The difference between Alfalfa and Timothy hay is one that often confuses many rabbit and guinea pig owners, especially first-timers!
For all small herbivores – that’s rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and degus – hay should make up around 80% of the diet. That means these pets should eat a portion of hay the same size of their own body every day!
When looking at which type of hay to feed a rabbit or guinea pig, Timothy hay and Meadow hay are often considered the better and healthier options. Alfalfa is known as a great hay for baby rabbits, as it contains higher calcium and protein levels to help support healthy growth and development.
Should Alfalfa be avoided in an adult rabbit’s or guinea pig’s diet?
While these concerns are certainly the case when speaking about the 80% hay portion of the diet, all of that changes when Alfalfa is used as an ingredient in the recipe of a balanced pet food. Alfalfa, as part of a balanced recipe does not present the same issues associated with feeding Alfalfa as a hay. In a balanced rabbit food, the calcium and protein levels are formulated in the overall recipe to meet the pet’s exact nutritional requirements, therefore avoiding any associated issues with too much calcium or protein in the diet.
In fact, Alfalfa as a rabbit food ingredient is somewhat of a ‘Superfood’, as it provides lots of valuable nutrients with a whole host of benefits including:
- Fantastic levels of fibre (the most important element of any rabbit’s diet)
- Balanced calcium
- Essential amino acids and vitamins.
The roots of the Alfalfa plant reach much further into the ground than those of grass hay plants, accessing valuable minerals that are often only found much deeper in the soil.
These nutrients are naturally more bio-available to the rabbit, so they make a greater contribution to your pet’s nutritional requirements. The ratio of omega 3 & 6 in Alfalfa reflects that found in the natural diet of a wild rabbit. In addition, wild rabbits would normally consume large quantities of green forages containing beta-carotene to provide natural antioxidants and vitamin A – Alfalfa is naturally rich in these. It also helps to regulate acidity in a pet rabbit’s digestive tract and promotes a prebiotic effect to help support healthy gut flora. Alfalfa is naturally lower in sugar and starch, which also encourages a healthier diet and a lower chance of your pets becoming overweight.
So, if Alfalfa is so good for your pets, why is there so much controversy about it? Well, much of the pro-Timothy information relates to the hay portion of the diet. Feeding Alfalfa as a hay is very different from it being used as an ingredient in a nutritionally balanced pet food. When used as part of the pet food recipe, Alfalfa offers higher nutrition and therefore makes for healthier and happier bunnies!