Before you begin
Bonding rabbits is not an especially easy task. It is not just a case of shoving them together and letting them get on with it. Some rabbits go together quicker than others but you should set aside around 1-2 weeks 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 (So they can see, smell, hear each other) this is helpful.
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 domestic abuse at times throughout their partnership. Its also worth doing 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. We neuter all of our rabbits and mostly all of our females that go in for their spay over the age of 3 years have tumors or abnormality’s to their wombs. Most females fully recover after being spayed and removing any lumps but it can take years off their life expectancy if not spayed.
Before you embark on the process of bonding two rabbits, its important to understand a little bit about rabbit behavior 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. No doubt you know this already which is why you are beginning this process, but its still important to bear in mind, especially if a bonding is taking a long time – 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, having meetings in neutral areas is key.
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 chickens 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. Its purely a dominance thing.
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 movable 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. If this is not possible try to make a space in the garden not to big or not to small 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 always have a dustpan to hand while bonding, do not put your hands or fingers in between a rabbit fight, a rabbit bite can be nasty so you can use the dustpan to intervene in any unwanted behaviors. 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. Rabbits are intelligent and they have a good memory, if the fight is allowed to get out of hand they will remember this and will not be likely to bond with this rabbit as it is now a ‘threat’. 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.
- Feeding the rabbits together is a great bonding trick – try something irresistible like dandelions.
- 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.
- Some people recommend putting the rabbits in a stressful situation together such as a car journey. I’m not overly convinced as the stress can result in a fight and 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.