Pretty much every single living thing on earth needs water to survive.
Water is considered one of the most foundational elements needed to support life, and accordingly simple dehydration is a pervasive and consistent killer of people and animals alike.
Let’s look at the water needs of our rabbits. How long can a rabbit go without any water?
An average rabbit can only go 24 hours or less without any water before it dies or is seriously injured. Hot conditions and other complications mean that a rabbit will need more water than usual.
Rabbits, like many small mammals, are disproportionately vulnerable to dehydration both because of their higher metabolism and also because of their lower overall body mass.
Rabbits need to drink water more or less constantly, and although they don’t need very much, they must have constant access to it.
There’s a lot more you need to know about a rabbit’s hydration requirements, so keep reading and I’ll tell you all about it.
Continual Hydration is Essential for a Rabbit’s Health
It’s difficult to impress on most people just how critical continual, uninterrupted access to water is for rabbits.
Rabbits depend on water to help them digest and absorb nutrients from food, properly regulate their circulatory system, eliminate wastes through urine and a lot more.
Water is imperative for proper organ function in rabbits, and when things go bad at that level, they go bad very quickly.
One of the worst things that can happen to a rabbit that isn’t drinking enough water is gut stasis.
Rabbits eat constantly, more or less, and a consistent intake of food and water is needed to keep food moving properly through their bowels.
If a bunny stops drinking, or doesn’t get enough water, the movement of food will slow and then stop.
This results in a dangerous buildup of bacteria and gas (causing bloating) and further dehydration.
All of this is painful for the rabbit, of course, and when rabbits are in pain they usually stop eating and drinking, further exacerbating gut statis- sometimes with lethal results!
For this reason, even going a relatively short time without water could turn into a “vicious cycle” ending with the hospitalization or death of your bunny.
How Much Water Does a Rabbit Need a Day?
A rabbit does not need a lot of water every day compared to you and me, but when you look at it, proportionally they still need quite a bit.
Generally speaking, a mature rabbit will need around 10% of its body weight in water each and every day, but that assumes it is in good health and in normal, temperate conditions.
So for instance, let’s say we’ve got a rabbit weighing five pounds. It would need half a pound, that’s 8 ounces, of water each and every day.
But, you don’t need to spend a bunch of time figuring out precisely how much water to give to your rabbits. All that matters is that they have as much as they can possibly drink and then some.
Do not get into the habit of metering out water for your rabbits according to their body weight: keep their waterers and water bowls full at all times, night and day.
Weather, Pregnancy, Illness and Overall Health Might Increase a Rabbit’s Water Needs
Something else to keep in mind is that the water requirement I just talked about assumes ideal conditions, more or less. Conditions won’t be ideal for your rabbits all the time…
Anytime your rabbits are subjected to hot weather or high humidity, they must have more water.
Similarly, if they’re sick or injured they will typically need more water also to help them combat the disease or heal, respectively.
Very young and very old rabbits also need more water compared to adults in the prime of life.
And, naturally, a mother rabbit that’s carrying a litter of babies is going to need considerably more water then she would normally because she will be drinking for eight or more – literally!
These are all good reasons too, once again, give your rabbits an unlimited water supply.
What are Some Signs that Your Rabbit Isn’t Drinking Enough?
Because rabbits need so much water and because they are so sensitive to dehydration, you must be ever alert to any signs and symptoms that they aren’t drinking enough.
One of the most readily apparent is that the rabbit stops eating.
A number of things could cause this, but rabbits depend on drinking adequate water to help them digest their food, and if they aren’t drinking enough they will feel a strong urge to stop eating.
Absent any other obvious injury or illness, this is something to be suspicious of.
Also, touch your rabbit and consider picking it up if it is amiable to it: if your rabbit feels unusually hot, it might have a fever brought on by dehydration.
At the same time, gently pinch the skin on the back of their neck. Their skin should rebound to its normal shape pretty much instantly.
If it doesn’t, if it seems sluggish or resistant to laying flat again, your rabbit is probably badly dehydrated.
Pay attention to their overall attitude and bearing also. Does your rabbit seem sluggish, confused or weak?
If so, something is definitely wrong, and it dehydration can cause any or all of the above.
If your rabbit seems unwilling to stand up or is having trouble moving, you need to get the poor thing to the vet ASAP.
Lastly, pay attention to your rabbit’s urine. If the urine is unusually dark in color or if it smells very strong or “skunky”, that’s a strong indicator that they aren’t drinking enough, or potentially may tip you off to other kidney problems.
At any rate, pronounced dehydration can induce kidney problems, so you need to take action regardless.
What Should You Do if Your Rabbit Isn’t Getting Enough Water?
If you suspect your rabbit isn’t getting enough water, it’s time to take action immediately.
If you suspect they have just stopped drinking or that the dehydration is very minor, pull out their water and or water bowl as appropriate and give it a thorough cleaning before it refilling it with fresh, room-temperature water.
Rabbits will often refuse to drink from any water that smells off or contaminated, and they typically avoid drinking water that is too hot or too cold.
If your rabbit seems seriously dehydrated, or if you notice that they are out of water, give them water immediately.
Position the nipple on their bottle near their mouth, or put the water bowl right in front of the rabbit and see if they can drink from it. If they start drinking, that’s good.
If the rabbit seems weak or disoriented, make sure that it isn’t laying its head in the water bowl as this may cause them to drown.
If your rabbit cannot or will not drink on its own, get a clean syringe of the kind used for administering liquid pet medication, and then fill it with clean water.
Place the nozzle in the corner of the rabbit’s mouth and dispense a small but significant amount of water.
Wait and see if your rabbit will lap it up and respond. If yes, give them more water in this matter, allowing them time to drink each time.
If your rabbit cannot or will not drink, or if you suspect they are severely dehydrated, rush to the vet at once!
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.