Small Animal Health E-mail

Grass Hay is Vital for Dental Maintenance

Courtesy of Oxbow Pet Products

Providing your pet herbivore with unlimited grass hay to eat is important for 5 main reasons: ensuring proper intestinal mobility, maintaining bacterial balance in the cecum, providing environmental enrichment, preventing obesity, and - most critically - preventing dental disease. 

Popular pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and prairie dogs are biologically classified as herbivores, meaning they eat only plant material.  A unique characteristic of these animals and other small rodents is that their teeth constantly grow in order to replace what is worn away.  This unique dental physiology is an evolutionary adaptation to a plant-rich diet. 

In nature, these animals graze on weeds, grasses and shrubs.  Inside each tiny cell of these plants are even smaller, abrasive particles called phytoliths (“plant stones”).  As herbivores graze, they grind and break apart the plant cells, releasing the phytoliths, and exposing their teeth to the abrasive particles.  This chewing action wears down the animal’s teeth much the same way that sandpaper wears down wood.   

Pet herbivores are usually fed pelleted diets designed to provide the complete and optimum fiber, protein, fat, and nutrient levels necessary for proper health.  From a nutritional standpoint, this is excellent, but from a physiological standpoint, pellets are not enough.  Pellets, while nutritionally compete and necessary, do not contain enough phytoliths to properly wear down your pet’s teeth.  Herbivores need hay, because hay is a natural source of phytoliths. 

Your pet’s teeth will keep growing, just as they were designed to do, regardless of diet.  Without hay in your pet’s diet, there is nothing to wear the teeth down, leading to dental problems that can impact overall health.  There are many varieties of grass hays available to supply your pet with different flavors or to suit its individual preferences.  Oxbow carries several sizes of Western Timothy, Brome, Oat, Orchard and Hay Cakes.

Providing your pet with unlimited grass hay is the best and simplest method of preventing dental disease.  Animals with healthy teeth are less likely to develop tooth and gum abscesses, go off their feed or require emergency veterinary visits.

Laura Duclos, PhD
Director of Nutrition and Product Development
Oxbow Pet Products