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Forum BEHAVIOR New Rescue Rabbit Charging House Cats?

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    • LMog3721
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        Hello!

        BACKGROUND:

        I’m both new to rabbit companionship and this website/forum, so please bear with me. I have 3 cats, one is 17 and doesn’t really interact with my rabbit at all because unfortunately, she has a terminal (non-contagious) diagnosis that we’re working through together. The other two cats are almost 9 in March, Brick (Male DSH) and just turned 3 (Mortar, mix) this past October.

        I have had pets all of my life, of many varieties, so I am not new to pet ownership or care in any way, but I am new to rabbits. I chose Erebus specifically from the shelter I found him at, drove a decent distance to go pick him up, and spent quite a while picking out that name (did not think through naming him after a Norse deity and I do not recommend doing that if you want a calm bun, lol). He’s been with us since August. The shelter told me he was there for a year, his previous owner had him for a year and surrendered him twice, so by my math, he’s roughly 3 years old although they told me he’s 2. They kept him locked in his terrible cage that whole time which made it insanely hard to get him to trust me at first. He’s a pitch-black lop ear if that makes any difference as well, but I don’t know what breed or anything.

        The setup we have is this wooden enclosure that’s two stories that’s meant for guinea pigs (so he can go inside if he wants to) and then I’ve got a playpen around it, on top of some carpet, then he’s got his litter box in the corner and we’ve got his hay hanging over it, food and water away on the other side in case he digs or kicks his waste out so they don’t land in his water as we learned that lesson the hard way. This enclosure is in the same room that he gets to play and exercise in, it’s just in the corner of the room. So the guinea pig cage (which I never close, it’s always got an open area for him to walk in and out) is about 2 ft x 2ft, his enclosure playpen is about 3×5, and then during the day he gets to run around the living room/kitchen area which is one of the largest areas. He has constant access to hay and the cats of course can access the entire house and their own food whenever they want (so I don’t think it’s a food or space issue).

        Admittedly, I haven’t been able to find him a vet yet. Anyone who is accepting new patients in our area doesn’t take rabbits, and anyone who takes rabbits isn’t accepting new patients. I have rabbit-proofed everything and he gets to run around most days for the majority of the day from anywhere between 4 – 12 hours depending on the day, but usually it’s at least 8 hours because I’m at home most of the time. So, he gets TONS of exercise and time outside of his cage, which is already much larger than that awful one they had at the shelter.

        The reason I’m giving so much detail is because I genuinely do not know what to make of his behavior. I’ve been reading a lot on the internet, various blogs and vet websites, the Humane Society, etc., but you can only gather so much from that without the input of people who know these creatures very well, and without growing up with them I’m at a loss here. My cats responded to him the way the internet said, the older one doesn’t acknowledge him at all, and the youngest one I think wants to play and be his friend but she’s very confused about what he is and what he’s doing here, and the middle one is also a boy so they have a big territory issue. I have no idea how to handle this and Erebus keeps charging my cats.

        QUESTION:

        Is this normal? Do rabbits often charge cats? He primarily will only charge Brick, the middle boy cat. He’s nice to the oldest and youngest cats who are both female. He hasn’t tried to bite, kick, or bring any other type of harm to Brick (so far), so I’m wondering if maybe he can see the cats play and he’s jealous that they play with each other and not him? I was caring for the dog of a loved one and had to return said dog when that person got better, Erebus LOVED the dog and was definitely a little sad when the dog left. I know they can be prone to depression, would this behavior change if he had a rabbit friend? A friend of mine told me her rabbit actually murdered her brother’s rabbit so I’m apprehensive to try that approach without more research and input. My cat Brick will defend himself, not in an aggressive way but he has very clearly expressed his boundaries. He will raise his paw, he has swiped at him several times (no claws), he runs away, and he jumps to other levels, Brick really tries to just stay neutral but Erebus does not take no for an answer. I’m always around to monitor when Erebus is out of his cage so they don’t have a chance to be alone unless I have to run to the bathroom but I’m worried that I might fall asleep or something and I’ll wake up to one of them screaming because they get into a fight?

