Cat lovers are, inherently, animal lovers. Perhaps you want to get a pet rabbit, but you are concerned about your cat’s reaction. Perhaps you worry because your cat enjoys chasing wild rabbits in your yard.
You are wondering if your cat will kill a rabbit. You may also be wondering if cats will eat rabbits, and if it’s harmful for them.
Some cats and rabbits get along well. Others seem to be sworn enemies. It really depends on the personalities of the animals involved. However, you can improve their chances of getting along by introducing them properly.
Will my cat kill a rabbit?
The short answer is that some cats will, and some cats won’t. It’s best to err on the side of caution, if you are unsure how your cat will react.
What Are the Odds of Cats and Rabbits Getting Along?
A survey conducted by the House Rabbit Society revealed that 10% of respondents said their cat and rabbit had a “close, loving relationship”.
66% stated that the two animals coexisted well, but weren’t close friends. Two thirds reported that their cat and rabbit coexist peacefully, though they’re not best friends.
The remaining 24% of respondents said that the animals did not get along, and had to be kept separate from each other. Surprisingly, the rabbit was twice as likely to be aggressive as the cat!
So, 3/4 of cats and rabbits get along well or at least coexist peacefully. The remaining 1/4 must be separated for their safety, with the rabbit being more likely to start aggression.
Cats are Hunters
Your house cat might seem like a far cry from a wild predator, but they retain much of their hunting instincts. There’s a surprising amount of similarity between our domesticated cats and large cats, like tigers.
In fact, they share more than 95% of their dna with tigers.
Some domestic cats have retained more of their hunting instincts than others. Cats are born with the instinct to chase. The mother will hone this instinct, teaching her kittens how to hunt.
Cats are also obligate carnivores. This means that their natural diet is strictly meat, and they must have meat to survive. This is why cats naturally have a strong hunting instinct.
In the wild, they must kill prey to survive.
What Do Cats Hunt?
When you think of a cat’s prey, mice likely come to mind. Cats chasing and killing mice is a part of pop culture, from Tom and Jerry to mouse cat toys.
It’s true that some cats will hunt and kill mice. However, they will hunt other prey as well. Birds, small reptiles like lizards, squirrels, and rabbits are all on a cat’s menu.
Cats Who Are More Likely to Kill Rabbits
Generally speaking, the more wild a cat is, the greater their hunting instinct. Barn and feral cats are the most likely to kill rabbits and other types of prey, because they must hunt to survive.
Domesticated cats who live outside are more likely to kill rabbits than indoor cats. However, personality plays a key role. An indoor cat with a strong hunting instinct can also hunt rabbits.
Determining Hunting Instinct In Domestic Cats
It’s not a foolproof method, but you can get an idea of how likely your cat is to kill rabbits by assessing their hunting instincts.
If your cat is high energy and playful, they are more likely to be a natural hunter.
A cat with a strong hunting instinct will enjoy playing with toys. They will have an intense interest in the toy. Cats who enjoy hunting will chase, pounce, and bite the toy.
Hunting cats will also stalk toys. When they catch it, they will shake it vigorously. When playing with your cat, be sure to keep the toy moving. A cat that enjoys hunting may quickly lose interest once the toy is “dead”, or unmoving.
Cats will be less likely to view a rabbit as prey indoors. If you introduce a cat to a rabbit outdoors, they are more likely to attack.
The environment also affects your rabbit. Rabbits are highly territorial. They have a dominance hierarchy, and will fight for their place in the group.
If the cat is in what they consider their territory, they may attack the cat in an attempt to defend their area. If the rabbit attacks, the cat is more likely to kill the rabbit.
Do cats eat rabbits?
Again, it depends on the cat. Some cats will eat what they kill, while others seem to enjoy the killing itself.
It’s common sense that a cat will eat their kill if they are hungry. Feral and barn cats are more likely to eat their kill, because they are more likely to be hungry than their domestic counterparts.
However, some domestic or indoor cats will also eat rabbits. For these cats, eating their kill is part of the hunting process. If they don’t consume their kill, the process is much less satisfying.
Cats Enjoy the Hunt
Some cats simply enjoy the hunt. Cats certainly can kill because they are hungry, but they also kill for sheer enjoyment. This may seem cruel to us, but it’s part of cats personalities to enjoy hunting and killing.
Without this instinct, they could never survive in the wild.
Can Eating a Rabbit Make a Cat Sick?
Yes, cats can catch tularemia from rabbits or rodents. Rodents, rabbits, and other animals are natural prey for a cat. Generally, the cat’s digestive system is capable of digesting raw meat with little risk.
However, Tularemia is a risk when your cat eats a rabbit. This bacterial infection is also known as rabbit fever.
The symptoms of tularemia include high fever of 104-106, painful enlarged lymph nodes in the head and neck, and stomach pain.
Jaundice, which causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, and organ failure are serious symptoms of tularemia.
What to do if my cat catches a rabbit?
If your cat catches a rabbit, there may be ways you can help the unfortunate bunny. The first step is to separate them without causing injury to yourself or the animals.
Separating Rabbit and Cat
The first step to helping a rabbit caught by a cat is to stop the cat’s attack. If possible, you can physically remove your cat from the situation. However, if your cat is latched onto the rabbit, or becomes aggressive with you, this won’t work.
In this case, your best bet is to distract the cat. You can do this a few ways. You can use a high value treat or your cat’s favorite toy. Depending on how strong your cat’s hunting instinct is, this may or may not work.
The other method is to startle your cat. You don’t want to harm them, obviously, but you can startle them away.
A spray of water from a spray bottle works well for this. Another method is to use an air horn or other loud noise. These methods should scare your cat enough for the rabbit to escape, or for you to pick up either the cat or the rabbit.
Caring for the Rabbit After Cat Attack
If your rabbit has been attacked by your cat, it’s best to bring it to the vet. Even if there’s no apparent serious injury, the cat’s mouth contains bacteria. This bacteria can cause an infection if untreated. The vet can also rule out any internal injuries that cats might cause.
If the rabbit is wild, you may still need to care for it. If the rabbit is an adult and unharmed, it’s fine to allow them to return to the wild.
However, if it’s a baby rabbit, it needs your assistance. Place it in a box with a lid. Put hay or a towel in the box. If the rabbit is very young, with little fur or closed eyes, they will need a heat source.
You can provide this by placing a heat pad or a bottle of hot water into the box. Once a rabbit has its fur and its eyes are open, it should be able to control its body temperature.
The exception is if the rabbit is very cold or wet. Do not put water into the box with the rabbit, because they may spill it and get wet. The water can then cause them to become too cold.
Contact your vet or local wildlife control office immediately. Wild rabbits are difficult to keep alive, and require expert care.
Introducing and Keeping a Cat and Rabbit
You can choose to have a pet cat and a rabbit. A good introduction can help them get along. The younger the two are, the more likely they are to get along and become friends.
You should also consider size. If one animal is significantly bigger than the other, they are more likely to be aggressive. Try to choose an animal that’s the same size as your current pet.
Lastly, you should introduce them with the rabbit in a cage. Give them a place to hide within the cage. Allow the two to get used to each other in this way.
If they seem to get along well with the barrier of the cage, you can then introduce them without the barrier. Do not leave the pair unsupervised during these introductions.
Keep it short at first. Allow them to meet for a few minutes, and then separate them or place the rabbit back in the safety of the cage. Over a week or two, increase the amount of time they spend together.
If there are no signs of aggression, you may feel comfortable leaving them unattended. If the rabbit is very young or significantly smaller than the cat, it’s best not to leave them together unattended. Even if they seem to get along well, the cat could harm the rabbit.