“Why does a rabbit need water?” may seem like a question with an obvious answer. Most mammals need to drink water regularly to remain healthy. Equally, most can survive for a few (or even many) days without drinking. For the rabbit, this is not so!
In this article, we will look at your pet rabbits’ water needs, the equipment needed for offering water, and how to deal with dehydration if your rabbit stops drinking. We’ll also give you some handy tips to stop your water freezing during cold spells.
What Do Rabbits Drink?
Almost 100% of the time your rabbits will drink plain water. It is essential that you provide a constant supply of clean water to your pets, as rabbits drink frequently. If you ever add something to your rabbits’ water, for example, vitamins or a little carrot juice (for reasons we will cover below), always offer plain water too.
What kind of water should I give my rabbits?
Any type of uncarbonated, unflavoured water that is suitable for humans is fine for your rabbits. The water needs to be clean and free from bacterial contamination or toxins such as lead.
Is tap water safe for rabbits?
Yes, where tap water is safe for humans to drink it is also safe for rabbits. However, in some areas tap water can smell quite strongly of the chemicals used to keep it free from bacteria, particularly chlorine. This can be off-putting for some rabbits.
If your rabbit is reluctant to drink your tap water, or, in areas where you would filter tap water for yourself, then you can use a water filter to keep your bunnies drink appealing. Running the tap for a minute before use can also reduce contaminants in the water, as you are not using the water that has been laying in the pipes.
If it is only chlorine that is an issue, simply leave the water to stand in an open-topped jug for 24 hours, and the chlorine will evaporate. Rabbits are sensitive to temperature changes and often prefer their water to be at room temperature, so leaving it to stand before use has a double benefit.
How Much Do Rabbits Drink?
Many factors affect how much an individual rabbit will need to drink. These include:
- The size of the rabbit (the bigger the rabbit the more water they will need).
- The environmental temperature (intake increases when it’s warmer).
- The amount of fresh food in the diet (this contains water so the need to drink is reduced).
- The age of the rabbit (intake reduces with age).
- The general level of activity (intake increases with activity).
- The addition of other things to the water (vitamins or carrot juice can increase intake).
- Whether a bowl or bottle is used (drinking from a bowl is physically easier).
The important thing is to always have water available for your bunny to drink.
What happens when a rabbit drinks too little water?
Water is essential for rabbit health. When it is in short supply the movement of food through the gut is disrupted and blockages can occur. Urine production is reduced, and the urine is more concentrated.
Calcium in the urine can begin to build up into bladder sludge or stones. Kidney stones are also possible. Dehydration will occur and very quickly the rabbit’s internal systems begin to shut down.
What happens when a rabbit drinks too much water?
A rabbit would usually only drink too much water if the water was flavored with something desirable. Therefore, under normal circumstances, you shouldn’t add anything to the water unless your rabbit is dehydrated, or a vet has advised you to.
According to the Rabbit Welfare Association, a rabbit drinking too much water can be a sign of stress or pain. It can also indicate a health issue such as a problem with your rabbits’ teeth or kidneys.
Remember that rabbits will drink more for environmental reasons, like hot weather, a day full of activity, or when eating a dry diet. If your rabbit starts to drink more and you can’t see any reason for it, always get them checked out by a vet.
How long can rabbits go without water?
As we have explained, rabbits need constant access to water, and they will drink many times throughout the day. If water is not available, how well they cope will depend on variables like how hot it is and whether they have access to ‘wet’ (fresh) food.
Rabbits can start to run into problems after several hours without water, and after 24 hours most will be seriously ill. Sometimes you can provide water, but your rabbit may not want to drink. In this case, try the rehydration techniques below, but if you can’t get your rabbit to drink a good amount you will need to get veterinary help.
Should Rabbits Drink From A Water Bowl Or A Water Bottle?
There is much debate between rabbit lovers as to whether a bowl or a bottle is best for a rabbit. We think that both have advantages and disadvantages and that it is best to offer a choice.
- A bowl allows the rabbit to drink in a natural position, and to lap as much as they want at a time. However, many bowls are easy to tip up and can be seen as a plaything by some rabbits. If you use a bowl, try something heavy, even when empty. Bowls can also get contaminated with bedding and debris from the cage.
- A bottle contains the water nicely but enforces an unnatural drinking position, especially when placed too high on the cage bars. Bottles can leak, malfunction and only allow a small quantity of water to be dispensed at a time. Your rabbits may find this frustrating.
