Introducing your cat or dog to a new pet rabbit
This week is Rabbit Awareness Week and we thought it would be useful for our pet parents to learn how to introduce new pet rabbits to other pets.
The first and most important thing to remember is that rabbits are prey animals and can be easily frightened by other pets – especially carnivores like dogs and cats. It can be hard to tell when a rabbit is afraid if you are not used to small herbivores and reactions include becoming immobile, hiding, hunching up and cowering. An extremely stressed rabbit can even become catatonic and feign death. If your rabbit shows any of these signs while being introduced to another pet it is very important to stop immediately.
Make sure that the rabbit is in its hutch and has had time to become accustomed to its environment. There should be some hiding places, out of view inside the hutch where the rabbit can go to feel safe.
Not every cat or dog is a suitable candidate to even try and introduce to a rabbit – boisterous puppies, dogs with loud barks and excitable personalities and many terriers, for example, will often never respond calmly enough. In this situation consider whether it is the right thing to do to own a pet rabbit, or whether the pets can be kept completely separated at all times.
A mature, quiet, well behaved dog or cat should be introduced to a pet rabbit gradually. Walk the pet past the rabbit hutch a few times over several days. This will help the dog to get used to the smells and sounds a rabbit makes.
Keep the process positive by rewarding your cat or dog for positive behaviours so that it starts to associate being near the rabbit with something pleasant happening – use treats and praise.
When you judge the time is right sit quietly by the rabbit hutch with your dog on a lead, or cat restrained on your knee. A rabbit that is confident enough will eventually approach the cage front to explore what is going on. Reward any positive reactions by your cat or dog, while monitoring the rabbit for signs of fear.
Some cats and dogs will eventually go nose to nose with a pet rabbit through the cage front. For most people (and pets) this is quite sufficient – both pets accept and understand the other’s existence and neither pet has the need to feel anxious or afraid.
In some cases, people do introduce their cat or dog to a pet rabbit and then allow them to meet while the rabbit is not caged – for instance if the rabbit is a house rabbit. Before you take those steps there are some sensible precautions. Let the cat or dog see the rabbit moving in an indoor or outdoor run – it’s often movement that triggers a hunt response. Take just as much time to accustom your pet to the rabbit hoping about in its run as seeing it within the hutch. Again, reward all positive responses.
Only consider closer interactions if both the rabbit and the cat or dog seem to show positive reactions to each other’s presence. A dog should be restrained on a leash when introduced to a free-moving rabbit. Remember that the situation can change very quickly and that a powerful dog could kill a rabbit in seconds, so always think very carefully about whether there is any benefit to allowing close contact and seek expert advice if you are unsure.
- Never leave a dog or cat unsupervised with a rabbit.
- Always make sure all pets have separate (preferably supervised) feeding stations as these can create flashpoints where attacks might be easily provoked.
- Remember that rabbits can suffer blockages if they eat some kinds of cat litter.
- Rabbits should always have a safe place they can retreat to if stressed.
- Be alert to any changes in behaviour that suggest that any pet is stressed by its interaction with another pet.
Never feel pressured into letting your cat or dog have closer contact with your rabbit than you feel comfortable with and give all animals concerned time to feel relaxed and confident with each other. Rabbits can be excellent pets and it is important that they are able to become happy members of the family; the family that includes your cat, or dog.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition