back up leading to the potential for blockage.  The high fibre diet ensures that the guts keep moving and, in doing so, stop a blockage developing.

Herbivores bodies are designed to have constant energy production from food.  If this stops then it may lead to low blood sugars.

These animals also rely on the naturally good bacteria in their gut to both break down food and prevent bad bacteria invading and causing them to become ill. If they don’t get grass or hay this bacteria will not get the fuel they require to survive and thrive and therefore could die, affecting digestion.

 

Guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits, as well as the aforementioned farm animals have continuously growing or erupting teeth. These teeth need to be ground down to prevent them overgrowing or becoming sharp next to the tongue or cheeks, causing damage. These animals must eat plenty of grass or hay as the movement of the teeth across this and each other allows them to become ground down.

If teeth do not grind down against each other appropriately they will become unevenly worn.  This uneven wear will make eating more difficult and prevent them getting adequate nutrition which can then lead to greater problems such as gut stasis, where the guts stop working.  It can also cause the teeth to develop sharp points which cut into the tongue or cheeks leading to severe pain.

 

How Much Hay do they Need?

The amount of hay needed depends what species your pet is. A rabbit requires 80 to 90% of their diet being hay or grass. A guinea pig, on the other hand, need slightly less than this; requiring approximately 70% of the diet being hay. The reason why these need less is that they must also eat fruit and vegetables daily to get enough vitamins C, which is not the case in rabbits. Fruit and veg will give some of the nutrients it Hay would otherwise and it also helps to grind down the teeth.

calm cat
A farm cat asleep on a large bale of haylage

It is often for that rabbits and guinea pigs should have approximately the same amount of hay during a day as their body size. However, rabbits and guinea pigs should have hay available throughout the day which is both clean and easily available for them to eat. This means that should be separated from the bedding.  Their bedding hay often has droppings and urine getting mixed in and therefore affecting not only is quality but reducing the likelihood of your pet wanting to eat it. For instance, you wouldn’t want to eat and go to toilet in the same room, and this is the same rabbits.

One way to do this is to provide hay in a hay net or a hay rack and keep this regularly topped up, checking is plenty of hay at very least twice a day. If out in a garden, remember these animals can eat grass which may even be healthier for them dependent on both the quality of hay and that the grass. This means they will need to have as much hay throughout the day. However, before giving your pets access a garden you must make sure you don’t have any poisonous plants throughout it.

If you do your pets could eat these and then become unwell. Alongside this, weed to killers can also be dangerous to make sure that you don’t use these on any grass that your pets may eat.

 

Other animals have slightly different requirements for hay. Horses, sheep and cattle all need about 2.5% of their bodyweight in hay each day. This does, however, depend on how much grass they have access to as well as whether horses are ridden, and how much, and if the cattle or sheep are pregnant or producing milk. It also depends on the amount of water within the hay.

Some horses are fed haylage rather than hay which contains more water and therefore they will need to have a higher weight to accommodate the weight of the water. Many cows and sheep are fed silage which again weighs more than hay due to the water within it and so need more than that. Realistically, the best way to feed hay is just to give a slight excess of it unless the animal is overweight at which stage, it should be reduced slightly until that animal no longer gains weight or, have a healthy weight.

 

Types of Hay

The main types of hay a Timothy hay and alfalfa hay.

Alfalfa hay is much higher in energy so is great for young and growing animals.  But it can lead to obesity in older animals. It is recommended guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits switch to Timothy hay as adults in most cases.

There are also other types of hay such as Oak hay which can be fed instead of meadow or timothy hay to horses. Oak hay is good for overweight horses due to it’s fewer calories.

There is also meadow hay. This tends to be finer. Whilst it is great for bedding in small mammals, it’s not the best for feeding. Meadow hay isn’t the best feeder hay as it easier to eat.  Though this sounds beneficial, it means it grinds his teeth down less as it takes less time to eat. As a result, it’s poorer for dental health.

Sometimes the best option is to buy hay baled with a mix of grasses creating several types of hay within one bale.  Often this type of hay is obtained from the farm rather than from a pet store.