Bottles can also be harder than a bowl to keep clean and tend to grow algae when exposed to sunlight. Whichever you use, make sure they are checked regularly (at least twice a day), and cleaned and refilled daily.
Here’s a quick tip: If your rabbit is reluctant to drink from a bottle, try smearing little molasses around the tip of the nozzle. Most rabbits get the idea pretty quickly.
Does giving rabbits choice matter?
All animals thrive when they have a degree of control over their own environment. In the wild, they are constantly making decisions based on their need to eat, drink, stay warm and be safe.
Pet rabbits often have very little control over their environment or any real choice. Offering both a bowl and a bottle is an easy way to give your rabbits choice, and allow them to express a preference – which may change at different times.
Our best water bowls
- Ideal for Carriers, Cages & Kennels
- For Dogs & Puppies up to 75 lbs
- Easy twist on - twist off
A large (20oz/568ml) sturdy crock that fixes directly onto the cage or hutch bars. The gripper remains attached and the bowl is easily removed with a twisting action for refilling. The thick plastic provides some insulation when it’s very cold and is easy to clean, won’t tarnish, or get rusty.
A cheaper version that’s even larger (30oz/852ml). This crock fixes over the bars with two hooks, and the bowl is removable from within the holding ring. Easy to clean (all the bowls reviewed are dishwasher proof) but may rust or tarnish over time (this usually happens around the holding ring area so won’t affect the inside of the bowl itself. Being metal, it won’t protect from icy conditions.
- STOPS SLIPPAGE & SPILLS - Heavyweight stoneware stops spills, slipping, sliding, and tipping
- VIBRANT VISUAL DESIGN - Vivid, glossy exterior blends your pet’s personality with your home’s existing decor
- CHEMICAL-FREE & EASY TO CLEAN - Crafted from 100% food-safe and lead-free ceramic; dishwasher- and microwave-safe
- PERFECT FOR ALL PETS - Park Life Designs offers three sizes of multi-use pet bowls perfect for cats, dogs, rabbits, reptiles, and all other animal companions
- DIMENSIONS - Measures 2-inches high with a 6-1/4-inch diameter; 2-1/2-cup capacity; imported
If you are looking for a freestanding bowl, this one could be just what you need. It’s pretty, ceramic, heavy and holds up to 2 liters of water. The diameter we prefer is 6½ inches, but it comes in a variety of sizes and colors.
Our best water bottles
- U.S. Patented Leak-proof Nozzle/ No Drip Small Pet Water Bottle / BPA-free / 11.2 oz Capacity
- Mini-Sized Nozzle (10mm) is recommended for Guinea Pig, Ferret, Hamster, Bunny
- User-Friendly Screw-on bracket: Simple and Easy Installation. You can easily snap the water Bottle on or off for cleaning and refilling water.
- Nail-on bracket: It may also be nailed to the wall or wooden furniture with screws. Eco-Idea: Pet owner can switch our bottle to most regular sized PET bottles (Soda Bottle).
- Important Instruction: Please check the water bottle daily and after every refill by tapping the metal ball inside the nozzle to ensure water comes out. The water bottle is ready to use when air bubbles occur as you tap the metal ball.
This is a medium-sized (11.2 oz/318ml) BPA free plastic bottle with no-drip design features. It fits externally with only the nozzle through the cage bars, which is excellent if you have a bunny who chews plastic. The fastener can also be screwed to any wooden surface. The bottle itself then clips on and off for easy washing and refilling.
- THE PEFECT SIZE: The Medium Quick fill bottle comes in a 600ML/20oz capacity.
- NO DRIP VALAVE: The Lixit Quick Fill bottle features a stainless steel no drip valve. This valve uses a lever that is moved side to side to release water instead of a ball. The bottle is recommended for Guinea pigs, Rabbits, Ferrets, Medium Birds and other small animals. Lever valve is not recommended for Hamsters Rats or Mice.
- EASY TO FILL: The bottle has an easy to open flip top lid so it does not need to be removed from the cage to refill. Simply open the top and add additional water when needed.
- SEE THROUGH DESIGN: The bottle comes in a translucent blue color that allows you to see the water level and will brighten up your cage.
- SPRING MOUNT: The Quick Fill bottle comes with a spring mount to attach it to your cage. The bottle has a groove formed into the plastic so that it won’t slide off the bottle.
