With house rabbits growing in popularity, we take a took at the similarities and differences between living with rabbits or cats...
Whilst cats and rabbits are fundamentally very different animals, one being predator and the other prey, they share some similarities as house pets, particularly if they never or rarely go outside (for example those living in urban areas with no garden or high risk from traffic). The choice of a rabbit or a cat as a house pet is ultimately a personal decision based on which animal appeals to you more. This article is intended to give an insight into the viability of rabbits as house pets in comparison with cats.
Cat and rabbits are both "non-travelling" pets i.e. they don't need walking like a dog and you don't take them around with you. They both use a litter tray and both are likely to cause some damage to furniture and/or carpets. Both shed hair, require grooming and may cause allergies. Cats and rabbits both tend to sleep a lot and require free exercise around the house or flat. Both benefit from and appreciate stimulus in the form of toys and interaction with humans. Holiday care is best provided at home as both animals can find it very stressful to be relocated.
The key difference between cats and rabbits lies in nature. Cats, while they may show great affection for humans and other animals, are by nature solitary, whereas rabbits are gregarious - companionship to them is not a bonus but an absolute need. So great is this need that house rabbits living without a companion are likely to become "clingy" with their owners, following them around the house and generally basking in any attention they get.
Rabbits are herbivores and cats are carnivores - this may not have a big effect on their behaviour (rabbits can bite and scratch too, usually when trying to get your attention) but it does have an effect on the environment in your house in terms of the litter tray. Rabbit droppings are small, clean and dry and do not smell. Rabbits need a different kind of litter, preferably paper pulp like Carefresh which controls urine odour very well and their litter trays need to be stocked with hay (which smells lovely!). Also, rabbits cannot vomit like cats - one more unpleasant job avoided!
Noise - an obvious one as cats miaow and rabbits don't. Although rabbits can still make a fair amount of noise, usually by digging or scratching, it's fair to say that you're unlikely to be woken up at night by a rabbit outside your door. Furthermore, rabbits are crepuscular meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk and tend to sleep during the day and night.
Cost - this depends on the size of the cat or rabbit and what veterinary care they require but rabbits are in general cheaper in terms of vet bills and feeding. 80% of a rabbit's diet should be hay which is relatively cheap compared to cat food or rabbit pellets.
De-sexing - it is highly recommended that rabbits are neutered or spayed, both for health and behavioural reasons. For indoor rabbits this is even more important - nobody wants a highly sexed boy rabbit running around the house spraying urine or a doe who thinks she's pregnant building a nest in the back of your sofa!
Activity - cats can of course jump higher than rabbits and can therefore access work surfaces, kitchen counters, beds, bookshelves etc. Rabbits will often jump on sofas and beds but prefer to stay low, dig and nibble. Therefore a different approach is required in terms of safeguarding certain areas of your house - rabbits like to investigate and can fit through surprisingly small holes but at least you don't have to worry about anything above waist height!
Cats generally live longer than rabbits, in some cases as long as 20 years. Rabbits have been known to live up to 12 - 14 years but the average lifespan is more likely to be 7 - 9 years, dependent on breed.
Of course, you may decide to have both cats and rabbits and this can work well if introductions are carried out properly. In many cases, the rabbit can even become the boss - house rabbits are territorial and, once secure in their environment, will often stand up to a cat or dog. However, a word of warning on this - at the end of the day cats are still predators and rabbits are still prey - always give your rabbit a bolt hole that the cat cannot access, just in case.