Nivek™ components combine to make an easy to set up automatic watering system for your rabbits or cavies
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How much water does your rabbit drink in one day?
DAILY WATER INTAKE OF SMALL MAMMALS
- Rabbit, Small Breed: 4.0 oz.
(gestating, 5.0 oz.; with litter, 7.0 oz.)
- Rabbit, Large Breed: 6.0 oz.
(gestating, 8.0 oz.; with litter, 11.0 oz.)
- Rabbit, Giant Breed: 8.0 oz.
(gestating, 11.0 oz. (with litter, 17.0 oz.)
- Cavy, All Breeds: 3.0 oz.
(gestating, 4.0 oz. with litter, 5.0 oz.)
- Mouse: .22 oz.
- Hamster: .30 oz.
- Rat: 1.3 oz.
- Chinchilla 1.4 oz.
Key factors affecting water intake include the amount of feed consumed, feed composition, environmental temperature, animal size, activity, and gestation or kindling. The most important of these factors is environmental temperature.
Rabbits drink twice as much water during hot summer weather (80°F) as they will during more temperate seasons (60°F). Relative humidity can affect the intake as well. In arid or semi-arid regions such as the Southwest United States, dehydration can rapidly occur.
Rabbits on high-fiber or high-protein diets will tend to drink more water than rabbits on low-fiber or low-protein rations. Extra water intake is needed to moisten the feed and to maintain adequate fluid level in the digestive tract.
Rabbits with a litter consume significantly more water. Rabbits being transported by air in high altitudes can lose water at a higher rate and may need additional hydration.
WATER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT NUTRIENT
The rabbit's body is made up of 50 to 75 percent water. Water forms the basis of blood and digestive fluids, and is contained in tissue, fat and bones. The rabbit's body can’t store extra water, and needs a fresh supply every day to make up for losses from the lungs, skin, urine and feces. Water is vital for most bodily functions, including:
- Maintaining the health and integrity of every cell in the body.
- Helping eliminate the byproducts of the body’s metabolism, such as electrolytes and urea.
- Moistening mucous membranes, such as those of the lungs and mouth.
- Lubricating and cushioning joints.
- Aiding in digestion and preventing fecal impaction.
- Carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells.
- Keeping the bloodstream fluid enough to flow through blood vessels.
- Serving as a shock absorber inside the eyes, spinal cord and in the amniotic sac surrounding the fetus in pregnancy.
Simply put, rabbits must have access to fresh, clean water at all times in order to thrive.
PROBLEMS WITH MANUAL WATERING OF RABBITS
Manual watering can be effective provided the rabbit caretaker is diligent and consistent in the task of providing ample clean water. If one is responsible for the care of more than a few rabbits, one will soon become aware of the time consuming task of providing quality water on a daily basis. Many pet-store types of water bottles must, on a daily basis, be completely disassembled and carried to a sink to be washed and refilled before being reassembled and hung back in place on the animal's cage. This process, when repeated more than a few times, becomes tedious. Similarly, crocks or bowls must also be removed daily to be cleaned and refilled.
The task of keeping bottles and crocks free from slime molds and bacteria can be a challenge. They become prone to contamination from dirt and bacteria each time they are handled. If the bottles are clear or translucent in color, photosynthesis will occur and they will eventually grow algae if not regularly cleaned. Even if a bottlebrush is used, it may be difficult to consistently ensure the bottle is 100% clean. Crocks and bowls must also be similarly sanitized.
Furthermore, all of these manual methods provide a relatively limited supply of water. If they are amply sized, they may be adequate. However, the animal is dependent on the consistency of its keeper to remember to refill the reservoirs. Even the most diligent rabbit caretakers may encounter an intervening factor that may break their consistent routine. Although it is a good practice to have a back-up water bottle on the cage as a reserve water supply, this does make for additional water containers to deal with.
When one must care for more than a few rabbits, it may be time to consider a more failsafe method of providing continuous clean water. An automatic watering system can overcome all of the drawbacks of manual watering. It is less time consuming, more sanitary, less likely to be contaminated, and more consistent.
IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO AUTOMATIC WATERING SYSTEMS FOR RABBITS?
Although the problems with automatic watering are few and far between, it is not a panacea. It will require some time in planning, sourcing water to the site, and initial trouble shooting, as well as periodic maintenance. Like any automated system, one cannot set it up and simply forget it. The maintenance of the system includes daily visual inspections, periodic adjustments, and periodic line flushing.
Of course, the payoff for all of this is hours upon hours of labor savings over time. Plus, it drastically reduces the risk of an animal being without water, or having unsanitary water. Surprisingly, the acquisition cost of an automatic watering system is often not much more than the cost of new water bottles or crocks. With the proper mindset toward system maintenance, automatic watering has relatively few drawbacks or risks compared to manual watering.
