Before introducing two rabbits, both should be spayed or neutered. Bonding is generally easier when rabbits have been sterilized. Wait 2-4 weeks after the surgery before attempting introductions. This allows for the rabbit to heal and for his/her hormones to balance. Males can stay fertile for up to six weeks after neutering and may still exhibit hormonal behavior during this time.
Rabbits are extremely territorial, and may exhibit behaviors such as chinning, and urinating, chasing, batting, biting, or mounting. Introductions should be done in a neutral space to minimize the occurrence of these territorial behaviors.
You may want to wear thick gloves and a long-sleeved shirt for initial bonding sessions in case a fight ensues. A squirt of water on the nose can often prevent an aggressive behavior if it's done before the act begins, but is usually ineffective once a fight has begun. An initial fight could hinder future bonding success.
Bunnies have very different personalities. When two bunnies first meet, several outcomes may occur.
- The most likely outcome is tentative friendship. They may approach each other and sniff but will not groom each other.
- Sometimes one will chase the other. Watch for signs of a potential fight. If chasing occurs, they may need a longer introduction period before they fully bond and will need more work/attention to build the relationship.
- Sometimes one rabbit mounts the other. This is OK as long as the rabbit on the bottom (submissive) is accepting it. They are working out who's boss. The tables may turn later! Make sure both rabbits' noses can be seen so they are not biting in sensitive areas during the interaction. Mounting is a form of communication and a way of establishing dominance. It will likely stop or lessen over time as the rabbits' relationship solidifies.
- Less common, but possible, is love at first sight. The bunnies may groom each other or cuddle with each other.
- Also uncommon, but possible, is outright fighting. Separate the rabbits immediately to prevent them from hurting each other. This will be a harder relationship to build, but it can be done.
Work with the rabbits daily for at least 15 minutes. The more often you work with them, the quicker the process will progress (usually). If the rabbits have a bad experience, or if one of the rabbits is elderly or has health considerations, you may need to take it slower, or take some time off.
Rabbits that are not fully bonded need to be kept separate when you are not with them. Once the rabbits have bonded, DO NOT separate them. If one rabbit needs to go to the vet, both need to go. If they're separated and one rabbit comes back with a different smell or change in health, they may reject each other and begin fighting.
The importance of neutral space in bonding
Rabbits are extremely territorial, so you should always introduce rabbits, regardless of sex or age, in a neutral space first. Try to eliminate the possibility of any territorial behavior by choosing introductory spaces that are as different from your bunny's territory as possible. Make the space small enough so you can control the interactions, and make sure there are no small spaces where a bunny could get trapped.
Possible neutral spaces might include:
- A pen in an area of the house your rabbit is not usually in
- A bathroom the resident bunny has not been in
- A bathtub
- A friend's home
- The garage
If the bunnies show any signs of aggression, try:
- A laundry basket on top of a dryer that is on
- The backseat of a moving car
The noise and movement will be slightly frightening to the bunnies and they may snuggle up and draw comfort from each other, creating positive memories of one another. They'll associate the other rabbit with a sense of security, as opposed to carrying bad memories around with them.
Bonding dos and don'ts
- Do – House the rabbits separately but close together. They will get used to seeing each other and to each other's scent if they are close to one another. Make sure the cages are not close enough for them to be able to bite each other.
- Do – Be prepared for this to take several months.
- Do – Expect that there will be bumps and setbacks.
- Do – Make the effort to think like a bunny. Is one rabbit jealous you are interacting with the new bunny/resident bunny? Is he mad you just gave his favorite toy to the other? Is the rabbit stressed and ready to stop for the day?
- Do – Interact with the bunnies, but give equal attention and provide a positive and relaxed atmosphere.
- Don't – Play favorites.
- Don't – Expect love at first sight.
- Don't – Hold a bonding session in the resident bunny's territory until after the bunnies spend at least 30 minutes together in neutral space. Be prepared for the potential that the resident bunny may become defensive or aggressive at first.
- Don't – Try to bond if you have had a bad day. Your emotions will transfer to the bunnies and can undo weeks of work.
- Don't – Leave the rabbits unsupervised, even for a minute, until they're fully bonded.
- Don't – Assume that because yesterday went well, today will too. They are working through relationship issues similar to those humans do during a dating process.
- Don't – End on a bad note, if at all possible.
It can take a few weeks to a few months to combine two rabbits into a "bonded" pair. The Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society (MCRS) has experienced Educators and Fosterers that can chaperone initial meetings between two rabbits to help evaluate the likelihood of a successful pairing. Bunny "dates" last from a few minutes to 15 minutes a session. If you have additional questions about bunny bonding, please call 651-768-9755 or email [email protected].
©2012 Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society