Dehydration can be a serious problem and often happens suddenly. There are many reasons why a rabbit might not drink water, or stop drinking it when everything was fine before. Rabbits need water frequently throughout each day and night. Smaller rabbits, especially kits, can quickly die from dehydration.
IS YOUR RABBIT DEHYDRATED?
Since rabbits are prey animals, your pet’s actions might make it hard to tell. However, the skin test is usually a good indicator. Gently pull up the skin on the back of your rabbit’s neck (scruff area). If the skin goes back rather quickly, he is probably not experiencing dehydration. If the skin does not snap right back into place or it is very tight, he is likely dehydrated.
Some sources might say that dehydration only occurs in conjunction with diarrhea. This is not true. A rabbit that simply refuses his water (for whatever reason) will become dehydrated even before you notice any other symptoms. True to their prey-animal nature, rabbits try to hide everything until they are in a state of emergency. Of course, rabbits that are dehydrated will most likely not be interested in food. The more advanced the dehydration, the more listless the animal will become.
For a helpful, real-life example of one rabbit’s dehydration and recovery, PLEASE CLICK HERE (article will open in new tab so that you can come back here afterward).
Here are a few tips to help with proper water consumption and/or getting a rabbit to drink when he (or she) doesn’t want to.
- Provide a water bottle and a heavy, shallow water bowl. This is especially important if you have a young rabbit or one that is new to your home. It is also important to provide a bowl of water when a rabbit is sick, injured or has had any type of surgery.
- Clean and sanitize your rabbit’s water bowl at least every other day before refilling.
- Sanitize water bottles at least once a week. The popular plastic type of water bottles used for rabbits are notorious for getting grimy (dirty) inside. You may not notice, but your rabbit will. Remember, your rabbit has very strong senses – much stronger than yours. No bunny wants to drink dirty water that has a buildup of impurities. This can, and does, occur even with filtered water. Inexpensive water filters and filtration systems most often will not eliminate fluoride and other harmful impurities out.
- To sanitize water bottles: Fill the entire bottle with hot water and add a few tablespoons of bleach. Let the bleach water sit in the bottle for at least 20 minutes and then rinse thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Rinse the soapy water out with regular hot water filling and emptying the bottle several times. This will ensure that the bleach water and also the soapy water residue is completely gone.
- Thoroughly wash the water bottle spout separately. Run hot water through the spout several times to ensure it is totally clear of soap residue.
- Some rabbit owners use white vinegar for this purpose. However, very diluted bleach water is more effective for true sanitizing.
- Do not use more than a few tablespoons of bleach in plastic! It could compromise the integrity of the plastic.
- Filter all water. Public water systems have impurities added to water – they just do. Even if you cannot afford an expensive filtration system, even buying a pitcher-type filter (Brita, Pur, et cetera) will help. Your rabbit will be much healthier and happier drinking water that is as clean and pure as possible.
- Rub something sweet (and rabbit-safe) on water spout: Example: fresh banana.
- This trick is helpful for training kits or rabbits that are not used to drinking from water bottles.
- Helpful for getting sick, post-surgery or injured rabbits to drink water.
- Rabbits with any type of health issue should be provided a bowl of water in addition to his normal water bottle, even if he does not usually drink his water from a bowl.
- Carefully monitor all water containers to ensure your rabbit is drinking enough.
- Know how to safely syringe feed water to your rabbit. To learn a safe technique for syringe feeding, PLEASE CLICK HERE. Often, syringe-feeding will encourage the rabbit to start drinking water on his own again.
- If necessary, add a small amount (no more than 1/4 cup to a full-size water bottle for average-sized rabbits) of cranberry, fresh pineapple or other rabbit-safe juice to water. Over a few days, add less and less juice until your rabbit is drinking only water.
- Do not use juice that has artificial sweeteners, sugar substitutes or chemicals added!
- Only use organic juice that is naturally sugar-free (no sugar added).
- Do not add juice long-term. Also, add much less for smaller rabbits (and even less for young kits). Just do it for rabbits that do not like their water. Add less and less juice until your rabbit is drinking only water again.
Though some sources say otherwise, we do not recommend human drinks which are not nature-based (such as Gatorade and water). Such drinks contain harsh chemicals and sweeteners which could cause other health issues. We recommend doing research on a rabbit’s natural diet – what foods/fluids can help and those that can cause short or long-term harm. It can be helpful to discuss healthy alternatives (such as non-sweetened, natural juice) with a rabbit-savvy veterinarian.
If your rabbit stops drinking water, has diarrhea, is listless, looks as though he has a serious injury or appears to have any other signs of dehydration, call your veterinarian and get an emergency appointment. Of course, begin safe syringe-feeding in the meantime since rabbit dehydration causes a rapid health decline.
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