Do rabbits like water? It’s a fair question, particularly when you consider water beyond just its role in hydration. Getting wet from rain, getting in water, swimming; these are just some examples. But how do rabbits generally respond to these kinds of things? Both emotionally and physically? Let’s find out!
So, do rabbits like water? Rabbits don’t generally like water other than to drink. All lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) can handle a small amount of rain or even swim out of necessity, but their fur is not designed to get wet. A wet bunny can be susceptible to a range of issues, including hyperthermia, stress, and other health problems.
For the same reason, you should not bathe your rabbit unless absolutely necessary.
If you do need to, ensure you do not cause too much stress as this can lead to shock, which is fatal for rabbits.
Rabbits have evolved to be able to swim when they need to, but they don’t particularly enjoy being in water at all!
It’s more of a method for survival than anything else.
As with everything, though, there are always exceptions to the rule, so there are a small minority of rabbits that actually quite like water.
Then there are others that are impartial.
But for the most part, rabbits and water do not generally go together.
So unless you are certain this is the case, it is best to keep your bunny on dry ground where it will be the most comfortable.
Do Rabbits Like Rain?
Rabbits are not particularly fond of rain. They will actively seek shelter if given the opportunity to do so. While rabbits have some adaptations to help protect them from the rain, such as some water-repelling qualities in the coat, these can only work for so long, and shelter is always preferred.
Wild rabbits have evolved to thrive in cold outdoor conditions and have a number of behavioral adaptations to keep them from getting too wet.
And while keeping a pet rabbit is very different in many ways; biologically, we have to consider that is a tremendous amount of overlap. Even if the species are different.
A rabbit’s fur is very dense, which keeps it warm in cold environments, but if it gets too wet, the bunny cannot retain body heat as effectively.
Think about you wearing a thick wool coat in winter; if the coat gets soaked through, then the cold seeps into your skin, and the coat is no longer able to keep you warm – it’s the same for rabbits.
If a rabbit gets too cold, it can easily go into shock, which is extremely dangerous.
Even if they are dried off, wet fur can be a pain to groom as matts can form.
You may even end up needing to cut sections of your rabbits’ fur out in some cases!
In the wild, rabbits live outdoors all year round, and they don’t hibernate.
However, they do build complex burrows, which they use as shelter from, particularly bad weather, including rain.
They also actively fill their nests with grass and straw, which act as incredibly effective insulators to help maintain body temperature.
A rabbit’s fur has some limited water-repelling properties, which are built into the structure of each hair follicle.
This does give them some protection.
Human hair is made up of a cuticle, cortex, and the medulla, which is the central column of the hair cells.
The medulla in humans is shapeless; however, in rabbits, this area is full of air-filled cells, which help keep the rabbit warm and its skin dry.
These adaptations work to a certain extent but are by no means perfect, so rabbits will hide under logs or in burrows to further protect themselves from getting too wet.
If you have a rabbit that is healthy, which has access to a draught-free and dry shelter, then it should be fine to have outdoor access during light rain or drizzle.
You need to be more careful if your rabbit has health problems, such as arthritis, or is a juvenile or in its’ later years.
In these cases, the safest option is to keep them indoors when it is raining, and if they do get wet, you need to thoroughly dry them off with a towel.
It is important to remember that a rabbit’s comfortable temperature range is lower than ours due to their thick fur.
Somewhere between 10 and 22 degrees, Celsius is where rabbits thrive, but they can still suffer from pneumonia if left outside for an extended period of time, especially if they get wet.
Over 25 degrees Celsius is generally regarded as dangerous for rabbits, so they must be provided with shelter and cooler shady areas.
Do Rabbits Like To Get In Water?
Rabbits need water to drink, but they don’t like to play in it or be submerged. This isn’t the case for all rabbits but will relate to the majority. Either way, it is important to never force your rabbit into water.
If you wish to provide water for your rabbit, then you should allow your pet to approach it in its own time.
Many rabbits won’t even bother with a tray of water, and their choice should be accepted.
A rabbit’s skin is fairly delicate and, if it gets too wet, it is vulnerable to tearing, which can lead to infection.
If your bunny has stayed out in the rain too long and gets wet, then you must dry them gently with a towel.
Also, be careful about taking them from a very cold environment to a warm one as they are sensitive to drastic temperature changes.
As mentioned above, there should be no need to bathe your rabbit as they are more than capable of keeping themselves clean.
Elderly rabbits or ones with certain health conditions are perhaps the only exceptions, as sometimes they can get feces stuck around their genital area.
In these cases, you will only need to gently bathe the affected area – never submerge your rabbits’ full body into water.
The marsh or swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus) is the only known wild species that lives in a watery habitat.
These unique rabbits, found in the swamps and wetland areas of South America, are the largest species in the cottontail genus and have unique, coarse fur that gives them a more effective waterproof coating than other rabbits.
