Rabbits are very social animals. They’re much happier living in a pair or a group of bunnies. If you adopt a rabbit, they often come with a friend they’re already bonded with.
If you own a single rabbit, you can find them a friend, but you must introduce them in the right way. This is known as rabbit bonding.
This article will cover everything you need to know about how to introduce rabbits. Let’s get started!
How to Bond Rabbits
Rabbit bonding takes patience and time. It’s important to choose the right partner for your rabbit. Both rabbits should be spayed or neutered to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of aggression. Introducing your rabbits in neutral territory is key since rabbits can be territorial. A gradual, step-by-step introduction is the most successful approach.
We’ll cover the steps in detail later in this article.
Choosing The Right Partner For Your Rabbit
Take your time to choose the right friend for your bunny. After all, they’ll be living with each other for the rest of their life, so you want them to get on!
If you’re wondering, “can different breeds of rabbits live together” the answer is yes, as long as they’re roughly the same size. It’s best to pair rabbits of a similar age so they have similar energy levels and needs.
The most successful pairings are usually male and female rabbits. However, you can successfully bond two females or two males as long as they’re neutered. Bonding same-sex pairings can take a bit longer, but this depends on the rabbits.
Groups of more than two rabbits can live together and bond successfully. For example, when I was at college, we had three or four big groups of bunnies.
However, bonding groups can be much trickier and is best done by somebody with lots of experience.
Where to Find a Friend For Your Rabbit
You might find that a rescue center is the best place to get a new friend for your rabbit.
When you adopt a rabbit, they’re already vaccinated, health checked, and neutered. This makes things much easier for you!
Many rescue centers will offer bonding services to help you to introduce your rabbits. They may have a neutral space where you can bring your bunny to meet other rabbits under the supervision of expert staff. This way, you can find a companion your bunny clicks with.
Many centers offer boarding so that they can carry out the bulk of the bonding process for you.
If you decide to buy a rabbit, do your research and get them from a trustworthy source. For example, you could find a reputable rabbit breeder. It’s important to make sure your chosen bunny is healthy and ready for their new home.
What to Expect From Bonding
Bonding rabbits is a stressful process for both owners and rabbits, but it’s usually worth it in the end. Depending on the rabbits’ personalities, it can take a lot of time and patience. It may take a few days or even a few months.
Before trying to bond two rabbits it’s best to do plenty of research, especially if it’s your first time doing so.
In any bonding situation, you should be ready to have two rabbits living separately during bonding, potentially for months at a time. If the bonding isn’t successful, you need the space and resources to have two rabbits living in separate areas long term.
If you’re lucky, your rabbits will have a love-at-first-sight connection. They will start grooming each other and lying together almost immediately. This means they are instantly comfortable with each other.
However, it’s more common for bonding to take time, so don’t be disheartened if they don’t make friends right away.
This information isn’t to put you off or make you worried. Instead, it gives you a realistic idea of what to expect. Many new bunny owners jump into getting their rabbit a friend without being fully aware of what it entails and then end up very stressed.
Remember that with time and patience, most bunny bonding is successful!
Why Is Bonding Important?
The bonding process is crucial because although rabbits are social animals, they’re also very territorial. If you just bring a rabbit home who is a ‘stranger’ to your bunny and put them together, they will likely fight.
After all, if a stranger came into your home without warning, you wouldn’t automatically be friends! Fighting can be pretty vicious and lead to serious injuries.
This sounds scary but don’t worry! If you take things slow and are adequately prepared, you can ensure both rabbits stay healthy and happy.
Behavior to Watch Out For
During the bonding process, you need to keep a close eye on your rabbits’ body language. Below is a list of positive and negative behaviors to guide you.
Positive Bonding Behavior
If you notice the following behaviors, you can relax a bit and just supervise:
- Ignoring each other: This is relatively common when introducing rabbits, so be patient.
- Sitting or lying near each other: If rabbits are in a relaxed position near each other, this is really encouraging.
- Approaching and sniffing: Rabbits often go up to each other to sniff quickly and then back off. This is normal and gives them some time to process what’s happening.
- Nuzzling and grooming: If your bunnies are cuddling up and grooming each other, it’s a great sign!
- Copying each other: Rabbits will often mirror each other’s behavior. For example, if one lies down, the other will too. If one rabbit sits up and starts to groom themselves, their friend will follow suit. This is a good sign, even if they’re still in separate enclosures.
