Can Rabbits Swim?


Using keen instincts, heightened senses and impressive physical attributes, the lagomorph species that our house rabbits belong to would have a very good argument for being one of the most successful animals on planet earth (despite the fact that they are prey for many predators). Populating the farthest corners, rabbits are land mammals that have adapted to many environments, regardless of whether it is covered with thick snow or dense forest. However, despite its physicality and ability to adapt, there is one place where a rabbit may not be as comfortable – the water.  In this short post we’re going to look at why we rarely see a rabbit in water and ask- can rabbits swim?

So can rabbits swim? Yes, rabbits can swim however most rabbits are uncomfortable in water and will usually only swim if they feel that their life is under threat, not because they enjoy it. Putting a rabbit in water puts its delicate body under extreme stress and increases the risk of shock or even a heart attack. You should never purposely put your rabbit in water unless it is suffering from a medical condition which means you cannot avoid it.


Do Rabbits Like Water?

Rabbits don’t seem particularly fearful of rain or other inclement weather conditions so fear of getting the paws wet does not seem to be an issue. However, when it comes to a body of water, even just a couple of inches in a bath tub can be enough to strike fear into them (let alone several feet of depth in swimming pools). This is most likely due to the fear of drowning. That said, every rabbit is an individual so there’s no telling for sure whether or not a particular bunny will enjoy being put in water, we’re just saying that that in general rabbits seem deeply fearful of it


Can Rabbits Go in Water?

One species of rabbit, the swamp rabbit, found in the southern United States do swim, however this is mostly through necessity and the avoidance of predators, not for recreation. Despite videos that have recently emerged of domestic rabbits swimming or being submerged in swimming pools, pets should not be put into water against their will. This is an extremely cruel practice and unnecessarily puts the bunnies health at risk.


Why Do Rabbits Avoid Water?

Rabbits have an ingrained survival instinct and being in water is largely unknown to them. Unlike us they are never taught to swim and though the ability to swim is hardwired into their brains from a very early age most will never need to use it.

Rabbits spend 99.99% of their lives with their feet firmly on the ground (the other 0.01 % is binkying through the air!) it’s here that they feel most comfortable because this is where they can use all of their advantages to the full. The anxiety caused when putting a rabbit in water scrambles the rabbits senses and instincts and puts them at a disadvantage during a chase.

In colder climates where a rabbit relies on retaining body heat, getting its coat wet can also lead to hypothermia and possible death if the temperature suddenly takes a drop while the fur is wet. In short, a rabbit knows that its best chance of survival is to stay on dry land.


What Does it Look Like When a Rabbit Swims?

Rabbits will use both their front and hind legs to swim in a style similar to a doggy paddle.


How Can I Try My Rabbit in Water?

Never put your bunny into a body of water any deeper than a couple of inches against its will and definitely not a swimming pool. If you really want to see how your bunny reacts to water any deeper than a puddle you could try an experiment using a shallow tray (litter trays are ideal). Fill the tray with just a couple of inches of water, making sure the water is tepid (never freezing!).

Ensure the sides of the tray are low enough that the rabbit can hop in or out (of its own accord) and leave the tray wherever your rabbit usually plays. A warm summer day is recommended for this as the rabbit is more likely to hop in if it is feeling warm. In truth, you’re more likely to see the rabbit drink the water rather than bathe in it but you never know with bunnies!


Health Issues For Swimming Rabbits

Although they can swim rabbits are not really equipped for spending time in the water. Aside from being fearful of swimming, there are also a number of other reasons to think twice before introducing your rabbit to water.

Skin

Rabbit skin is very sensitive so introducing your rabbit to a pool is reckless. Pools contain chlorine which may irritate or burn a rabbits skin. Dirty pools, on the other hand, contain a plethora of harmful microscopic bacteria and other parasites that may make a rabbit very ill.

A rabbits tissue like skin is also very delicate and may tear if it is irritated or sore from prolonged water or chemical exposure. This puts the bunny at an increased risk of a bacterial infection or parasite.

Digestive System

Rabbits have no gag reflex so they cannot be sick. This is a problem if a rabbit ingests water while swimming. Ingesting water laden with chemicals or bacteria is very bad for a rabbits delicate digestive system and the flora that reside in the gut. Upsetting this balance can lead to digestive problems like gastrointestinal stasis.

Temperature Extremes

Rabbits can adapt to hot and cold climates given enough time however this doesn’t include the relative shock of falling into or being purposely submerged in deep water. Depending on its temperature there is a serious risk of a rabbit going into immediate shock or even suffering a heart attack. If the rabbit is lucky enough not to drown and does manage to survive the water but can’t dry off its thick fur and skin quickly a rabbit may also develop hypothermia.


What Do I Do If My Rabbit Falls Into Water?

Now you know that you shouldn’t purposely give your rabbit a dip but what do you do if your rabbit accidentally falls into some water?

Well firstly don’t panic, if you’ve managed to get your rabbit out of the water safely and it has suffered no ill effects concentrate on keeping the rabbit warm and dry . After towel drying, you can use a hairdryer (or is that a ‘hare’ dryer??) at a low setting. Brush the rabbit thoroughly as you dry, to remove any dirt or detritus from the fur.

However If your rabbit does seem to be in distress following a dip and you think it may have suffered some ill effects such as water ingestion, wrap it immediately in a towel and take it to an emergency vet. for a check-up.


Conclusion

Rabbits are very vulnerable animals who rely on us to keep them safe. Submerging a rabbit into water and watching it swim may look adorable however most rabbits in this position will be experiencing a significant amount of stress. In short its really not worth putting your pets life at risk. If you really think that putting a pet rabbit in water against its will is something you would like to try our recommendation is…………… a goldfish!

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Darren

Darren is the founder and editor at Bunny Advice and has been caring for rabbits for over a decade. He has a passion for helping animals and sharing his experience and knowledge with others.

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