Even though their natural differences lower the chances of a harmonious multi-pet household, a dog and a rabbit can live peacefully in the same home. From choosing the right breed to proper introduction techniques, befriending a predator and a prey animal requires special attention.
Here are simple steps on how to handle your pooch when bringing a new furry friend home. We will tell you how to keep the relationship tolerable and safe for both pets.
Can dogs and rabbits live together?
Various factors can be predominant when introducing a rabbit to a dog-loving home. But in general, dogs can be trained and prepared to accept a rabbit. However, it is essential to keep in mind that even the most obedient dog may still have an inherent prey drive and may not be able to resist chasing or attacking a small animal like a rabbit. Therefore, even though it is possible to train a dog to accept a rabbit, it is crucial to exercise caution and not leave them unsupervised.
That said, it can help if you’re able to choose the dog’s or the rabbit’s breed as their personality traits can very much determine whether they will or will not get along with their furry companion. For instance, breeds with a low prey drive such as Poodles, Bichon Frises, and Shih Tzus are more likely to be friendly towards rabbits. Additionally, some rabbit breeds such as the Netherland Dwarf and Mini Lop are naturally social and more likely to get along with dogs.
“Some dog breeds have an instinctively high prey drive, meaning they are more likely to chase or attack prey animals like rabbits. Retrievers, Terriers, Hounds are natural hunters, which could make obedience training a bit more challenging. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your Labrador will automatically torment your bun, but it certainly helps to know that some inborn instincts should be considered.”
Couch potato dog breeds, especially lapdogs, will be safer for your bunny. A small King Charles Cavalier Spaniel is less likely to want to eat Peter Rabbit and is less likely to accidentally hurt your bunny than a huge Great Dane. Similarly, choosing a small and laid-back rabbit breed is also beneficial when introducing it to a dog. For instance, breeds such as the Mini Rex and the Holland Lop are generally calm and make great candidates for pet rabbits.
Rabbits have a mind of their own too, and their personality can depend on the breed. Consider more docile and pet-friendly rabbit breeds like the Sussex, Dutch, California Giant, Himalayan, and Havana. These bunnies are more likely to accept the company and stay calm around larger animals like dogs.
Before even thinking about the first encounter, make sure your pets are healthy and checked by a vet. Since they have entirely different immune systems, both rabbits and dogs may carry transmissive bacteria or diseases that could be dangerous for one another.
Have your dog properly checked and ask about the needed safety measures before bringing a new animal to the household. If you’re adopting or buying a rabbit, ask the previous owners about any past illnesses, vaccination, and regular parasite treatments. Your pet’s health is of topmost priority.
Don’t forget the obedience training
When it’s time to introduce the rabbit to your pooch, the dog will be the one handled on a leash and let loose. This is why your dog has to be properly trained and used to receive commands. The dog should be able to consistently respond to your voice and feel the presence of authority. Start with the basic instructions, like “sit”, “stay” and “lay down”, then work on more complicated commands like “drop it/leave it” and “back away”.
If the dog’s response is not consistent or you haven’t yet trained him to a high level of response, you can never know whether he will be triggered by the rabbit’s movement and feel the urge to hunt. Practice training with toys and always reward good behavior with treats.
Introduction steps: How to handle the first encounter
Find a neutral space
To eliminate any territorial behavior, find a space in your house that neither of the animals spends time in. Each pet should have a private nook for their bed, feeding area, and playing. By giving them a chance to meet in entirely new surroundings, you’re lowering stress and exterior distractions.
Keep the rabbit safe and secure in a cage
It will take some time before your pets learn to play together, or at least tolerate each other without any strict safety precautions. During their first meeting, the rabbit must be enclosed in a cage or a rabbit hutch. Your dog may get too fidgety and excited, thus accidentally hurting the bunny. A sturdy and spacious cage will ensure that the rabbit is safe, and it also gives him a chance to run to a remote corner and calm down if stressed out.
The dog should be restrained on a leash
Just as the rabbit should be in a cage, a dog should be controlled on a secure leash or a harness.
Once the dog notices new smells and the rabbit’s movement, he will be eager to investigate and sniff around. Allow the dog to be assertive and check out his new friend, but keep the leash tight and be ready to react if you notice aggression. The whole thing may be too much for the rabbit, so observe your pets’ behavior and act accordingly.
Stay calm and patient
Like acquiring any habit, patience and repetition are crucial for success. Your pets need to understand that their new furry friend is here to stay and, most importantly, it’s not their food or attacker. Set a specific time during the day, which will be reserved for your pets’ meetings and stick to it for a while. Consistency and persistent contact will eventually make your pets accept each other.
Follow the pets’ lead
Once they get accustomed to each other’s presence, both animals will want to investigate and roam around. Your task is to be the observer and let the animals meet naturally. Don’t be surprised if you notice the rabbit showing dominance and even aggression as rabbits can get territorial too.
Slowly start removing the solid barriers
Some rabbits and dogs will just have to communicate through the cage, but some can be let loose if they show high tolerance. To do so, ask for help from another person to handle the dog while you gently take the rabbit out of the hutch. Keep the rabbit firmly in your hands and slowly bring him closer to the dog. Monitor the dog’s behavior and reward him for obedience. If the animals get too agitated and restless, remove the dog from the room and repeat later. Make sure to correct any aggressive and disobedient behavior.
Some rabbits and dogs are just not meant to be – accept that
If after a considerable time of trying and meeting your pets just can’t seem to get along, then don’t force it. It may be because the dog experiences a strong hunting urge, or the rabbit is too timid. It all boils down to keeping your pets healthy, safe, and happy, so if that means separating them, so be it.