HOW DOES AN AUTOMATIC WATERING SYSTEM WORK?
An automatic watering system feeds low pressure water through tubes or pipes to miniature valves or drinking fountains (founts) that are attached to each cage at the proper drinking height. The rabbit licks or nibbles the small pivoting rod, which is the actual valve stem or lever. This opens the internal o-ring seal, and clean, fresh water will drip or dribble into the rabbit's mouth. When the rabbit is finished, the spring-loaded stem returns to position, which seals and closes the system off from contamination.
The water delivery can be accomplished through common 1/2” PVC pipes or with flexible vinyl tubing. Both utilize opaque tubing or pipes so that daylight cannot enter and cause algae growth. For the same reason, clear tubing or pipes are never used.
The PVC pipe uses reduction tees. The tee is glued on the pipe and has a 1/8” female pipe thread port to receive a threaded fount. This system works best in permanent setups that are not likely to be moved or changed regularly. It is considered the more heavy duty of the the two piping methods.
The flexible tubing offers the benefit of being able to be assembled much quicker and reconfigured readily as needed. The tubing can be easily cut with scissors and slipped over barbed fittings. This method is best for stacking cages, cages of irregular sizes or locations, or cages where the setup may need to be moved or reconfigured.
HOW TO REDUCE THE WATER PRESSURE
The rabbit drinking fount requires ultra low pressure that is sufficient to deliver the water through the piping, yet not so strong as to spray water in the rabbit's face or cause excess runoff into the cage. The proper pressure for the founts is 0-4 pounds of water per square inch (0-4 lbs. psi). Common household pressure is around 25 lbs. psi. Some outdoor faucets can have pressure as high as 50 or 60 psi! These higher pressures would not only make the water spray out of the founts, they would also blow the tubing off of the barbed fittings.
There are two basic ways to reduce the water pressure. One is to use a water supply tank to elevate the water above the fount, thereby creating pressure through gravity. Think of the water towers that deliver town water supplies. For a rabbit watering system, it works out to be roughly 1 lb of pressure gained for every foot of elevation the tank sits above the fount.
The tank can be a semi automatic tank or fully automatic tank, which includes an automatic refill valve. Working much like a toilet tank, the float valve maintains the level of water. It refills at a rate quicker than that which the rabbits can deplete.
Alternatively, a closed system can be accomplished through the use of a specialized ultra-low pressure regulator. These are plumbed inline ahead of the system. At the outlet, a PVC pipe can continue and take the reduced pressure water to the founts. Or, a barbed adapter fitting which is furnished with the regulator can be used with flexible tubing systems. A large dial is located at the bottom of the valve to adjust the pressure shown on the 0-10 lb. psi gauge that attaches to the top of the unit.
See “Pipe/Tube Layout” below for more information on which pressure reduction method may best fit your particular layout or setup.
Also, keep in mind that the household pressure regulators sold at home-improvement stores are inadequate for use with a rabbit watering system. They are unable to drop the pressure and are not made to work with the sensitive founts.
WATER REQUIRES PROPER FILTRATION
In order to deliver clean, fresh water, micronic filtration is always recommended on the high pressure side of the system. This can be in the form of a strainer screen filter type or a cartridge filter type. The filter has a flushing valve which allows for periodic backflushing of particulate debris from the filter. Rabbitries that use well water will have a higher need for water filtration than a municipal water supply.
LAYING OUT YOUR SYSTEM
The best layout for using either pipe or tubing is to have the shortest run possible from the water source (such as a tank or regulator) to the drinking fount. If there are rows of cages, this is best handled through the use of a main line or header which crosses all rows. From the header, branch runs are made to each row. This way, the water doesn't have to travel so far. Avoid setting up long, snaking or winding sections of tubing; it is better to make a cut and branch off as needed. When using flexible tubing, the longest recommended row length is about 75 feet. Longer rows would benefit from using larger 1/2” PVC pipe.
If there are multiple levels of cages in long rows, keep the piping or tubing horizontal for that level. In the case of stacking cages that are not side-by-side, it may become necessary to make vertical runs of tubing. Keep in mind there is a pressure gain of approximately 1lb. psi for every foot of elevation the water drops.
In two and three level systems such as Rabbitech, it is recommended to use a separate pressure regulator for each level in order to have finite control of the pressure on that level.
If using a tank type of system, the tubing or piping cannot exceed the height of the water level. For this reason, it is not a good idea to have the piping or tubing go over doorways or in rafters if doing so will exceed the height of the water level in the tank. Pressure regulators may work better in these situations.
