Yes, rabbits can swim – it’s a built-in survival technique they can use to escape danger. However, rabbits don’t enjoy being submerged in water and it can cause them extreme stress. In the worst cases, the rabbit could even go into shock and die.
Whether it’s a bath, swimming pool, pond, or the sea, it isn’t a good idea to let your rabbit swim there. The rule of thumb here is to keep them dry wherever possible.
Read on to find out the problems a rabbit would face after a swim, how to dry a rabbit’s fur, and more.
Rabbits are delicate creatures and being exposed to extreme situations can have consequences on their mind and body.
Here are five consequences if your rabbit goes swimming.
A rabbit suddenly submerged in water will almost definitely panic, and in this panicked state they could drown. Rabbits will be anxious because their movement is limited and they can’t jump.
Pool water contains chemicals that are harmful to your rabbit.
In a pool, they’ll be swimming in chlorine – which can irritate their skin or make them sick if it goes in their ears, nose, or mouth. Chlorine can also cause asthma or sinusitis in rabbits.
Natural water sources are also problematic – they can contain parasites, bacteria, and other hazards that can infect your rabbit and make them sick.
Because of their long ears, rabbits are prone to developing ear infections.
This is made worse if water gets into their ear canal. Increased humidity in their ear canal is likely to lead to bacterial infections or otitis.
Stress can directly affect a rabbit’s digestion – sometimes causing lost appetite and unusual behavior.
This can lead to gastrointestinal stasis (a fatal condition where their gut movement slows down and stops). The shock could also cause a heart attack.
Rabbits have thick fur covering their delicate skin. Once they get wet, it’ll take a long time for their fur to properly dry out.
Having wet fur can cause a bunch of issues:
- Skin tearing: Excess moisture on their fragile skin can cause it to tear. This would be painful for rabbits and can become a hot spot for bacterial infections.
- Hypothermia: If a rabbit has wet fur for too long, it can cause their body temperature to drop. If they develop hypothermia they can then go into shock, and they might not recover from it.
- Extra weight: Rabbits will be weighed down by their water-logged fur. That’ll make it more difficult to swim and they’ll get exhausted far quicker.
- Respiratory conditions: Through inhaling water and a lower body temperature rabbits can develop pneumonia.
- Skin problems: As well as tearing, a rabbit’s skin can face problems like balding, red, crusted, or infected. This can be uncomfortable for the rabbit and hard to fix.
If your rabbit has been in the water and you’re worried about their health or wellbeing, you should err on the side of caution and take them to a vet.
There are a few other problems your rabbit will face when they’re swimming, that aren’t necessarily a direct consequence.
Your rabbit might have to deal with:
- Other animals: Fish, crabs, jellyfish, snakes, crocodiles, and other predators live in the water and might take offense to a rabbit intruding. Rabbits will struggle to defend themselves while swimming.
- Getting stuck: A rabbit might struggle to climb out of a pool, river, or body of water unless there’s a clear ramp or embankment. If there are tides and currents too, finding somewhere to get back onto land will be even more difficult.
- Death: If your rabbit goes in the water, they’ll face a desperate struggle to try to survive. If you aren’t around to rescue them and they get tired or drift too far out, they could drown. As well as heart attacks and shock, rabbits are also in danger from predators in the water. The odds are stacked against them, so you should try to keep your rabbit as far away from water as you can.
If your rabbit has gotten wet, the most important thing you can do to help them is properly dry them.
Follow these steps to dry your rabbit:
- If they’ve been in a pool, the sea, or a natural water source, you’ll need to rinse them with clean water to get rid of any chemicals or contamination.
- Put a towel down for them to stand on and gently rub them.
- You can use a hairdryer on low power and low heat to dry their fur. Let them slowly get used to the hairdryer so they aren’t scared by the noise or feeling.
- While drying, you could gently brush their fur too.
- Make sure that all of their fur is dry – not just the outside but also the part close to their skin that’s underneath.
- It’s a good idea to keep your rabbit inside in the warmth afterward until they’re totally dry. If they’re outside while they’re damp, they could catch a cold.
What Age Can Rabbits Swim?
All rabbits can swim by the time they are 15 days old. The earliest time a rabbit can swim is when they’re just 8 days old. But at this early age, there’s rarely a need for a rabbit to swim – and even as they become adults they’ll only swim if they absolutely have to.
Can You Bath a Rabbit?
You can bathe your rabbit, but this shouldn’t be submerging them in a bathtub full of water. You can either use cotton buds, a dry bath, or a shallow ‘butt bath’. To learn more, check out our post about this.
Can Rabbits Do Aquatherapy?
In certain situations, it can be beneficial for rabbits to do aqua therapy – such as if the rabbit has arthritis or joint inflammation. This is done in water in a controlled environment. If you think your rabbit would benefit from this, speak to your vet (as this should only be done with a professional).