There is nothing quite as distressing as seeing your pet rabbit refuse to drink. While it’s possible for mammals to live quite some time without food, the same is not true for water. Without adequate hydration, rabbits can quickly succumb to dehydration, which can lead to kidney damage and a host of other health problems. It can even lead to death.
So, that leaves the problem of how to get a rabbit to drink water. First, be sure you are providing easy access to your rabbit’s water source. Second, be sure the water is fresh and clean; any bad smells or particulates may discourage rabbits from drinking. Third, you can slowly drip water into a rabbit’s mouth using an eyedropper or small syringe if the rabbit is too weak to drink on its own.
How you handle your rabbit’s refusal to drink water will depend greatly on why she isn’t drinking in the first place. What works for a stubborn rabbit may not be wise to use on a very sick rabbit, for example. Let’s explore how to get a rabbit to drink water in greater detail.
Why Do Rabbits Need So Much Water?
Rabbits drink an incredible amount of water compared to their body weight. There are a few reasons for this, and each is vital to your rabbit’s health.
The rabbit digestive process is fairly complex. Because of their incredibly fast metabolism and reliance on fibrous vegetation for nutrition, they require a lot of water to survive.
Healthy water consumption aids in the digestion of tough plant fibers, helping them pass quickly through the gut. The moist, soft cecotropes are the first type of excrement for rabbit digestion. You may see your bunny eating these; don’t be alarmed! This is perfectly natural. In fact, that’s the whole point of cecotropes.
All that fibrous plant matter is hard to digest, so rabbits drink lots of water to push the food through the gut quickly, creating soft cecotropes. They consume the damp cecotropes to digest it all again, absorbing the water and nutrients the second time through. This produces the dryer, normal rabbit pellets you’ll see at the bottom of the cage.
Without proper water consumption, cecotropes cannot form properly. They’ll be too dry or may not come at all. That means your rabbit can’t digest her food properly either.
Urine and Kidney Health
Kidneys filter toxins from the body. To do so, they require a lot of water. Without proper water consumption, rabbit kidneys won’t have enough liquid to filter enough the blood. This can lead to a toxic buildup that can cause kidney failure in a short amount of time.
Circulation and Overall Health
Water is the main component of blood, tissues, and mucus production for rabbits. Without enough water, tissues begin to dry out, slowing blood circulation. It can even cause cell shrinkage and cell death.
Why Did My Rabbit Stop Drinking?
Rabbits stop drinking for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s okay to leave them alone to sort it on their own. However, it doesn’t take long for a rabbit to become dehydrated, which can lead to a host of other health issues. In as little as 24 hours, a rabbit who stops drinking can enter a state of ileus, which is a life-threatening condition.
Figuring out why your rabbit isn’t drinking is the key to getting him to drink again. Here’s a list of things to check for so you can help your rabbit get rehydrated quickly.
Many rabbits will stop eating and drinking if they are suffering gastrointestinal upset. This can be caused by moldy hay or food pellets, contaminated water, viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Some rabbits get upset tummies during mating season, during pregnancy, or while nursing their kits.
A stressed rabbit is less likely to eat or drink normally. This is a natural instinct, so it can be hard to train out. Scared or stressed bunnies will be on high alert, never relaxing, always watching or hiding. If your rabbit is behaving this way, it’s imperative that you figure out what is scaring her.
She may be frightened of predators she can see out the window or over the fence. She might be afraid of the neighbor’s barking dog, a loud television set, or a loud motorcycle in the neighborhood. It’s possible she’s become frightened of a simple jacket hanging in the corner.
Remove the stressor and your rabbit should calm down. Once she feels safe, she should begin drinking again.
Heat or Cold Intolerance
A hot rabbit may be too weak from overheating to reach his water bottle. A cold rabbit may not wish to leave her warm bedding to get to the water across the cage. Be sure your rabbit’s environment is providing the right temperature.
Very young rabbits may not understand how to use a water bottle. If this is the case, provide a shallow dish of water below the water bottle spout. This lets the baby rabbit get water, but also learn to trust the water spout, too.
An older rabbit may not have the strength or energy to work a water bottle. If this is the case, provide an easier, smaller water bottle. If this still doesn’t work, switch to an open, tip-proof dish.
