Most rabbits are able to regulate their own water intake without any need for human interference. They’ll drink when they are thirsty and get some water from their regular diet (leafy greens contain lots of water). Every once in a while, however, you’ll find a rabbit who is a bit picky. They won’t drink enough and have a higher risk of becoming sick as a result. In these cases, there is a lot you can do to help your rabbit drink more water.
The best thing you can do to encourage your rabbit to drink more water is give them a large bowl to drink from. This is a more natural way for rabbits to stay hydrated. If this doesn’t work, you can also try adding small amounts of flavoring to their water bowl or helping them consume water along with their leafy greens.
There are a lot of different tricks you can try to encourage your rabbit to drink more. Staying well hydrated is important for preventing illnesses, such as GI Stasis and bladder sludge, by keeping your rabbit’s system running smoothly. If your rabbit does chronically drink too little, it may be a symptom of some other underlying illness. It’s always a good idea to bring them into the vet for a checkup just to be sure.
How to know if your rabbit is not drinking enough water
Most of the time rabbits will not have any problem drinking enough water as long as they have free access to it. They will naturally drink when they are thirsty. Drinking enough water is important for keeping rabbits hydrated. It can also aid their digestion and help prevent infection in their kidneys and urinary tract. However, it’s possible a rabbit could refuse to drink because they are stressed or really picky about the way they drink their water.
Rabbit’s do tend to drink a lot of water. They’ll need about as much as a small dog on a daily basis. But if your rabbit isn’t drinking that much, it doesn’t mean they are dehydrated. Rabbits get water out of the food in their daily diet. Fresh leafy greens have a high water content that does a lot to keep a rabbit hydrated.
The activity levels and size of a rabbit, along with the environmental temperature and humidity are also factors in how much the rabbit will drink. Large rabbits need more water than small rabbits and rabbits will typically drink more during the hotter and drier months.
Symptoms of dehydration in rabbits
A rabbit can become dehydrated if they cannot get enough water to drink (such as a malfunctioning water bottle) or if they are refusing to drink. Rabbit’s may refuse to drink because they are too stressed, or because the water just doesn’t taste good. It’s not common for rabbits to become severely dehydrated if they have water available, but it is a possibility.
Symptoms of dehydration in rabbits include:
- Small, dark poop compared to the normal size and color of your rabbits fecal pellets.
- Thick, dark urine. Normal rabbit urine is typically a golden yellow to a bright orange. If they are dehydrated it will be more brownish in color.
- Lethargic. They’ll have a lack of energy and may be losing balance.
- Not eating. Generally if a rabbit is severely dehydrated they will not be eating either.
1. Give your rabbit a bowl and a bottle
A bowl is a more natural way for rabbits to drink so providing your rabbit with a bowl instead of a bottle encourages better hydration. Even better, provide your rabbit with both a bowl and a bottle. This way your rabbit will always have a choice of the way they want to drink. You could even get an electric fountain style water bowl that prevents the water from getting stale for those particularly picky rabbits.
If your rabbit tends to flip over their food and water bowls, it’s a good idea to get heavy ceramic dishes for them. You could also try to get pet bowls that clip to the side of the enclosure, to prevent your rabbit from moving them.
Don’t forget to clean all water dishes and bottles frequently to prevent the buildup of any bacteria that could be causing your rabbit to avoid drinking. You’ll also want to give them fresh water daily, so your rabbit doesn’t feel that the water has become stale.
2. Leave water on their daily greens
When you give your rabbit their daily leafy greens, you want to make sure to wash them off first. After washing, you can leave those extra drops of water on the greens. This way your rabbit will be getting a little extra hydration as they are eating their yummy greens. You can trick your rabbit into having better hydration.
You could even use leaves of lettuce to scoop up some water so your rabbit drinks more when they are eating. Whatever water is leftover at the bottom of the bowl of leafy greens might be more appealing to your rabbit too. It’ll have the flavor of greens, rather than the regular flavor of water that your rabbit is avoiding.
3. Add a few drops of unsweetened fruit juice
If you’re worried that your rabbit isn’t drinking enough. Try adding half a teaspoon of an unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice. 100% apple juice, carrot juice, or pineapple juice can be good options to try. This will add a little bit of sweet flavor to the rabbit’s water and will encourage them to drink more.
You don’t want to add too much of this to your rabbit’s diet, since it’s basically just added sugar. However, adding just a small amount and diluting it in the water can encourage your rabbit to drink more without having any ill effects.
4. Give your rabbit fresh water multiple times a day
Instead of refilling your rabbit’s water bowl once a day, or only after they run out of water, try replenishing the water multiple times during the day. This can prevent the rabbit from thinking that the water has gone stale and keep them drinking throughout the day. If you notice your rabbit always tends to drink a lot right when you give them new water, this may be the trick to try.
5. Add fragrant herbs to the water bowl
Adding herbs with strong flavor, such as basil or mint, to the water bowl can encourage your rabbit to drink more water. Not only will they be fishing the leaves out of the water bowl and inevitably drinking water along with it, but the herbs will also be flavoring the water and making it more appealing to your rabbit.
6. Avoid warm water
Rabbits will generally prefer water when it is at room temperature. Water that is too warm will seem untrustworthy and most rabbits will avoid it. Cold water can also be a barrier to some rabbits for drinking, but it’s usually not as much of a problem as water that has been heated.
7. Try purified or bottled water
While tap water is safe for rabbits to drink as long as it’s also safe for human consumption, some might be hesitant to try it. Since tap water tastes different depending on where you live, yout rabbit might not like the flavor of your water. It could also have high amounts of unsafe chemicals, such as lead, without you being aware of it.
You can try purifying the water from your tap before giving it to your rabbit. Alternatively, you could spoil your rabbit by always giving them bottled water instead. It may help your rabbit trust the water more, or at least give them a different flavor.
For emergencies: Syringe feed your rabbit
If your rabbit truly isn’t drinking any water, then you need to take this situation seriously. It may mean that there is something seriously wrong with your rabbit’s health and they need to see a veterinarian. In the veterinary office, they will likely give your rabbit an IV to give them some hydration, but they may give you at home instructions for syringe feeding your rabbit.
You can directly syringe feed water to your rabbit, but in most cases they will not be eating either. Most likely you will be instructed to feed your rabbit critical care. This is a powdered formula that you combine with water to create a pudding-like food that you can syringe feed your rabbit. To learn more about Critical Care and how to syringe feed your rabbit, check out my article.