Rabbits vs. Cats: How Do They Compare as Pets?

Rabbits vs. cats as pets

Both rabbits and cats are excellent companion pets. They will spend time with you, adding joy and comfort to your days. Cats are the standard go-to for people looking for a quiet companion pet, but maybe you heard that rabbits are great too. Would a rabbit be a better pet for you?

In general, cats are lower maintenance pets than rabbits. Cats are less destructive, require less individual attention, and are more quickly litter trained. It’s even a lot easier to find a veterinarian for a cat than it is for a rabbit.

However, that doesn’t mean rabbits are a bad choice for a pet. Depending on your living situation, a rabbit may be an excellent pet for you. Once they learn to trust you, rabbits are more social. They are also much quieter pets, which can make rabbits great for apartment living. 

Before deciding what type of pet is right for you, learn about the pros and cons of rabbits and cats. If you just can’t choose between them, rabbits and cats can actually be great as house pets together. You’ll just have to make sure your two pets are compatible before allowing them to spend time together.

Rabbit care compared to cat care

Most people don’t realize it, but rabbits are actually high-maintenance pets. At least, compared to cats they are. While cats are often happy to keep to themselves, rabbits need a lot of attention, space, and exercise on a daily basis to maintain their health and happiness. 

Many people new to rabbit care think of them as cage pets, but the reality is that rabbits thrive as companion animals. You need to socialize with them, train them, and create a safe home for them. Compared to the care requirements for cats, you’ll even need to expect to spend more time cleaning when you have a rabbit.

The similarities between rabbits and cats

Rabbits and cats definitely require different levels of care, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing in common. In general, both of these types of pets are good companions for a quiet lifestyle. They don’t need to be taken out for daily walks, but you can teach both to walk on a leash if you want to.

Both rabbits and cats:

  • Relatively quiet pets. Both rabbits and cats are relatively quiet compared to many other pets, especially dogs and birds. Of the two, rabbits are the quieter because they don’t have any loud or annoying vocalizations, like a cat’s meow.
  • Have some similar body language. While not precisely the same, cat and rabbit body language has some surprising similarities, especially when watching their ears. Curious ears move forward, while aggressive ears go back. You will also see them sniffing and chinning objects, zooming around the room, and displaying trust by lying down near you.
  • Have similar activity levels. Both rabbits and cats are most active during the morning and evening, and they will nap for most of the day. They are not nearly as high energy as dogs, especially as they age into adults and lose their baby energy.
  • They are clean animals. Both rabbits and cats spend a good portion of their day grooming themselves to maintain cleanliness. They can also be litter trained, making it easier to keep them as house pets.

The differences between rabbits and cats

Despite their similarities, rabbits and cats require very different approaches to their care. Cats can be left to their own devices more-or-less, while rabbits need a lot more supervision and rabbit-proofing around the home (like child-proofing, but for rabbits). 

They also have completely opposite dietary needs that you’ll need to take into account. Rabbits and cats also react differently to their surroundings. You’ll need to take the time to understand the mindset of your pet to know why they feel anxious or aggressive in different situations.

The main ways cats and rabbits differ:

  • Social needs. While cats can enjoy company, pet rabbits NEED socialization. They come from a highly social species, so if rabbits are kept as single pets, they need a lot of attention on a daily basis.
  • Prey vs. predator mindset. Many house cat behaviors stem from their predator nature. The way cats play mimics hunting behaviors. Rabbits, on the other hand, are wholly prey animals. Much of their behavior stems from the need to constantly be aware of danger, making them much more skittish as pets.
  • Rabbits need more supervision. Rabbits like to chew and dig on just about anything. You’ll need to rabbit-proof the home or spend a lot of time supervising your rabbit to make sure they don’t get into any trouble.
  • Different dietary needs. Rabbits are herbivores, while cats are carnivores. If you are squeamish about giving meat to a pet, then a rabbit is the better option for you since cats cannot get the nutrients they need on a plant-based diet.
  • Lifespan. Rabbits live longer than people think (about 10 years on average), but cats still tend to have a longer lifespan. Cats can live up to 15 years on average.

