Posted: September 27, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: I am concerned about our rabbit. She is not consuming enough water. She has always gone through a lot of water, but recently almost seems to be not drinking. What can I do? Do rabbits need salt licks/wheels? Should I sweeten her water?
A: Rabbits are very smart when it comes to water intake. Rabbits never go on a “drinking strike” and decide one day to not drink water! When an owner tells us that their rabbit appears to be taking in less water from the bowl or bottle, I start to look for clues as to the cause of the problem.
If a rabbit is not drinking as much water from its bottle or bowl but otherwise appears well-hydrated and is urinating normally, then this usually means the rabbit is getting water from other sources. Other sources could be a water bowl or bottle of another pet in the house. This is an important consideration when a rabbit has the ability to hop around the home and visit the feeding stations of other pets in the house, including dogs and cats.
Another thing to consider is whether the rabbit’s diet changed or are you feeding a food of a higher moisture content than before. If the answer is yes, many times this leads to a decrease in water intake from the bottle or bowl.
Those are nonmedical reasons for an apparent decrease in water intake by a rabbit. If the answers to these questions are negative, then more serious reasons must be considered. In these instances, you and your veterinarian need to be detectives. The first step is to visit your veterinarian to determine if there is a medical condition present. If your rabbit needs water but is not taking it in, your veterinarian will quickly determine if your rabbit is dehydrated. If your rabbit is dehydrated, something is preventing him or her from drinking. Rabbits can be finicky about the taste of their water; if this has changed, they may stop drinking because they do not like the “flavor” of the water, even though failure to drink water might make them very ill. This may indicate a problem with the water supply.
Has something changed the taste of the water? Is this water from a well, bottled water, municipal water, filtered water? Is the bowl or bottle dirty or new; either condition can cause the water to taste different. Has the quality of water changed for any reason? Do you drink the same water? Does it seem different to you?
If all of the answers to the husbandry questions are negative, then it is possible that severe dental disease is making it painful for your rabbit to move his or her tongue when trying to drink, especially from a water bottle. During the visit to the veterinarian, a proper oral examination can be performed to be certain that no lesions are present in the soft tissue of the mouth or tongue and that there are no points from the cheek teeth interfering with movement of the tongue.
I suggest that you have this condition checked as soon as possible. Like all animals, rabbits can survive for days without food but the need for water is great; a rabbit can become very seriously ill after only a few days of not drinking water.
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