 

Pre-packaged hay designed for small mammals can come with other ingredients mixed with it. A common one is Dandelion’s which both improves the taste and with picky animals but can help with kidney disorders especially if alongside Marigold. This is seen with Burgess hay. Often adding things to hay can also improve how well your pet eats it and therefore can help those picky eaters.  Other manufacturers add in Carrots and Apples.  These extra flavours improve how well some animals eat the hay and thus improve their health.  Along with that, it encourages foraging behaviour and thus is good for enrichment.

Burgess Dandelion and Marigold Hay when out of packaging

One thing to look for is the stem length.

To aid grinding down the teeth, and to improve their guts, long stem hay is advised. This is where the grass was longer when cut and has not been shredded down further.

A large proportion of the good quality hay in pet stores is now sold like this though not all of it. The aforementioned Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay is cut to a shorter length. This may be good for those pets with longterm dental issues (which grinding more won’t help) whereby they can’t chew well.  However, short-stemmed hay will not wear down the teeth as well so it’s weighing up the pros and cons of each type of hay.

My own guinea pig has Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay and he has had no dental problems. But, Carl has had urinary tract issues so the benefits of this of this hay is worthwhile.

 

What should I look out For with hay?

Hay should be sweet smelling and not be too dusty.

With horses, dusty hay is often soaked in water, especially for horses with COPD.  Soaking hay reduces it’s nutritional quality and, in most cases, it should not be left to soak for longer than 10 minutes.

Soaking hay isn’t a technique used with small animals and, instead, buying dust extracted hay is the best option. Dust extracted hay is recommended as small animals have sensitive airways so dust is likely to irritate.

It is important to make sure there is no mould in the hay, whatever the species. Something else look for is whether or not there is Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) in the hay. Ragwort is a very poisonous plant and is well known to cause liver damage in horses, farm animals and humans. I have not heard reports of whether or not it causes this in rodents and rabbits however, I feel that the likelihood is that it will. Therefore, if a bale of hay contains any rag worked I strongly suggest that you not only discard the whole bail without feeding it to your pet but, also contact the suppliers immediately to ensure they investigate this further as they potentially need to recall the whole batch.

The bright yellow ragwort plant. Watch out for it when dried in amongst hay

Mould should also not be in a bale of hay. Mouldy hay causes respiratory diseases but can cause issues to the guts as well and make your pet very unwell. Therefore, like you’ve rag worked is in a bale, I suggest that you discard the bail and contact the suppliers ASAP.

 

The colour of the hay depends on its age, when it was cut, the type of the hay and its quality. Usually, hay should be slightly green coloured however as said this does vary. The main thing easily is sweet smelling as this is a sign of not only good quality but also the lack of mould.

 

Alternatives to Hay

Many people are allergic to hay.

Alternatives to hay depend on the species. Horses often are given hayage as an alternative. This is higher in energy and is, therefore, more likely to cause obesity and so may be avoided in overweight horses. However, haylage may be much lower in dust, but I have experiences with mould within it.

 

Cattle sheep and goats tend to be fed silage which is very acidic. This has been partially fermented and should not really be fed to small animals.

 

In most cases, guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas should be fed hay. There is an alternative called ReadiGrass which is partially dried grass. Realistically though, if you are allergic to hay you’re likely allergic to this.  It is not suitable to use instead of hay due to it being very high in calcium and energy which increases the risk of obesity. However, ReadiGrass is great as an occasional treat.

In summary

The main take-home message is that guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas and herbivorous farm animals need hay or grass as a main part of the diet. Hay aids both dental and digestive health.

Unless animals are overweight, they ideally should be offered hay continuously. This is definitely the case in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas and if these become overweight the best option is to reduce their pellets or muesli feed.

There are several types of hay such as meadow, Timothy, oat and alfalfa hay. It is important that you avoid hay containing lots of dust or any mould or Ragwort in it.

Freshwater should always be provided alongside hay. If your animal stops eating hay you must seek veterinary advice straight away. Also, ensure that the supplied with hay offer before such as within a hay rack or hay net to prevent it becoming mixed with their droppings or urine.

