I received a shipment of prefabricated skinned rabbit last week and the shipment seemed unusual. Rabbits have a very close resemblance to cats once their “hair” and skin have been removed. Is there a telltale sign that I’m working with Bugs Bunny, not Sylvester?

I have a suspicion that Elmer Fudd is running out of legitimate product.

All jokes aside, how do you tell the difference?

  • 12
    @Chef_Code So which do you have? Rabbit, or cat? Apr 7, 2015 at 11:42
  • 27
    If there is no way to tell, does it matter?
    – Jodrell
    Apr 7, 2015 at 13:20
  • 11
    @starsplusplus they were rabbits, just a tad smaller than usual
    – Chef_Code
    Apr 7, 2015 at 19:33
  • 10
    I know this question is stated using humor, but fact of the matter is that this is very much so a plausible situation. The moral of the story or question here is that you should only deal with reputable purveyors.
    – Chef_Code
    Apr 9, 2015 at 1:19
  • 6
    @AndrewGrimm It is easier to come by is my guess. But there are a lot of illegal factors that come into play as to why it would be cheaper.
    – Chef_Code
    Apr 9, 2015 at 5:21

7 Answers 7


In Germany we have an old (joking) saying that roughly translates to "head off, tail off - bunny", so your question is legitimate. But first thing's first: There is no health risk1 involved if you ate the latest shipment of "meowling rabbit".
(To cat lovers everywhere: This is no endorsement, I have a much loved and pampered cat, too!)

The most obvious differences are

  • head (look at the teeth!),
  • tail (short vs. long), and
  • feet (cat claws are quite distinctive).

But I suspect these would be removed prior to sale, so we'd have to dig a bit deeper into anatomy:

  • Shoulder blades:
    Cats' shoulder blades are rounded on top, especially in the front, making the shoulder blade almost semicircular with the ridge making for two differently shaped parts, rabbits' shoulder blades are triangular with the ridge somewhat parallel to the front side.

  • Femur (thigh bone):
    A cat's femora are straight, whereas a rabbit's is more or less bent, especially pronounced in older animals. Same applies to a lesser extent to radius and ulna (forearm), but they might have been removed.

  • Ribs:
    Cats' ribs are "rounder" than rabbits' ribs according to this source. I can't say by how much, but @aitchnyu's comment below suggests the difference is obvious enough to play a significant role in the novel/movie Papillon.

  • Pelvis:
    The same source as above states that the foramen obturatum (= the loop-like opening near/below the hip joint) is oval in rabbits and round in cats. I couldn't find a good picture to show this, though.

Here's a rabbit:

Rabbit Skeleton Source: www.onlineveterinaryanatomy.net

And a cat:

Cat Skeleton

1 other than the general risk every meat from questionable sources brings

  • 9
    And as a side note: It is highly unlikely that the shipment of "rabbits" was actually hare - due to economic reasons. You can breed rabbits and cats are relatively easy to come by, at least in some regions of the world. Hares, on the other hand would be hunted.
    – Stephie
    Apr 6, 2015 at 11:39
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    Ctrl+F Pappillon, was disappointed, joined to make this comment. Joe*'s friend killed his beloved cat and gave it to Joe, passing it off as rabbit. Joe served it to a doctor who complimented him on the "fine cat". According to the doctor rabbits have flat ribs, cats have round ones. So Joe murdered his friend, and thus met the protagonist. Apr 6, 2015 at 14:04
  • 21
    because my source is a fuzzy memory of a fictional doctor? :D Apr 6, 2015 at 14:20
  • 9
    @Stephie, I did nothing of the sort!
    – Joe
    Apr 6, 2015 at 18:51
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    ... which is why even people happy in principle to eat horse meat were concerned about the "horse meat as beef" scandal in the UK a couple of years ago. It's not just that it's horse, it's that meat of unknown origin was in the supply chain at all. Since it wasn't off a cow as claimed, it quite possibly also wasn't off a horse fit for eating. The same concern would arise if country of origin was misreported, even if both countries' meat is safe when the supply chain is properly established per those countries' rules. Apr 8, 2015 at 11:54

