by Phyllis O’Beollain, Dayton Small Pets Examiner
At any given time, rabbits require a good deal of water – proportionately more than other species. A rabbit weighing five pounds will drink as much water as a dog weighing 25 pounds! With hot weather or the dry air of air conditioned rooms, rabbits will drink even more; in fact, they may consume four times as much water than food.
Rabbits will suffer serious health consequences if deprived of water for more than 24 hours (less time than that in hot weather). When temperatures rise above 84 degrees, rabbits tend to get lethargic, as they are unable to sweat (they only have one pair of sweat glands and those are on their lips!!). When the rabbit becomes lethargic it begins to drink less water and sets up a vicious cycle.
It is even more critically important for bunnies with a history of urinary sludge or urinary stones to keep extremely well-hydrated to prevent further problems.
Signs of dehydration in rabbits include poor skin turgor: lightly pinch a bit of skin that is normally taut, and gently pull it up into a little tent. When you let go, it should snap back into place with no wrinkles or folds. If the bunny is dehydrated, the skin will take several seconds to fall back into place (this is called “poor skin turgor”).
Dry mucous membranes are also a sign of dehydration; the bunny’s gums should be pink and moist.
Ways to encourage your rabbit – or other small pet – to increase his water consumption:
♦Provide both a crockery bowl and a water bottle: sometimes the novelty of a new drinking implement will get a bunny to drink more. Change the water frequently and scrub out the crockery bowl daily; rabbits are not inclined to drink stale or unclean water. Make sure the drinking tube on the water bottle is not blocked, and water still flows freely.
♦Try putting ice cubes in the water bowl
♦Add something tasty to the water. Normally, pure water is advised, due to the delicate nature of a rabbit’s digestive system, but if your bunny is in need of hydration, mixing a bit of Pedialyte, unsweetened juice (such as apple or carrot juice) or even a tiny bit of real vanilla (NOT vanilla extract) can encourage the bunny to drink. Do not give a rabbit Gatorade or other drinks high in sugar. Change the Pedialyte-water frequently to avoid the growth of bacteria.
♦Wet your pet’s greens and other vegetables
♦Try offering a small amount of watermelon, which is mostly…well, water.
If all else fails, try gently squirting water into bunny’s mouth with a syringe. This should be done only as a last resort, if your rabbit is sick and at serious risk of dehydration. Consult your veterinarian first. Be sure to place the syringe of water behind its incisors (to the side of the mouth) and squeeze sideways. Squirting the water straight into its mouth could cause water to go down the windpipe and choke the bunny.
Water is the most important and least expensive nutrient required by your rabbit. Rabbits need 24/7 access to water in order to remain healthy; one of the simplest and yet most critically important things you can do for your rabbit is provide a constant supply of clean, fresh water.