Rabbit owners often ask us if pet bunnies can swim. The answer is yes – but in many ways, it’s the wrong question. If you ask “Do rabbits enjoy swimming?”, the answer is definitely no.
Most mammals are capable of swimming, but not many actually take a dip unless they are forced to. We all know that cats hate water – but they can and will swim for safety if they have to. Rabbits are the same. In times of flood, or if chased by predators, they will sometimes jump in at the deep end and swim for it.
Which brings us to one of many rabbit myths. Bunnies have webbed feet – surely a sign of an animal intended for swimming? Well, no. The webbed feet are there to help rabbits hop and run – not swim.
What about all those swimming bunnies on YouTube?
A quick YouTube search will produce a list of video clips showing bunnies apparently enjoying themselves in garden pools; but you will struggle to find a clip in which the rabbit voluntarily enters the water. Some can be trained to do so, in the same way as a circus can train animals to do all sorts of things they wouldn’t otherwise choose to do. And that’s the main point – turning your pet rabbit into a circus act is inhumane.
In the various videos of swimming rabbits, the animals don’t appear panicked or distressed. But that’s just the rabbit’s way of surviving. It knows it can float, and it knows it can paddle to safety. It’s not going to thrash around and drown, and nor is it going to give any clues to how it’s feeling in its facial expressions. A rabbit serenely gliding across a garden pool is doing one thing only – surviving.
This has become a contentious issue, and there are even online petitions to prevent swimming bunny videos being posted online. As far as the signatories of the petitions are concerned, this is animal cruelty, nothing more and nothing less.
Healthy Swimming for Rabbits?
There is circumstantial evidence that some rabbits like to float in the water to ease arthritic problems, or simply to clean themselves and/or cool off. The only advice that can be given here – after taking such evidence with a pinch of salt – is to let the rabbit lead the way. A bunny who voluntarily takes a dip does not necessarily need dragging from the water and locking away somewhere dry and safe. The swimming is, no doubt, great exercise, just as it is for humans.
However, the fact that a rabbit enters the water may indicate an underlying problem – perhaps they do, indeed, have joint problems, or maybe their enclosure has an outbreak of fleas, lice or mites, something that might lead a bunny to desperate measures in the garden pool!
And the fact that it’s a garden pool presents another potential problem. Pools tend to have chlorine and other chemicals in the water, and these can irritate a rabbit’s eyes, nostrils and skin. Even untreated water can cause skin irritation if a rabbit remains wet for too long. Rabbits have very small lungs, too, and even a small amount of water breathed in by mistake can prove fatal.
If your pet rabbits voluntarily take to the water, dry them thoroughly after they’ve finished exercising. If you’re considering aquatherapy for rabbit joint-related problems, speak to a vet first.
The rule of thumb on this issue is simple – don’t put rabbits into pools or other bodies of water. Yes, they can swim; but no, they don’t like it. Usually!