Putting Two Rabbits Together
Rabbit bonding is so important, not just to the rabbits, but their owners too. In fact, matching your rabbit with another rabbit, in a successful union that lasts a lifetime, is the greatest gift you can give your bunny!
Helping others to achieve successful rabbit bonds is one of the main reasons I started this website. Stressing the importance of a successful rabbit companionship and how we can achieve these bonds are still ongoing missions of mine.
No two rabbits are the same. Oh yes, rabbits are as individual as you and I, and their bonding stories are not as uniform as you may think.
There are certain strategies and techniques to follow, which you can learn by continuing on this page. However, I have seen that many rabbit owners have their own individual stories or set of “problems” that require answers.
Getting the help they need at the right time, has been just as stressful as watching their rabbits getting upset in the process of bonding itself.
What does Rabbit Bonding Mean?
Bonding rabbits means to find a suitable friend, partner, and companion for a rabbit that is on its own.
Rabbit bonding is a complex process and I recommend reading this whole page, but if you want to go straight to a particular section that you need information on, these jump-titles will help:
The Lonely Rabbit
Companion animals are great company for the lonely, for both humans and bunnies! However, rabbits, more than dogs or cats, need the company of their species. Rabbits needing other rabbits.
In fact, rabbits are so sociable that if they don’t get the companionship they crave, they can develop illnesses through stress, starvation, and injury – some owners report that they are convinced their rabbits died of a broken heart when their bonded partner dies before them. It’s almost as if they just lose the will to live. Us humans can be like that too.
Rabbit Bonding – What’s That?
Domestic pet rabbits have had a bit of a raw deal with their companion relationships. For a long time, rabbits have been kept in hutches, alone, with no stimulation or company. It’s so sad – and wrong! But this is mainly down to the fact that most people just don’t know enough about the social structure of rabbits and why rabbit bonding is so important to them.
Rabbits are extremely social creatures. They love the company of others. It’s vital to their happiness and health!
Who’s Boss Bunny?
A group of rabbits is commonly called a herd and in the wild, rabbits are free to choose their own friends from their extended groups. They can also choose which warren and which boss they’d prefer to spend time with.
In wild warrens, the “chief” rabbit is usually male. In domestic groups, the dominant bunny is usually a female and a bossy, more aggressive one at that!
Get Off My Land!
With rabbits, it’s all about territory. Peeing and pooping play a big part in marking boundaries. You can see this from walking across popular rabbit land and seeing LOTS of poop piles. Fortunately, domestic rabbits mainly live in pairs and their need to poop all over the place, marking their land, is not a major issue.
The introduction of spaying and neutering has also made the “mess” issue practically disappear as a calmer, less territorial rabbit doesn’t feel the need to mark everything and everyone.
With the rabbit being America’s 3rd most popular pet, it’s interesting to note the social structures of the other two favorite pets before appreciating the hierarchy system of our beloved bunny. By the other two, I mean, of course, dogs and cats respectively.
Why Rabbits Fight
The main reason is territory and newcomers that are introduced in the rabbit bonding process bear the brunt of territorial behavior. The aggressive show of dominance rears its ugly head in a domestic group, just as it would in the wild.
Rabbits show their anger in a number of different ways. Some rabbits will chase you across a room or garden, some can even ‘nip’ at your hands or feet to make their point. Some use their front feet to ‘box’ you when you pick them up, some bite hard (enough to bruise but not to break the skin, which shows amazing restraint), but then others may feel the need to give you a bite that involves their teeth sinking in hard in to your flesh and not letting go. Like a Terrier with a rope! The most painful display being the bite hold and the box kick combined. “Ouch,” might not be a strong enough word for that one!
Causes of Bad Behavior
What we may term as bad or unacceptable behaviors are often just signs of the rabbit trying to communicate in the only way it knows how. If you are on the receiving end of a little nip or kick, it could be that you are holding the rabbit too tightly or you’re blocking an important doorway that the rabbit wants to get through.
