Over the years, I have had lots of pets and many different species. I have had both cats and rabbits but never at the same time, so I was very interested to see what Kristin Avery of The Daily Pip had to say on the subject in this guest post.
When Cat Meets Rabbit – Can They Be Friends?
I adopted cats in my twenties, added a dog in my thirties, a rabbit in my forties, and most recently, mice! Growing up, I always had pets, but usually only one at a time. As an adult, I discovered the fun and cuteness of living with multiple pets (and multiple species) and now I can’t imagine life without my furry, mismatched menagerie.
Can Cats and Rabbits Be Friends?
Yes, sometimes, but not always.
Cats and dogs are predators by nature, while rabbits are prey. While everyone gets along in our house, we always keep in mind that our rabbit experiences the world very differently than our cat and dog. Whereas our cat and dog enjoy (or at least tolerate) being picked up, our rabbit does not. Rabbits often feel threatened when lifted off the ground – kind of like a hawk swooping down and grabbing them.
Likewise, when dogs and cats are sick, they usually let us know. Maybe they cry or vomit in a high traffic area where we will eventually notice (or step in it). Being sick is not a sign of weakness and doesn’t make them vulnerable. Rabbits are the opposite. Prey animals naturally hide their vulnerabilities. By the time their symptoms are apparent, they are in crisis.
Understanding these basic differences and creating an equal, safe playing field, helps set our pets up for success and is key to peaceful co-existence. For example, our cat Rosie likes to climb up high and then leap down dramatically (because she is cat). Our rabbit Lulu prefers to keep her paws on the ground and doesn’t much like when Rosie lands in a furry heap in front of her.
We have learned that Lulu and Rosie do much better when they are on the same level so we have reduced the number of bookshelves and other tall furniture in Lulu’s space. Rosie has plenty of jump-worthy surfaces in other parts of our house, just not near Lulu.
Should You Adopt A Rabbit?
With planning and patience, many cats and rabbits can learn to peacefully co-exist and maybe even become friends.
Quite simply, cats and dogs are hunters. Their games and interactions with each other and others often involve stalking and chasing. Rabbits instinctively feel threatened with many of the behaviors cats and dogs think are fun and normal.
Before adopting a rabbit, you need to honestly assess whether your resident cat is cut out for life with a rabbit. Generally, kittens and other playful, dominant or prey driven cats do not make good companions for rabbits. Kitten nails are super sharp and can easily damage a rabbit’s vulnerable eyes. As prey animals, rabbits are much more fragile and injure easily – and therefore do not do well with rough-playing cats, dogs, or children. An indoor/outdoor cat that frequently brings home prey is also not usually an appropriate match for a rabbit. Ideally, an older, gentle, calm, even lazy cat makes the best bunny roommate. A spayed/neutered couch potato kitty is always the safest bet! Likewise, smaller rabbits may seem more like prey to cats than a big old lop-eared bunny. If you have a cat, I think bigger bunnies are better and will be viewed as more of an equal than a toy.
Avoid bringing home a rabbit (or any new pet) when your cat is sick or anxious as a result of moving, a new baby, schedule change, or other life stresses. Same goes for you – avoid introductions when you are feeling stressed, rushed, or distracted.
The Importance of Establishing Territory
It’s always important to confine new pets to a small space or room to establish territory and ensure a safe and smooth introduction to existing pets. This is especially true for rabbits as they are even more territorial than cats. Change is stressful for everyone and having a transition period allows both new and existing pets to adjust at their own pace. Keep your new bunny in a room of their own in either an exercise pen or a bunny condo for at least a few weeks. This allows them to establish their territory (AKA safe space) and feel more confident in general.
For more information on rabbit habitat and care, see Rachel Manuela De Jong’s informative post on all things rabbit.
Making Introductions: Go Slowly
Once your rabbit feels at home and has established territory, you can start to introduce him to your cat under supervision.
Make sure your cat is well fed, rested, and in a relaxed mood. Avoid making introductions during your cat’s most active or normal playtime. This will lessen any initial predatory instinct.
Set your rabbit up in a pen and let them sniff each other safely through the bars. Make sure your cat doesn’t reach through the bars with their claws – rabbit eyes are extremely vulnerable. Confident bunnies may feel territorial and charge at the cat through the bars. Conversely, your cat may be confused by your rabbit’s strange movements and run away. This is probably the best scenario!
