Bunny Aquatics: Can Rabbits Swim?

Are rabbits strong swimmers? The question we should be asking is should rabbits swim? The answer to that is a firm “no”. Let’s learn why!

Oct 24, 2023By Chelsea Pinkham
can rabbits swim

Technically speaking, some rabbits are capable of swimming. Wild rabbits will occasionally swim, but only in the face of grave danger. Rabbits may have to enter the water if they are trapped between water and a dangerous predator. Rabbits do not swim recreationally. Additionally, submerging in water poses a great risk for rabbits’ health and stress levels. For domestic rabbits, the aftermath of swimming can even lead to death.

Marsh Rabbits

marsh rabbit
Image credit: Canva

The Marsh Rabbit is a species of cottontail rabbit that lives in the swamps of the Southeastern United States. These unique rabbits have adapted specific evolutionary traits that make them more capable of entering the water in an emergency. Marsh rabbits are categorized by their unusually broad face, small ears, short legs, and tail. These odd creatures walk with all four feet touching the ground alternatively, like a cat, rather than hopping around like a typical rabbit.

If flushed out of their hiding spots in swamp vegetation, Marsh Rabbits will often lie low in muddy water, with only their eyes and noses above the surface. If chased, Marsh Rabbits will readily enter the water and are strong swimmers.

Marsh Rabbits make their nests in dense thickets completely surrounded by water for safety. Unlike other rabbit species, swimming comes naturally to them and does not carry grave consequences in terms of stress and body temperature.

It’s important to note that Marsh Rabbits are a completely separate species from other wild rabbits, and from the domestic rabbits we keep in our homes. The swimming abilities they possess come from evolutionary traits and cannot be taught. A Marsh Rabbit is as different from your rabbit at home as a Pomeranian is from a wolf!

Domestic Rabbits: Baths Can Kill

long haired rabbit
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It might seem fun to test out your rabbit’s ability to swim, but such a stressful event can have deadly consequences. Rabbits are rather extreme examples of prey animals. Overwhelming new stimuli or environmental changes can be incredibly stressful to them. Domestic rabbits are known for their low stress thresholds; in fact, stress-related heart attacks are a common cause of death. Being forced to swim, or even simply being bathed, is stressful enough to give a rabbit a heart attack.

Routine bathing is completely unnecessary for rabbits. Bathing can strip rabbits’ fur of their natural oils, worsening the condition of their coat. If the stress of a bath doesn’t kill a rabbit, they can die from being chilled after a bath. Most rabbits will find a blow dryer to be incredibly frightening, too.

If in doubt, always err on the side of caution. If your rabbit has gotten themselves dirty, unless they are covered in a toxic or dangerous substance, they should be able to clean themselves. A damp cloth and a brushing session can help, too.

Keeping Rabbits Clean

rabbit self grooming
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The good news is that rabbits are highly effective at keeping themselves clean. Humans have to bathe dogs because of their lack of flexibility and inability to groom themselves fully, but rabbits are cat-like in their ability to keep clean. In fact, there’s nothing cuter than a rabbit bathing herself. She’ll sit up on her hind legs, lick her paws thoroughly, and then use her paws to wash her chest, face, and ears. Rabbits are flexible animals, and their adorable pink tongues can reach every part of their bodies.

You can help your rabbit stay clean by keeping their living quarters sanitary. Change the rabbit’s litterbox daily, sweep up stray poops, and wash towels and blankets stained with urine. Rabbits should live in a large X-pen enclosure or free-range indoors.

Keeping rabbits in outdoor wire hutches is not only inhumane, but it also leads to poor rabbit hygiene. Rabbits who live in wire hutches are often left with long-term urine stains on their hind legs and rear ends. The wire material is difficult to keep clean and accumulates urine and feces easily.

Long-haired rabbits can be brushed regularly to prevent matting and urine stains. Rabbit skin is thin, so it’s important to use a soft brush and proceed gently. These rabbits can also be trimmed using scissors to decrease maintenance.

Alternatives to Bathing

brushing rabbit
Image credit: Canva

There are certain instances in which a veterinarian might recommend a medicated bath for a rabbit with extreme skin problems, or when a rabbit experiencing matting or diarrhea might need a butt bath. In that case, it’s important to seek expert advice about how best to wash and dry the rabbit while minimizing health risks.

Even in these circumstances, using a damp washcloth and a jug or Tupperware of water would be safer than lowering the rabbit into water, or using a faucet or showerhead. The less noise and flowing water, the better. Rabbits should never be given a full-body bath.

Keeping rabbits in sanitary conditions, brushing regularly, and examining their hygiene levels regularly can help prevent the need for bathing.

If a rabbit has picked up an external parasite during outdoor time, such as fleas, bathing is not the solution. Instead, a rabbit-safe topical flea treatment solution, such as Revolution, will kill the fleas in a matter of a single day. Always consult with a veterinarian before using a product like Revolution, and be sure to dose the product correctly.

Chelsea Pinkham
By Chelsea Pinkham

Chelsea is an animal advocate, rescuer, and aspiring rewards-based dog trainer. She is a Fear Free Certified Pet Professional with over a decade of animal experience. Chelsea has worked at animal shelters, sanctuaries and with many private dog training clients. She immerses herself in canine behavior education as she pursues her CPDT-KA dog training certification. In her spare time, she trains dozens of fun tricks for her and her partner’s rescued adventure cat, Iggy!