- Seeking attention: Bonded rabbits will seek each other’s attention and choose to spend time together. If you see this, things are going really well!
Negative Bonding Behavior
If you see the following behaviors, keep a very close eye on the situation and be ready to intervene if needed:
- Excessive chasing: Some amount of chasing is normal, but always keep a close eye on it. If it goes on for more than 20 or 30 seconds, it may be time to step in.
- Fast circling: If your rabbits start to circle each other, getting faster and faster, stop them immediately and separate them. If this behavior continues, it can lead to a serious fight.
- Mounting: Both male and female rabbits may mount each other to establish dominance. Some mounting is natural, so don’t stop them immediately as long as both rabbits aren’t in distress. If this behavior is excessive or continues for more than 30 seconds or so, it’s time to separate your bunnies so they can cool down.
- Nipping and fur pulling: If you see your bunnies nipping at each other or pulling the other’s fur, give it a few seconds and be ready to jump in. They may be communicating with each other or figuring out who is in charge. However, if it’s ongoing, separate them until the next day.
- Lunging: If you see one of your rabbits lunge towards the other with their ears flattened back, it’s time to intervene.
- Growling and grunting: These sounds paired with tense body language indicate a fight is about to start, so separate your rabbits quickly.
- Fighting: If you can’t stop a fight before it begins, it’s crucial you stop it as soon as possible. We’ll talk more about how to do this in the next section of this article.
Bunnies who fight one another are much harder to bond afterward. Therefore, you should always supervise them during bonding and be ready to stop them before things escalate into a full fight.
Preparing For Bonding
Ensuring you properly prepare yourself and your home for the bonding is key. It sets you, and your bunnies, up for success!
Neutering or Spaying
Neutering a male rabbit and spaying a female reduces the risk of many health issues and prevents your rabbits from breeding.
It also reduces the risk of aggression or territorial behaviors caused by sex hormones. The operation is vital for successful bonding.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explains that male rabbits can be desexed at 10-12 weeks old and females at 16-20 weeks old. You must give the wounds time to heal before introducing the bunnies to prevent injury.
Usually, the vet will advise you to wait a few weeks to ensure the hormones have calmed down. You can introduce two baby rabbits together, but they must be desexed before they reach sexual maturity to prevent fighting.
It’s best to check both rabbits’ health with a vet before introducing them. This prevents them from passing illnesses onto their new companion.
It also ensures they’re feeling their best. They’re unlikely to socialize if they’re not feeling well!
Setting Up Enclosures
Once all the medical stuff is out of the way, you’re ready to set up the enclosures. You need two enclosures near each other. To start with, the enclosures shouldn’t be touching.
You could use exercise runs, cages, or anything else as long as it’s secure and keeps your rabbits enclosed. It’s vital your rabbits can’t escape, or they will fight.
It’s best to make the enclosures as big as possible, as your rabbits will live here for a few weeks at least.
Set up their litter trays, hay racks, shelters, and toys as you would normally. You can let each bunny out separately for exercise and interaction with you.
If your rabbit is free roaming, it’s still best to set up enclosures in the short term for the bonding process. If you prefer not to do this, you can separate off an enclosed area for the new rabbit and leave your other rabbit to free roam.
You will need to create a barrier around the new rabbit’s enclosure so they can’t interact through the bars just yet.
Setting Up a Neutral Space
You should prepare a neutral space where you will introduce the rabbits. This is crucial so that neither rabbit feels territorial.
Ideally, it should be an area of your home where neither rabbit has been before, so it doesn’t smell of either bunny.
If you’ve been keeping your rabbit out of the bedroom or bathroom, these spaces are ideal (don’t worry, it’s only short term).
The neutral area should have a fair amount of space, so the rabbits don’t feel trapped. Include some places to hide, along with toys, water, and hay. If you can, provide two of everything, so the rabbits aren’t forced to share.
Even though it’s not nice to think about, it’s essential to be ready to break up fights. You should have the following equipment on hand:
- A broom or dustpan: This allows you to separate your rabbits without getting hurt.
- Gloves: Thick gloves protect your hands if your rabbits feel feisty.
- A spray bottle: Although it feels a bit mean to spray your rabbit with water, it can be an effective and quick way to interrupt negative behavior during bonding.
You might also want to wear an outfit with long sleeves and trousers along with sturdy shoes. This will help to protect you from bites.