In the textbook Text-book of meat hygiene: with special consideration to ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection of food-producing animals (Edelmann & Eichorn, 1908), pages 64-65 concern determining the difference between a cat and rabbit:

The following differences in the skeleton are especially to be mentioned: The lateral processes of the lumbar vertebrae which are directed forward terminate in the rabbit (Fig. 34) in two extensions, of which one is directed forward the other backward; in the cat they terminate in a point. The body of the first three lumbar vertebrae in the rabbit contains thorn-shaped ventral processes (Fig. 34 a). The ribs of the rabbit are flat and broad; those of the cat are rounded. On the scapula of the rabbit the acromion turns around posteriorly and terminates in a long point, which is directed backward (Fig. 37)). Radius and ulna are completely separated in the cat (Fig. 35); in the Leporides they are united (Fig. 36). On the humerus of the cat is an elongated fissure over the median condyle of the distal end (Fig. 39). The femur of the rabbit (Fig. 41) contains below the trochanter major, a specially strong smaller trochanter, which is absent in the cat. Tibia and fibula are complete in the cat (Fig. 43); in the rabbit (Fig. 44) they are only separated in the upper half.

The whoe carcass of the cat can be immediately recognized by its head, penis bone, and the tail, and for these reasons, if offered for sale, these parts are always removed on the slaughtered animal. Rabbits generally have the shot wounds, but these are naturally absent in the slaughtered domesticated rabbits. The meat of the cat is paler than rabbit meat; the fat of the cat appears whitish in contrast to rabbit fat, which is honey-yellow.

As it says, it has some explicit figures which you can go and see, showing the different bones of the one next to the corresponding bone in the other, so that you can easily see the differences.

If you don't speak anatomy, let me translate. See also the image below.

This is a 1908 book that tells food inspectors how to tell when someone is selling cats as hares/rabbits. They say that, for a true rabbit:

  1. the fat will be faintly yellowish rather than white;
  2. the forward-spikes of the vertebrae in the spine should sometimes have a subtle Y shape near their ends, ending in a little "prong";
  3. the ribs will be noticeably flat-and-broad rather than rounded;
  4. there will be a little spike on the shoulder-blade near the forelimb;
  5. when you look at either cat or rabbit, both the fore- and hind-limbs, like our arms and legs, have an upper-arm/thigh with one big bone (humerus/femur) and a lower-arm/calf with two smaller bones (radius+ulna/fibia+tibia): in the rabbit both of these lower-two-bones are fused close together on both fore- and hind-limbs, whereas in the cat they're noticeably separate bones;
  6. there should be a little hole in the upper-arm bone (humerus) right above the elbow; and
  7. on the side of the "thigh" bone where there's a "ball" connecting to the hips, you should also see beneath the biggest "lump" across from the "ball" a lesser "lump" coming after it.

How will you see these? To look at the bones you can probably just stew one of the animals pretty hard until the meat is "just falling off the bone," then carefully pick the meat off.

Make sure before you use any of these criteria to conclude catness that you have seen the difference on between two images of skeletons. Sometimes the difference is rather subtle! For example in the images that Stephie has posted, you can very easily see the "shoulder-blade spike" (labeled #33) on the rabbit, but not on the cat, so this is a clear diagnostic criterion: if I didn't see it then I'd strongly suspect "cat". Similarly the fused/unfused bones are pretty decisive, as long as you don't accidentally remove the incredibly-thin tibia of the cat and then think "oh, I just see one bone, it must be fused." Be cautious until you compare to both.

I've taken an image from Flickr and updated it with some highlights of what this 1908 manual is suggesting you look for:

Image of rabbit skeleton showing differences in anatomy.

  • 5
    Excellent find of picture! You might want to mention that your source also has a cat and both together nicely showcase the differences.
    – Stephie
    Apr 6, 2015 at 17:17
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    Just out of curiosity: did your sources say something about the fusing of tibia/fibia? In humans, some bones fuse over years, serving as a sign of age. Are rabbits' bones fused at birth or do they fuse over time? And fat color changes/darkens with maturity in some animals - do you know whether young rabbits would have "whiter" fat?
    – Stephie
    Apr 7, 2015 at 8:49
  • 4
    Great pic, and hate to be picky, but it's not licensed for modification. StackExchange usually prefers to keep on the right side of licenses, I find. There is an alternative which might also work for this purpose. Note, too, the 1939 edition of the book you cite is on Archive.org, the relevant section on pages 73-74. Hope that helps.
    – Dɑvïd
    Apr 11, 2015 at 11:22

The simplest way to tell the difference is to look at the ribs.

