When we think of cats and rabbits, it’s natural to think of them in terms of their natural hierarchy.
If you’ve ever lived with a cat in the country, you’ve almost certainly buried your share of rabbits.
So, how do you introduce a cat to a rabbit without turning one of your pets into lunch for the other?
First Impressions Matter
Let’s start with what you don’t do. Forget friendship at this stage. All that matters is how your cat and rabbit meet.
Rabbits are highly social animals.
Cats are less social but can still bond with other animals. You only need to scroll through YouTube to happen upon any number of unlikely feline friendships.
That means that, whatever else you do, this is not a situation where you throw your two pets together and hope for the best.
Environment Matters Too
When you’re introducing a cat to a rabbit, start by creating a safe space.
This should be neutral ground for both animals. And, crucially, at this stage, everyone involved needs to feel comfortable.
Rabbits are naturally more curious than nervous. But placing them in an environment with an animal that could eat them if so minded tips the balance towards nervousness.
So, when you create your safe space, make sure it includes a cage for the rabbit.
Of course, it helps considerably if the cat isn’t tempted to eat the rabbit in the first place. Typically, domestic cats won’t go for prey if their needs are met.
With that in mind, the first time you introduce a cat to a rabbit, ensure both animals are well-fed.
You also want to consider where your safe space is in your home. As discussed, the rabbit needs its cage for security. But neutrality is still integral to creating the right atmosphere.
Consequently, you want to avoid anywhere where your cat or rabbit:
Both cats and rabbits can be territorial, and choosing a space that one or both animals feel they have a right to could add stress to an already complicated situation.
Don’t Let Your Rabbit Roam
We mentioned the importance of a cage for your rabbit when introducing it to a cat.
While, ideally, cat and rabbit will eventually develop the kind of tolerance that lets them intermingle, you shouldn’t expect that to happen on the first meeting.
That cage is there for a reason. Put your rabbit into it before bringing the cat on the scene.
To ensure your rabbit’s comfort, the cage should:
- Include hay for comfort
- Leave room for free movement
- Be big enough for the rabbit to turn around and/or retreat from the cat
If it helps relax your rabbit, include sources of food and water in the cage. But don’t be surprised if your rabbit doesn’t eat.
Eating in front of other animals makes rabbits and cats vulnerable to predators. It may take a while before either animal feels safe showing that kind of vulnerability around the other.
Mixing Scented Messages
But assuming the introductory meeting goes well, you can begin working on ways to start integrating the cat and rabbit outside the cage environment.
One of the best ways to do this is through scent. Animals give off pheromones that make them identifiable to themselves and others.
You can use this to your advantage when introducing animals. All you need is a choice of:
Whatever you choose, rub the fabric over the cat’s fur. Then, brush the rabbit with it. Once you’ve done that, stroke the cat again.
This helps give the cat and rabbit a herd smell. It tells them that they’re part of the same pack.
Keep in mind, however, that herd smells don’t develop instantly. Animals need time to acclimatize to the new smell.
To help this process of blending scents along, leave the washcloth or sock first in one animal’s bed and then the other.
As they adjust to the new scent, they’ll start to adjust to their new familial interloper.
How Long Should Visits Last?
This depends on the animals. The optimum length is about an hour. It gives the cat and rabbit time to:
- Introduce themselves
- Learn each other’s scents
- Explore the shared environment
But these things come with caveats. If the cat’s efforts to play make the rabbit nervous or vice versa, stop early.
To foster tolerance, never mind friendship, you want these introductions between cat and rabbit to be positive.
Expect Some Hissing
That said, a bit of hissing, even from submissive cats, should be expected.
It’s the feline equivalent of jumping if someone sneaks up behind you.
So, if the cat hisses at first, don’t be alarmed. And don’t rush to scold it. Instead, monitor the cat’s behavior for signs of escalation.
If the hissing doesn’t subside, then it’s time to step in.
A Note on Cat Intervention
If introducing your cat to your rabbit goes less than smoothly, it’s time to step in. But cats are famous for misdirecting or redirecting aggression.
That’s why so many cat owners come away from a play session with scratched hands. It’s not malicious behavior, but that energy needs somewhere to go.
That means that picking up a cat mid-pounce risks harming you, if not the rabbit.
When you’re intervening between an aggressive cat and its target, the best policy is to drop a blanket over the cat before picking it up.
This distracts the cat and protects you as you remove it from the scene.
Personality Makes a Difference
While a certain amount of surprised hissing is normal and animal bonds don’t develop overnight, you also want to keep your expectations realistic.
For rabbits and cats to cohabit a home, one has to suppress the instinct to hunt and the other to flee the scene.
That’s a lot easier to do with a cat whose favorite activity is sleeping or a naturally adventurous rabbit.
First and foremost, to successfully introduce your animals, you need to know them. An aggressive cat will take much longer to believe rabbits are friends, not food.
And a nervous rabbit isn’t going to start cuddling up to a cat overnight, if ever.
Losing the Cage
But assuming that introducing a cat and rabbit through the cage goes well, you can start to let the rabbit out of the cage.
The first few times you do this, it’s the cat’s turn to be contained. Put your cat in its carrier with a favorite toy or blanket for comfort and let the rabbit explore.
This allows the animals to experience what it’s like when the rabbit leads the interactions. It also flips the natural hierarchy of both animals and helps dissolve the predator-prey relationship.
Liberty, Equality, and Open Space Meetings
Finally, you can start introducing your cat and rabbit without crates or cages.
We recommend that when doing this, you stick to the same safe space you’ve been using for past meetings. It’s familiar to the cat and rabbit, and both feel safe there.
Even so, monitor both animals for signs of:
If you see any of these from either animal, it’s time to abort the playdate. You can pick up again the next day.
You may also notice that even as the relationship stabilizes, flare-ups occur. Maybe something spooks the rabbit or offends the cat. That’s normal.
When that happens, it’s time to give the animals time apart. Even best friends can’t spend all day every day together, after all.
However, try and avoid punishing either animal for these separations. It’s instinct at play here, not fault, and negative reinforcement risks teaching them they’re in trouble for the friendship, not the occasional misdemeanor.
Avoid Shared Meals and Playtimes
Typically, when bonding animals like cats and dogs, owners are encouraged to start feeding them together. But rabbits are prey, and cats are hunters.
You don’t want your cat to start associating meals with your rabbit.
Not only that, but you run the risk of possessiveness. If an especially assertive rabbit starts laying claim to your cat’s kibble, the cat may feel it can no longer eat it.
Instead, ensure both animals have spaces they can retreat to for:
You may feel you always have to supervise their interactions, and that’s normal. Rabbits might be social, but cats are solitary, and bonding with anyone requires extra feline effort.
It’s true, cats and rabbits make for unlikely friends.
But with the right care and attention when introducing them, you’re looking at the unusual beginnings of a beautiful friendship.
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