Rabbits and Other Animals

Housing for Rabbits

Rabbits and Other Animals

Rabbits and other animals can live harmoniously in the same home if a several things line up. The success or failure of rabbits and other animals getting along in the same home depends almost entirely on the individual animals involved.
 
In this section we discuss which animals are best suited to live alongside rabbits. If you’re unsure about your dog or cat being able to learn to live with a rabbit, we’ve provided a questionnaire below to help you assess each individual animal in your home. 

Watch as rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter and bunny lover and actress Amy Sedaris discuss how rabbits and other pets get along. 

Rabbits and Other Animals

Questions to Ask Yourself

Rabbits are prey animals, meaning they’re at the bottom of the natural food chain. This makes them extremely cautious of predator animals such as dogs and cats. 
 
While it may go against mother-nature to have prey and predator living together, many successful friendships between rabbits, cats, and/or dogs have happened. But this is also not always the case. 
 
Before bringing a rabbit home, you must make a thorough, honest assessment of each animal in the home. This must be done to figure out if bringing a rabbit home is even a realistic option for you and your home.
 
A lot of the success of having rabbits with other animals comes down to the other animal. Dogs are the biggest issue, as many breeds have been developed to hunt, chase, and retrieve small animals such as rabbits. This bred-in instinct is not an easy thing to override, and many times it can’t be. The questions below may hopefully point out any red flags about your pets and let you know that you should maybe avoid bringing a rabbit into the mix.
 
If you answer these questions and afterwards feel your dog or cat’s prey instinct is low enough, then you can move on to the introduction. When introducing your rabbit to a dog or a cat, slow and steady wins the race. Understand that introductions—especially to dogs—can take several months.
Rabbits and Other Animals

Dog Ozzy and his friends HRRN Alumni Pasadena and Oliver. Their adopter worked slowly and consistently to introduce each of her dogs to the rabbits with great success. 

Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Pet

Does my dog or cat like to chase things?

Does your dog love to chase squirrels or wild rabbits around the yard or park? Are outings with your dog chaotic due to their wanting to chase any animal they see? If you answered yes to either of these questions, your dog may have strong prey drive. 

If your cat does something similar with trying to catch birds or mice, they may be on the higher prey drive side as well.
 
Dogster explains that prey drive involves 5 different behaviors: searching, stalking, chasing, biting to grab, and biting to kill. Each high prey drive breed shows its predatory behaviors differently.
 
Herding breeds, for example, have a strong chase instinct, while hounds like to stalk and flush out prey.

Is my dog well trained? Does he respond to all of my commands?

A well-trained dog makes all the difference when overcoming a high prey drive. If your dog’s prey drive is high but you’re hoping to overcome it and still get a rabbit, training is essential. Your dog must be able to listen and do as you command each time you request something of them. This level of training is not always easily accomplished. Taking your dog to a professional dog trainer for a short time may be the best thing for everyone.

Is my dog's breed a high prey drive breed?

Generally speaking, dogs bred to either hunt or to herd have the strongest prey drives. However, we want to emphasis that a “breed” of dog is a generalized foundation to the individual. Just because your dog is a this breed or that breed does not automatically mean they will or will not try and kill your rabbit. 
 
High prey drive breeds include those in the herding group, such as Australian shepherds and border collies. Terriers such as the Airedale and the bull terrier. Hounds such as beagles and greyhounds. And sporting group breeds that include retrievers, spaniels, and pointers.
 
Some working group breeds, such as Siberian huskies or boxers, though not specifically bred for hunting or herding, nevertheless possess a strong prey drive and may need close supervision around smaller pets.
 
You can find information on various dog breeds with personality profiles here: https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/breeds

Is my dog aggressive, or do they have a strong prey-drive? Does it matter which is which?

While a strong prey drive can sometimes look like aggression, there’s a key difference. Aggression in dogs stems from strong emotions such as fear. Whereas Prey-drive stems from basic instincts.
 
A key difference between prey-drive versus aggression is: Aggressive dogs desire to increase the distance between themselves and the object of their aggression. Dogs driven by prey-instinct want to decrease the distance between them and the object of their desire.
 
This is good news for parents of dogs with strong prey drives because prey drive is often easier to manage than emotion-based aggression.
 
While an aggressive dog may not be looking to hunt down your rabbit, the problem lies in the spontaneity of the aggression. I. e. one moment the dog is fine, the next they snap and accidentally hurt the rabbit.
 
Knowing which your dog is will help you figure out how to manage or overcome the problem by yourself or with a dog trainer.
 

