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Rabbits and Other Pets

by Mary O'Malley, March 2005

Can you have rabbits live happily with other pets? Sure! Well, probably. A lot depends on the the temperament of both the rabbit and the other pet.

Other Small Mammals

Rabbits and small caged mammals like gerbils, hamsters, rats and mice are unlikely to pay much attention to one another. Very few people worry about this combination, anyway!

Rabbits and guinea pigs have been known to co-exist nicely if the rabbit doesn't harass the guinea pig too much. Rabbits love to play chasing games, and guinea pigs are not always fond of being chased. They do share a similar love of hay and fresh veggies, and even like some of the same toys, so this can work out nicely provided each has their own space to retreat to when some alone time is desired.

Rabbits and ferrets are rarely a good combination. Ferrets instinctively want to chase and possibly eat rabbits. Not their fault; it's perfectly natural, but at the very least it is extremely frightening for the rabbit. I do not recommend this combination of pets in a home.

Cats

Jamie and SerenaSurprisingly to a lot of people, indoor cats and rabbits get along fairly well. In many cases the rabbit is about the same size as the cat, which probably helps keep the cat from viewing the bunny as prey. Kittens can generally be trained, often by an annoyed rabbit, not to bite or play too roughly. Chasing games can go both ways, and mutual grooming is common if the animals get along.

In my house, the cats typically avoid the rabbits, which I attribute to my original house rabbit, Jamie, scaring the bejeepers out of them by charging them whenever they entered "her" territory. The exception was a cat named Serena, pictured with Jamie, who always seemed to enjoy grooming bunnies' ears. This made her fairly popular with the rabbit set.

If you have adult cats who have never lived with a rabbit, and you are pretty sure your cats aren't extremely predatory, your best option would be to get an adult rabbit who has lived with cats. A baby bunny might trigger predatory behavior in the cat, particularly if the bunny was frightened and ran. Though you might keep any actual harm from coming to the bunny, the fear and memory of the interaction probably would make for a permanently scared bunny in your home.

Even if you have a bunny-friendly cat and a cat-friendly bunny, you will want to supervise initial interactions very closely. You may want to try having one animal in a carrier, for example, or behind a gate that neither can jump, or hold one of them and have another person watching the other one, so they can investigate each other without any harm being possible. It is important to intervene even if one just gets nervous. You want the interactions to be as positive as possible if the animals are ever to co-exist. Take your time letting the animals get used to one another if you want to maximize your chance of success.

Dogs

Taking your time about introductions is even more important with dogs. Some breeds are predisposed to hunt rabbits and it is extremely important to keep the dog under control at all times while training the dog that chasing the rabbit is unacceptable. In some cases, particularly with terriers and hounds, you will never be able to leave the rabbit and the dog unsupervised together, and may not even be able to let them interact directly. Your rabbit's welfare is too important to take chances!

That said, I have successfully had rabbits frolicking next to Irish Wolfhounds (giant sighthounds who usually have a pretty high prey drive when something runs nearby). This is partly because Jamie, a Dutch mix girl, is one very assertive rabbit! It has never occurred to her to be afraid of the dogs, and I have even seen her chase one off. It is also because I have been very careful about introductions, and absolutely intolerant of any attempt by the dogs to chase the rabbits. I just can't allow it with this breed of dog. (Interestingly, while the dogs do not chase the rabbits in the house, they will still take off instantly after wild rabbits. I am quite sure the chase instinct is still there.)

Note in this picture that Jamie is quite unconcerned about her proximity to Finnegan, one of my Irish Wolfhounds, and is watching me with the camera, instead! Jamie, Nicky and Finnegan Finnegan is similarly unexcited by her proximity. However, you can see Nicky, Jamie's minilop partner, lurking in the background with his ears in a semi-alarmed position. Nicky is considerably more cautious around the dogs. It took him awhile to get to the point where he would even hop past them, but then Nicky is generally a nervous sort of rabbit.

Jamie actually arrived as a wee baby bunny of about 8 weeks, and the dogs were allowed to sniff her when I was holding her, but that was it for interaction for many months. The size difference alone was too great for me to feel comfortable with closer interaction. My dogs had long ago learned not to chase the cats, so I was fairly sure they could learn not to chase rabbits, but for Jamie's sake I wasn't going to push it!

Over time it became clear that Finnegan, in particular, was interested in no more than licking Jamie's head and ears till she was sopping wet. She interpreted that as grooming and liked it, and when I first started letting the two of them interact without me holding anyone, Jamie would often hop right up to Finnegan's head for a grooming session. Jamie is very good at getting the other animals to groom her!

Most of the time, however, the bunnies and dogs are seperated by a baby gate, even after several peaceful years in the same house. While I don't think any of the dogs would intentionally hurt a rabbit, the potential for a playful big paw to cause damage to a rabbit is very high. So interactions are supervised, and new dogs are not allowed to have direct contact with free-running rabbits for as much as a year. Inconvenient as it may be to step over gates, it is infinitely better than the tragedy of having a dog injure or kill a rabbit.

The best advice I can give about rabbits and dogs is to know your animals, and don't rush the relationship. There are plenty of stories of successful introductions, and dogs and rabbits that happily chase one another around (though, as I said, I recommend against allowing that with certain breeds of hunting dogs). There are also stories of dogs accidentally or intentionally killing the family rabbit. It is not the dog's fault when hunting instinct kicks in, but it is tragic for all concerned. It is always up to the humans in the family to train the dog and protect the rabbit, as necessary, for the life of both.