Before you begin
Bonding rabbits is not always an easy task. It is not just a case of shoving them together and letting them get on with it – they need supervising in the early stages. Some rabbits go together quite quickly, but you should set aside a few weeks to a month for the process for a relatively easy bonding. A more difficult bonding can take months. It really depends upon the personalities of the rabbits involved and also how you manage the process. Either way, you will need separate accommodation for each of them in the beginning, if they can be close to each other (in separate hutches or runs) this can be helpful. The most successful bonding’s are a success as they are not rushed. It is very important to not rush bonding and let the new animal entering the home adjust to their new environment for at least a week before attempting the bonding process.
For the best chance of success and for long term happiness it is essential both parties are neutered. Although it is OK to bond a neutered male with an intact female, her hormonal cycle will probably cause a bit of a problem at times throughout their partnership. Its also worth considering this for the long term health of the female as statistics show 80% of unspayed females contract ovarian cancer by the time they are 5 years old.
Before you embark on the process of bonding two rabbits, its important to understand a little bit about rabbit behaviour and to always keep this in mind throughout the process. The first and most important thing to remember is that rabbits NEED company of their own kind. It is essential to their mental and emotional health, which in turn impacts on their physical health and how much joy they will bring to you as a pet. Your rabbit will be so much happier when it has a bonded partner.
The second thing you must always bear in mind is that they are very territorial. This means that no matter how desperate for company they are, if they feel like their territory is being invaded at any point in the process, they will attack the other rabbit. This means that you have to manage their introduction to each other carefully to avoid any fights. This is where timing comes into play, on their own terms.
Thirdly, rabbits live in a hierarchical structure in the wild and this instinct still remains in the domestic rabbit. This means that during the bonding process the rabbits will need to work out who is the boss, a bit like the pecking order that other animals have. As a result, you will probably see some circling and mounting (including the female mounting the male) without any regard for the fact they are neutered and not necessarily mounting the right end. This is normal for a rabbit and is to find dominance.
If you have the space and the time to do a gradual introduction, it works quite well to put the rabbits in runs which are side by side or to split an existing run in two (in a manner that cannot be easily defeated by an excited rabbit). Over the course of a few days they can get to know each other a little without the pressure of one mounting the other etc. If they have moveable toys in the runs such as boxes or tunnels you can swap them between them each day to get them used to each other’s scent.
After this you can put them together ideally in a neutral territory that neither has been in before. Some people use the garage, bathroom or conservatory. Bath introductions work well, as neither rabbit can really go anywhere. If this is not possible try to make their space in the garden as large as possible and away from their hutches. The first meeting should only be around 20 minutes and must be constantly observed. Fights can break out quickly and result in serious injury. It is advisable to keep some thick gloves on and a squeezy sports bottle of water nearby, a squirt of water usually breaks up the fight and allows you to get between them. Mounting and chasing are OK but no biting, ‘wrestling’ or pulling out fur. If that happens separate immediately and go back to stage one for a few more days before trying again. If the rabbits seem quite indifferent to each other, almost ignoring each other, this is actually an encouraging sign – they do not feel threatened by the other. Likewise if they groom themselves, eat or turn their back in the other’s company. In this case you can continue over the next few days, gradually building up their time together, but always observe them closely. If you see them begin to groom each other (lick each other) this means the bonding is going well and you can leave them together longer with short unobserved periods.
If the rabbits have been grooming and look quite settled you can start to think about moving them in together. One way to help this go smoother is to hutch swap them for a day or two. That way they get used to the other’s scent in the environment in which they sleep and eat.
Some useful things to remember:
- Feeding the rabbits together is a great bonding trick – try something irresistible like dandelions. Alternatively a bowl of dried food or some vegetables work just as well.
- Many rabbits are very partial to banana. You can trick rabbits into grooming each other by rubbing a little banana around the back of the neck. Rabbits who love banana can’t but help licking it off. This does work!
- Some people recommend putting the rabbits in a stressful situation together such as a car journey. I don’t ever do this as the stress can result in a fight and I do not believe in unduly stressing rabbits. If however you do try this make sure that they are held by a passenger so a close eye can be kept on them and keep a separate box handy in case you need to separate them.
- Once bonded, always travel them together, even if only one need see the vet, take both, as even short periods apart can disrupt their bond.
If you are experiencing any bonding difficulties and would like any extra advice and support, please do not hesitate to contact the rescue. We are always happy to advise on any bonding issues. If people are looking for a partner for a lonely bunny, we are always more than happy for people to bring along their own rabbit to put them in a run together, to look at how they initially react to one another.