In addition to hay, rabbits should have a supply of fresh water within their reach at all times. Even rabbits that get most of their fluids through fresh vegetables and don’t drink a whole lot (like ours) need to always have access to water. Keeping a rabbit well hydrated helps maintain their overall health.
Water Bowl or Water Bottle?
In the wild, rabbits will drink from water sources on the ground, so a water bowl is the most natural way of offering water to a bunny. Studies have shown that a rabbit with access to both a water bowl and a water bottle will prefer the bowl. It’s much easier to drink out of, because the water doesn’t come out one drop at a time. Also, a bottle forces the rabbit to tilt the head up in an unnatural position, making it highly uncomfortable. Even though nothing can fall into a bottle and soil the water, it is much more difficult to clean, so bacteria and algae will often develop and soil any fresh water that gets added immediately.
Some rabbits love to throw their bowls around or manage to quickly fill it with bedding, hay, or other material. In those cases, try placing the bowl on a slightly elevated surface away from bedding and hay. Choosing a heavy water bowl filled with water should prevent the rabbit from throwing it around. Or you could also get a bowl that can be attached to a cage wall. The really good ones come with a special holder, so you don’t have to unscrew the whole thing when you need to clean and refill the bowl.
Many people like to offer water in a bowl and have a bottle nearby as a backup option. If you choose to have a bottle only, it’s a good idea to offer two just in case one gets knocked down. Bunny loved the “Bunny Bowl” from our shop when he was alone, because it’s really low and shallow and he can easily drink out of it. For two bunnies it doesn’t really hold enough water, though, so we use a larger ceramic bowl instead.
Rabbits are very sensitive to sudden changes in temperature, so it’s best to offer water at room temperature.
What kind of water is best?
Most people offer their rabbits tap water. It is fresh, contains important minerals, and is generally safe to drink if you live in the US. If you suspect or fear bacteria or excessive amounts of chlorine, nitrate, or lead in the water (either due to the region you live in, a recent warning, or old pipes that may leak), filtering it before offering it to your bun can help reduce any risks. Water that has been sitting in the pipes for a while is also more likely to be contaminated, so letting it run for a minute or two before filling the bowl is a good idea. Also, using water from the “cold” tap is better, because there is a greater probability that hot water contains pollutants from the hot water tank.
If you live in a region with “hard” water full of calcium and have a rabbit that has kidney or bladder issues, you might want to filter the water or switch to bottled water instead. Volvic, Pure Life, or Deer Park are generally low on calcium and nitrates and are widely available brands.
If you are worried for yourself or your bunnies, testing the water is easy. Your water supplier might do it for you free of charge. Just give them a call! If not, there are testing kits available online as well as service providers such as watercheck.com. According to the EPA, you should receive an annual report about your water in the mail. You might also be able to read about it online.
Some pet stores offer special water or nutrients that can be added to water. These are not recommended, because they are unnatural and contain way too many (synthetic) vitamins and minerals to be considered healthy. Unless your vet recommends one due to health issues, these should be avoided.
Rain water collected outside, either consumed from a puddle or brought inside in a bowl is not a good idea. This water contains dirt and harmful substances that have not been filtered. Well water is slightly better, because it mostly contains ground water filtered by layers of rocks and soil. However, it is difficult to control and keep harmful substances out for sure.