This adaptation, alongside their increased musculature, makes these rabbits strong swimmers.
When threatened by a predator, they will jump into the water and swim to safety or hide under roots and overhangs to escape.
However, these rabbits are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to water and has not been domesticated.
Therefore, it is safer to assume that rabbits dislike water and should not have access to any pools or water trays, as being submerged in water can cause stress.
Symptoms of stress to look out for are large unblinking eyes, trembling, and stiffened muscles.
So how do you cool your rabbit down in hot weather if they cannot have access to a paddling pool to splash in?
There are actually a number of ways you can do this, which include providing cold water in a water bottle for them to drink, ensuring they have plenty of shady areas, and allowing them in an air-conditioned room to soak up the cool air.
You can also freeze vegetables like kale, broccoli, and carrots into ice trays and then watch your bunny enjoy their frozen treat!
Be careful not to offer too many carrots, though, as contrary to popular belief; they are not particularly healthy for rabbits in large quantities because they contain a high amount of sugar.
Can Rabbits Swim?
There is only one rabbit species that have evolved to swim with some effectiveness (the marsh or swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus). For most other rabbits, swimming is only an option if they need to escape imminent danger. They don’t particularly enjoy it nor will generally look to do so!
In fact, placing your rabbit in water is also extremely dangerous as it can lead to extreme shock.
Hydrotherapy is perhaps the only form of swimming that can provide any benefit to a bunny but should only be performed by an appropriate specialist.
In 2013, a four-year-old giant continental rabbit named Heidi made headlines in the UK when her owner took her to a local hydrotherapy center after a vet suggested it would help her arthritis.
The bunny appeared to take pretty well to the whole experience, with the aid of a life jacket, and it did improve her arthritis.
Today, there are a few therapy centers that offer hydrotherapy treatments to rabbits, but it should only be considered after speaking to a vet.
It is important to note that during hydrotherapy, bunnies are introduced into water in a controlled environment and are under constant supervision by professionals.
This should never be performed outside of this type of environment due to the inherent dangers and welfare concerns associated with rabbits and water.
First and foremost, rabbits are ground-dwelling animals that love digging, and this is what they have evolved to be good at!
So do be sure to check that their enclosure is escape-proof.
You should also cordon off any bodies of water, such as pools.
If your bunny does accidentally fall into water, it must be taken out immediately, dried off, and warmed up.
Do bear in mind that rabbits have relatively small lungs, so swallowing a substantial amount of water can be dangerous.
Even if your bunny seems ok, secondary drowning is still a risk, so it is always best to seek the advice of a vet if you are concerned.
Can Rabbits Die If They Get Wet?
Rabbits that cannot escape cold and wet conditions may suffer from chronic stress, which can cause them to become immuno-suppressant. With a compromised immune system, rabbits are more susceptible to respiratory conditions like pneumonia or even infections like Pasteurella’s (also known as snuffles). This can cause death.
So, it is important to ensure that any outdoor shelters are well insulated and waterproof.
It is also good practice to regularly inspect your rabbit’s enclosures and shelters for any holes or weak spots and repair them immediately.
An additional layer of insulation can be provided by adding a suitable substrate such as hay or newspaper to the bottom of your rabbit’s shelter or hutch.
Thunderstorms add yet another level of danger for rabbits because they are highly sensitive to loud noises.
Frightening situations such as these can stimulate a rabbit’s adrenal glands to release epinephrine which increases blood pressure and heart rate, and as rabbits can literally scare themselves to death, it is very important to comfort them.
You can do this by simply being around them. Even if they choose to hide away, your presence will still be felt and appreciated.
You can also try to reduce the noise level as much as possible by closing all windows and playing soft music.
According to the journal Pathophysiology, the stress caused by heavy rain or thunderstorms has the potential to cause heart failure in rabbits.
It can also cause fright paralysis, which is a temporary reaction when a rabbit freezes to the point where it appears to be dead.
Research into anxiety and depression shows that this behavior is often used by prey animals to avoid being hunted by predators.
This research clearly shows the extent of fear that can be associated with water, so it essential that you always make sure your rabbit has the option to stay warm and dry whenever it needs.
Rabbits are not particularly fond of water for the most part. Instead, it’s something that they typically learn to accept and do their best despite of.
They know they need to drink it, but that’s as far as their relationship with water really goes.
Can they cope in rain? Sort of.
They certainly do have adaptations to help them to do so.
But these are only to protect them momentarily.
Finding shelter is generally the priority and will always be actively sought if given the chance.
If shelter cannot be found and rain is particularly heavy – this is when things can start to become dangerous.
Equally, a rabbit submerged in water can cause a lot of stress.
Especially if the water is particularly deep, conditions are cold or they are not used to this kind of water exposure.
Taking these considerations in mind, if you have a pet rabbit, you need to be especially careful with your rabbit in and around any bodies of water.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.