If your rabbit runs away, pay attention to whether your cat tries to chase him. Clearly, chasing is NOT good. Rabbits can actually be frightened to death so if your bunny seems scared, immediately take a step back and slow down the introductions. When we first introduced Lulu to Rosie, Lulu was terrified and fled. Thankfully, Rosie did not chase her and just kind of froze. I don’t think she had any idea what to make of such an odd moving creature. We realized Lulu needed more time so we waited another month before trying again.
Interactions should always be supervised and never rushed. Scolding your rabbit or cat when things don’t go well, will only lead to more conflict and make them associate punishment with their new furry sibling.
Follow Your Instinct and Know Your Pets
Be realistic about your pets’ temperament, limitations, signs of stress, triggers, training, etc. Your role is to observe their interactions and make sure they both stay safe and relaxed. Always follow your instincts and never force or rush interactions. These initial supervised visits will help set the guidelines for how and when they will interact in the future.
Key things to watch for: If your rabbit charges your cat, does your cat back down or charge back? If your rabbit runs away, does your cat chase your rabbit? A rabbit that charges a cat is a confident rabbit that has established territory. Ideally, your cat will back down or see the rabbit as an equal. If your cat shows any kind of predatory instinct, slow down the process and make sure they are always supervised and separated when you are not home.
Once they reach a comfort level (no running away or chasing), you can let them interact outside the pen. Release your rabbit in a room with your cat and let them interact, but always be on hand to intervene if necessary. If they sniff each other, great – if they ignore each other, that’s fine, too. If they groom each other, you have won the bunny/kitty lottery. Rosie and Lulu have never groomed each other, but they respect each other and live peacefully. Observing how your rabbit and cat interact during these early introductions will help you set the guidelines for how they will interact going forward. Maybe they can be out about together all the time or maybe your rabbit will need to remain in a pen when your cat is in the room.
Safety First, Always
Although some may disagree with me, I think cats and rabbits should be separated when left alone. Lulu and Rosie have lived together for six years, but we still separate them when we are at work, school, etc. Lulu lives in my office – or rather her room that I also use as an office. She doesn’t live in a cage and her room is her space. Although she comes out and free roams when we are home, she doesn’t want Rosie in her room – and will promptly chase her out when she forgets the rules. Rosie has never shown any aggression towards Lulu, but she has sharp claws and is bigger and stronger. I feel more comfortable keeping them separated when we are not around to supervise – I would rather be safe than sorry.
Regardless, cats and rabbits should always have separate eating areas, and of course, separate litter boxes. Rabbits are herbivores and cats are carnivores. There’s no changing their natural diet and sampling the other’s cuisine can be dangerous for both. While cats may just throw up if they eat some hay, cat food can be toxic to rabbits. The same goes for litter; cat litter can cause intestinal blockage and death in rabbits. Rabbits chew on everything so bunny proofing is essential. For more information on caring for rabbits, please read Rachel’s thoughtful and informative post.
Adopting a pet is a huge responsibility and should be taken seriously after careful planning, consideration and research. This is especially true for rabbits. With proper care, rabbits can live 10-12 years. It’s a long-term commitment so please do your homework and make sure you and your existing pets are ready, willing, and able to provide a loving, safe home for a rabbit.
Most cats and rabbits live together peacefully and sometimes even become friends. But some cats are just never going to be OK with rabbits. Always be realistic about your cat’s temperament while being mindful of your rabbit’s safety and stress level. Trust your instincts and be flexible, as your expectations may need to be adjusted to keep everyone safe and happy.
Stay tuned for my next post When Rabbit Meets Dog.
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I am Kristin Avery, a writer and photographer with a lifelong passion for animal welfare. My blog, The Daily Pip, is an award-winning lifestyle pet blog, promoting rescue, adoption, and second chances for dogs, cats, bunnies and their people. You’ll find an eclectic mix of inspiring rescue and adoption stories, personal reflections on my life with animals and midlife comeback, and a whole bunch of random furry cuteness. I also volunteer regularly with several Chicago-based and national rescue organizations. I currently share my home with one dog, one rabbit, two cats, one mouse, my husband and my 12-year-old daughter.