Bad behavior in rabbits can be down to a number of factors. It could be due to a sad case of being mistreated before, by humans, they’ve just had enough and are voicing their feelings.
Being mistreated can be interpreted as “little things” in our eyes but they are classed as being big nasty cruel things in a rabbit’s view. Unacceptable behavior by us to a rabbit would be things like constantly shoving your hands in front of their faces and greeting them like you would a dog, probing around inside private areas of their hutches, sheds or cages, while they are still inside, speaking too sharply to them or even teasing them with food.
Over time, pet rabbits that have been together for many years, show an evolving group dynamic and new introductions than to take less time than they did in previous years.
The result is that the transition time in acceptance with rabbit bonding can go from at least two weeks or much less than a week with evolved groups.
In an evolved herd the aggression levels toward a new rabbit are milder and shorter-lived, so the newcomers, in turn, appear to learn the group dynamics, as in the daily structure and other important social facts, in a much quicker time.
This is because the “culture” of the herd has been developed over time. Culture being the transmission of behaviors from one generation to the next. This culture does not necessarily come from the older generation, it can come from knowledge and habits acquired from other rabbits within the group.
Steps To Rabbit Bonding
Wild rabbits have the luxury of choosing their mates from an array of suitable partners but domestic rabbits don’t have the benefit of a vast “singles club,” and they, more often than not, have another rabbit suddenly thrust into their hutch that they have to like or lump! I know I wouldn’t take kindly to a stranger being in my bedroom wanting “cuddles” and then helping himself to the contents of my fridge!
In rabbit bonding, the new rabbit will either be “lumped” or “humped” in most situations, but some pet rabbits have been on their own for so long they have no idea what it is they’re supposed to do! And this is where the trouble starts…
Why Rabbit Bonding is So Important
Rabbits are much, much happier when they have another friendly rabbit to share their life with. They are emotionally and physically healthier too. A rabbit companion offers fellowship, jollity, and intimacy, to name just a few.
Sociability also plays a big part in health too. Bonded rabbits spend a lot of time grooming each other and their mates can reach places that are impossible for them to get to, thus keeping them clean and disease-free.
Making the Change
If your rabbit is a solitary pet, you may think “It’s OK, I’m at home all day, I’m his friend, he doesn’t need another rabbit!” Then please change your thinking as this is just not the case.
Friendships All Round
Once your rabbit has a friend, he or she will not forget about you! Like humans, rabbits can have many individual relationships. You may even find that your rabbit is more friendly and outgoing once they have a bonded companion to share their life with as their happiness levels rise considerably.
If you have decided it’s about time your single bun should be with another rabbit, then WELL DONE, you’re about to make your rabbit a very happy bunny…
Basic Rabbit Bonding Steps
Introducing Rabbits Together
You need to think carefully about the first rabbit bonding steps and ensure you are prepared for the time commitment that a new introduction may require.
Here are some basic points to remember at each stage of the rabbit bonding process:
- Neutering – First of all, if your rabbit hasn’t already been altered (spayed or neutered) then unless you want baby rabbits, this is crucial to an easier bond. Both rabbits should be altered and allowed enough time for their hormone levels to dissipate. This typically takes three to four weeks. Failure to alter the rabbits and wait the appropriate amount of time could result in pregnancy, fights and/or spraying and marking of territory.
- Opposite Sex Bonds – It’s always best to try bonding a male rabbit with a female rabbit in the first instance as statistically, these bonds work best. Bonding two males may result in violent fights that could cause serious injury to the rabbits and you! Two females can also be more difficult to bond. However, this is all dependent on the rabbit being bonded to. There are many factors involved in rabbit relationships and sometimes a same-sex bond can develop into a rewarding relationship for both rabbits. An example of when a same-sex bond would work would be if one of the rabbits have had a history of partner deaths. Rabbits are intelligent creatures and they learn from their past. An older rabbit may have had so much heartache from their previous partner’s death, that they have learned not to attach a deep sexual bond with their relationships and would enjoy a somewhat less intensely connected, same-sex bond instead.
