Can dogs and rabbits live together? It depends on the dog, and it depends on the rabbit. Some dog breeds are more likely to get on with a bunny than others. Individual personalities also play a role. Most importantly, if you’re going to introduce them, do it safely.
Why Keep a Rabbit and Dog Together?
Rabbits need companionship. They’re seldom happy alone. The best companion for a rabbit is another rabbit, of course. It’s also important to make your rabbits part of your human family. Pet rabbits can also be friends with other pets like guinea pigs and other small animals.
As unlikely as it may seem, a pet rabbit can even make friends with a cat.
A rabbit and dog can be friends, too, provided you take some precautions.
The Dangers of Keeping Rabbits and Dogs Together
The Internet is full of horror stories of rabbits mauled or killed by dogs. They’re not just stories; the danger is real. In addition, any pets sharing a household can also share parasites and diseases.
An overexcited dog can severely injure a rabbit, even without meaning to. Not only might a dog be unaware of its own strength, but rabbits are physically delicate. Even if both animals have the best intentions, it can be a deadly combination.
Some dog breeds, and some individuals, may be aggressive toward a small animal. You can’t know how a new dog will react to a bunny, and even a dog you’ve had for years might discover its hunting instincts when confronted by an actual prey animal.
Your dog’s breed is only one factor. You can never know how two animals will behave until you have them together. For this reason, it’s important to follow the safety guidelines we’ll detail in a bit.
Fright might not sound like a serious problem, but it is. Rabbits can actually die of fright from things like:
- Loud noises
- Seeing, hearing, or smelling a predator
- Being chased by another animal
If you’re going to introduce your dog and rabbit, do so in a way that minimises surprises, loud noises, and fright.
Diseases and Parasites
Dogs and rabbits can pass fleas, worms, and other parasites to one another. Dogs are often the source, however, plenty of dogs enjoy snacking on the faeces of other animals, which can transmit any worms, parasites, or diseases to your dog.
If you’re bringing new animals into your household, make sure that they are free of parasites and diseases. In addition, you will need to preventatively treat animals living in the same household for fleas and other parasites. Your vet can advise you about the best way to do this.
Choose the Right Dog
Given the right mix of personalities, a dog can make a fine friend for a bunny.
What kind of dog makes a good rabbit companion?
The main danger of introducing rabbits and dogs is injury to the rabbit, should the dog become overexcited. A dog with a calm personality will be less of a danger to your rabbit.
What’s your dog’s natural activity level? Is your dog a mellow fellow, or does he or she race around or behave destructively? If your dog needs to run a 5K to feel calm, then this might not be a good individual to introduce to your rabbit.
On the other hand, a mellow, sweet dog can make a rabbit friendly choice.
Your Dog and Other Pets
One good indicator of how a dog will get on with a rabbit is its track record with guinea pigs and other prey animals, as well as cats, birds, and so forth.
When you walk your dog, how does it react to other animals? Does it bark and lunge at squirrels, birds, cats, and other pets? If so, then this dog may accidentally hurt your rabbit out of excitement.
Barking and lunging at small animals can also be a sign of a high prey drive, which can be bad news for a rabbit.
Dog Breed and Prey Drive
Dogs are predators, but some dogs have a higher prey drive than others.
You might think that little dogs would be less likely to harm a bunny than big dogs. But your dog’s size is less important than its prey instinct. Many small dogs were bred to hunt and chase different species of small prey, including rabbits.
Many dogs bred for this purpose have a natural instinct to chase, and sometimes kill, small animals. A few breeds with a high prey drive include terriers, lurchers, and collies. It goes without saying that coyote and wolf hybrids should never be introduced to your bunnies.
Any dog that you introduce to your rabbit needs to have mastered basic obedience training. This means, at the very least, it must obey the basic commands “sit” and “stay,” even when it is desperate to chase a fast, furry rabbit.
Your dog must also “leave” or “drop” the object of its interest the minute you give the command.
Many rabbits move in a fast, unpredictable manner, especially when frightened. For some dogs, this can prove irresistible. Your dog needs to be well enough trained that it will resist.
How to Introduce Your Dog and Your Rabbit
Any time you bring two animals together, it’s important to think safety first.
Start in a Neutral Space
Many animals, and most rabbits, are territorial, so it’s important to choose a neutral space for introductions. You don’t want one animal to feel that the other animal is invading its territory. Don’t choose a space where either animal eats, sleeps, or eliminates.
Also, one or more of your pets may feel territorial about you, so don’t give one animal more attention than the other.
Prepare Both Animals
Take your dog for a long walk or play session before introducing the animals. This will give your dog a chance to get rid of its excitement and energy and approach introductions calmly.
As with bonding rabbits, you can also expose your dog and your rabbit to one another’s scents before introducing them. Pet your dog with a cloth, and put it in your rabbit’s enclosure to explore. Do the same with your rabbit’s scent.
In this way, each animal can become used to the other’s scent in a non-threatening context.
Keep Your Rabbit Safe
You may want to start off with your bunny in a safe, familiar place, like its pet carrier. Not only will this help your rabbit to feel calmer, it will also protect your rabbit from an over-inquisitive dog.
Another way to introduce your rabbit to your dog is through a fence, or through the wall of your rabbit’s run.
In any event, keep your dog on a leash at all times, and don’t leave the two animals alone together, even for a moment.
Also, be ready to end the introduction immediately if your rabbit becomes stressed.
