Keeping you rabbits hydrated is extremely important. Summer will soon be here and allowing your rabbits to have access to fresh water will help them to survive the summer heat. On average, our New Zealand or American Blue meat rabbits will drink about 600 to 900ml (20 to 30 ounces) of water a day per rabbit. Depending on the time of the year it may vary somewhat with increased water needs most often noted in the heat of the summer months. If you feed your rabbits fresh greens or allow them to graze on fresh grass they may get some of their water requirements from this source, however rabbits fed pellets and dry hay will need to have an ample supply of fresh water in order to keep them fully hydrated. This is especially true if you live in a more southern climate like we have here in Texas. So it is imperative that you make sure your rabbits have access to fresh, clean pure water to drink throughout the day.
In addition, does who are pregnant or are lactating will consume quite a bit more water throughout the day. Once kits begin to reach the weaning age and you have 6 to 10 or more in a cage with momma the water uptake for that cage will increase significantly and they should not be allowed to run out. Kits have a more fragile digestive system and they should have ample access to fresh and clean water to maintain their health during this early growth stage.
As I mentioned, just having access to water is not enough, your rabbits need to have access to clean pure water to drink throughout the day. In order to make sure we are providing the best possible water source for our rabbits, we remove and wash our bottles and bowls at a minimum once a week (every Saturday) to make sure that their water source stays clean and bacteria free to help prevent enteritis and other complications of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Few things can kill a rabbit faster than enteritis (which can be caused by a either a bacteria or virus). Making sure your rabbits have access to fresh clean water may help reduce the chances that they will suffer some GI distress, but eventually all rabbitry's will have a few rabbits that get sick with GI symptoms. The key is to try and minimize the risks.
I will be discussing the use of three watering options for your herd in this article 1) water bowls and crocks, 2) water bottles gravity fed vs spring loaded, and 3) automatic watering systems. Of these three options if you are just starting out most of you will be using either water bowls or bottles. The use of automatic watering systems is slightly more complicated to setup and maintain but does claim to have some advantages that make it an intriguing option, but not necessarily the best option for a small rabbitry.
Watering Crocks and Bowls
Probably the most common form of supplying your rabbit with water is via the use of crocks and or water bowls. These options are my least favorite, although with some ingenuity it can be the cheapest option. About half of our rabbits here at the TAP Rabbitry are bowl drinkers. Simply because when we purchased this livestock from other rabbitry's they used bowls to water their herd. I have had some success in transitioning bowl drinkers to bottles, but some adult rabbits just will not learn to use the bottle. For our rabbits that have to have bowls, we prefer to purchase the two piece 20 ounce bowls that twist and unlock for easy bowl removal (Lixit Quick Lock Crock) so that they can be placed in our dishwasher each week to be cleaned. They tend to cost about $10.00 and can be found on Amazon or at most pet stores. We do however have an assortment of bowls that we have acquired over time and still use, but as I mentioned we prefer the Lixit bowls.
If you are starting out on a budget, the cheapest bowl option is to buy large coffee cups or bowls at the dollar store and zip tie them to the cage corner to keep the rabbits from knocking them over. I know a few breeders who choose this option and it seems to work well for them, the down side to this option is that it makes cleaning the bowls or cups more difficult, and you have to replace the zip ties each time you want to clean the bowls or cups. In the long run, I think buying removable bowls is cheaper, but it requires a larger layout of cash upfront.
Bowls and crocks however are the least sanitary water option. Because your rabbit urinates and defecates on the cage floor in which they walk, they can easily transfer any bacteria from the cage floor to their water bowl when they put their feet in their water bowl. They are after all animals, and they do not care where they place their feet and they will stand in their water bowl I guarantee it. Your rabbits will then drink from these bowls which increases the chance that they will ingest some bacteria which can cause your rabbit to have a bout of diarrhea with deadly results. I am not saying that if you use bowls or crocks that your herd is more susceptible to getting sick than if you use bottles, what I am saying is that if you use bowl or crocks, you need to be vigilant about cleaning them as they get dirty relatively easy putting your herd more at risk for disease and GI distress. I have found that because our rabbits do put their feet in their water bowls so often, that a mucousy slime will quickly grow and we need to empty and wipe out the bowls every couple of days in addition to washing them once a week.
Water Bottles (Ball Bearing Gravity Fed VS Spring Loaded Nipples)
If we had our choice, all of our rabbits would be on the bottle or an automatic watering system. The two big advantages to using water bottles over crocks or bowls is that 1) they hold more water (32 ounces), and 2) your rabbit cannot place their feet in the water making it more sanitary. This means that you have to go out and water your herd less often throughout the day, and they will have a sufficient amount of water overnight when they are most active. In addition, because your rabbits cannot stand or place their feet in the water bottle, you have drastically reduced the chance that they will suffer from bacterial illness of the gastrointestinal system due to dirty water.
