Bonding rabbits together

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Rabbits are highly social animals and ideally should be kept in pairs. However, a single rabbit is possible given that the owner be prepared to devote significant time to interact with the rabbit and provide companionship.[1] Bonding rabbits is the process of dating that allows rabbits to trust each other to live, sleep, eat, and play together without vicious territorial fighting.

Should I get another rabbit?

A black lionhead rabbit happily snuggling with her boyfriend.

The main consideration before obtaining an additional rabbit is to be able to financially support it. While food, care, and litter bills will only incrementally increase, veterinarian bills can make a sharp dent in your pocket and should be something that you will be prepared for.

If you are able to comfortably support additional pets, finding a suitable bunny friend for your single rabbit is rarely a bad idea. As /u/speakstruth says,

My theory on rabbit friends (or really any pet friends) is like this. There are 24 hours in the day. Of those 24 hours, you will probably be sleeping for 8 hours (average) and working/school for 8 hours. Assuming that you spend every second of the remaining 8 hours actively interacting with your rabbit (and even if you really really really want to do this, it's impossible to while still maintaining other aspects of life), it still spends 16 hours alone every day. Sounds a little lonely doesn't it? Especially when you consider that a rabbit will be sleeping for at least part of the time that you're able to interact with it and awake during the night when you're sleeping.

However, I'm not saying that a single rabbit is unhappy, just that it's easier to be happy with a friend.

Some considerations when deciding on a bunny friend:

  • Age: While age does not matter to the success of a bonding, it is important to consider the age difference because rabbits will go through a rough period of mourning upon the loss of a bonded mate. As a result, it is best to keep the rabbits' ages within a few years of each other.[2]
  • Size: The size of the rabbits does not matter when attempting a bonding. A giant Flemish can be happily bonded to a small Netherland Dwarf. The most important consideration to a successful bonding is that the rabbits' personalities work well with each other and are introduced properly.[2]

The following links contain information to help you properly decide whether or not to get another rabbit to bond.

Preparations for a bonding

It is considerably easier for two rabbits to bond if they have both been spayed and neutered. Spaying and neutering drastically reduces any aggressive and territorial behaviors as well as prevent any accidental babies if they are of opposite sexes. When unaltered, rabbits will be trying to get along through hormonal and uncontrollable urges, while after altering, the rabbits will be working through personalities and temperament.[3]

If your current rabbit has not been spayed or neutered, do not obtain another intact rabbit of the opposite sex to bond. You will end up with baby rabbits if you do not keep them separated 24/7. It only takes one successful three-second attempt.

If your rabbit has been recently altered, wait at least two weeks, preferably a month, before trying to bond. This is to prevent a male from accidentally impregnating an unspayed female and for a newly spayed female from fighting off a male due to being uncomfortable from her new surgery. The interval between castration and infertility is around four weeks.[4] Additionally, it allows for any hormones to dissipate.[3][5]

If you obtained your second rabbit from a source other than a shelter, consider quarantining the new rabbit until it has had a health exam at a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. Many rabbits can be carriers of dangerous and highly contagious diseases such as pasteurella, fur mites, fleas, intestinal parasites, and more.

Bunny dating

Two rabbits that were a perfect match during a speed date at the local rabbit rescue.

Many people do not realize that the majority of rabbit rescues offer "bunny dating" services.[6] The rabbit experts examine the interactions between potential partners to find the best match as opposed to just trying to bond two rabbits without knowing their preferences. Some agencies offer "speed dating", while others will let you bring your bunny to the shelter multiple times or even overnight. Having the rescue as a resource when the two bonding candidates are having issues at home can make the process much, much easier. In order to participate, your rabbit must be spayed or neutered.

While any two rabbits can grow to like each other, sometimes, it is not worth the stress and the effort. Efforts have shown that altered male-female pairings usually have the best of luck and are the most stable.[1] The San Diego House Rabbit Society writes,[3]

Usually the males appear to be dominant at first with their excessive mounting. The female will put up with this for a short while, but will usually assert her dominance by mounting the male or nipping him to show she is the one in charge. At this point, the male usually backs down and they start on the road to friendship.

Same-sex pairing will require at least one submissive rabbit and some more patience.[3] Chances of success are typically higher if the pairs have grown up as litter mates.[1]

Some good signs for a first bunny date are the following:

  • Indifference by not perceiving the other rabbit as a threat. Rabbits may lay in separate corners of the room or eat in each other's presence.
  • Grooming.
  • Cuddling.

