Advice on successfully bonding rabbits

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.

dividerpng  Put the rabbits in enclosures next to one another so they can see, smell and hear each other. If your existing rabbit is free-roaming then place the new rabbit in a sectioned off part of their free-run area.

dividerpng  Place hay trays, food, and their favourite snacks next to each other on both sides of the divider so they become used to eating in each other’s company. As they get more used to one another you can feed them closer and closer to one another.

dividerpng  Try swapping toys and bedding so they can get used to each other’s smell.

dividerpng  Take things slowly and look for signs that your rabbits are relaxed. It is a good sign if both rabbits are choosing to sit beside one another through the barrier, and a great sign if they are lying down in a relaxed position.

dividerpng  Once you feel confident that your bunnies are ready to meet face-to-face you should ensure their first meeting occurs in neutral territory – ie: a space that neither rabbit has been before to ensure neither bunny becomes protective of what they deem as “their” space. Provide lots of hiding places/tunnels (open at both ends so neither rabbit can end up trapped by the other) and scatter hay and treats around.

dividerpng When you let them loose together put them at opposite ends of the area, so they have the choice whether they want to meet their new companion straight away or take time and space to weigh up the situation. You must always stay with them, keeping a close eye on them and their behaviour.

dividerpng  If you sense any tension between the rabbits, you must separate them at once. They may chase, circle, or mount one another, this is normal behaviour but keep a close watch to ensure there are no signs of aggression or stress.

dividerpng  To begin with, keep the ‘meetings’ short, one minute is a good starting time. You may have to build up the meetings over several days or even weeks, following the above processes and moving back a step and repeating if there are any negative signs.

Good signs to look out for when bonding rabbits are:-

dividerpng  Sitting or lying side-by-side

dividerpng  Grooming one another (when they are in their neutral territory)

dividerpng  Seeking each other out for positive interactions

dividerpng  Behaving normally around one another

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.

What NOT to do when bonding rabbits :-

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.