        Brick, being a cat, loves boxes. Last night, Brick chose to sit in a box and Erebus took this opportunity to get in Brick’s face. Brick raised a paw at him and kind of batted him gently and at first, Erebus backed off, but very quickly the whole thing escalated and soon Erebus was flat-out, full-blown sprinting charging brick around the entire room at top speed. I ended up having to trap Erebus in a tunnel and put him back in his cage which I feel terrible about because I’m not actually sure he deserves punishment, so to speak, but Brick didn’t do anything wrong either. My question is why did this escalate to that in the first place? Brick clearly told Erebus he did not and does not want him in his bubble, and Erebus repeatedly violates that boundary. He has done this on several occasions, but last night was the most severe so far and I’m concerned about if this is to escalate. I do let Erebus chew on his cardboard and boxes at times (I do make sure to keep them the plain ones without paint, wax, dyes, etc., and we did have to learn the lesson of separating Brick’s cardboard from Erebus’s cardboard so I have a theory that maybe it’s about Brick’s box…but Erebus started this chase and Brick was in his box, not Erebus. So…?)

        It’s also weird because my youngest cat Mortar will actually go inside his cage and drink his water or go fully into his house and just hang out and stuff and it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. His only seeming “problem” is with Brick, and the only thing I can think of is that they’re both boys. I picked a male rabbit because they’re supposed to be less territorial and more copacetic, easier for first-time owners, and better for established pets to acclimate to. Lol. I did my best to introduce them very slowly, I told the cats about this happening ahead of time, talked to Erebus during the whole car ride home, and gave them a slow introduction and lots of smells and barriers before a full frontal. It wasn’t like I just plopped them in front of each other and walked away. He’s also territory pooping in the spots he likes to sit in the living room. He likes to be a shoe, so he territory poops over there and he likes to sleep under the couch so he’ll leave a poop or two under there usually and if my partner has had their dog over here, Erebus will usually territory poop wherever their dog has laid. I don’t mind the territory poops, that’s all normal and doesn’t bother me. But this charging behavior is alarming to me and my priority is the safety and well-being of everyone in my house, so we need to get this figured out pronto.

        He wasn’t super comfortable with being touched by humans at first but he’s a lot happier now with me petting him, rubbing his ears, kissing his head, etc., but I can’t pick him up yet – even slightly. He panics and vanishes, and if you touch his butt he also panics and runs away, so I would have thought that Brick giving him a good clawless smack would deter him by now, but no? I even got eye level with him and had a good talk with him about how no means no and how we need to respect boundaries and whatnot, just in case, but obviously, that did not work either.

        And, frankly, with my oldest cat being sick, this is a lot of extra stress that we do not need in our home right now so I would like to try to resolve this as soon as we can so we can all have a peaceful time while she is still with us. Anyway, I know this was very long. Thank you for reading it if you did, and thank you in advance for any guidance you may be able to provide on this behavioral (?) issue with Erebus and Brick!


      • DanaNM
        Moderator
        8960 posts Send Private Message

          I’m going to admit that I didn’t read your whole post thoroughly, but I will say this isn’t uncommon! In many cases buns are the “boss” of the house cats.

          My newest bun actually will charge our cats as well, even though they are not even interacting with him. It has gotten better over time though (we adopted the new bun about 4 months ago).

          Personally as long as your cat is getting out of the way I am not too concerned with it. I’d be more worried if the cat turned to fight with the bun. I just make sure the cats always have an escape route (high spaces!). A cat safe room where the bun isn’t allowed is also a good idea, just so everyone has some space where they don’t have to have their guard up. Similarly, bun should have a space where the cats aren’t allowed.

          If you notice the interactions getting out of hand, a spritz of water will likely de-escalate the situation.

          Sorry if I missed some important details!

          . . . The answers provided in this discussion are for general guideline purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose or treat your pet. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.  


