Rabbits are sociable animals and we always advise that they need to be homed with other rabbits.
As a first-time rabbit owner, we would always recommend that you should adopt two already bonded bunnies. Contrary to this advice however, many pet shops and breeders do still sell rabbits as lone pets and then of course there are frequent instances where one of a bonded pair sadly passes away and the remaining bunny suddenly finds themselves as an only rabbit.
These situations will result in a sad and lonely bunny and this is when you may start thinking about getting a companion for them. Whilst this is absolutely the right thing to do, choosing a new rabbit to befriend your existing pet can be a rather tricky process. Therefore we are here to give you lots of helpful tips on successfully bonding bunnies...
Preparation is key!
First you should find the right friend for your bunny. A male / female pairing (both neutered of course) tends to work best and you should look for a rabbit of a similar age and size to your existing bunny.
You must ensure that both rabbits are vaccinated, neutered and in good health. Not only can unneutered male and female rabbits mate, but neutered bunnies are less likely to fight. You should also get your existing rabbit and the rabbit you are planning to introduce checked by a vet as any illnesses or pain will make introductions more difficult if either rabbit is feeling uncomfortable.
Give your rabbits lots of space! Remember you are suddenly asking your rabbit to share their space with a stranger so they need plenty of personal space and places to hide. Make sure you provide extra toys and tunnels as you don’t want your rabbits feeling that they have to fight for resources.
Recommended bonding techniques:-
Remember you must always keep a close eye on both rabbits during the bonding process in case any fights break out or ill health occurs.
Good signs to look out for when bonding rabbits are:-
Once they are showing signs of being friends you can move on to putting them together in the home they will share. Again, you must keep a close watch over them and although you may see more chasing and mounting behaviour, this should not escalate into fighting-if it does, separate them immediately and go back a step in the process. Like with the mutual space, take it slowly, and only have them in their home together for a brief time to begin with, slowly increasing it as you go.
If you want your rabbits to have free run of a house or garden it is best to introduce them to a smaller part of that area to begin with, though always with enough space for them to run and hide if they wish.
Once they are happily lying together and grooming one another you can consider your bunnies successfully bonded. Once they are bonded, they MUST stay together at all times; even if one has to go the vet then their pal should go with them.
The above process can take a long time but don’t be tempted by suggested techniques to bond rabbits quickly or using fear or stress to bond rabbits. You may have read online about “bunny speed dating” which is made to sound cute and fun but introducing rabbits without a period of prior familiarisation can be extremely problematic.
Rabbits are sensitive animals, prone to stress which can quickly make them ill. Being transported to a strange place, being placed into an alien environment and being given no time to adjust is extremely stressful for rabbits. This can lead to aggression, risking injury and, even if rabbits do appear to be getting along, you aren’t getting a true picture of whether they are compatible -what you are seeing is tolerance as a means of trying to handle their stress.
There are also techniques which use fear to force rabbits into bonding as self-preservation. This is known as “stress bonding” and it involves putting rabbits into a small confined space where they cannot escape one another and exposing them to a frightening experience such a taking them on a rough car journey, running a vacuum cleaner next to them or placing the carrier on top of a spinning washing machine.
These techniques are incredibly harmful and do not encourage true friendship between bunnies, rather it creates a learned helplessness where they become shut-down through fear. Also rabbits that have been put through stressful bonding techniques in the past are far more likely to struggle to bond with other animals in the future.
Avoid anyone who claims they can wave a magic wand and guarantee your rabbits can be bonded within a specific and short timescale (often people will say ‘within two weeks’). Rabbit bonding done properly can take a great deal of time and patience, but the rewards at the end are happy, healthy pets who enjoy the company of their friends.