- Size Difference – Strangely enough, the size of each rabbit and the difference between each is not an issue as far as rabbits are concerned. Their friendships are just like ours in a lot of ways. We sometimes prefer our partners to be larger than us. With women, it may be a protection thing but men (unless very shallow of course), don’t tend to bother too much if their partner is on the large side. The trait of “looking like” good breeding material is much more important on the attraction list for most red-blooded men. Important Note – If you intend to breed from paired rabbits involving a couple made up of a dwarf doe and a giant buck it will result in major complications during pregnancy and probably death to the doe and her kits. So choose wisely.
- Age Difference – The age difference between two bunnies when rabbit bonding starts can sometimes develop later into issues that might not make themselves known at the initial introduction. In fact, the age contrast may only develop into problems at a much later stage when the younger rabbit enters adolescence for example or an older rabbit becomes weaker and is more prone to illness. The older bunny might react with jealous bitterness when the younger rabbit is enjoying the prime of life and showing off their energy and excitement that a young soul delights in. You are most likely to have a lasting bond if both rabbits are adults. After the hormones have stopped raging you are more likely to succeed in rabbit bonding. For example, you can bond an 8-year-old rabbit with a three-year-old rabbit.
- Housing – You must be able to provide separate housing accommodations until the rabbit bonding process is complete, and the partnership has been established. This also means you’ll need another litter box, water bowl, food bowl, etc. for the new rabbit. Once bonded, the rabbits should be housed together in a space large enough to accommodate them both comfortably. Important Note – Do not put a litter box in the enclosed neutral area where the two rabbits are to bond. One rabbit may use it to mark it out as their territory. The introduction zones should remain as neutral as possible.
- Time – Bonding can take a considerable amount of your time and effort in order to be successful. It is very rare that two bunnies will meet and get along perfectly. Sometimes it can take several weeks and even months for a successful bond to solidify between the rabbits. Some rabbit bonding sessions have been known to take up to 6 months, so please don’t give up at the first sign of trouble.
- Behavioral Problems – Some rabbits may have behavioral issues and you’ll find you may want to just give up with a really difficult rabbit. Also, if a bond does not work well, and it constantly results in serious fighting then it’s probably time to try a different rabbit to bond with yours. Sometimes personalities just don’t get on – We humans can come across people that ‘rub us the wrong way’ all the time and this our fault and not the newcomer’s, but with rabbits, it can be dangerous as they just resort to tearing chunks out of each other.
- Negotiations – Typically, there are negotiations that need to be worked through in regard to who gets what role in the relationship. Mounting and chasing and circling are all quite common during this adjustment period. It will be your responsibility to monitor these hierarchy negotiations and to intervene when appropriate to prevent things from getting out of hand.
Rescue Rabbit Bonding
In most cases, rescue rabbits have already been through the rabbit bonding process at the shelter as it is easier and cost-effective to care for bunnies in pairs than it is to house them singularly.
But sometimes they have rabbits in need of rescue that are single for one reason or another. They may have just come in, they may have not been neutered or spayed or it could be that they just haven’t been successful in rabbit bonding with that rabbit to date.
If you have a rabbit at home that has recently lost its partner, allow a certain amount of time for grieving (usually about 2 weeks) and then make an appointment with your local rescue center to choose a new mate for your lonely rabbit.
The best mate for your rabbit is one that they choose themselves and are interested in. Unlike some popular human cultures, it is always best to let your rabbit choose their own partner. Bunnies have in-depth personalities and so have their own preferences, rabbit bonding will be easier if you pay attention and go along with their instincts.
Try & Try Again
It’s a good idea to take your rabbit to several foster homes and let them meet several other rabbits. Inform each of them about your intentions and they will make sure the appropriate rabbit is ready for you to try your introductions. An experienced member of staff can help you interpret the signals once the introductions start.