Rabbits that show the above signs will usually have an easy bonding and learn to live together in at most a couple of weeks.

Some neutral signs in a first bunny date:

  • Humping. Mounting can mean "it is important to me to appear to be the rabbit in control" or it can be an invitation to chase, mount, and be the boss.[6]
  • Nipping and minor chasing.

Some not-so-good signs in a first bunny date:

  • Fighting and other dangerous aggression. Fighting is usually an instantly, purposely vicious attack. Rabbits sometimes attack the other rabbit's face, underside or genital area.[3]
  • Excessive chasing.

Rabbits that show the above signs will usually be a very tough bond. Expect bonding efforts to possibly go on for months or years.

While your rabbit may not find its perfect partner in the first five or so dates, it may find one in the ninth or tenth. It can be a combination of finding the right rabbit and also learning how to properly communicate to others its interest.[6]

Here are some videos of sample bunny dates.

The following are some personal experiences of speed dates:

Bonding basics

The most essential factor in successful bunny dating is bonding in a neutral area. This means an area where neither rabbit has been in before. Common areas include large boxes, bathrooms, bath tubs, shower areas, laundry rooms, tables, and kitchens. If this is not possible, introducing the female to the male on his territory is more likely to be successful than the reverse.[4]

Three rabbits in a micro-bonding space made with an exercise pen.

There is debate on the size of the neutral territory to begin with. Some say it is ideal to have neutral territory with plenty of room to escape and hiding places to retreat into.[4] Others say that it is best to start in very small areas such as a litter box to begin bonding and to slowly work up to larger and larger areas. Please understand that there is no one perfect way of bonding rabbits. What might work for some rabbits may not work for others. Generally, seek to minimize injuries and increase trust between rabbits.

The following are strategies to use to acclimate the bunnies to each other so that territorial marking and nipping will slowly discontinue:

  • House rabbits side-by-side with a 1-inch gap between their enclosures to prevents nipping through the bars.
  • Switch litter boxes and toys between rabbits regularly to encourage the sharing of belongings. If possible, switch entire enclosures to encourage the sharing of territory.
  • A rabbit with her stuffed animal buddy.
    Obtain multiple stuffed animals and rub a different one all over each rabbit. Try to get the rabbits to chin the stuffed animals as to get the strongest scent on the toy. Place the other rabbit's stuffed animal with each rabbit in its housing enclosure. If the rabbits do not pee on, nip, excessively chin, hump, or do other undesirable behaviors with the stuffed animal, there may be less aggression when they meet face-to-face.
  • Burn lavender oil and rub on rabbit foreheads to calm them down.[7]

Here are some videos of different bonding techniques:

Some behaviors that you may see and how to react:

  • Biting. Nipping the fur is acceptable, but biting hard enough to break the skin should be stopped either by startling the rabbits with a loud noise or with gloved hands, a broom, a plate, or a pan.
  • Chasing. Minor chasing by one rabbit is acceptable unless it turns into a circling behavior where both rabbits are trying to bite each other. Stop the chasing if it goes on longer than a couple of seconds, and immediately halt the behavior if it looks like circling behavior. Consider making the bonding area smaller so that they do not have room to chase each other and give them back more space when it seems like the behavior will not reoccur.
  • Grunting, thumping, unhappy postures. Leave the rabbits alone unless they look like they're going to injure each other. Posturing is harmless and lets them work out their issues on their own.
  • Humping. If the humping rabbit mounts the wrong way -- butt over humpee's head -- push the rabbit off. The humping rabbit can get severely injured if the bottom rabbit decides to bite back. If the humping rabbit mounts correctly, let him hump for 5-10 seconds, then gently push the rabbit off. Stop the humping immediately, however, if the bottom rabbit seems agitated or looks like it wants to fight back.

See Further reading for more information on bonding basics.

Stress bonding

Stress bonding entails creating a situation for the rabbits where they will cuddle together in comfort against the frightful environment and consequently learn that being friends is not that bad. Stress bonding teaches rabbits to trust each other. Like any other type of bonding, your mileage may vary. Some rabbits will react well to bonding over stress while others may become more aggressive towards each other.

