Rabbits vs. Dogs: How do They Compare as Pets?

Rabbits vs dogs as pets

While dogs are undeniably one of the most common household pets, most people don’t know that rabbits are actually quite popular. Rabbits are fantastic pets to have as companions. They’re almost as social as dogs are! But despite my love for rabbits, it’s important to recognize that they are not the pet for everyone.

Both rabbits and dogs benefit from frequent human companionship. Their behavior is not as different as you might expect. Rabbits don’t need as much direct training as dogs. However, rabbits require a gentler living environment and a lot of time to open up to people.

If you’re thinking of getting a rabbit or dog, or both of them together, think about the pros and cons of the care involved. Don’t assume rabbits are the easier pet just because they don’t go on daily walks. We’ll take the time to compare these two types of pets so you can figure out which is better for your lifestyle. Then we’ll look into the ways rabbits and dogs can harmoniously live together in a household.

Rabbit care compared to dog care

Believe it or not, rabbits are high-maintenance pets. The amount of care they require is actually comparable to pet dogs. They may not need to be taken out for daily walks, but rabbits need a lot of attention, space, and exercise to maintain their health and happiness. 

While many people new to rabbit care think of them as cage pets, the reality is that rabbits thrive as companion animals. You need to socialize with them, train them, and create a safe home for them, much the same way you need to for household dogs. While the specific care requirements are different, rabbits are not all that much easier to take care of than dogs.

Similarities between rabbits and dogs

Rabbits and dogs are pretty opposite animals, but they somehow bring a lot of the same kind of energy with them into a household. If you’re looking for a pet you can hang out and form a deep relationship with, both dogs and rabbits are excellent choices.

Both rabbits and dogs are:

  • Social: If you’re looking for a social pet, dogs aren’t the only option. Both rabbits and dogs enjoy interacting and bonding with human companions.
  • Active: Both rabbits and dogs require a lot of time to exercise. While rabbits are small enough to get exercise inside and don’t need to be taken for walks, it’s still important to make sure they have enough space to maintain their high activity levels. This also means both types of pets will be happy to play fun games with you.
  • Trainable: You can train rabbits the same way you train dogs. Common tricks I teach my rabbit include coming when I call their names and training them to hop up into my lap.

Differences between rabbits and dogs

Even though both rabbits and dogs offer excellent companionship as pets, they are still very different. If you have had a dog in the past, it may take some time to get used to a rabbit and the care they require.

The main ways dogs and rabbits differ as pets include:

  • Body language: Rabbit body language is unique, and it will take some time to learn what rabbits mean, while many people can instinctively understand dogs. (learn more about rabbit body language)
  • Diet: There is an obvious difference between a meat-based diet for dogs and a plant-based diet for rabbits, but rabbits also have a very sensitive digestive system that requires hay and leafy greens. They cannot simply be given a bowl of dry food every day. (learn more about a rabbit diet)
  • Prey vs. predator mindset: Rabbits are naturally more skittish than dogs. As prey animals, they are more likely to run away and hide anytime they sense danger, so it may take a while for rabbits to warm up to you.
  • Rabbit’s need more supervision. Many dogs can be a part of the household with a limited amount of safety features added to the home. However, rabbits tend to chew and dig on everything, so it will take some extensive rabbit-proofing to allow a rabbit to roam the house unsupervised.

Deciding which pet is right for you

Both rabbits and dogs are excellent pets, but they’re not suitable for everyone. You may have even read through this article only to decide that neither a rabbit nor a dog is the best addition to your family. Whatever your choice, it’s best to keep your new pet’s needs in mind. Ensure you’re ready for your new pet and know 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.

bunny sitting by a couch
Spend time with your rabbit and they will become a part of your family. Just like a cat or a dog!

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. 

Rabbits are also typically more destructive than dogs, but that depends on the specific pet. However, rabbits also don’t smell very much, and it’s easier to maintain a clean home with a rabbit as a pet compared with a dog.

Pros of rabbit care:

  • Rabbits are quiet: They can be a better pet for apartment living or quiet lifestyles because they don’t make many noises to bother you or neighbors in the apartment.
  • Rabbis can be litter box trained: Like cats, rabbits can use a litter box, making it a lot easier to clean up after them. It’s easier to litter train a rabbit if they have been spayed or neutered.
  • Rabbits rarely smell bad: Rabbits have very little smell to them so that you won’t come back to a smelly 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 take a long time to warm up to people: Even though rabbits are very social by nature, they often take a long time to express their personality. 
  • Rabbits chew on everything: You will need to rabbit-proof your home (especially wires) to prevent your rabbit from chewing on anything important. 
  • Rabbits don’t like to be held: Most rabbits are terrified of being held, so it’s best to interact with them on the floor level.
  • Rabbits have sensitive digestion: You need to maintain a complicated food routine to help your rabbit stay healthy. This includes daily timothy hay, leafy greens, and a small amount of pellets. You should only give treats (including carrots) in moderation.

