As a cat owner thinking about bringing another small animal into your home, there’s a lot to mull over.
Besides a another feline or dog, which small animals have a greater chance of cohabitating with your cat? Do these furry creature stand a chance at living in peaceful harmony with cats, which are natural predators?
We talked with certified cat behavior consultant and author Marilyn Krieger to gain some insights on which small animals have a greater chance at living in the same household as your cat, and how to best introduce another small animal into your home.
THK: In your experience, which small animals do cats tend to get along with the best?
Marilyn Krieger: Keep in mind that cats are predators. Generally speaking, cats instinctually view guinea pigs, hamsters, birds and other small animals as potential meals. You’ll also want to consider what species the small animal is. Typically smaller animals are stressed by cats. Since cats are a danger to rodents and other small animals, by instinct they try to stay away from felines.
Keep small animals in secure cages, out of reach of cats—preferably in rooms that aren’t accessible to felines. As a general rule, I do not recommend trying to integrate small animals with cats. It could end tragically.
THK: Are there any exceptions?
Marilyn Krieger: Occasionally, yes. A friend of mine, who has a habit of taking in all sorts of animals, rescued an elderly Bengal named Tuffy. It just so happened she rescued a robin around the same time. We aren’t sure why, but Tuffy and Robin became buddies. They shared cat food and hung out together. They were always supervised. However, Tuffy was the exception to the rule. I do not recommend mixing small prey animals with cats.
THK: Any notable differences with cats cohabitating with rabbits, turtles, guinea pigs and chinchillas?
Marilyn Krieger: Of all of the small animals, cats have more of a chance of peacefully cohabitating with rabbits. Of course, it depends on the individual cat and rabbit. Keep in mind that a cat’s prey drive may be triggered when a rabbit hops or runs quickly. Although I know some cats who view rabbits as food, I also know cats who snuggle with the house rabbits.
THK: If someone wanted to make it happen, how would they introduce a small animal into the home with a cat?
Marilyn Krieger: Raise them together. There is a better chance that cats can peacefully live with small animals, such as rodents and birds, if they’ve been introduced to them when they were very young kittens. When they’ve grown up together and share the same scent, they are viewed as family. Even when the cat does seem to get along with the small animal, never leave them alone unsupervised. Instincts are very strong—and cats may view them as prey if they run.
When introducing a rabbit to a cat, make sure the rabbit doesn’t become stressed. Rabbits are delicate and need their own large, secure cage. It should be large enough that the rabbit can run around and engage in ‘rabbit aerobics.’ The cage also needs to be secure enough that the cat can’t stick an exploratory paw between the wires. Introductions need to be done with the rabbit safe in the cage. The cat and rabbit will get to know each other through smell and sounds. Make sure there are places the rabbit can safely hide, like cardboard boxes.
Don’t let the cat get close to the cage at first—they need to be supervised at all times. The rabbit can understandably become stressed if the cat is close to the cage. When the two seem to be comfortable with each other, the cat can be allowed near the cage—supervised. Don’t rush it. It may take months until the cage can be opened while the cat is in the room. Never leave them alone, and always be ready to intervene.
THK: What are some signs that both animals will not be able to cohabitate for the long term?
Marilyn Krieger: When the small animal shows signs of nervousness and stress. For instance, the cat is trying to get at the small animal, and/or spends a lot of time staring and stalking the small animal. When the small animal runs, it triggers the cat’s natural drive to chase. If this is the case, you're better off giving up on the idea since the small animal will probably one day become the cat's dinner.