USING PIPES AND TUBING IN THE SAME SYSTEM
It is common to use PVC pipe for a header system or water “main.” PVC Reduction Tees are used to branch off to the various rows of cages. Adapter Connectors are used to transition to flexible tubing for the runs. This will allow for maximum water flow, particularly when there are many rows or distant sections of cages. In addition, the best practice for Rabbitech or row cages is to run PVC pipe along the top front of the cage rows, and use a PVC Reduction Tee coupled with an Adapter Connector to make a tubing drop of approximately 12” to the fount and bracket. The drop can even have a tee which services two side-by-side cages. In this way, one PVC Reduction Tee is used per two cages.
FLEXIBLE TUBING SYSTEM: FOUNT AND BRACKET ASSEMBLY
By far the quickest method of installing an automatic watering system is to use a flexible tubing along with the Fount and Bracket assembly. The Barbed Fount slips through the bracket and inserts into the tubing. The bracket snaps onto the cage 4 to 6 inches above the cage floor, such that the fount protrudes into the cage. In this way, a complete system can be set up in a matter of minutes using only a pair of scissors.
Once the first cage is set up, the length of tubing can be used as a pattern to cut all of the tubing for the other cages in the row. Care should be taken to cut the ends of the tubing squarely so they will fit up to the bracket. If the tubing is difficult to slip over the barbed fittings, particularly in cold weather, the tubing can be brought to room temperature or warmed slightly to make the job easier.
A tubing support clip should be used to support the tubing every 18 to 24 inches. The support clip acts as a standoff to keep the tubing away from the cage and prevents the rabbits from biting it. If running the tubing along wood hutches or other places the support clip cannot be used, a Tubing Clamp and screw can be used to support the tubing. Use the in-line shutoff valve at the end of each row to make for easy flushing.
When finished, inspect the installation to ensure that no rabbit can bite the tubing and it cannot be easily bumped into or tripped on by the caretaker. If the tubing makes a very sharp 90° turn, use an elbow connector to prevent it from kinking.
PVC PIPED SYSTEM: THREADED FOUNT AND TEE
Using the PVC pipe is a fairly straightforward process. The pipe will be cut into sections and glued to PVC Reduction Tees. It is recommended that each joint be cleaned with PVC primer, then glued using clear PVC glue. Use the glue dauber to thoroughly wet the inside of one end of the tee, but not so much that it runs. Then use the dauber to apply glue using at least four complete revolutions around the end of the pipe to be inserted. Care should be taken to ensure that all of the tees are oriented in the same direction. A very quick adjustment must be made as the glue will set very quickly.
If screwing a Nivek threaded fount directly into a PVC Tee, it is generally not necessary to use pipe sealant or Teflon tape. If screwing a plastic adapter connector into a PVC Reduction Tee, then Teflon tape is recommended to make a seal.
PVC pipe can be attached to a cage using the pipe support clip. When running PVC pipe across the top front of Rabbitech rows, an electrical EMT one-hole strap can be used to neatly attach it to the H frame.
When installing a PVC pipe system on modular wire cages, there are three choices for the pipe location. For small breed cages that have a door at least 4 inches above the floor, the PVC pipe can be run across the front of the cage with the fonts protruding into each compartment. This will place the fount approximately 3 to 4 inches above the floor and will work satisfactorily for rabbits that weigh up to approximately 5 pounds. For larger rabbits, the best practice is to run the pipe along the top front of the row and use flexible tubing drops for each fount. The third way is to run the fountain across the back of the cage at the desired height. The downside of this system, particularly on 30 inch deep cages, is that it can become difficult to inspect, test, or replace the fount. A half inch PVC ball valve should be installed at the end of each row to make for quick flushing
STARTUP AND TROUBLE SHOOTING THE SYSTEM
When first turning on the water for the system it is a good practice to open up the drain valves at the end of each row slightly to allow air to escape. The next step is to walk along the row of cages and depress the stem on each fount, holding it long enough to allow any air bubbles to escape.
Check for any leaks and correct. If a fount is found to be dripping, press the valve stem all the way in and let go quickly so as to reset it. If the fount continues to leak it may be necessary to disassemble it and check to make sure that a piece of pipe or other debris did not become lodged against the o-ring. If you should have more than a few leaks, take each leak separately on a case-by-case basis and try to resolve it.
PROPER AUTOMATIC WATERING SYSTEM MAINTENANCE
Approximately once a month, it is a good practice to open up the drain valve at the end of each line and allow it to flush for a couple of minutes. In doing so you will allow any settlement or other debris that has been captured in the pipe or tubing to flow out of the system. It is also a good idea to randomly check a few founts on a daily basis to ensure the water is flowing freely. If the fount has too much pressure, it may drip on its own or spray water when it's pressed; adjust the water pressure accordingly. Look for any founts that might be dripping or leaking, and correct them. It is also a good practice to periodically clean the tanks with a diluted bleach solution.
Over time, the founts should develop a hard water mineral buildup, which can be cleaned by soaking them overnight in a vinegar solution.