        • pinkiemarie
          Participant
          414 posts Send Private Message

            2 of my rabbits also charge my cats. I think that’s pretty normal and most likely they do it because they can sense that the cat is a predator and they’re letting the cat know that they don’t want to be prey. I could be wrong on the reasons but I’ve seen that behavior myself many times. A long as the cat does not turn to attack the bunny it should be ok and is probably actually a good thing because it helps the cat realize that the bunny isn’t food.


          • LMog3721
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              Thank you for reading it at all! Any input is welcome, so that is good to know! I forgot mention all of the animals in my house are fixed for whatever gender they are as well and are well past the age of maturity, so I don’t think it’s that either.

              The cats do have a cat safe room, two actually if you count the room where their boxes are and also the bedroom as well. So that’s good to hear! Unfortunately, the buns space is a little less private but I am actively searching to find us a new place to live where we can be a little more spread out so he’s just going to have to be patient and hang in there I guess.

              Thank you for the help!


            • pinkiemarie
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                Your comment also made me wonder, does the bun have a box or something that be can actually hide in? Most cages and x pens are see through so if he doesn’t have something to hide in he would definitely appreciate getting something, even something simple like a cardboard box.


              • DanaNM
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                  I re-read this part after seeing @pinkimarie’s comment: “Brick, being a cat, loves boxes. Last night, Brick chose to sit in a box and Erebus took this opportunity to get in Brick’s face. Brick raised a paw at him and kind of batted him gently and at first, Erebus backed off, but very quickly the whole thing escalated and soon Erebus was flat-out, full-blown sprinting charging brick around the entire room at top speed. I ended up having to trap Erebus in a tunnel and put him back in his cage which I feel terrible about because I’m not actually sure he deserves punishment, so to speak, but Brick didn’t do anything wrong either. My question is why did this escalate to that in the first place? Brick clearly told Erebus he did not and does not want him in his bubble, and Erebus repeatedly violates that boundary. He has done this on several occasions, but last night was the most severe so far and I’m concerned about if this is to escalate. I do let Erebus chew on his cardboard and boxes at times (I do make sure to keep them the plain ones without paint, wax, dyes, etc., and we did have to learn the lesson of separating Brick’s cardboard from Erebus’s cardboard so I have a theory that maybe it’s about Brick’s box…but Erebus started this chase and Brick was in his box, not Erebus. So…?)”

                  Do you have plenty of hides and tunnels around? My previous cat and bun used to bicker over who would get the hides. Having extra helps. But ultimately it sounds like bun is being territorial over these hiding spots (which is fairly understandable considering he’s in a house full of cats and also maybe a dog?). Remember that although Erebus is being territorial, this is all fear-based. So I think anything you can do to make him feel more safe and secure in his environment will be helpful. Perhaps Brick will need to be confined to another room while Erebus is out exercising if he isn’t willing to keep his distance from Erebus. Remember these are two different species (one a predator and one a prey at that) so their ways of communicating with each other will not always translate.

                  . . . The answers provided in this discussion are for general guideline purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose or treat your pet. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.  


                • LMog3721
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                    Yes, they have several hides and tunnels. Erebus has an enclosure in his his enclosure that is private and separate and entirely his own that the cats are not allowed to go inside at all. There are also two small regular tunnels (one was originally a cat tunnel but one is brand new so they all got to play with it at once), one “donut” style tunnel that they all love, and one giant C-shaped tunnel that Erebus LOVES and plays, digs, and sleeps in all of the time when he’s out.

                    I’m not sure what it was about THAT box because Erebus hadn’t seemed to care about that particular box prior to that incident but this has happened twice now where he has charged at Brick and Brick has not instigated it. If anything, Brick actively tries to leave the situation and Erebus continuously tries to chase him down which is where my confusion is?

                    I will keep that in mind and try to keep them more separated, though! I didn’t think of it as Erebus being a scared bun since he wasn’t displaying traditional “fear-based” behaviors I’ve read about so far so that is good to know, thank you!


                    • DanaNM
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                        Good to know! And yes it seems that bravery and fear are two sides of the same coin!

                        . . . The answers provided in this discussion are for general guideline purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose or treat your pet. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.  

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                  Forum BEHAVIOR New Rescue Rabbit Charging House Cats?