How To Make A Rabbit Drink
Once you’ve figured out why your rabbit isn’t drinking, you can try one of these techniques to get them back on track. Remember to use a method suitable to your rabbit’s needs. The wrong method could make the problem worse.
Improve Access To Water
If your rabbit is having trouble reaching the water due to illness, injury, temperature issues, or a crowded cage, just move the water closer. Keeping the water near your rabbit’s favorite resting spot is a great way to encourage him to drink more.
If the enclosure is rather large or it’s shared with many other rabbits, try adding another water source or two. By providing multiple places to get water, you’re encouraging more water consumption, no matter where your rabbit happens to be resting.
Make Sure The Water Is Clean
Like humans, some rabbits are just picky. If the water isn’t perfectly clear and fresh, a picky rabbit may not drink. Try scrubbing the dish or water bottle with rabbit-safe cleansers and then refilling with cold, filtered tap water.
Even if the water looks and smells fresh to you, there might be something in there that your rabbit can smell. If your rabbit still won’t drink after cleaning the bottle, have your water tested. Even fluoride in city water can be a turnoff to some rabbits.
Warm The Water
A common issue for young rabbits is the aversion to cold water. They’re used to Mom’s warm milk, so suddenly switching to ice cold water is a bit of a shock. If this is the case with your baby bunny, try warming the water first.
Warmer water is also good for older rabbits. They have much more delicate digestive tracts. Cold water can be uncomfortable on an older bunny’s tummy.
Serve Leafy Greens
If your bunny is still eating fine but refusing to drink water, you can use this to your advantage. Increasing the amount of leafy greens will help increase your rabbit’s water intake. Choose veggies with high water content. Also, wash the vegetables and leave them wet to sneak some more water into your bunny.
Sit With Your Bunny
Sometimes, the reason for a rabbit not drinking isn’t clear. If you’re not sure what’s going on, you can try sitting with your bunny and offering sips of water from a shallow bowl. Often, this extra attention and soft praise from you is all it takes to get a rabbit to start drinking again.
This is also a good opportunity to listen to your bunny’s breathing and see how they’re moving. If you hear a rattle, your bunny may be getting an upper respiratory infection, which is enough reason for some buns to stop drinking. If your rabbit seems to be moving stiffly or not much at all, she could be in pain; this is another common reason for rabbits to stop drinking.
Use An Eyedropper
For very sick, young, elderly, or lethargic bunnies, you may need to intervene. Using an eyedropper or small syringe might be the best way to get some liquid into your bunny.
Hold your rabbit in your lap. Drop a single drop of warm water onto her lips and see if she’ll lick it off. If she will, continue this method, speaking softly and praising her.
If she won’t lick the water off her lips, you can insert the eyedropper or syringe tip into the side of her mouth and administer a single drop. Do not pour a lot in all at once or she may breathe the water in.
If she still won’t swallow a drop at a time, it’s time to head to the vet.
What Happens If My Rabbit Won’t Drink Water?
If your rabbit won’t drink water, despite your best efforts, there is something wrong that requires immediate vet attention. Dehydration is a serious condition on its own. However, a rabbit can quickly enter ileus, which is gastrointestinal stasis. Without proper water or food, a rabbit’s gut can basically stop working altogether. This leads to death.
If your rabbit hasn’t had a drink or defecated for 12 hours, this is a possible emergency. Get her to the vet right away.
If you can get your bunny to the vet quickly, they will likely administer IV fluids after a quick examination. IV fluids usually begin working quickly, but don’t be alarmed if your bunny takes some time to respond. She is probably exhausted from fighting whatever caused her problem in the first place. In the capable hands of your vet team, she should start to feel better soon.
A few hours without a drink isn’t cause for alarm, but it’s certainly worth trying to get your bunny to take a sip. The longer he goes without water, the more likely he’ll get a more serious problem such as dehydration, dry stools, or ileus. Pay attention to your bunny’s habits so you can spot problems before they become life-threatening.
Can I give my bunny tap water? Yes, tap water is generally considered safe for pet rabbits. If your water supply has been compromised, however, give your rabbit bottled water instead.
Do rabbits need water? Yes! Rabbits need a lot of water, so be sure your pet rabbit always has access to fresh water.