 

If you found this educational or interesting feel free to subscribe to get informed when similar blog posts are released. Subscribing can be done by placing your email address in the box on the right sidebar. If you want to discuss anything on this blog feel free to drop a comment below or contact me via email at kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk

Reptile Equipment; DHP Lamp and UV Flood

I thought today I will discuss two reptile products that arrived earlier this month for Dallas’ vivarium; the UV Flood and the Deep Heat Projection (DHP) Lamp, both from Arcadia.

 

With only 25% of pet reptiles surviving past their first year, masses of reptiles die prematurely in captivity.

The main cause of health problems in captive reptiles is related to problems with their husbandry which accounts for up to 90% of reptiles seen by vets.  These statistics highlight the huge numbers of reptiles suffering from inadequate housing or housing which doesn’t meet their vast and complex requirements.

 

I personally own three reptiles, two Leopard Geckos (Leo and Darwin) and a Crested Gecko (Dallas or Dal for short).  I rehomed Leo, along with another Leopard Gecko, Bam six years ago. Bam passed away eighteen months later at the age of 12years from Liver failure.  When I lost Bam I bought Dal and later Darwin.

Throughout their time with me, I’ve made multiple adaptations to their husbandry to ensure their care is the best I can provide and meets current research.  All three now have UVB bulbs and heat which, compared to four years ago my Leopard Geckos just had a heat mat and normal fluorescent light tubes.

Dals foot blocking out the light from the UV Flood

Previous viv Set-UP

Over the past two years, Dal has been thriving with a combination of one or two UVB coiled tubes over the back of his viv and a 150W ceramic heat lamp at the front creating a hot spot of 28-30C for an average of 12hours per day (I have it on a timer but the times in on alters with the seasons).

Having a hot spot was both recommended by current research and discussions with a reptile veterinary surgeon.  Since adding both the heat lamp and the UVB Dal has become noticeably more active.

Away from the heat lamp in the day, his viv is approximately 20-22C giving a good thermal gradient and allowing him to escape the heat if he wishes.

At the backend of last year, Dallas’ heat lamp and holder fell on the floor and became damaged.  I purchased replacements but, unfortunately, the replacement ceramic bulb was faulty.  Instead, I used a spare 60W ceramic bulb which wasn’t strong enough, producing an inadequate hot spot of just 24C.

I reached out to Arcadia regarding both my frustrations with the heat bulb and UV units.  Arcadia, a company specialising mainly in lighting for Reptiles, Amphibians, Parrots and Aquatics.  I had a long email exchange with John who introduced me to two products, the DHP lamp, and the UV Flood.  After doing some research, sums and assessing my post-Christmas finances, later that evening my mind had been converted, I decided to buy them in the sales.

Arcadia D3+ 12% UV Flood (55W)

The UV Flood is a fluorescent tube and reflector which stays over the mesh lid for Dal’s viv.  It can also be used on a stand for Parrots or screwed into the wall of a wooden viv.

UV Flood units produce large amounts of UVB and should only be used in vivariums/ terrariums with a depth greater than 45cm and plenty of shade so the geckos can get away from the light rays.  Crepuscular geckos (those awake most at dusk and dawn) may have damage to their skin or eyes if UVB intensity is too high; similar to people becoming sunburnt so require this shade.

The UV floor is situated behind the DHP lamp

In severe cases, too much UVB light can cause blindness.

The set up I bought contains a 12% fluorescent tube and is designed for desert species.  Being kept above a mesh lid, regardless of the reflector, is an important factor. Mesh stops 50% of UV rays from passing through meaning Dallas will be exposed to only around 6% UVB when stood at 10cm below the light, a safe level.

The light is also supposed to not flicker.  Since I’ve had it I confirm that I haven’t seen it flicker at all; great for those sensitive reptiles.

Being a Crested Gecko, they need approximately 5-10% UVB so what he receives from the light fits perfectly into his requirements and with it only placed over the back 1/3 of his viv he has plenty of space to move away from it.

The UV Flood is different to what I thought though.  I thought it would be a long tube, similar to the Arcadia T5 tubes I have for my Leopard Geckos but instead, is two thin tubes connected together at each end and only plugged in at one side.  This does, however, mean it’s more compact and double the amount of light is released at any point.