Look for these key traits in your dog before introducing to a rabbit:

 

  1. Low prey drive is REQUIRED-either naturally or trained
  2. Dog follows basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘down’, ’stay’, and ‘leave it’
  3. Calm, submissive dog
  4. Adult dog (puppies are untrained and unable to control their exuberant behavior)
  5. Herding, non-sporting, and working dog breeds are a good place to start. Generally speaking, avoid sporting breeds as these dogs have been bred to hunt. Avoid toy breeds if the dog is high strung or anxious. Breed recommendations are generalities to use as a baseline. Individual personalities are most important to determine compatibility.
  6. A trained service dog or therapy dog

Rabbits and Other Animals

Introducing Your Rabbit to Your Dog

Dogs and rabbits have the ability to live happily and peacefully in the same home. But that ability all boils down to your dog’s prey drive. After thoroughly assessing your dog’s personality and prey-drive level, and you feel they’re able to coexist with a prey animal such as a rabbit, then it’s time for introductions.

If your dog did not “pass” the questions or meet the personality traits listed above, we urge you to proceed with extreme caution. If your dog did not pass the above questions but you have a rabbit, it would be best for everyone to keep the rabbit in a separate room from the dog. Possibly permanently. It is better to be safe instead of sorry.

Shannon McCauly with Best Friends Training visited House Rabbit Resource Network and spoke to us about how to introduce our rabbits to our other favorite companions, dogs. Learn how to safely and successfully introduce all of your furry family members.

If your dog does not match these traits, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad dog by any means. Dogs are predators, rabbits are prey. Many dogs simply cannot separate their instinctual need to hunt from their owner’s orders not to kill that specific fluff-ball that suddenly appeared in their house two days ago.

Some dogs can learn to overcome their instincts with enough time and training. Some never will. If your dog is having difficulty adhering to the no-kill policy in the home, we recommend trying a dog trainer. Dog training will work with you and your dog to strengthen their obedience while giving you tools to help your dog’s success. Your dog trainer can also analyze your dog’s personality and give you an honest answer whether they’ll ever be able to coexist with your rabbit.
 
Even if your dog is great with your rabbits, never leave a dog unattended with a rabbit. Something as simple as a rabbit binkying can set off even the best dog’s prey drive. There have also been instances where the dog accidentally kills their rabbit friend because they were just trying to play with them. So, no matter how sweet and perfect your dog is, never leave them alone with your rabbits.
photo of a rabbit and dog getting along
HRRN Alumni Star and his new buddy.

Rabbits and Other Animals

Introduction Steps:

  1. Find a Neutral Space: Locate a space in your home that is not frequently used or occupied by either animal. It should be a space in which you can control the interactions easily. This will reduce or eliminate any territorial behavior.
  2. Secure the Rabbit in a Safe Enclosure: Place the rabbit in a crate or cage before bringing it to the neutral space. Allow the rabbit to acclimate there for half an hour or more before you introduce the dog into the space. If the rabbit is showing signs of stress, delay, or postpone the introduction process for as long as a day or two. Signs that a rabbit is stressed include: biting the cage/crate bars, overgrooming, displaying altered feeding or toileting behavior, and/or repeatedly circling the enclosure.
  3. Secure the Dog: Secure the dog with a leash attached to its collar or to a front-clipping harness before entering the introduction space.
  4. Ask for Help: Ask a family member or friend to help by holding your dog. You want the most supervision possible and having an extra set of hands and eyes will work to your advantage. 
  5. Introduce the Rabbit and Dog Slowly: Do not introduce the dog and rabbit too fast. The rabbit will have been placed in its cage in the neutral space ahead of time. Bring the dog into the space slowly and allow the dog to investigate the rabbit in its crate–visually and through smell. The dog must still be on the leash for the initial introduction. Don’t make sudden moves or allow them access to one another too quickly.
Once again, watch the rabbit for signs of stress or distress. If the rabbit is kicking, breathing hard, or trying to escape, then remove the dog from the room and let the rabbit calm down.
 
Keep in mind that, if the rabbit stops moving altogether, is hunkered down and “frozen”. This may also indicate a reluctance or refusal to interact or accept interaction from the dog.
 
By the same token, make sure the dog is not stressed or even over-excited. If you observe either of these behaviors in the dog, postpone the introduction until the dog is in a calmer
state.
  1. Keep an Eye on Them: Under no circumstances are the rabbit and dog allowed to be left together without supervision.
  2. Keep Sessions Short: Don’t push your luck by allowing the introduction period to get too long. Keep the introduction sessions short… no more than 10 minutes. Longer exposure to one another will increase the potential for the dog to get too excited or the rabbit to begin getting stressed.
  3. Practice the Routine: Your pets may not hit it off right away, and that’s okay. Practice introducing your pets to each other until it becomes a routine. Eventually, your pets will get used to seeing and smelling each other.
  4. Separate Feeding Areas: It is best to separate your dog and rabbit during meal times or when/if food is around. Heightened stress levels or over-excitement can be distracting, intrusive, or stressful and may create negative associations with food.

Rabbits and Other Animals

When the Rabbit and Other Animals Aren't Getting Along

If the rabbit and other animals are not getting along despite slow introductions and good training, you need to keep them separated. If you’re unable to keep them separate for possibly ever, you need to consider rehoming one of the animals. This is a horrible decision to have to make, so hopefully you can find a way to make the separation work in your home.
 