An excellent large-sized water bottle (20oz/568ml), which is thoughtfully designed. It fixes with a spring clip to the outside of the cage, so is easy to remove for cleaning. It has a cap that both fully unscrews and has a flap opening which allows the bottle to easily be topped up in situ. And the spout really is non-drip!
What Should I Do If My Rabbit Is Not Drinking?
There are several points to consider when a rabbit stops drinking and plenty of things you can try to improve things. Whatever you decide to try, make sure that you take your rabbit to see a vet if they aren’t eating and drinking at all for more than a few hours.
Points to consider:
- The quality of the water – how does it taste. Try filtered or bottled water.
- The temperature of the water – is it too cold? Try tepid or room temperature water.
- The smell of the water – does it smell of chlorine? Try filtered or bottled water – in future leave tap water to stand uncovered for 24 hours before use.
- Have your bunnies been outside with lots of fresh grazing or having more fresh vegetables than usual? Reduce the amount of wet food and they may start drinking.
- Have you changed the bottle or bowl? Try offering both a bottle and a bowl and use a smear of fruit or molasses around the nozzle to get them started.
- If you only have a bottle, is it blocked? Trying testing this with your finger.
- Is the equipment you are using clean? Some rabbits are fussy about having anything other than water in, or around, their water, including a dirty bowl
- Is your rabbit eating well? If not (or if they are behaving differently to normal) consider illness as a cause. This could be a tooth problem or a serious health issue like gut stasis. Don’t hesitate to go to a veterinarian if you are in doubt.
How Do I Know That My Rabbit Is Dehydrated?
Dehydration occurs when the body doesn’t have enough fluid in it to remain healthy. It is a condition that can kill rabbits, so should always be taken seriously. The rabbits who are most vulnerable to dehydration are the young, the sick and the elderly.
Signs of dehydration include:
- Lethargy – your rabbit may seem to have low energy levels.
- Small amounts of strong smelling, dark-colored urine.
- ‘Tenting’ of the skin at the back of the neck – if you pinch it lightly in your fingers and lift, it will stay raised when you let it go instead of springing back as normal.
If you think your rabbit is mildly dehydrated, you may wish to offer slightly warm water in a bowl with a little carrot or pressed cloudy apple juice. This may coax them to drink.
If not, it’s also possible to try syringing small amounts of this fluid into the tooth gap at the side of their mouth. Syringe across their tongue rather than back towards their throat. Do this slowly and do NOT use force, as this may cause fluid to be inhaled into the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia.
However, if this is not successful and your rabbit remains reluctant to drink on their own, or if the dehydration is already severe you need to treat this as an emergency and get them seen by a vet as soon as possible.
Special Considerations With Specific Breeds
When lop-eared rabbits drink from a wide-open bowl they often get their ears wet. This can be helpful during warm weather as it helps them to stay cool. Some hot lops will lie with an ear hanging in the water dish to cool down!
In extremely cold weather, wet ears can be uncomfortable and lose valuable body heat. Keep an eye on your rabbits and simply dry off their ears if they get overly wet. A narrow, deep dish can help so that the ears naturally fall outside of the dish.
Rabbits who have a large dewlap (the extra fold of skin and fat under the neck) can sometimes get the neck skin wet when drinking from a bowl. Infections are then more likely between the folds of skin, as the moisture encourages bacterial growth.
Once again, it’s simply a matter of checking and drying the neck area regularly. If it’s a real problem to keep an individual clean and dry, then giving a bottle only can often help. If using a bottle only, always use two bottles in case one fails.
Keeping Your Rabbits’ Water Unfrozen In Winter
Before we go, we thought you might appreciate some tips to prevent your rabbits’ water from getting icy when it’s very cold. Many rabbits live indoors, where a frozen water bottle isn’t an issue. But if your rabbit is outside you might want to try some of these tips:
- Move the hutch into a garage or shed for the cold spells.
- Insulate the water bottle with a woolen sock or polystyrene tube.
- Add warm water to the bottle a few times a day.
- Add a couple of ping pong balls to your rabbits’ water bowl. These will move with even slight winds, which prevents the ice from forming on the surface of the water.
Just remember to check your bunnies’ water several times a day when it’s below freezing temperature.
We hope that we have given you some insight into managing your rabbits’ water needs, and the equipment that is available to help you. Rabbits seem to really enjoy fresh water – almost as much as you enjoy watching them lapping at their water bowl. So cute.
Last update on 2020-10-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API