So, you’re a lover of all fuzzy creatures, and you imagine your home filled with singing birds and animal friendship a la scenes from Disney’s Cinderella. But can that actually happen? Well, fellow bunny-lovers, I’m here to give you some tips on how a great co-species friendship can evolve, specifically between rabbits and dogs. Read on and see the photos for actual proof that such a thing does exist!
Hazel is my 2 lb, 3 year old, spayed female Netherland Dwarf. She was an “only child” before I adopted Nola, an adorable Dachshund mix, special-needs puppy in April 2012. Nola was headed to a rescue organization from the animal shelter because she was born deaf, and with some other congenital abnormalities that go along with the “double merle” gene. Being the sappy veterinary student that I am, and a lifetime dog lover, I decided to adopt her. However, I realized that I needed to go about things carefully in introducing her to my bunny Hazel, as I wanted it to be a safe and positive experience for both of them.
Nola doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body, and Hazel is a very outgoing and social bun - it ended up making them a great match. When I first introduced them, Nola was only 5 pounds, and not too much bigger than Hazel. Hazel wasn’t afraid of Nola, so both of my girls just checked each other out, sniffing and following the other around. Hazel was somewhat miffed, and wasn’t as social for the first few weeks that Nola was at home, often hiding under the bed or leaving the room when she’d had enough exposure to puppy time. As time went on, Hazel grew bolder, and before you knew it, she was stealing dog food out of the dog dish at dinnertime, often while Nola was still eating! Of course, dog food isn’t a great choice for rabbits, and I had to shoo her away - but it was great that Hazel had no fear of Nola, and Nola didn’t have any issues with Hazel getting near her, her toys, or her food.
As time has passed, Nola and Hazel have only become more comfortable with each other. Hazel now sticks her head or entire body under Nola’s face, begging for groomies! Nola sometimes obliges, licking her face, nose, and back. Other times Nola isn’t in the licking mood, but Hazel sits patiently while Nola sniffs, sniffs, sniffs her. It’s adorable to watch. Recently Hazel thought Nola had been getting treats and she was feeling left out - so what did Hazel do? Got on her hind legs, put her front legs on Nola, and sniffed her face to see if she had anything yummy to share! Such a bossy little bun.
When Hazel has had enough, she can escape to her room, under the bed, or behind the furniture to get away from an annoying puppy. I always watch them closely to make sure that Nola isn’t being too rambunctious - there have been a few times where Nola has pawed Hazel, or tried to get her to engage with her toys; of course this is only in play, but it is important that your bun never gets hurt (or vice versa- bunny bites are bad!). I always discourage chasing or rough-housing of any kind from my puppy; it is absolutely not tolerated in my house. Also, Hazel makes the rules - if she has had enough interaction, I let her choose to go elsewhere, and do not let Nola continue to try to play or follow her. This has worked well, and as time has passed, the interactions between Nola and Hazel have become natural, friendly, and fun for both of them.
So here are some overall tips I would follow for INTRODUCING A PUPPY OR DOG TO YOUR BUNNY:
- ALWAYS make sure interactions are supervised, especially when first introducing your animals
- Put your puppy or dog on a leash when first doing an introduction
- It may be a good idea (if your dog is not well-trained) to take an obedience class first to get the basics of come, sit, down, stay, etc. It will make things safer in the long run.
- Put your bunny in an x-pen, and with your dog/puppy on leash, let him/ her approach the pen. Watch carefully for a fear response in your rabbit, or over-excitement in your dog. End the session if you feel things aren’t calm or positive.
- Once your dog can behave calmly around your bunny in his/her pen, let your bunny out of the pen. KEEP YOUR DOG ON LEASH, AND MAKE him/her SIT QUIETLY AND CALMLY. Let the bunny approach. Again, watch your dog for hyper-excitability or aggression, and quickly end the session. Reward your dog for good behavior around the bunny, and vice versa. You want both the dog and the rabbit to enjoy the interaction.
- Repeat these interactions in different rooms of the house, or where your bunny might roam naturally. Keep your dog on leash during these times, and always let your bun approach. Keep the situation calm and quiet, and give plenty of rewards for good behavior!
- Once you feel comfortable with your dog’s behavior around you bun (which could take MONTHS), you may want to see how the interaction goes off leash. That is up to you, and only you will know when the time is right. It is always risky to take this step, so make sure the environment is stable, quiet, and safe. Supervise at all times.
- Recognize that your dog may never accept a rabbit; some dogs have a high prey drive, or are naturally aggressive toward small animals. However, I would not say that one breed, age, or sex is more predisposed than another. I think that a dog-bunny relationship is entirely on an individual basis, and each animal is different. Some people say that introducing a puppy to a rabbit is a bad idea; however, it worked for me because I had the right combination of personalities. It is up to you to decide and do what is best for your animals.
- Hopefully your dog and bunny will accept each other, and enjoy each other’s company. This will take time, but if both are willing and the interaction is safe, it can be very rewarding! Don’t push, and take your time - safety is of the essence!
- If your dog becomes too rambunctious, wants to chase, or play too rough with your bunny, stop the interaction immediately and separate the animals. Let your dog know that this is unacceptable.You may also want to make sure your dog’s and bunny’s nails are trimmed to avoid any scratching injuries, purposeful or accidental.
- Let your bunny make the rules - if your bunny is outgoing or territorial, it will let the dog know when enough is enough. Your dog needs to learn that. But don’t let things get out of hand, and keep things safe for everyone!
- NEVER leave your dog and rabbit out home alone together - before I run to the store and when I go to school, I put Nola in the kitchen, separated from the rest of the house by an xpen. Hazel can still visit through the bars, but it’s good to know that everyone is safe and happy while I’m away.
I can’t stress enough that safety is of the highest importance when introducing a dog and a rabbit. But if done properly, bunnies and dogs can get along well! I know of many people who have rabbits and dogs that live together in the same home that do excellently. I love having a dog-bunny friendship in my house, and it makes life a little less stressful when my animals don’t have to always be separated. So good luck to you, everyone! And keep us posted on your journey to a dog-bunny bond!