Control Your Dog
In addition to being thoroughly obedience trained, your dog should be on a leash at all times. If your dog stays sitting or lying down, this further decreases the chance of misbehaviour.
It can also help to have a second person involved.
Short, Regular Sessions
Bonding two rabbits is often a long process involving multiple short sessions over a period of weeks. A similar slow introduction can help your pets to get used to one another, ease away your dog’s instinct to chase, and help your bunny to overcome any fears about your dog.
Try one or two short sessions per day to start with. Begin with your dog on the leash, and a barrier between dog and rabbit.
Aim for ten minutes per session, but be prepared to end the session if your dog becomes overexcited, or if your rabbit becomes frightened.
Make sessions a regular thing. This will decrease the excitement for your dog, and decrease the fear factor for your bunny.
Once your dog and rabbit are calm being together on either side of the barrier, you can introduce them inside a secure area. Go slowly and gently, speaking softly and authoritatively to both animals.
Keeping your dog on the lead, allow the rabbit to approach on its own terms. If the rabbit is allowed to make the first move, it will be less likely to run, and therefore less likely to trigger your dog’s chase instinct.
Keep an eye on your dog’s excitement level. If your dog is too excited, try calming it down with a sit-stay command. You may have to end the session if your dog can’t calm down.
Also watch out for signs of distress from your rabbit. These may include:
- “Playing dead”
- Ears back
- Warning noises like growling, muttering or hissing
Pay attention to both animals’ body language. If your rabbit is distressed, end the session immediately.
Use Positive Reinforcement
You already know that when training a rabbit, punishment is right out. Positive reinforcement is also the best way to train a dog.
Speak kindly and gently to your pets during introductions. Reward both your dog and your rabbit when they are in one another’s presence. That way they’ll associate being together with receiving treats and praise.
Signs the Introduction is Going Well
How can you tell that your dog and rabbit are starting to get on? Two words: body language.
First, look for a lack of excitement from your dog. With time and repetition, going to see the bunny should become a normal part of your dog’s routine, like mealtime or walkies. When your dog is completely calm around your rabbit, that’s a sign that they’re on their way to becoming friends.
Likewise, when your rabbit can ignore or turn its back on your dog, you’ll know that your bunny is feeling safe. Look for other “relaxed bunny” body language, including:
- Flopping down on its side
- Ignoring or turning its back on your dog
- Ears at a 45 degree angle
And if your rabbit does a binky when your dog’s about, you’ll know that you’re building a friendship to last.
Dog Breeds: What to Know
Some dog breeds are a better match for a rabbit than others. Certain kinds of hunting dogs, for example, were bred to chase, and sometimes even to kill small animals. That instinct can be difficult to overcome.
With mixed breed dogs, it can be difficult to know exactly what you’re working with. It’s worth trying to find out, however, which breeds are in the mix, and learning a bit about those breed characteristics.
Veterinarian and rabbit breeder Dr. Mark has a few tips for choosing the right breed to bring home to bunny.
Dog Breeds That Can be Good With Rabbits
Some breeds of dogs have a very low prey instinct. For this reason, they’re less likely to chase your bunny.
It’s important to note, however, that individual dogs can have very different personalities, and a low prey instinct is no guarantee that a particular individual will be safe around your rabbit.
A Maltese is a small breed dog that has been a pet breed for an estimated 8,000 years. This fun-loving dog is a companion breed, rather than a hunting breed, and can make a good new friend for your pet rabbit.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is another small breed companion dog known for its gentle nature and sunny disposition.
Goldens are renowned for their gentle, friendly, reliable temperaments. Although they were bred as hunting dogs, they by and large get on quite well with other pets. They have a low prey instinct and, as a bonus, are very mellow and easy to train.
Great Pyrenees are enormous, muscular dogs. But they’re also quite laid back. Originally bred as a livestock guardian, Pyrenees will also guard your family’s pets. One downside, however, is that this large dog is independent and can be hard to train.
Dog Breeds That Can be Problematic
Certain breeds and classes of dogs can be a disastrous combination with your rabbits. Of course, individual personalities can vary, whatever the breed. But these have a high prey instinct, and deserve caution around small animals.
Sighthounds like the greyhound, whippet, and Russian Wolfhound have extremely high prey drives. They’re also fast.
Terriers like the Jack Russell and others were bred to chase down and sometimes kill small animals. This instinct is very strong.
Scent hounds like beagles were also bred to relentlessly chase prey. Dachshunds, in particular, were bred to chase small burrowing animals like rabbits.
Some guard dogs like the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd can merit caution around smaller animals.
Unlike the Golden Retriever, labs have a very strong prey drive.
Some sled dogs, like Huskies, have also been bred to be hunting dogs. Many of these also have a strong hunt-and-kill instinct when it comes to small animals.
What About Rabbit Breeds?
Some breeds of rabbits are better suited to canine company, due to their mellow temperament. Giant breeds fall into this category. Their size also helps them to be more confident around other animals.
Managing Rabbits and Dogs Together Safely
There are several keys to a successful dog/rabbit friendship:
- A calm, even-tempered dog with a low prey instinct
- A confident rabbit
- Taking things slowly
- Keeping your dog under control
- Safety first
Not every dog is cut out for this type of friendship, and neither is every rabbit. But with patience and the right combination of individuals, it can be done.
Do you keep dogs and rabbits together? Do you have any advice for our readers? We’d love to hear it!