Rabbits are self-sufficient when it comes to hydrating themselves most of the time, as long as they have access to clean water. It’s not usually something you need to babysit them on, which is why when your rabbit stops drinking, it can be a major cause for concern.
If your rabbit stops drinking, make sure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Change up their method of accessing water, and try to get them to consume water through their fruits and vegetables. Rabbit dehydration is a serious issue and if left unchecked, can be fatal.
Sometimes, rabbits are just picky and need a little extra encouragement and attention to get them drinking, but sometimes it’s a sign of a bigger problem that could lead to painful calcium buildup in the bladder and deadly digestive blockage like Gastro-Intestinal Stasis.
Dehydration Symptoms in Rabbits
Water is a necessary part of a rabbit’s digestive, circulation, and nervous systems. Just like for us humans, water hydrates their cells and keeps all of their bodily functions running smoothly. While humans can survive three days without water, most rabbits cannot survive for more than 24 hours, and for small rabbits or babies, it’s less than that.
The amount of water your rabbit needs per day greatly depends on their size, but most should be drinking between 50ml-400ml of water per day. (up to two cups!)
Rabbits are quiet animals and usually won’t a huge fuss if they’re in pain or not feeling well. They won’t seek you out and demand particular care or attention, so do your part to observe their daily behavior and how much they’re drinking.
Signs of Dehydration
- Skin elasticity. A well-hydrated rabbit’s skin should be tight and elastic, not loose. Gently give their skin a tug where it won’t hurt them, such as the back of the neck. If the skin immediately snaps back into place, they are well hydrated. If the skin is loose and leaves a raised fold where you pinched, your rabbit is dehydrated and you need to take immediate action.
- Lethargy and disinterest. Some rabbits can just be lazy, but laziness and lethargy are not the same things. Extreme lethargy and apathy towards their surroundings are a sign of dehydration, so If your rabbit doesn’t seem like themselves, it may be time to take action.
- Dark urine. Urine from a dehydrated rabbit will be darker, smell stronger, and be in lower quantity. Water is highly necessary for rabbits to flush out impurities and internal waste, and is an obvious sign that your rabbit isn’t getting enough liquids.
- Lack of appetite. A rabbit who is dehydrated likely won’t be interested in eating either. Dehydration isn’t always the culprit of a bad appetite, But a lack of drinking water combined with a lack of interest in food is a major sign.
- Body temperature too warm. A rabbit’s body temperature will rise and become too high without the proper level of water to lower body temperature. My article How to Care for a Rabbit in Hot Weather will give you 10 vital tips for keeping your rabbit safe and healthy if exposed to the heat.
Heatwaves and hot, sunny summer weather are a time to be especially alert. Rabbits are not able to sweat to regulate their body temperature and have thick fur coats, so they are very sensitive to heat. They need to drink more water during these times, so provide them with more water than you think is necessary and monitor their needs. The heat will only exacerbate dehydration problems and a hot rabbit who isn’t drinking will be even more a cause for concern.
TIP: Typically your pet rabbit won’t need intervention on eating or drinking, but it’s important to give them the care they need when these situations do arise. Check out this helpful Owner’s Guide that tells you about a rabbit’s daily care needs.
When Should I Go to the Vet?
The more extreme and obvious any of these symptoms are, the more concerned you should be. It’s better to be observant and catch these symptoms early on when you can still do something about them. However, this isn’t always possible and you may need to take immediate action.
If you can’t get your rabbit to consume water and/or these symptoms do not improve within a few hours of drinking water, then it’s time to call the vet. Do your part to make sure your rabbit stays healthy!
Reasons Your Rabbit Might Not Be Drinking:
Sometimes, rabbits are just picky! They could be avoiding their water because of a taste they don’t like or because something in or around their water distributer smells weird.
Sometimes it’s the method of distribution itself: Young and senior rabbits might not understand verticle water bottles and you will have to provide them with other means of drinking.