The pros and cons of dog care

On the other hand, dogs will often do very well in active and rambunctious households. Many dogs enjoy high-energy situations, even around strangers. Since they have lived with humans for thousands of years, dogs are also easier to understand and train to do complicated and impressive tricks. 

One aspect that many people don’t consider is the ability to find healthcare for a dog vs. a rabbit. Dogs 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 dog care:

  • Dogs are typically easier to understand: Dogs have body language that is much more recognized and understood by humans. They are, overall, easier to understand and befriend.
  • Dogs are highly trainable. While rabbits can be trained, dogs take the cake on this one. Rabbits will often forget their training when they get too distracted, and they’re a little harder to teach in the first place.
  • It’s easy to find an appropriate veterinarian: Most veterinary clinics have trained professionals to care for dogs. However, you may have to travel over an hour to see a suitable veterinarian for rabbits.

Cons of dog care:

  • Some dogs are very loud: Dogs bark, growl, and whine to let us know their wants and needs. For some dogs, this can add an almost continuous layer of noise to the household.
  • Daily walks can be a hassle. When you have a dog, you have to take them out for a walk every day, no matter the weather.
  • Dogs can be very destructive. While dogs aren’t necessarily going to go after your wires, they can be destructive on a much larger scale. They can more easily knock objects over and wreak havoc on a household if they are a more hyperactive dog.
  • Many dogs smell a lot: Dogs can smell bad and require regular baths to keep them clean. 

What to do when you have a rabbit and a dog in your home?

You might be considering bringing a rabbit into a home where you already have a dog or vice versa. Rabbits and dogs in the same house can be tricky. They are natural enemies in the wild, and often the prey and predator instincts of your pets can become a problem, even for otherwise well-behaved animals.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a dog and a rabbit in the same home, but you have to take it slow and consider the personality of both the pets involved. You have the best chance for success if you try to bring together a confident rabbit and a calm dog. It’s also best to avoid breeds of dogs that were traditionally bred to chase after rabbits.

dog and rabbit
When you introduce a dog and a rabbit, keep the dog on a leash and make sure they will obey commands.

Are your pets compatible?

Before you can allow your pets any time near each other, you have to determine if they are actually compatible. If not, they will need to be kept in separate parts of the house so that they don’t risk injuring each other. Rabbits are also perfectly capable of biting or scratching a dog and causing injury, so it’s important to pay attention to both animals and how they react to each other.

Introducing your pets

There is a chance that your dog will try to chase after or attack your rabbit when they are introduced, so you want to be very careful. You should train the dog to sit and stay and keep them on a leash. Always supervise any interaction between your pets.

  1. First, make sure there is a barrier between your rabbit and dog. This can be your rabbit’s cage or a fence. Keep your dog on the leash and bring the dog into the same room as the rabbit.
  2. Watch to see how your animals react. Does your dog lunge for the rabbit? Does the rabbit panic and hide? If this happens, quickly lead your dog back out of the room to reduce the amount of stress the two animals are experiencing.
  3. Try this again for the next few days and see if the animals have calmer reactions to each other. If they do, you can allow them to sniff each other through the bars of the enclosure.
  4. If your rabbit and dog are comfortable with each other, you can attempt an in-person interaction. Keep the dog on the leash at all times and make sure he will sit and stay on command. Ensure your rabbit has a place to run and hide, so they never feel cornered by the dog. 
  5. Allow your rabbit to approach the dog first and watch for signs of aggression in both animals. If there is even a hint of stress for either animal, end the interaction and try again another time. 
  6. If the pets behave well, allow them to interact with each other. Always supervise them and always be ready to end the interaction if you need to. Over the next few weeks, give them a number of these short interactions to allow them to get used to each other.

If all goes well, you can eventually allow your dog and rabbit to interact off-leash. But you should never let these two pets interact without supervision. It would be very easy for a dog to accidentally hurt a rabbit, so even if they do successfully become friends, you want to be very careful.

How to keep your pets separate

If your animals can’t seem to get along with each other, you will need to keep them housed separately. The easiest way to do this is by keeping the rabbit in a room where the dog is not allowed. You can also utilize doggy gates and fencing to section off areas of the house, giving some territory to your rabbit and some to your dog.

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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