Dogs are perhaps the most well loved domesticated animal on the planet. In fact, in the USA alone, 40% of households have a pet dog. But we do have to remember that while dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, they still have their primal instincts.
Dogs are predatory animals and as such, many breeds have a very high prey drive. This means that they will instinctively attack small animals like rabbits and it’s not out of malice, it’s just nature.
Of course, if you have a pet dog and pet rabbits, you’ll need to find a way for them to co-exist without the risk of the dog killing rabbit.
If your dog has attacked your pet bunny or perhaps goes crazy for wild rabbits when out walking, this shouldn’t be seen as bad behavior. These animals have a prey drive that causes them to instinctively attack smaller animals.
However, there are some dog breeds whose prey drive is higher than others and these are more likely to attack and even kill a bunny than others. This might include, but is not limited to collies, greyhounds, lurchers, and terriers.
On the flip side, herding dogs and dogs that guard flocks have been specially bred not to have a high prey drive. In these cases, if the dog attacks, it’s likely for another reason such as being scared.
In any case, it’s really important that you keep your dog away from rabbits because even those with a lower prey drive can still turn without a moment’s notice.
If you’re an animal lover then the chances are that you aren’t going to settle for just one pet. A lot of people adore both dogs and rabbits but question whether the two can happily live alongside one another.
I’ve seen some gorgeous photos of large dogs snuggled up to cute little bunnies and there’s no animosity between the pair. Of course, you can’t always rely on social media posts to judge whether getting two pets is a good idea.
That said, it is possible to have the pair cohabit without too many issues. For example, if a dog has been trained from a young age not to attack rabbits or other small animals, then there’s a much higher chance that they will coexist peacefully.
Other factors include breed. If you’ve got something like a golden retriever or a lab then these breeds are far less likely to be bothered by the presence of a small animal.
Provided that dogs are socialized and trained from an early age, it is possible for them to have a good relationship with rabbits.
Some of the best breeds for this are those with an already low prey drive which can include any of the following:
- Golden retriever
- Great Pyrenees
- Cavalier King Charles spaniel
- Old English sheepdog
- Japanese chin
However, there are some breeds that, no matter how much you train them, their natural instinct to hunt and kill cannot be as easily quelled. The following breeds, among other sighthounds and sniffer dogs should be avoided if you have rabbits.
- Siberian husky
- Alaskan malamute
- Yorkshire terrier
- Jack Russell
If you find that your dog is getting close to a rabbit and looks as though it may attack then the first thing you should do is use the leave it command. If your dog is well trained and obedient then this should be enough to deter him.
In the event that your dog has already caught the rabbit but has not yet killed it, you can command the dog to drop it. Again, obedient dogs that are well trained should respond positively to this cue. Of course, there will be exceptions to this, even with normally well behaved dogs since you can never override their natural instinct.
If your dog spends a lot of time off the leash, I’d urge you to practice these two commands. The more you do this, the less likely you will be to have problems.
Where dogs have attacked wild rabbits, then it’s highly recommended that they see a vet as soon as possible due to the risk of infections and parasites (I’ll cover more on this in the next section.)
It is possible for your dog to become sick after eating a rabbit and this can happen even if they simply catch it and leave it. In the wild, rabbits are part of wolves diets but domesticated dogs are a little more sensitive to raw meat and the bacteria it may contain as their digestive and immune systems simply aren’t used to it.
When a pet dog eats a wild rabbit, or even a pet, there is a good chance that they will develop an upset stomach. This might even be the case if the rabbit was healthy and did not have any parasites or infections.
One of the biggest risks of dogs killing rabbits is a bacterial infection. These can be easily transmitted to your pet and in some cases, can make them incredibly unwell. This is why it’s so important to have your dog seen by a vet if they ever ingest or attack a rabbit.
On top of this, wild rabbits often have parasites like ticks and fleas and these may transfer to your dog when he attacks.
For this reason, it’s always best to keep your dog away from rabbits when out and about. If you have pet bunnies and want the two animals to become ‘friends’ then this should always be done under strict supervision. Where the breed has a high prey drive, it’s best to just keep them apart as it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Video: German Shepherd Eating Whole Rabbit
This is a video of a German shepherd eating a whole rabbit. The rabbit has already been butchered and is offered whole to the dog. As you can see, eating the rabbit is completely natural for the German shepherd.
Dogs are natural predators and so if your pet pooch seems to have a concerning interest in your pet bun then this isn’t because he’s trying to be naughty. He’s interested because he sees the rabbit as prey and that’s a primal instinct that he cannot shake.
However, as owners, it’s our responsibility to keep our dogs away from rabbits to keep both animals safe. For the rabbit, it’s the difference between life and death but for your dog, it can protect him from illness and parasites.
Training is one way to dampen a dog’s instinct to kill but this is typically more successful in dogs with an already low prey drive.
Regardless of the breed and how much socialization and training has taken place, I’d still recommend supervising your dog when he is around rabbits or any other small animal.