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There is no right answer to this question (other than ‘ideally none), but consider this:
How long could you live without eating fruit, veg and whole grains?
The answer is, er, ages.
Years, in fact.
I have no doubt that there are thousands of people that go their whole lives without eating fruit, veg and whole grains.
The issue isn’t the length of time, it’s the quality of that time.
I’m sure plenty of rabbits go their whole lives without eating any hay. However, their life will be considerably shorter than it could have been, and they may have issues with GI stasis and dental problems that lead to things like ear and eye infections.
Obviously, if your hay supply is running a couple of days late, your rabbit will most likely be 100% fine, and will just enjoy a few extra pellets.
If your rabbit won’t eat hay, it’s of utmost importance to change that. I have a post here about convincing rabbits to eat hay. A rabbit’s health revolves around its digestive system, and hay is the most important part of their diet.
HOWEVER if you have an issue such as ‘I’m staying at my parents with my rabbits for a couple of days and they won’t let me have hay because it’s messy’ it’s a bit trickier.
TECHNICALLY going a few days without hay won’t kill your bunny. We’ve had issues where we couldn’t get any for a couple of weeks and our rabbits were FINE.
It was winter so we couldn’t supplement with grass (which is a bit iffy anyway because it’s very rich compared to hay and can cause poopy butt).
We just gave them a few more pellets and more romaine.
One of reasons we weren’t too worried was that nothing else had changed. The rabbits were in their usual space with their usual people.
However, if you’re putting your rabbits in a new environment with different people, you really need to be keeping their diet the same. Making too many changes to your rabbit’s life at once can be stressful and it’s best to do all you can to keep some things the same.
Buuuuut again, there’s caveats.
One of our rabbits just doesn’t care. You could wake her up early, stick her on a plane to Australia, change her diet, and send her to live with someone else and she wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. She enjoyed the adventure!
The two we have now could not be more different. We always get our hay from the same place, but it changes throughout the year very slightly. They (and by ‘they’ i really mean Holly, Daisy is far more tolerant) HATE it.
We can even tell when they’ve tweaked the recipe for the pellets we get because for a couple of days they’re much slower to eat them
Some rabbits are really sensitive souls.
How long should rabbits go without hay?
I think we already know that they shouldn’t.
The answer is no days. If you consider that 85% of a rabbit’s diet should be hay, cutting it out for a few days is hardly a good idea.
In the case of the parents not wanting hay all over the house, I understand, I suppose, but you should really consider getting a friend or petsitter to drop in on your buns, rather than risk them stressing themselves into illness.
What if you buy your rabbits a complete food?
The pellets we get our rabbits advertises itself as a complete food but if you read the small print it says that the bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be fresh hay.
I don’t think they should be able to call it a complete food. It’s more of a supplement than anything. They’re encouraging people who can’t be bothered to clear up hay to feel ok for not giving their rabbits any.
Sure, replacing your vacuum is expensive, but so is dental surgery on a rabbit.