It’s fair to say that tortoises are superb pets but that doesn’t stop many people from seeking another pet to go alongside their tortoise. Many tortoise owners wonder whether a suitable housemate for their tortoise could be a rabbit? After all they’re about the same size and both like similar spaces to live, right?
Can a tortoise and a rabbit live together? Tortoises and rabbits cannot live safely together. While rabbits are social creatures that love to have others around, tortoises are fine by themselves. Tortoises can get sick from eating rabbit food, and rabbits can get sick from the bacteria carried by tortoises. Rabbits will gnaw on just about anything, possibly even tortoises.
So, it is best to keep tortoises and rabbits away from each other. They are not natural friends and their living requirements are vastly different. If you must have both animals under your care, read on to see how to do so safely.
The Issues That Might Impact On Your Decision
There are four key things that can affect your decision to have a rabbit and a tortoise move in together. The good news is, that as they’re both vegetarians there shouldn’t be any fighting between the two animals but, there are some significant downsides to mixing the two and these are the reasons why:
Tortoise Food vs Rabbit Food
Tortoises are keen on green vegetables and, in fact, nearly all of their diet should be made up of these veggies. Kale, Valerian, etc. are the things that a tortoise really wants for dinner. That’s not to say that your tortoise doesn’t have a sweeter tooth – shes does.
They will also happily chow down a ton of (certain) fruits, which can be added a little bit to their veggies.
One thing your average tortoise really doesn’t need is a lot of protein. If they get a lot of protein in their diet – it can cause health problems. One of the most severe implications of this is a condition known as “shell pyramiding”. That’s when the scutes on the shell grow to extreme sizes and start to look like tall pyramid-like tents rather than scales.
Though this doesn’t impact on the tortoise’s quality of life too much, it does make it difficult for a boy tortoise to climb on top of a girl tortoise to mate. There is no cure for pyramiding and once the tortoise’s scutes are like this, they will never return to normal.
A rabbit’s diet is not a diet of green leaves. There aren’t enough calories and raw materials in them to drive a rabbit’s development. They eat, mainly, rabbit pellets which are purchased in pet stores and these pellets are packed with protein.
Sadly, tortoises are not the world’s most discriminatory eaters and they are very happy to eat these pellets and get sick.
Rabbits AND Tortoises Prefer Not To Share
Tortoises don’t like to share their space with anything or anyone. They don’t even like to hang around their own children and once they hatch, in the wild, mom will quickly high tail it never to be seen again. So, they become quite attached to the space that they do have. If something else invades his space, he can become stressed and even depressed. This is not good for its health.
Rabbits, on the other hand, have absolutely no understanding of their impact on your tortoise’s space and they will invade it without any compunction at all. They are also permanently hungry and that nice patch of vegetation where your tortoise loves to hide? They’ll probably eat it.
Rabbits aren’t anti-sharing so much as they live by the principle that what’s your is theirs and what’s theirs is theirs too. If you want a miserable tortoise – you can just move a rabbit into their personal space.
Tortoises Can Carry Salmonella
Salmonella is a bacterium which lives in a tortoise’s intestinal tract. It’s harmless to tortoises but, unfortunately, it’s not harmless to other animals. This is why you should always wash your hands after handling a tortoise, in case you pick up these bacteria.
Related article: Tortoises and Salmonella: What you need to know
In human beings, salmonella, causes food poisoning which can be fatal but usually just leaves you very sick for a few days. In rabbits, they get food poisoning too and sadly, for rabbits – they have an unusually high level of mortality when they get salmonellosis.
In the 1980s and 1990s rabbits were often carriers of salmonella and large outbreaks of salmonellosis were common. Today, most rabbits do not carry salmonella and they are only rarely exposed to it in their environment.
One rabbit owner said, “if you keep a tortoise and a rabbit together, sooner or later the rabbit is going to turn up dead.” This is the number one reason that you shouldn’t keep these two animals together, it’s almost certainly fatal for the rabbit.
Rabbits Can Gnaw On Anything
A rabbit has a super set of teeth which will never stop growing. This can be a bit of a problem when it comes to keeping rabbits because they need to keep their teeth short enough that they fit in their mouths effectively and allow them to eat.
In order to do this a rabbit will gnaw on pretty much anything. Now, rabbits are not carnivorous but nor are they very discerning. It’s entirely possible that given the speed of the average tortoise that a rabbit might mistake them for something to gnaw on.
Better Rabbits Than Cats Or Dogs
Now, from a tortoise’s point of view. It has to be said that rabbits are better companions than cats and dogs. This is because a cat or a dog is a carnivore (unlike the bunny) and thus, they may well see your tortoise as the main course of the day.
Related article: Can tortoises live with other pets?
Dog attacks on tortoises are often fatal for the tortoise and even the best-trained dog may suddenly turn on a tortoise that it’s been peaceful around for years. It’s not really understood why this is the case.
What this means is that you should never, ever leave a tortoise in a dog’s presence without close supervision.
Cats are slightly better. They’re not really equipped to kill a tortoise and they can be trained to leave a tortoise alone. However, they do claw and bite when playing and it’s possible that they might injure your tortoise. Cuts can be very serious for reptiles which do not heal as well or as fast as mammals.
Thus, it’s best to keep cats and tortoises apart too unless you’re keeping an eye on them.
The Best Option For Rabbits And Tortoises
Truthfully, it’s best to keep the two animals apart. The severe reaction that rabbits have to salmonella means that while the risk of infection in a brief interaction is low, the cost of things going astray are very high, indeed, at least for the rabbit.
However, if you do still want to bring them together the best way to do so is in brief managed interactions.
A managed interaction is simply when you place the two animals together in a space and keep an eye on them to prevent any problems.
You should always have these interactions outside as tortoises will poop indoors and their poop can leave salmonella traces even if the area appears to be completely clean.
You should not forcibly introduce the two though and if you push them into the same area – it’s very likely that the tortoise will become stressed, scared or angry.
Can a tortoise and a rabbit live together? At first glance, you’d think that rabbits and tortoises might be the perfect partners in a space. After all, neither animal is a carnivore, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Rabbits and tortoises should not spend their lives together because it’s dangerous both to the tortoise and to the rabbit. It’s better than keeping a tortoise with a cat or a dog, mind you.
If you really do want your rabbit and tortoise to spend time together – it’s best to keep an eye on them and mix them for very short periods of time.