Water consumption – we look at drinking preferences in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas

We all know that an adequate water intake is important for the health and welfare of all animals. However, most people are completely unaware that how the water is offered is also important.

Posted: 19 March 2020

Water consumption – we look at drinking preferences in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas


The consequences of getting it wrong can be significant, as a reduced water intake may lead to;

  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Urolithiasis
  • Hyperthermia
  • Exhaustion
  • Death

There are two common ways in which we supply drinking water. It’s either provided in an open dish or bowl or is offered in a bottle through a nipple drinker. There are some key differences between these two methods, so below we look at the pros and cons of both.

Open bowls

The main advantages of these are that they are readily available, inexpensive and easily cleaned. They also provide a very natural way of drinking for most species.

They do however have some disadvantages, such as;

  • Contamination – they are easily soiled with bedding, food, urine and faeces. A simple solution to this is to raise the bowl off the floor.
  • Disease risk – they can carry an increased risk of transmission of infections, hence the importance of keeping them clean.
  • Easily spilled – if the bowl doesn’t have a wide base, it can easily be tipped over.

In general, most rabbits prefer to drink from open dishes, even if they had been used to drinking from bottle drinkers before. They can also drink at a faster rate which ensures they stay hydrated.

Chinchillas have also been found to favour drinking from an open dish. However, there are some who think that by drinking from a bowl, there is a risk of their fur becoming wet and matted, which may lead to dermatitis. It’s therefore worth discussing this problem with an owner to alert them to check regularly.

Water bottles

These water containers are usually fitted to the side bars of the cage or enclosure, and so take up minimal space on the floor. They generally have a metal nipple which allows water to be consumed without leakage. Unlike bowls, they can’t be tipped over and spilled.

Drinking bottles are, however, a problem for some animals. Consuming water from a nipple isn’t a natural way to drink, and some animals need to be taught how to use them. The water is also harder to flow and drink at a fast rate, so some animals may not be able to drink enough for their needs. As the bottles are narrow, they can also be difficult to clean. In some studies, it’s also been found that faecal output can be less with bottle/nipple drinkers, resulting in the dry matter content of faeces being higher.

Overall, rats and guinea pigs seem to cope well with both bowls and drinking bottles, being able to meet their fluid requirements from either. It’s also possible that the end of the metal nipple drinkers can serve as a release for a frustrated gnawing and chewing rodent, thus offering some behavioural benefits.

With both systems, water restriction can occur in the following situations;

  • Cold temperatures – in sub-zero conditions there is a risk of the water freezing.
  • Empty container – the water levels need to be checked every day and through the day. Bowls can be easily tipped or a bottle may leak, resulting in all water being lost.
  • Dominant companions – when two or more animals are housed together, there may be situations where a submissive individual is reluctant to approach a drinker for fear of being chased or attacked. In hot weather, this can quickly lead to dehydration.

Feed high fibre leafy greens – it’s important

The water content of the food can also have an impact on water consumption. Whilst dry diets stimulate drinking, the total water intake is generally less than when animals are fed diets with a high-water content. The take home message is feed leafy greens to encourage drinking water.

It’s also found that when foods with a low moisture content are fed, water intake is higher with hay or high-fibre foods compared to low-fibre pellets or seed mixes. In other words, diets high in fibre seem to encourage water intake.

See our range of fibre rich foods >