Boarding Your Rabbit
You could also consider boarding your rabbit at the rescue facility for a while and let the staff there do the rabbit bonding for you.
If neither of these options is available, you’ll have to do rabbit bonding at your own home instead. But I think this is a good thing as the rabbit bonding process is a great opportunity for you to spend quality time getting to know your rabbits.
Home Rabbit Bonding Procedures
Here are the normal rabbit bonding procedures in more detail:
- Neutral Zone – Locate a neutral place, somewhere your rabbit doesn’t normally frequent, either in the house or outside, that isn’t too large; a bathroom or laundry room typically works well or perhaps an area inside your garage or shed.
- Safety First – Make sure to pick up anything that might be harmful to the rabbits and protect any cords, wires or things you don’t want to be chewed.
- Assistance & Referee – Rabbit bonding sessions are always easiest with two people, especially at the initial sessions. One person can be ready with a water spray bottle and the other with protective gloves. If biting or serious fighting starts spray with water immediately and separate the two rabbits by at least 2 feet. Some people don’t like using water but it is the only thing I have found that works well to prevent fighting and doesn’t cause injury to the rabbit.
- Floor Area – If your chosen introduction area has a slippery floor, then you can place towels or an area rug on the floor. You will also need to make sure there is enough room for you to move around in too as you will need to be right in there with them at all times.
- Using Cages – Initially, you want the rabbits in the same room as each other so they can communicate so setting up two cages side by side, about three inches apart, (be careful to ensure the rabbits can’t bite each other through the wires), will give them the opportunity to get to know each other.
- Litter Boxes – Each litter box within their separate cages or hutches should be placed as far away from the other as possible. Rabbits use urine to mark territory, the smell will interfere with the friendly atmosphere you are trying to create.
- Food – Greens and pellets should be placed in each side closest to the other cage. Eating is a social activity and this will force them to be a little social. If they can see their potential mate eating and enjoying a meal, they will appreciate the sociability of their companion much more.
- Switching – It’s also a good idea to switch the rabbits over, at the end of each day, to the other one’s cage. This way they get used to living with the scent of the other rabbit and neither one gets too possessive about either house.
- Neutering & Cages – A great thing about using cages indoors is that if both or one of the rabbits has been recently altered or due to be altered, it is OK to start them living as cage neighbors for several weeks. This makes use of the waiting time, but make sure you give the surgery enough time to heal before starting the rabbit bonding process!
- Exploring – Remove the rabbits from their cages or carriers, depending on what method you are using, and allow them to explore the neutral area and one another, paying close attention for any signs of aggression. Mounting, thumping and light chasing should be allowed without interference. If fights do start, a squirt of water from a spray bottle will deter them.
- Protection – Wear heavy-duty gloves for protection so you can separate your rabbits without being bitten if they start to fight. You will also want to cover your arms and make sure you have thick trousers on too. Rabbits will blindly bite and scratch during a fight and not notice that you are in the way.
- Stop Fights – You should never really let strong aggressive fighting start and with good skills of observation, you should be able to notice the signs of aggression before they take a foothold.
Initial Signs of Aggression
Here are some basic observations to watch out for when introducing new rabbits together:
- Ears back at a 45-degree angle
- Tails raised
- Standing up on their haunches
- Obvious tension
- Nipping on the nose or ears
If your rabbit raises up with tail lifted and ears back, watch out, they are about to start a fight!
- OK Signs – Common actions between rabbits in a rabbit bonding session can include chasing, light nipping, swatting, spraying or mounting. Sometimes a rabbit will lie there looking all sweet and innocent but will turn their head and quickly bite. Those actions are the hardest to stop and although these times are less likely to turn into an all-out fight, you should be able to read your rabbit’s body language and eyes to figure out their intentions.
- Understand Dominance – Be careful to understand the difference between dominance and aggression. Dominance is often displayed as mounting and is perfectly normal. However, if the submissive rabbit is mounted for too long, they may start to get irritated so be prepared to knock the dominant bunny off after a while. Both males and females will mount each other. Mounting is a question of dominance in a rabbit bonding session, not sexual activity. Rabbits have to know where they stand in the social order.
