Q. I have a rabbit — can I get a dog or cat?

A. Yes, you can — but the right fit for a multispecies home will depend on the individual animals involved.

Begin by assessing your bunny’s personality and behavior. If your bunny is fearful or startles easily, you run a greater risk that a predatory sequence could be initiated by the dog or cat.  A rabbit with a calm, easygoing disposition and a low flight response will have the best chance of getting along with a cat or dog. A rabbit that has had prior positive experiences with dogs or cats during her first weeks of life is also more apt to see your new pet as a friend, rather than a foe.

Adding a Second Pet

Ideally, your new dog or cat should have experience with bunnies or other small animals. If possible, consider adding a kitten or puppy to your family; this will allow you to introduce your new pet to your bunny during the prime socialization period (the first three months of life for puppies and up to two months of age for kittens). Early introduction is essential because during their socialization period, cats and dogs learn what other animals are their “friends,” making them less likely to look at these species as prey later on.

Keep in mind that while your puppy or kitten is getting to know your bunny, he also needs adequate exercise and social interaction with his own species. Same-species interaction develops social skills and helps release energy that may otherwise be directed at the bunny.

Always supervise your bunny when she’s around other animals. Dogs and cats are naturally predatory animals. Puppy and kitten predatory behavior comes out through play, such as chasing after, pouncing on, biting or dissecting toys. Same-species playtime allows your kitten or puppy to direct these urges somewhere other than at the rabbit. Even if a dog or cat is merely playing, his behavior can unintentionally cause serious harm, both physical and psychological, to a fragile bunny.

Consider an Older Pet

Another option is to adopt an older, mellow canine or older feline. As animals age, their play drive and energy level may decrease, which can make them good candidates to share a home with a small, fragile animal. In addition, an older animal’s personality is already developed. Choosing an adult dog or cat enables you to look for a pet that will meet the stricter requirements of life with a bunny.

Your new cat or dog should be confident and not easily phased. Bunnies can make some rather forward moves to assert themselves, such as running up to another animal. If your new pet is timid or defensively aggressive, settling the two animals in together can be more challenging. Select a secure dog or cat with excellent social skills; this will increase the chances that he will interact safely and appropriately with your bunny.

If you are considering getting a dog, think carefully about genetic lineage. Certain dog breeds, including terriers and hounds, are designed to chase down and hunt small animals. While there are individual exceptions within breeds, certain genetic lines have a strong tendency toward predatory behavior, making these dogs a poor fit for a home with a rabbit.

Of course, any animal that has shown serious predatory intent — has grabbed and shaken or otherwise injured a small animal, or has killed another animal — is not a safe candidate for homing with a rabbit.

Finally, your veterinarian is a valuable resource; she can recommend well-run rescue organizations or positive-reinforcement trainers to aid in the pet selection and introduction process.