Deciding which pet is right for you

Both rabbits and cats are excellent pets to have as companions, but they’re not suitable for everyone. You may have even read through this article only to decide that neither a rabbit nor a cat is the best addition to your family. Whatever your choice, you always want to keep your new pet’s needs in mind. This way, you’ll be ready for your new pet and their care requirements.

It’s also important to understand that all animals are individuals. These lists of pros and cons are generalizations and may not apply to your specific pet, so it’s essential to learn your animal’s particular needs and personality.

The pros and cons of rabbit care

Rabbits are good pets for quieter and more relaxed households. They don’t typically do well around children since rabbits are very delicate and easily injured. It’s also important to understand that while rabbits are social, they can take a long time to come out of their shell. Because they have a prey mindset, rabbits are often skittish around people, to begin with.

Rabbits are also typically more destructive than cats, but that depends on the specific pet. Some cats will claw furniture just as much as rabbits will chew on it. It’s also true that while rabbits are also clean animals, they are not as pristine as most cats. On the other hand, people are much more often allergic to cats than rabbits, so that is another aspect to consider.

Pros of rabbit care

  • Rabbits don’t vocalize. Both cats and rabbits are usually quiet pets, but rabbits are the quieter of the two. The sound of them digging into cardboard or thumping isn’t completely silent, but they don’t make any loud vocalizations. You won’t have an annoying meow waking you up every morning.
  • Rabbits don’t like to be held. Most people think of rabbits as cuddly pets, but in reality, they hate to be held. There are individual cats who will not like to be picked up either, but the trait is almost universal for rabbits.
  • Rabbit poop is not gross. Since the main part of a rabbit’s diet is hay, that means their poop is mainly condensed balls of sawdust-like material. It doesn’t smush into the carpet to cause stains, and it does not spread diseases to humans.
  • Rabbits rarely smell bad: Rabbits have very little smell to them so that you won’t come back to a distinctly cat-smelling home. Their urine is the only part with some scent, but this should not be a significant problem if you regularly clean the litter box.

Cons of rabbit care

  • Rabbits are more destructive. Rabbits have natural instincts to dig and chew on objects because they would be burrowers in the wild. This means they can be destructive towards carpets, furniture, baseboards, and wires within the home.
  • Rabbits are more difficult to litter train. Rabbits can be litter trained, but it’s rarely going to be perfect. If they are spayed or neutered, the rabbit will usually do a good job of urinating in the litter box, but you’ll likely still find occasional poops around.
  • Rabbits have a sensitive digestion. Digestive illnesses (such as GI Stasis) are some of the most common among rabbits. They need to have a balanced diet with lots of hay and fresh leafy greens to maintain their gut health.
  • Rabbits take a long time to warm up to people. Rabbits are very social pets, but they can take many months to come out of their shell. This is because of their prey mindset that causes them to be wary of everything until proven safe.
  • It’s difficult to know when rabbits are sick. Rabbits are very good at hiding signs of illness. Because of this, you may not know your rabbit is sick at all until they are very sick, making it less likely that they’ll recover. (learn the subtle symptoms of illness to look for in rabbits)
rabbit digging into the carpet
Bored rabbits are more likely to have destructive behaviors, such as digging and destroying the carpets.

The pros and cons of cat care

Cats are also great for quiet households, but they are much more independent than rabbits. While many cats will love to hang out with you all day long, it’s just as common to find cats who prefer to spend the day alone. This can make cats a much better option for people who expect to spend a lot of time traveling or away from home.

Many people don’t consider the ability to find healthcare for a cat vs. a rabbit. Cats can be taken to almost any veterinary clinic and expect to see a qualified doctor. On the other hand, Rabbits need to be taken to an exotic animal veterinarian, so they can work with a doctor who has had specialized training with small animals.

Pros of cat care

  • Cats require less attention. If you are often away from home, cats are still able to enjoy their time alone. Even when you are home, they may appreciate your attention, but they are not as needy as other pets, such as dogs and rabbits.
  • Cats are easily litter trained. Most cats will very quickly start to use a litter box, even when they are kittens. They also tend to have fewer accidents than rabbits.
  • It’s easy to find an appropriate veterinarian. Most veterinarians are trained to treat cats and dogs, so finding a suitable clinic is not difficult even if you live in a less populated area.

