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Though this may seem an unlikely pairing, friendships between rabbits and cats have been well documented, and are easily forged. If you are bringing a new bunny into a household with one or more cat present, it is important to follow a few simple steps in order to assure that the transition goes smoothly and safely. Overcoming the predator-prey boundary is of primary concern, but once the two have made their acquaintance, expect to see a close and adorable friendship that will entertain you for years to come.
Even once your cat-rabbit friendship has been formed, it is possible that your cat will chase a rabbit it meets in the wild. Likewise, just because your rabbit has learned to trust your cat, it may still run away from a strange cat it sees outside of your home environment. Your cat may even chase your rabbit if she sees him outdoors. The important thing to remember is to set up your pets in an environment where these predator/prey drives are lessened, if not entirely absent. You need to make sure your cat is in a situation where she is unlikely to feel predatory: perhaps she is particularly sleepy or lethargic, or maybe she has just eaten. Rabbits are far more territorial than cats, and your rabbit will likely be the aggressor when you introduce the two, even if your cat is the first to initiate chasing. Your rabbit is thinking there is someone in their territory, but as an animal largely used to dwelling in groups, is immediately setting out to determine who of the two stands to be in charge. The cat, conversely, is simply content that an obvious prey animal is choosing not to run away.
The difficulty arises if, for instance, you have an easily frightened or young rabbit and a very energetic cat. As soon as your rabbit runs, the game changes. The cat will immediately see the rabbit as a prey object, and this is where you as the owner of both pets have to be particularly vigilant. It is in these situations where the best course of action is to separate the pair and place your rabbit safely in his cage, and away from prying feline claws. Make sure there is an area in your rabbit’s cage or enclosure where he can hide and feel safe.
It is whilst your rabbit and cat are safely separated by the bunny cage that some more interactions can occur. Allow the two to smell each other and each other’s spaces through the confines of the cage. Hopefully your cat will be able to observe your rabbit for an hour or so, and get used to his movements and actions. Repeat these in-cage interactions every day until the two seem entirely at ease with each other. It is important not to rush things, as even in play a cat can seriously injure or even kill a rabbit. Try and not scold your cat when things don’t go exactly how you’d like them to. This will only teach her to wait until you are gone before tormenting your rabbit, or to equate the rabbit with scolding. Neither is ideal to begin a bond between the two.
After several weeks of interactions and smelling whilst the rabbit is in the cage, you may feel confident in the two interacting under your supervision outside of the caged environment. Release your rabbit in a room where your cat is present and allow them to approach and interact with each other. Try not to intervene unless you feel it is absolutely necessary. If your cat is overly boisterous in a way that is likely to frighten your rabbit, you may wish you use a squirt bottle and just lightly spritz her with water when she is becoming too rough with your rabbit. Be careful to ensure that she doesn’t see you doing the spritzing, or she will not associate the reprimand with the environment, but rather with you. If you find you are using this rather frequently, it isn’t really fair on your cat (she is, after all, just being a cat!) and you may have to backtrack to the cage-monitored interactions. They will eventually get used to one another.
What can sometimes happen is that you have a very assertive, confident rabbit. When you introduce this rabbit to your cat, he is likely to charge or chase her! Though this may seem unusual or worrying, it is by far the easiest scenario in which the two interact. Once your rabbit has asserted himself, your cat will no longer see him as a prey object, and the two can begin to form a bond, or even a friendship. If you are bringing a rabbit into the house to be a house rabbit, make sure you first give him a chance to establish himself in his new territory, or he is unlikely to assert himself over your cat.
This is an important aspect of any cross-species interactions. Be sure you know your cat and your rabbit separately, and are able to predict how they might respond to the other. Learn the signs of stress and anxiety in your cat, and do not attempt to introduce your rabbit when either or both of these signs are present. Likewise, learn to notice when your rabbit is particularly flighty or frightened, and wait until he has calmed down before introducing a predator creature into his life.
Given enough time, patience and guided supervision, these two animals can live in harmony easily. They may not become bonded as best of friends, but finding themselves in a situation where neither chases the other is a good start. It can be a rewarding experience for both pets and owner, and mostly depends on the individual pets in question, but when everything works out, expect to find yourself witnessing some of the most adorable forms of animal interactions.