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Reviewed by rabbit expert Lucile Moore, PhD.
One of the most controversial topics in the world of pet rabbit care, funny enough, centers on whether its better for rabbits to drink from water bowls or bottles. You can undoubtedly find some very contentious forums online where heated debates regarding which is a better method occur, much like the heated argument between these two rabbits!
One important decision you'll have to make as a rabbit owner is whether to use a water bowl or a water bottle to provide your rabbit with access to drinking water. So which option is best for your rabbit? Is there an absolute "right" option? In this post, we'll explore the pros and cons of using water bowls and water bottles, and offer some tips for making the right choice for your individual pet.
Just like us, rabbits rely on hydration for their overall health and proper bodily functions. Water serves as a fundamental building block for digestion, temperature regulation, and the transport of essential nutrients within their systems. Unlike some animals, rabbits do not have the ability to conserve water efficiently, making regular access to water an absolute necessity. Ensuring that your rabbit has a constant supply of clean and fresh water helps maintain their well-being, encourages proper eating habits, and keeps them on the path to a vibrant and active life.
Rabbits may be small in size, but their water needs are significant. On average, a healthy adult rabbit typically drinks about 50 to 150 milliliters (0.7-5.0 oz) of water per kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of body weight per day. This is about twice the amount usually calculated for an equally sized dog or cat. This means that a medium-sized rabbit weighing around 2.5 kgs (5.5 lbs.) may consume approximately 125 to 375 mL (4.2-12.6 oz) of water daily. However, it's important to note that individual water intake can vary based on factors such as diet, activity level, weather conditions, and overall health.
Wild rabbits in Australia drinking at a water hole
According to Lucile Moore in her book "Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing":
Rabbits given a dry diet or one high in fiber or protein may increase their consumption of water, about 200ml/day or more. Rabbits not getting enough food will also drink more. High ambient temperatures cause a large increase in water consumption (around 450ml/kg at 86 degrees F), and lactating does may require up to 10 times their normal amount of water. Some diseases (e.g. kidney failure) may also cause increased water consumption in rabbits. Interestingly, in a study on New Zealand White rabbits, boredom was a cause of increased water consumption.
Rabbits eating lots of fresh green vegetables may drink little water or none at all, depending upon fiber and protein content of the diet. In one study it was found that fresh food consumption enhanced the total water intake and urine output. Rabbits that do not have enough water available will reduce their food consumption in order to keep the food/water consumption ratio near normal.
Water bowls are a classic option for providing drinking water to rabbits, and they have a number of advantages.
To minimize these risks, it's important to choose a sturdy water bowl that can't be easily tipped over, like a heavy-bottomed ceramic bowl. You may also want to consider placing the bowl in a holder or tray, like these adorable modern bamboo stands, to catch any spills or debris. There are bowls that can be securely attached to a cage or x-pen which allows for easy removal of the bowl when it's time to change the water. Finally, make sure to clean and refill the water bowl daily to prevent bacteria from growing and ensure that your rabbit always has access to fresh, clean water.
If you opt for a water bowl, you might consider personalizing it with your rabbit's name or picture with one of our personalized decals!
Water bottles are another option for providing drinking water to rabbits, and they have some distinct advantages and disadvantages.
To minimize these risks, it's important to choose a high-quality water bottle that's designed specifically for rabbits. Look for bottles that are easy to clean and refill, and make sure to test them out before using them with your rabbit to ensure that they're working properly. Personally, I prefer glass bottles over plastic to avoid toxins.
It's also a good idea to monitor your rabbit's water intake closely when using a water bottle, as some rabbits may not drink as much water from a bottle as they would from a bowl.
Before we decide...let's discuss a few more factors to take into consideration.
Some researchers have found that rabbits drink more from open bowls than from nipple (bottle) waterers, although in a 2011 study by Tschudin et al the type of waterer did not affect intake, but the fecal dry matter content was higher in rabbits drinking from nipple waterers...meaning the rabbits' poos were dryer when drinking from a bottle which isn't ideal; you want a gut that has adequate water content to efficiently move food through it.
A water bottle is often less frequently cleaned, as it's typically attached to a cage or x-pen and can be cumbersome to remove. Moreover, these bottles typically have a larger water capacity, which may lead pet owners to believe that daily water replenishment is unnecessary. This means, water in a bottle can oftentimes sit stagnant for a long period of time.
In the natural world, flowing water boasts several advantages over stagnant water sources. It tends to be cleaner, harboring fewer bacteria. The constant movement of water disrupts surface tension, facilitating the absorption of oxygen from the air, a process known as aeration. This not only enhances the taste of the water but also makes it more enticing to drink. Additionally, flowing water has a natural filtration effect. These factors may explain why pets are instinctively drawn to running water, as it combines freshness, improved taste, and enhanced cleanliness.
This makes bowls a superior choice since they are more likely to be cleaned more regularly, preventing water from stagnating for extended periods. The natural aeration of the water when refreshing the bowl not only enhances its freshness but also makes it more appealing to rabbits, leading to increased fluid consumption. Water fountains are becoming more popular in the rabbit community and may be a good option to try! For a non-plastic ceramic version, try this one.
So here's the deal: there isn't a right or wrong answer. I personally prefer bowls because my rabbits drink more and seem healthier. And because the most recent studies show that drinking from a bowl is ultimately the most ideal solution. But if you're using a water bottle, don't let the internet guilt you into believing that you are depriving your rabbit or are a terrible bunny parent. However, consider that offering a water bowl might be a good option to test out and it might increase their fluid intake, leading to a healthier, happier bunny.
When it comes to choosing the right water dispenser for your rabbit, there are a few key factors to consider. Here are some tips to help you make the right choice:
Consider your rabbit's age and mobility: Younger or older rabbits may have difficulty using a water bottle, so a bowl may be a better option for them. Additionally, rabbits with mobility issues may also struggle with a bottle and prefer a bowl.
Think about your rabbit's personality and behavior: Some rabbits are more active and may be more likely to knock over a bowl, while others may be more hesitant to try a new water dispenser. Consider your rabbit's individual personality and behavior when choosing a water dispenser.
Some bunnies love tossing their toys into their bowl which can be cute but also frustrating to constantly clean up!
Look for a high-quality dispenser: Whether you choose a bowl or a bottle, make sure to select a high-quality dispenser that's designed specifically for rabbits. Look for durable materials (i.e. a heavy-bottomed ceramic bowl or glass bottle) and easy-to-clean designs to ensure that your rabbit always has access to fresh, clean water.
Provide both options: If you're not sure which type of water dispenser your rabbit will prefer, or if your pet is currently on a bottle and you want to potentially switch to a bowl, consider providing both a bowl and a bottle. This will give your rabbit a choice and ensure that they have access to water at all times. Usually, when provided with both options you will notice that your pet will eventually start using the bowl more and you can then remove the bottle.
Clean and refill regularly: No matter which type of water dispenser you choose, it's important to clean and refill it regularly to prevent bacteria from growing and ensure that your rabbit always has access to clean, fresh water. Aim to clean and refill the dispenser daily or as often as needed based on your rabbit's usage. I personally find that a bowl is much easier to clean than a bottle!
Whether you choose a water bowl or a water bottle for your rabbit, the most important thing is to ensure that your rabbit always has access to clean, fresh water. Both options have their pros and cons, so it's important to consider your rabbit's individual needs and preferences when making your choice.