Are you curious about bonding and would like more information? Please click here for some guidance...
Guide to Bonding Your Rabbits
Nothing is cuter than watching two rabbits lie side by side snuggling with each other. They are clearly very happy and enjoy each other's company. Rabbits are social animals that benefit from living in pairs or groups. Despite the need to live with another rabbit, you cannot just put two rabbits in a cage and expect them to immediately get along. Rabbits, like humans, must date first. During their courtship, the rabbits learn to trust each other and eventually fall in love. Rabbit dating is referred to as bonding. Every pairing is different, as there is not a set path to take.
What to Expect
Some bondings are fairly easy while others can be a more bumpy journey. Rabbits rarely fall in love at first sight and indifference is a good first sign. It means that they are scoping each other out and trying to figure out if they can trust each other.
Not only will you need to make a time commitment to bonding, but you will also need a second space to house the new rabbit and plenty of patience.
Factors to consider first
Unless it is impossible for health reasons, it is essential for both rabbits to be neutered before introducing them. If they have been recently neutered/spayed, you need to wait for them to properly heal from the surgery as any skirmishes could result in internal injuries.
You should figure out housing and bonding areas before bringing a second rabbit home. You will temporarily need a second space for the new rabbit, preferably near your current bunny. You will also need to find neutral areas in your home/garden where you can do the introductions.
- It is wise to begin bonding by having the rabbits near to each other but separated by a mesh or something similar. This will allow your rabbits to get to know each other’s smells and behaviours. You can then swap the rabbits from side to side as this will help to break down their concept of their own territories.
- Encourage the rabbits to eat with one another by placing food bowls or scattering veg along the joint space where the separation is. Eating is a highly social activity for rabbits so this will enable them to feel more relaxed and at ease.
- You need to have a small area set up that is neutral to both rabbits. Keeping the area small can help to prevent chasing behaviours. You want to prevent any fights, so have a water squirt bottle handy to spray them just in case. Wear heavy gloves or wellies/boots, they can come in handy just in case.
- Place the two rabbits in the pen and observe. It is sometimes best to get in with them. Scatter yummy veg around the pen as this will encourage them to eat and give them other things to think about other than each other. Allow them to sniff around and come together. Ideally they will sniff and then move away and settle and then do more investigating.
- If you feel the rabbits are calm and are showing signs of being relaxed such as eating or grooming themselves you can expand the space a little. Every time they look relaxed give them slightly more space.
- In most pairs of rabbits one will be the dominant rabbit. Rabbits achieve dominancy by placing their heads down, this is their way of asking to be groomed. A rabbit may get frustrated if this demand is not met which can result in a little warning nudge or nip. If a nudge or nip is then followed by the rabbits then moving away and having their own time before meeting again then this is ok. If the nudge or nip results in chasing or more aggression separate the rabbits by moving them back into their own spaces within the one pen to begin with. If they settle then great, if they don’t and there are further instances of aggression stop the bonding session and allow them to go back to their own enclosures and settle.
- Don’t let rabbits fight, it will not allow them to achieve a peaceful bond and could end in injuries. Signs to be aware of are ears bent back and lying flat behind their head, their tail raising so you can see the underside of the tail, a poised stance. If your rabbit does any of these, carefully move them back from the other rabbit or even place something like a piece of cardboard between them to give you time to separate them.
- If one rabbit is trying to establish itself as the dominant bunny, they will typically try to mount their mate. This is a natural way for rabbits to behave when bonding but only allow it to go on for a few seconds before gently moving the dominant rabbit off. The mounting should decrease over time as the rabbits get to know one another and build a relationship.
- Rabbits that live in different warrens (rabbit families) will mark against another warren by dropping pellets. This is often misinterpreted as a loss of litter box habits. When this happens you should evaluate for signs of marking. If you have a separation between the two rabbits, don't be surprised if you find little presents along this barrier. When you start bonding, your rabbits may perceive themselves to be two separate warrens and mark against each other. Once the pair has bonded this behaviour should disappear.
Signs of Progress
- As previously mentioned when rabbits eat together this is a social activity and it shows they have some level of trust in each other to enable them to relax.
- Grooming themselves, rabbits will groom when they are relaxed and not feeling threatened as it requires focus and not a huge amount of awareness on what is going on around them.
- Indifference! In the early stages when rabbits look indifferent or like they don’t care about one another this is positive. It means they aren’t necessarily threatened by the other rabbit which is a great start.
- Grooming the other rabbit, once you begin to see one rabbit grooming the other one this is a huge step forward in the bond. It shows they are starting to accept their roles in the relationship and enables them to solidify their trust in one another.
- Flopping, binkying, cuddling! The aim! Once you start to see your rabbits cuddling and sleeping next to each other or even binkying around together this means they are at the stage where they are beginning to fall in love.
- You will instinctively know when to move on to the next stage. There is the trust factor- you will find yourself trusting them more each day. The first few sessions you will be with them constantly. Then you may feel like you can run to the kitchen and grab a drink. After many sessions, you may feel as if you don't need to be with them, but want them within earshot. At a certain point you will feel as if they can be together and you don't need to be with them.
- When your rabbits are showing all of the above signs you may feel like they can now live together permanently. Try moving the rabbits into their living space, this is a step up from them being in neutral territory. Some rabbits may take to this next step really easily, some may need longer in neutral territory, take it at the pace of your rabbits.