Happy Together? With common sense and patience prey and predator may become best buds
By Sally E. Bahner
They both have lush fur coats, ears and noses that are barometers of their surroundings, and personas that elicit the “Aww” response. But one is prey and the other is a predator.
Can a cat – the predator – and a bunny – the ultimate prey – live together in peace and harmony? The answer is a qualified yes.
As with all animals, introductions must be made gradually and strict supervision maintained at all times. “Keep an eye on them for quite some time,” says Edward Binse of Brian’s Bunny Barn in Guilford. Binse adds that rabbits prefer to live alone outside in a hutch or cage and spend some of the time inside the house. Rabbits and cats are best introduced when they are both young before the prey/predator instinct has a chance to develop…” so they think they are the same.”
Binse says that a male rabbit will spray or mark its territory with other rabbits, so he suggests getting a female to avoid spraying if the bunny will be living with a cat. Binse also recommends the larger breeds such as Flemish Giants, which are more docile and can hold their own against a cat. Binse adds that English Spots have a good temperament and are curious and active and would interact a lot more with their surroundings.
Susan “Bunmom”, Pets Press’s resident bunny expert, agrees. “The smaller the rabbit, the more fun for kitty and the more danger for the little bunny. Larger rabbits tend to be more intimidating for a cat to mess with.”
In fact, according to Amy Shapiro of the House Rabbit Society, many people report a total reversal of the expected roles between house-rabbits and house-cats. She says that rabbits tend to be more confrontational in group settings than cats are. She believes that on a very basic level rabbits are group animals and cats are solitary, although there is individual variation within the species. So a large rabbit may charge a cat, making it clear that the rabbit is the one who is dominant.
“Rabbits are adaptive,” says Edward Binse. “They’re a lot like humans, having a variety of personalities.” According to Shapiro, many rabbits who lack the social skills necessary for living with another rabbit do better living with a feline companion.
But, Shapiro says, it’s all in the environmental manipulation. She stresses the importance of making the right cat/rabbit match and using patience and care when making introductions. The worst scenario is a fleeing rabbit and a cat with untrimmed claws – an instant recipe for prey/predator.
Shapiro recommends making introductions while the rabbit is still in her cage, one that is secure enough to discourage prying paws and large enough for a hiding box. Keep the bunny in the cage with the cat observing as long as necessary (use common sense) to get used to each other. The next step is to let them both out together under your supervision. Let them sniff and investigate. Keep a spray bottle handy and if the kitty gets too rambunctious, use it! If you find yourself using the spray bottle frequently, take it as your cue that things moved too quickly and go back to the cage phase. Keep trying until everyone is comfortable. Shapiro says it’s just a matter of time and supervision. Two concerns govern a happy feline-rabbit co-existence.
One is the bunny’s tendency to nibble. wood, i.e. furniture, and electrical cords are prime targets. Often keeping the bunny confined is a basic matter of safety, for the household as well as the rabbit herself.
The second is the use of the litter box. Rabbits can be litter trained, but cat litters may be harmful to them, says Susan of Pets Press. She recommends separate litter boxes for each or picking a recycled paper or pellet litter that is safe for both.
Common sense all around should govern whether bunnies and kitties can be comfortable cozying up. Knowing your pets and understanding their temperaments will help you create a place where both can co-exist peacefully. n
Sally E. Bahner is a member of the Cat Writers’ Association and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She is a regular contributor to Pets Press.