A spare bedroom is an ideal place to keep your rabbit because it offers a secure and peaceful environment. A rabbit or a pair of rabbits with an entire room to themselves has lots of space and their stress levels will be small. This can also work great for the other animal in the home that may have been having an issue with the rabbit, such as a dog. The dog will no longer feel like their space is being invaded, and will eventually get used to the rabbit’s scent coming from behind that door. A room is also a good place because most dogs can’t open doors, so your rabbit(s) will be safe day and night. Causing you less stress as well.
 
If you don’t have a spare room to keep your rabbit, sectioning off parts of the house can work depending on the layout of the home. Baby gates are a great way to fence off sections. You just have to make sure none of the animals can jump over them. Baby gates can work for dogs and rabbits, cats, not so much. But cats rarely hold a vendetta against rabbits. Once the realize they aren’t allowed to hunt them, most cats learn to coexist with rabbits. That’s why we’re covering dogs much more in this page than cats.
Dog Ozzy sitting calmly watching HRRN Alumnis Oliver and Pasadena
Introduce slowly and if it's just not working, get a dog trainer to work with your dog and rabbit. If that still doesn't work, keeping the dog and rabbit areas separate can work depending on the house layout.
No matter what room or space the rabbit is housed, they always must have a place to hide and feel safe. See our Habitats Types & Ideas for more information on housing.
 
In the situation that you don’t have a spare room, or your dog is too keen on hurting the rabbit to allow for a sectioned off space in the home, options become limited and rehoming someone needs to be considered.
 
We do not recommend keeping your dog outside 24/7 because that’s not fair to them. There have also been too many accidents with an outside dog getting in and attacking the rabbit in the home. Dogs are quick, and if they’re set on hunting something, it’s hard to stop them. A guest may accidentally let the dog in. Someone may not latch the door fully and the dog pushes their way in. Dogs are fast and powerful and can push through a door when you have your hands full. There are just a lot of situations that can go wrong.
 
Rehoming a beloved pet is never easy, but if it’s to save the life of one of them, it’s for the best. The right decision is not always the easiest.

Rabbits and Other Animals

Rabbits and Cats

Cats and rabbits are more likely to get along than dogs and rabbits. Some cats and rabbits ignore each other’s presence entirely, while others become the best of friends. It all depends on the individuals. Cats and rabbits have a good coexisting rate.
 
However, things change a bit if you have a cat with a high-prey drive. These cats are normally ones who live outdoors and indoors. The liklihood of problems goes up if the cat is unfixed. Cats with high prey drives are ones who may bring in dead or live animals into the home. But cats are smart, and even ones with high prey drives can often be taught that a rabbit in the home is off limits. Cats are quick and sneaky, so you must make sure a high prey drive cat cannot get anywhere near your rabbits until you’re sure they understand the rabbits are off limits.
 
 
 
 

HRRN Alumni Sweden snuggling with her cat best friend. 

Rabbits and Other Animals

Frequently Asked Questions

My dog is ______ breed. Are they good with rabbits?

There are certain breeds that are more likely to have high-prey drives, and therefore are more likely to have difficulties coexisting with a rabbit. However, each animal is an individual, so you cannot simply say: any dog in this breed can’t get along with a rabbit, or vice versa. You’ll need to assess your dog with the questions up above to get a better understanding of your dog’s individual predatory drive. 

With that being said, here is a database of dog breeds with information that can be useful: Dog Breeds 

How do I help my rabbit to feel less anxious and get along with an 8 week old puppy? The puppy is fine with the rabbit but my rabbit isn’t at all. I’m not sure how to help reduce the anxiety

As each animal is an individual, some rabbits will never feel safe around a dog. That being said, the anxiety could very well be coming from the most likely over-the-top hyper puppy energy. Obedience training with the puppy before introduction is key. Possibly get a dog trainer to assist. Once the puppy has all their commands down pat, then you can consider trying to introduce again via the above introduction steps. 

My dog is good with small dogs and cats and was good with bunnies but out of the blue now she wants to kill my rabbit and nothing I do is helping. Any suggestions? I don’t want to rehome either of them

This is a tough situation. Something obviously triggered the dog. We recommend reaching out to a dog trainer to do an assessment. There could be something in the environment setting the dog off that the trainer can find and help remove or train around. But until then you need to separate the dog and rabbit.

If I already own a rabbit and want to get a young dog, what safety precautions do I take to make their bond work?

Dog obedience training is key to successful introductions, as well as the personality assessment for level of prey-drive. If the dog is deemed to be on the low-prey drive side, and once they respond immediately to all obedience commands, you can begin the introduction steps above. 

Rabbits and Other Animals

Adopter Photos!

We wanted to share some of our adopters and volunteers photos of their rabbits and other animals. We love seeing this happy relationships and we hope you enjoy them too!