- Indifference– If two rabbits are interested in each other, they will probably act with indifference. This is a good sign as they are actually just figuring out if they can trust each other.
- Subtle Signs – You won’t see the rabbits grooming each other straight away but you should notice if your rabbit is excited. Look for the subtle signs. Rabbits staying a few feet apart but eating, cleaning themselves, or lying down are all good signs.
- Session Times – Rabbit bonding sessions can take place in 15 to 30-minute sessions, this time scale is good for a “first date.” You can increase or decrease their time spent together and the intervals between each session depending on the rabbits’ interactions and how well you think it is going. If you are busy and only have time for one session a day, this is fine but when you have time 2-3 dates, 6-8 hours apart is better. If the dates are going well, then gradually increase the time that they are spending together.
- Injury Check – After each session be sure to check both rabbits for any injuries. You’ll be surprised at how quick a rabbit can dish out punishment to a fellow rabbit without you even noticing. Stay alert!
- Sniffing – When the rabbits are curious about each other, they will go up to each other and sniff. One may bow his head, requesting licks. One may gently lick the other rabbit’s face. These contacts are usually brief, lasting less than 30 seconds but this is the start of grooming and is an excellent sign.
- Trust – As trust continues to develop, the sniffing and licking will increase into a full-on snuggling where they will then groom each other. The first signs of grooming may appear a little rough, almost like chewing or gentle nibbling at the hair instead.
- Playtime – Gradually increase the time they spend together and the space they use. For example, increase their time together from 1 hour to 2 hours to 3 hours. Once they can spend several hours together, you might be inclined to move them into a larger room or outside area (preferably still in a neutral territory), where they can run and play together. This is also an excellent time to put litter boxes in for them to use. They will also continue bonding when they feed together too.
- Common Play Area – Once you see signs of genuine affection, you should move them to where their common play area will be once they are a happy couple.
- Investing Time – Usually, the amount of time the rabbits spend in each area before moving to the next stage is equally proportional. If things progress fast, and each stage only takes a few days then you are very fortunate, but if each stage takes a month, be prepared to be in it for the long haul.
- The Result! Moving in Together – If you have stuck to the guidelines, the two rabbits will come to accept each other, and with any luck, eventually, display affectionate behavior such as snuggling and grooming on a consistent basis. After several successful days playing together, you may be able to place them into their hutch, cage or shed together.
Bonding can take a lot of time and effort, but the end result is well worth it. Bonded bunnies keep each other happy and entertained and the positive benefits to their health and general well-being are significant.
How Will My Rabbit Change?
Once a rabbit bond is successful, and each bunny has settled into their routines together, you will definitely notice a change in your rabbit.
Rabbits have very different personalities and characters, so each rabbit bonding situation is unique. I can’t say what will happen with your rabbits but I can say that they will be happier!
Here are some basic scenarios to put your mind at rest:
- If you have a friendly rabbit to start with, then they will still be as friendly after the new rabbit is introduced.
- If you own a shy rabbit and the new rabbit loves to interact with humans, you may find your bunny will mimic the new rabbit’s behavior and become more adventurous with you too.
- If your rabbit is known for aggressive behavior, over time, they will become calmer and much more open to human interaction.
- If your rabbit is a bit naughty and a troublemaker, after the rabbit bonding is complete and successful, they probably won’t be as bored and the naughty behavior will stop.
- If your rabbit is sweetness and light itself and the rabbit bonding has introduced a bunny that is fond of digging, for example, then pretty soon you’ll have two little intense diggers on your hands.
- If the new rabbit has bad habits, your rabbit may develop their bad ways. But this is usually short-lived providing you deal with each incident in the correct way.
- If your bunny loves you, then they still will and probably more so after a successful rabbit bonding process. You may find yourself on the receiving end of much more affection, cuddles, licking, and teeth chattering!