One thing I don’t like about this light is that it is very blue.  Though I have got used to it, I was hoping the light would be warmer like the lights in my leopard gecko vivariums but, over time, I have got used to it.

on the right is the terminal to connect to the power and on the left the tubes are connected

Having added both the UV Flood and DHP lamp at the same time, it is difficult to say whether this light alone has altered Dal’s behaviour.  Since I installed the light he has been more active in the evenings as well as firing up (becoming a darker colour) more frequently and vividly.  However, this may not be due to the light at all and, instead, could be due to the change in heating.

 

50W DHP Lamp

Having been researching new Crested Gecko Diets, I had been on Arcadia’s website and noted the new DHP lamp.  I also discussed this in further detail with John at Arcadia.  My initial thought was; “Dallas has done really well since I introduced a heat lamp to his viv two years ago, why change it now?” but the more I saw and heard, alongside knowing he needed a new lamp, I decided to get him one.

The DHP Lamp is similar to some conventional Infrared heat lamps (eg Ceramic bulbs) in the fashion that it gives out no or virtually no visible waves of light.

This is important.

Though it was initially believed that red and blue heat lights are fine for reptiles because it was believed they don’t see those colours, this has been shown to be incorrect.  Reptiles not only visualise red and blue but the presence of these lights disturbs their sleep:wake cycle and alters their behaviour, often causing them to be less active at night.

One difference is that this light, though only 50W, emits more heat than a standard 150W Ceramic Heat lamp.

Alongside the lack of visual light, unlike any other current heat lamp I am aware of on the market right now, the DHP Lamp gives out infrared-B (IF-B) in addition to the IF-A rays given out by ceramic bulbs.  This combination is closer to what the sun produces.

Like sun rays, IF-B penetrates the muscle tissue rather than just the skin surface like IF-A.  The DHP lamp also leaves a tingly feeling on your skin similar to what you’ll feel when outside in the hot sun.

Always attach a mesh cage to prevent a reptile touching the light

When this lamp is connected to Dal’s HabiStat Pulse Proportionate thermostat, it gives out a very consistent level of heat throughout the day, only varying by 0.2C.  The ceramic bulb, on the other hand, was less consistent with temperatures throughout the day varying by up to 2C either side of the desired temperature.

As the same thermostat was used with both lamps the logical explanation is this difference in temperature consistency is due to the lamp. Potentially the DHP lamp alters quicker to the changes in current received from the thermostat with less heat being released with no current supplied.

With the DHP lamp gives out no visible light, some reptiles may not directly recognise the area it covers as a basking spot its use is best when combined with a nearby light source ensuring your lizards use the area for basking.

 

NOTE; Always only use heat sources if they are connected to reliable thermostats set at the correct temperature (which is checked with another thermometer).  The use of heat mats or lights without thermostats can cause your animal to become overheated, burnt or even risk a fire starting.

The Arcadia DHP Lamp and UV Flood in situ on Dals viv

What Have I Found

Since having the two products in Dal’s viv he tends to be fired up more in the evenings.

(Fired up means a Crested Gecko is a brighter or more vivid colour.  Crested Geckos have cells which change colour slightly, similar to what is seen with Chemeleons.  Unlike Chemeloens though they just change more or less vivid rather than their colour changing completely.  Crested Geckos can come more fired up when stressed, excited or more alert.)

During the day Dallas spends most of the time underneath the heat lamp whereas previously he didn’t.

One dramatic difference over the last few weeks is his energy levels.  Though he is still quiet and often asleep during the day (natural for Crested Geckos) he is much more active and interested in his surroundings around the time his DHP lamp and UV Flood turn off.  He is no longer spending as much of the evening stood still and he’s climbing and jumping more.  Dal’s also faster than he was previously if he wants to get something.

Final Thoughts

So, overall, the only thing I dislike about these products is the blue tinge to the UV Flood.  I feel the DHP lamp is really working well with both its consistency and the effect it, in combination with the UV Flood, appears to be having on Dallas.

You can just make out the blue tint to the UV-flood

Would I recommend these products… yes and I would definitely buy them again in the right circumstances.  The UV flood has too high a UVB rating for my leopard geckos though and they are kept on heating mats but with an appropriate lizard, or even a Parrot in the case of the UV Flood, I’d definitely get one.

 

If you want to discuss any of these products then feel free to contact me.  For more information on my pets then click here.