There are a couple of different options when buying water bottles for your herd. There are the gravity feed bottles which have one or two small ball bearings in the spout, and then there are the bottles that come with the spring loaded tips in the spout. The gravity feed bottles are quite a bit cheaper (about half the price) than the spring loaded tip bottles, but they are quite inferior in function. The gravity fed bottles leak easily, and any time your rabbit bounces around the cage water will leak from the spout. Our first two water bottles were of this type, and I watched 32 ounces of water slowly leak from this bottle as our rabbits moved around in the cage. To refill the entire bottle you have to remove it from the cage wall and them fill the bottle and then place it back in it's holder which is somewhat flimsy. In addition, these types of bottles are difficult to clean even with a bottle brush, there are some areas in which you just cannot reach. Needless to say, we only purchased this kind of bottle once, and we immediately returned all three.
Fortunately for us, on a visit to our local Tractor Supply we discovered some 32 ounce spring loaded tipped, top fill water bottles from Lixit. We purchased one for a trial run and have been using them ever since for our rabbitry. This type of bottle costs about twice the amount of the cheap gravity feed bottles ($7.99 from our local Tractor Supply) but they are definitely worth the additional cost. The best part is the bottles are even cheaper than the 20 ounce Lixit crocks (when you add shipping), and they hold any additional 12 ounces of water making this a “win, win” situation for us. If you are just starting out and you want to use bottles to water your herd, do not waste your money on gravity fed bottles, you will be disappointed.
Automatic Watering Systems
Used by commercial rabbitry's, an automatic watering system has a large reservoir that holds the water for all of your cages. This water is then funneled down to each individual cage by small flexible tubing that has a spring loaded nipple on the end to allow the rabbits to drink from it. This is the same type of spring loaded nipple that is used in the Lixit bottles we use here at TAP rabbitry. I do not have any experience with automatic watering systems and while they are convenient and can save time when it comes to watering, I am not sure how easy they are to clean and maintain for the small home rabbitry. The use of black tubing helps to keep the growth of algae down (algae likes light), but then you cannot physically see if the inside of the tubing is dirty or has slime growing in it.
My major concern with this type of system for the small scale rabbitry is that if the water some how gets contaminated with bacteria you could lose your whole rabbitry overnight due to enteritis or other GI related diseases. In addition, if one of your rabbits gets aggressive and pulls off one of the nipples or chews through the tubing, your system will empty itself and none of your rabbits will have water until the problem is discovered. While this could be a minor inconvenience, if you were gone for a day or two, you could come home to a severly dehydrated or dead herd. Many people use a form of automatic watering systems on a small scale, and one may be in our future. You can find many examples on YouTube, however, if you have less than 20 cages or are just starting out the spring loaded bottles in my option are the best option.
Water Additives: Are They Really Necessary?
Contrary to what some people will tell you, rabbits do not need water with added vitamins they should get all their vitamins and minerals from their feed. Adding additional vitamins to your rabbits water may sound like a good idea, however, these vitamins when added to water may encourage them to drink excess amounts of water increasing their vitamin uptake, and as we mentioned in our article on 'Proper Rabbit Nutrition', excess vitamins can effect your rabbits health.
The one thing we do add to our water is one tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar (with the Mother) to each gallon of water we give to our rabbits. It is said to have many immune boosting properties and other beneficial side effects when given to your rabbits. We started using this when we first started raising rabbits, I cannot scientifically verify all the beneficial claims (increased number of kits per litter, increased breeding success, and many others), but we continue to use it on a daily basis for it's positive immune properties. There are some interesting articles on using Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) with the mother on Rise and Shine's Rabbitry page 'Apple Cider Vinegar For Rabbits' and on Mad Hatter's Rabbitry page 'Using Apple Cider Vinegar With Rabbits. Check them out for more specific information regarding using ACV in your rabbits water.
A continuous supply of clean, fresh water is essential to the health of your herd. There are many watering options from the simple bowl or water crock, to spring fed bottles, to automatic watering systems. For us here at the TAP rabbitry we prefer the spring loaded bottles because of their larger water capacity (32oz) and their ease of cleaning and maintenance, and the fact that our rabbits cannot stick their feet in them. There is nothing wrong with using bowls for watering, they have been used for hundreds of years and we even have a few 'hold outs' that just will not learn to drink from the bottle.
While we do not think that our rabbitry is large enough to consider an automatic watering system at this time, such a system may be an option for us one day. Before that happens though, I will have to do more research into the care and maintenance of such a system. For now, we will continue using the spring loaded water bottles and crocks for those rabbits that will just not learn to drink from a bottle.
When it comes to proper rabbit nutrition, you may have some success in your rabbitry buy using a less desirable pellet feed, however if your rabbits water source is inferior and or contaminated both your rabbits health and your rabbitry will suffer greatly. Water is the true elixir of life, and making sure your livestock has access to such should be one of top priority's in your rabbitry. As always we ask that if you find this information interesting that you please share it with your friends on Facebook and Google+. You can also subscribe to out blog so that you do not miss any of our new articles or our notices regarding new rabbits that we have for sale.
Mad Hatter Rabbitry: Using Apple Cider Vinegar With Rabbits.
Rise and Shine Rabbitry: Apple Cider Vinegar For Rabbits.