Cats have one pair of floating ribs, but rabbits have three pairs. The floating ribs are the ones at the bottom (i.e. towards the tail), that are not attached to anything at their outer end. All the other ribs are either attached directly to the breastbone, or to the cartilage that extends from the base of the breastbone.

Cats have nine "true" ribs (attached directly to the breastbone), three "false" ribs (attached to the cartilage), and one pair of floating ribs. Rabbits have seven "true", two "false", and three floating. So cats have a total of thirteen ribs, but rabbits typically only have twelve (although it can vary).

This gives us a simple test:

  • if it only has twelve ribs, it's a rabbit
  • if it has thirteen ribs, but only one pair of floating ribs, it's a cat
  • 1
    I like this answer because of it's simplicity, but there still seems to be some uncertainty due to the variance of the rabbit's rib count. Does the rabbits rib count EVER amount to 13???
    – Chef_Code
    Apr 9, 2015 at 4:14
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    @Chef_Code. Most authorities on rabbit anatomy say that they usually have twelve pairs of ribs, but the occasional individual can have thirteen. That is why it is necessary to also look at the floating ribs to be absolutely certain. It would be so nice if you could just count the number of ribs! But Mother Nature is fickle, and loves to tease us with these awkward little exceptions. Then again, that's what's at the heart of why Life is so endlessly fascinating - so perhaps we should not complain too much.
    – ekhumoro
    Apr 9, 2015 at 5:00
  • BTW, I believe the rabbit in the picture from @Stephie’s answer has 13 ribs.
    – kirelagin
    May 24, 2015 at 20:34

The easy way is to look at skull, paws, and tail - but these are normally removed!

Cat have short paws, long tails, and a sleeker skull

Hares have very long rear legs, easy to spot

Rabbit have curved lower leg bones (tibia and radius?), shaped like this ()

Cats generally have quite straight lower leg bones, shaped like this V. The are nearly touching each other

  • 1
    "Forearm" bones = radius and ulna, "shank" bones = tibia and fibula.
    – Stephie
    Apr 6, 2015 at 10:36
  • 3
    @Chef_Code No, always accept the best answer that solved your problem. You don't have to accept any. PS I love the "over answering" happening on this question. You got to wonder if any of these people have every actually killed, prepared, and eaten a rabbit or cat? They all sound like vets :-)
    – TFD
    Apr 7, 2015 at 23:46

The main differences I see in the skeletons of the two animals is that the cat's humerus (large single bone in the front legs) and its radius/ulna (smaller dual bones in the front legs) seem to be very close in length, or the single bone is slightly longer. The same goes for the hind legs, where the femur (single bone) and the tibia/fibula (dual bones) are of similar length or the single bone is slightly longer.

In the rabbit, the dual bones (radius/ulna in front leg and tibia/fibula in hind leg) are significantly and very noticeably longer than the single bones (humerus and femur, respectively). This is more evident in the hind legs, where the tibia/fibula combo seems to be about 20-30% longer than the femur.


As a child in the 1940's we were told that you could tell the difference between a skinned cat and a rabbit because one of them had kidneys side by side and the other's kidneys were staggered. I think the rabbits were side by side because they tasted delicious.


just take a look at the tail..! if(tail is long) then CAT else confirm RABBIT

  • 3
    The problem with this method is that many (probably most?) butchered rabbits have the tail removed, so anyone trying to pass off a cat as rabbit would either remove it entirely or just chop most off.
    – PeterJ
    Apr 13, 2015 at 13:11
  • 1
    Yea if they go through the trouble of skinning the cat, they aren't going to leave the tail attached.
    – Chef_Code
    Apr 13, 2015 at 18:10

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