Generally, as long as your pet rabbit has access to fresh water, they will regulate how much to drink themselves. If your rabbit stops drinking for some reason, then you have a complicated scenario on your hands. Dehydration can prove fatal, so you’ll need to focus on finding a solution.
Drinking is crucial for a rabbit’s health, with its digestive and nervous systems, as well as circulation, all dependent upon hydration. Rabbits are no different from humans in this respect; if anything, they are even more sensitive. We might be able to survive for up to three days without water, but your rabbit will last no longer than 24 hours – even less for small or young rabbits.
Size does dictate how much water your pet will require but, generally speaking, somewhere between 50 and 400 ml of water is advisable.
Dehydration is especially likely during warm weather. Your rabbit does not perspire like you do to regulate temperature, and having a thick fur coat makes them vulnerable to hot conditions. Their water consumption will rise as the temperature does, so expect them to drink more in the heat. If your rabbit does have a hydration issue, this will only become more pronounced when it is hot, so you’ll need to stay vigilant.
It’s useful to be aware that your rabbit is likely to hide any pain or discomfort they’re experiencing. By nature, they are quiet creatures and are not attention seekers. Being familiar with their daily behavior, therefore, may be vital for responding to a hydration issue.
Why Is Your Rabbit Not Drinking?
The first thing to do is to check that their water supply is clean and fresh.
Rabbits can often just become picky for no reason, and anything strange or different about their regular water supply could cause them to lose trust. Trying something new to draw them will fix the problem, while adding fruit and vegetables to their food will also help to hydrate them.
Consider their method of drinking. While vertical water bottles are a great way to prevent spillage, not all animals will take to them. Very young or older rabbits, for example, might need a more accessible source.
Suddenly going off drinking could indicate another problem, though. Examples include problems with teeth – which can make a rabbit feel discomfort when drinking – along with mouth sores or other issues that make drinking less desirable. Other times, failure to drink might indicate calcium buildup in the bladder or a blockage like gastrointestinal stasis, which will be fatal if untreated.
Your vet may be able to identify the problem if you can’t.
Signs of Dehydration in Rabbits
- High body temperature. Without water to regulate body temperature, a rabbit is likely to overheat.
- Dark urine. This can be a giveaway. Although a dehydrated rabbit will urinate less, when they do, the urine will be darker and have a stronger smell. Having enough fluid is vital for your rabbit to get rid of waste, and dark urine is a clear sign this is not happening.
- Skin elasticity. When your pet rabbit is adequately hydrated, its skin will be tight and elastic, rather than loose. You can check this by lightly tugging the back of their neck. Expect the skin to snap quickly back into place. If you find that the skin does not do so and leaves a raised fold, then you will need to act.
- Laziness and indifference. You may already have a rabbit that isn’t particularly active, but if you notice this suddenly becomes worse, it could be caused by lack of water.
- Appetite loss. When rabbits stop drinking, they will also feel unable to eat. This doesn’t always mean that appetite is a cause, but it will be an additional symptom.
Tips to Encourage a Rabbit to Drink
1. Maintain a Fresh Water Supply
A water supply that is changed daily is essential for keeping the supply fresh. Water that becomes stale will be rejected, and it doesn’t take too long for this to happen.
2. Regularly Clean Dishes and Bottles
The buildup of algae or bacteria, which can easily happen in drinking vessels, will cause a rabbit to reject a water supply. Just like humans, they will need any artificial drinking vessels to be regularly cleaned, as well as being cleansed of any subsequent cleaning product residue.
3. Adjust the Forms of Water Supply
Relying on one consistent water supply could become problematic. Consider whether your rabbit needs a bowl that is less likely to spill or be knocked over. Water that is not stored in a vertical drinking vessel tends to be better for fussy rabbits; if the water source is lying around then this is closer to how they would drink in the wild.
4. Consider Purified Water
Although tap water is usually okay, you might be surprised at just how much the quality varies. Perhaps there is something in the water in your area that explains why your rabbit is not taking to it, so swapping to purified water in bottles may be a good move.
5. Interact to Encourage Their Drinking
Some owners might overlook this approach because rabbits do not appear overly responsive to our actions, but a rabbit can, in fact, read you as well as a dog or cat. Encourage them to drink by petting them, offering affection, and giving them treats for doing so.
6. Source Fruit and Vegetables With a High Water Content
Typically, your rabbit’s hay and grass consumption will make up around four-fifths of their diet. Fruit and vegetables are more of a treat, though they can be useful for certain vitamins not found in hay or grass. Plus, for rabbits with dehydration issues, fruit and vegetables like lettuce – which has a high water content – will help them to get the fluids they need, although they still need to drink water as well. Some examples are:
- bell peppers
- mustard greens
- apples (no seeds)
- grapes (no seeds)
7. Sprinkle Water on Veggies
You might be tempted to let veggies dry after rinsing them, but it’s actually much better to keep them wet. Some rabbit owners even use vegetables to construct miniature bowls so their pet will drink at the same time, not realizing it is taking in more water and benefiting its health.
8. Add Herbs to Water for Flavor
Just as your rabbit might respond favorably to unsweetened juices, they may prefer water with added herbs. Rabbits like herbs and they are nutritious as well. Some options are:
9. Use Syringes or Eyedroppers
Although syringes and eyedroppers should be reserved for the most problematic of cases, they are one way to make sure your rabbit is getting enough water. If your pet shows no response and still refuses the water as you drop it onto their lips, this is a clear sign that they need a vet’s attention.
When to Call the Vet
If any of the above indications become apparent, you will need to seek professional help straight away. As with any health issues, spotting the signs early is the best way to safeguard your pet’s well-being. Professional advice is to act within a few hours if your attempts to get your rabbit to drink have failed.