Having some first aid supplies to deal with potential injuries can be handy. For example, this antiseptic spray can help you clean and treat wounds.
We always have some in our house for any cuts and scrapes. You can also buy blood-stopping powder, gauze, and bandages.
Bonding: Step By Step
Now you’re all set up; you’re ready to introduce your rabbits. There are a few different methods to do this.
However, I don’t recommend any ‘stress’ bonding methods as they’re not always successful and can cause high levels of distress for bunnies. Instead, a slow and steady approach keeps things as calm as possible for you and your rabbits.
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund state that this type of method is the least stressful and usually the most successful.
1. Nearby Enclosures
Firstly, it’s time to put your rabbits in their new temporary homes that you set up. The enclosures should be close enough that your rabbits can see each other but not so close that they can reach each other through the bars.
Give them some time to get used to each other’s presence. Don’t worry if they seem uneasy at first; this is natural, and they should settle down.
This could take a week or two. Wait until your rabbits seem fairly relaxed before moving on to the next step.
2. Meeting Through The Wire
Once your rabbits are ready, you can move the enclosures close to each other so they can sniff each other through the wires.
Keep a close eye on body language. If your rabbits seem stressed and don’t settle down after a little while, you can go back to step one and try again later.
If they seem settled, you can leave them side by side with a small gap or some mesh between the enclosures. This prevents fighting and lets you relax when they’re unsupervised.
They will likely stay at this stage for a few weeks while you carry out steps three and four. Keep them in their separate enclosures until they’re completely comfortable with each other.
3. Swap Belongings
While they’re in their separate enclosures, you can swap their belongings so they can get used to each other’s scent. You might want to exchange their litter boxes or toys, for example.
Some people like to rub a piece of cloth over each rabbit to pick up their scent and put it in with the other rabbit.
Some resources suggest moving the rabbits to the opposite enclosures, but in the past, I’ve found this can be more stressful for them.
4. Eating Together
You can start feeding them near each other if all is going well. It’s best to start with their favorite snacks and gradually move them closer to the edge of the enclosure over a period of a few days.
Once they’re eating happily next to one another, it’s time for proper introductions!
5. Neutral Area
The first time you put them in the neutral area, start with five to 10 minutes maximum. Put them in the neutral enclosure at opposite sides so they have space to size each other up before approaching.
Sit in or next to the enclosure and keep your attention on them at all times. They should never be left unsupervised at this stage.
Keep an eye on their body language, as we talked about earlier. Have your safety equipment on hand, so you’re prepared to intervene if needed.
6. Gradually Increase Time In The Neutral Area
If things go well, you can gradually start increasing their time together in the neutral area. Do this every day if possible for the best results.
You should see the positive behaviors we discussed increasing over time. If they become aggressive, go back a few steps. Continue to supervise them at all times.
7. Moving In Together
Build up their time in the neutral enclosure until they’re happily together for two hours. When you’ve achieved this, it’s time for your rabbits to move in!
You can put your bunnies together into the home they’ll share. This might be an enclosure or room, or they might be free roaming.
Try to provide two of everything, such as shelters, food, and water bowls. This reduces the risk of disagreements over resources.
When they first move in, keep an eye on them for a couple of hours and see how they settle in. You can still go back a stage if needed.
Once they seem relaxed, you can leave them unsupervised. Congratulations, you’ve successfully bonded your rabbits!
Rabbits bond for life, so once you’ve bonded them, you should never separate them. Even if you take one rabbit to the vet, the other should go too.
If bonding takes longer than you expected, try to be patient and keep going. If something goes wrong, you can always go back a few steps and progress more gradually.
Once your rabbits have moved in, you may see some displays of dominance, such as humping or mounting. This is natural, and you don’t need to worry as long as it’s not excessive.
If they do start to exhibit negative behavior, you may need to begin the bonding process over again.
If two rabbits have a full-fledged fight at any stage, it’s unlikely that you will be able to bond them after that. You might want to seek advice from your vet. You will likely need to keep them separate after this.
It’s worth noting that although it’s best for a rabbit to have a companion, it may not be possible in some situations.
In this case, rabbits can still be happy if they have extra interaction with their owners, plenty of exercise, and a lot of mental stimulation.
Time and patience are critical when you’re bonding rabbits. Although it’s hard work, bonding is key for both rabbits to be healthy and happy. Before you know it, you’ll have two bunnies living their best life together.
Did you find this guide useful? What’s your experience of bonding rabbits? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.