Common stress bonding techniques include the following:[2]

  • Placing the rabbits together in a carrier or large box, basket, or bucket and placing them in a neutral area after doing one of the following:
    Three rabbits placed together in a laundry basket for stress bonding.
    • Go a rough car ride together. Make plenty of sudden starts, stops, bumps, and turns.
    • Be shaken and rocked by hand gently to simulate a bumpy ride.
    • Be placed on top of a running washing machine or dryer to shake the container as well as provide foreign rumbling sounds.
    • Having a vacuum run around them to stress them with the loud noise.
  • Putting the rabbits in an empty bathtub to interact. Not only is it neutral as most rabbits do not spend any time in the bathroom, but slippery surface induces stress as well as make it hard for rabbits to run and fight each other.
  • Dabbing some smushed banana, honey, or other sweet sticky substance on each rabbit's nose. The sensation will cause the rabbit to fervently try to groom off the substance as well as throw off its sense of smell. Another idea is to rub oils like vegetable or olive oil on a rabbit's forehead and paws for the same grooming response. A bit of vanilla extract on the nose can also throw off their sense of smell. The rabbits will be less likely to attack either other because they will be too busy grooming themselves.
User neanderthalman from Reddit gives one method of stress bonding:[8]
We put a little warm water in the tub, then after a few minutes, put down a towel to sit on. Forces them to sit together, as they hate the water more than they hate each other. Then after a few more minutes, drain the tub. Then towel dry. We then put them in a cage together so that they aren't separated and 'unbond'. Generally no issues beyond a few squabbles and nips here and there.

.. and some more detailed instructions:[9]

Remove their litter and towels and replace it with an inch and a half of warm water. Enough to get their feet and bellies wet. They hate it, but it won't hurt them. Let them struggle and try to jump out for a good fifteen minutes. They're going to slip and slide and hate every second of this part, and that's good.

Then, give them a towel, and set each one of them on the towel. The added traction will make them unlikely to want to leave the relative comfort of the towel. They'll be sitting next to each other for some time.

After fifteen minutes on the towel, drain the water. They'll start cleaning themselves before too long. Let them clean for a while - maybe another fifteen minutes to a half hour.

Remove them from the tub, and towel dry the soggy buns. Keep them in close quarters for a while and you should, with luck, be good to go.

We've had excellent results with this, even for a rather difficult and violent bun.

Bonding multiple rabbits

Bonding two pairs of rabbits together in a bathtub with a towel.

Bonding three or more rabbits can be a very different task than bonding just two rabbits together.

User neanderthalman from Reddit has had success for a trio using his stress bonding method in the bathtub from the section above.[10] He recommends placing the most aggressive rabbits in the bathtub first.

The following links contain more information about bonding multiple rabbits.

Here are experiences of people who have tried to bond more than two rabbits together.

Below are useful discussions and experiences about the topic.

Difficulties in bonding

When your rabbits are fighting. Some rabbits may display aggressive behaviors such as boxing, biting, chasing, circling, and growling to establish their hierarchy. The key to bonding bunnies that try to repeatedly fight with each other is to not allow the bunnies to escalate their anger by interrupting them with a spray of water, loud sound like a vacuum, or a tool like a broom at the initial display of aggression. However, when the rabbits' anger is aroused, such deterrents will usually not have any effect, and you will need to use a towel, colander, or broom to separate them if they are attached to each other. Do not use your bare hands -- if you do, you will be asking for a skin-breaking bite. Gloves may slightly protect your hands, but you will still likely feel a very hard chomp through the layers. While your rabbits may not intentionally mean to bite you, rabbits have a poor vision in front of them and will not hesitate to try to get to the other bunny if your hand is in the way.

The following links contain more information about dealing with difficulties in bonding.

Here are some relevant FAQs with bonding difficulties.

Experiences

Below are links containing owner experiences with rabbit bondings.

Further reading

The following are discussions with useful information about bonding rabbits.

Below are libraries with more links to information about bonding rabbits.

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Emma Keeble, Anna Meredith, et al., Rabbit Medicine & Surgery, 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Quintessential Rabbit, Bonding Bunnies: Because Most Everybunny is Happier with a Friend!
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 San Diego House Rabbit Society, Bunny Bonding Basics
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Frances Harcourt-Brown, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2002.
  5. Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society, Bunny Bonding Basics
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 House Rabbit Society, Julie Smith, PhD, All in the Wonderful Game: One Chapter's Approach to Matchmaking.
  7. Reddit, Keeperofthesecrets
  8. reddit.com, When bunny bonding goes bad.
  9. Reddit, /r/rabbits, neanderthalman, Had to move them to the bathroom. Any other suggestions? :(
  10. reddit.com, When bunny bonding goes bad.