Cons of cat care

  • Cats have sharp claws. Even if they don’t mean to, cat claws and teeth can do some damage.
  • Some cats make a lot of noise. Many cats will meow or whine for attention, food, or just for fun.
  • You’re more likely to be allergic to cats. Some people are allergic to rabbits, but cat allergies are much more common. 
  • Cats can get anywhere. It’s more challenging to prevent cats from climbing on the furniture or keep them from knocking over objects in high places (some cats can even open doors!). Dangerous plants and objects can be more detrimental to cats because they are almost impossible to keep out of reach.

What to do if you have a rabbit and cat in your home?

Rabbits and cats can be an excellent match, but you have to be very careful. Cats are predators, and rabbits are prey animals, so there are some natural instincts you may have to contend with. Luckily, rabbits are much bigger than the animals that house cats would generally hunt. So a typical house cat is not likely to immediately chase after an adult rabbit.

I do NOT recommend letting a cat and rabbit play together unsupervised because of the potential for injury. However, the two pets can learn to be friends with time. It’s not uncommon for a cat and rabbit to exist in a household together peacefully.

Are your pets compatible?

Before deciding to bring a cat into your rabbit home or vice versa, you want to consider whether the two pets are compatible. If you have a cat that always seems to want to go after squirrels or birds outside, it’s probably not a good idea to introduce a rabbit to the family. Similarly, if you have a very territorial or aggressive rabbit, you’ll want to be very careful about bringing any other pets into the family.

But many house cats are very calm. They might be curious about a new rabbit coming into the home, and over time will be acclimated to the new animal. Rabbits also will likely need a transition period where they will be timid around a cat. But eventually, the two will learn to live with each other, and they might even become friends.

It is more likely a cat and rabbit will get along if you get them both as young animals. Animals that grow up together are more likely to feel a bond with each other. They won’t see the other animal as a threat or an animal to hunt because they’ve been together all their lives.

It is also essential to consider the size of your rabbit. Bunnies typically weigh anywhere from 2 pounds to about 12 pounds. A two-pound rabbit might be small enough that your cat will try to chase after it, but a giant 12-pound rabbit might even be bigger than your cat. It is much safer to have a large rabbit and cat as pets. The size difference will disrupt their predator-and-prey relationship.

rabbits and cats
Rabbits and cats can sometimes be very good friends, but you do have to be careful about how you introduce these animals.

Introducing your pets

Rabbits and cats will often be able to get along and become a part of the family together. However, you need to be very careful with their introduction to avoid aggression and injury.

  1. Introduce your rabbit and cat with a fence separating them. The first time you let your pets see each other, make sure there is some form of barrier between them. This will prevent the two pets from attacking each other. You also want to give your rabbit a hiding house or box they can run to if they immediately get scared.
  2. Observe your pets to see how they react. It’s a good sign if the two animals are curious about each other, to begin with. Most commonly, they will be cautious of each other, the rabbit is more likely to run away in fear, but some cats are scared of rabbits too. Let your pets check each other out for 30 minutes, but separate them early if they show signs of stress or aggression.
  3. Continue for a week. If your pets are doing okay together, continue to allow them to interact in the same way for the next week. Usually, they will start to warm up to each other and become less afraid. Watch for any signs of aggression from either animal.
  4. Allow your pets to interact without a barrier. If the two are doing okay with a fence between them, then you can allow them to interact without the barrier. Supervise them very closely to make sure they are both still comfortable around the other animal.

Even if your pets seem to be okay with each other right away, it’s best to continue to only allow them to interact when you can supervise them for at least a couple of months. After a few months, your pets will likely start to get used to each other. You should still consider keeping them apart when you are not home or when you are asleep, but by now, your pets are both parts of the family.

How to keep your pets separate

Unfortunately, your cat and rabbit might not get along with each other. If your efforts at bonding the two animals aren’t going well, at some point, you have to make arrangements for your two pets to permanently live in separate spaces.

The easiest way to handle this is to keep your rabbit in one room of the house where your cat is not allowed. At the very least, you need to make sure your rabbit has a hutch that the cat cannot get into. In this case, you’ll also need to give your rabbit some exercise time while the cat is kept in another room.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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