Lack of interest in water can be symptoms of another issue that you need to investigate. If your rabbit is undergoing a dental issue, its teeth could be extra sensitive or painful, and they would avoid anything that could cause them discomfort. Check for any sores or blood in the mouth area, and call a vet if you observe any.
Tips to Help Your Rabbit Drink More
- Vary Water Consumption Methods
If you’re using only one method of water distribution like such as a water bottle or crock, try exchanging for or adding a shallow, heavy bowl that cannot be easily knocked over. This is a more natural way for rabbits to drink water because it replicates what rabbits would do in the wild, and will be easier for them to find and understand.
2. Clean Dishes and Bottles Frequently
As mentioned before, rabbits are particularly bothered by strange smells. If you have any algae building up or any kind of bacterial scent, your rabbit will probably sense it and lose interest. If this is a potential problem, clean and sanitize their water containers things at least every other day. Be sure to fully rinse to remove any signs of soap or sanitation from the container before giving them back
3. Try Purified Water
Tap water usually works just fine, but there could be something about your water that your rabbit finds offputting, and purified water that comes in bottles might do the trick.
4. Make Sure Their Water Is Fresh
Change your rabbit’s water every day to make sure it’s fresh. Rabbits can tell if their water is stale and are less likely to drink it the longer it has been sitting out.
5. Personally Encourage Them to Drink
Sometimes rabbits just need a little extra attention to help them understand what you want them to do. Pet them, prompt them to drink, and check if they’re not feeling well. Praise them and give them a small reward if they show interest or begin drinking.
Looking for an easy out? Certain kinds of fruit juices may not be the best choice for your rabbit’s source of hydration and the frequency in which they are given also plays a role. Can Rabbits Drink Fruit Juice? is a helpful article that will answer all your questions in regards to this topic.
6. Add a Small Amount of Unsweetened Apple or Carrot Juice to the Water Source
Adding a little bit of tasty juice to your rabbit’s bowl or bottle is a good way to get them to show interest. It will smell good to them and will seem like a tasty treat. Be careful not to add too much though and be sure that the juice is unsweetened. Sugar is very bad for rabbits, so be sure not to add any more than a teaspoon. A few drops will often do the trick!
7. Give Rabbits Fruits and Veggies With High Water Content
A rabbit’s diet should be approximately 80 percent hay and grass, keeping fruits and vegetables as more of a treat as well as a means to give your rabbit extra vitamins than are absent from their main diet. However, many fruits and vegetables have high water content and are a good way to trick them into drinking more. Veggies with high water content include:
- Bok Choy
- mustard greens
- Bell peppers
- apples (no seeds)
- Grapes (no seeds)
Whenever giving your rabbits fruits or veggies, watch out for sugar content. Giving your rabbits too many overly sweet fruits or veggies will cause them to get sick.
8. Leave Extra Water on Veggies You Give Them
When you give them veggies, do not dry them off after you’ve rinsed them. It can be beneficial and fun to find creative ways to capture extra water in them, (such as using celery as troughs and the lettuce leaves as bowls). Any extra way you can spray or sprinkle more water on tempting veggies will help your rabbit to consume more water without realizing it. Can a Rabbit Eat Too Much Lettuce? This is a great question to ask if you are trying to get your rabbit re-hydrated using this method. An excess of certain types of lettuce will be harmful to your rabbit – check out that article to learn more.
9. Put Herbs in Water Dishes for Flavor
Similar to using juice for flavor, putting some safe and tasty herbs in your rabbit’s dish is a good way to encourage them to drink more. Herbs are delicious and fresh tasting to rabbits and are a great snack as well. Safe herbs include:
(Note: Never give rabbits anything in the chives or onion families. These are poisonous to rabbits and need to be avoided.)
10. Syringe or Eye Dropper Method
This is a bit of a last resort, but take an eyedropper or a syringe, hold your rabbit and gently drop a few drops of water at a time onto their lips. If they lick it off, proceed. If they don’t lick it off and show absolutely no interest, this combined with dehydration symptoms is serious and you should contact a vet immediately.