Rabbits are social animals that loathe living alone. Despite this, unfamiliar rabbits that are forced to share territory will fight. This is why bonding two rabbits is critically important. If you successfully manage to bond rabbits, you will create a harmonious living arrangement for both pets.
If the rabbits ignore each other at first, that’s normal. At least there’s no fighting. Over time, the two rabbits should become curious. They’ll cuddle and communicate. Eventually, your rabbits will share food and grooming. A hierarchy and bond will have been established.
Bonding rabbits is not a fast or easy process. Do not attempt it unless you have prepared to put the work in. You’ll need to be vigilant, immediately breaking up any fights. If you stick at it, though, you’ll be richly rewarded. Two bonded rabbits are much happier than one rabbit living alone.
What Does Rabbit Bonding Mean?
Rabbits are social creatures that do not enjoy living alone. If you only have one pet, you’ll notice that she demands near-constant attention. This is because she lacks the stimulation that a partner of her own species can provide.
If two rabbits are bonded and live together, they will become inseparable. The animals will be best friends. If separated from each other, both rabbits will become depressed.
Before bonding takes place, it’s a different story. Rabbits are territorial and will see another pet as an infiltrator into their claimed space. You’ll need time and patience to bond the two rabbits.
The good news is that bonding is worth the effort. If you have a pair of bonded rabbits, you’ll have two very happy pets. They’ll be less likely to get into trouble and will always entertain each other.
Keeping two rabbits can also reduce your workload. They’ll groom each other, sparing you some time. You’re also less likely to see worrying behavior. Rabbits are easily stressed, leading to ill health. Bonded rabbits are less likely to become anxious and worried.
Of course, even bonded rabbits can fall out. Just like human siblings or best friends, bonded rabbit pairings can squabble. Thankfully, they’ll quickly apologize and patch up any differences.
Things to Consider Before Attempting Rabbit Bonding
Both pets must be spayed or neutered. Never introduce rabbits if either one is intact. Such animals are bundles of hormones and will take this frustration out on each other.
Once your pets have undertaken this operation, you’ll need to wait six weeks before introducing the rabbits. It takes this long for hormones to calm down. Males, in particular, are still fertile for around six weeks after neutering.
Next, think about the compatibility of the rabbits. Most rabbits are capable of bonding. The more the rabbits have in common, the likelier it becomes. Things to consider include:
- Age. Rabbits of the same age will have similar energy levels. This will aid in the bonding process. The pets should have a similar lifespan. It’s traumatic for a rabbit to lose a partner.
- Health. If two bonded rabbits live together, everything will be shared, including diseases. You’ll need to ensure that both pets are physically robust and can withstand illness.
- Breed. Different combinations can work, but the rabbits are likelier to bond if both are similar breeds. It makes communication easier.
- Temperament. Every rabbit is unique and has a distinct personality. Don’t attempt to bond a grumpy, antisocial rabbit with a happy-go-lucky partner. They will drive each other crazy.
- Life Experience. If the rabbits are not newborns, they will hold memories of the past. This could include bad experiences with particular pets. Learn about this in advance if you can.
If you’re adopting from a shelter, there is a solution. You can bring a pair of pre-bonded rabbits in your home. If purchasing from a breeder or pet store, you’ll need to do the hard work yourself.
Will Same-Sex Rabbit Pairs Bond?
Same-sex rabbit pairs may bond. Having said that, most experts would recommend a mixed-sex pairing. The animals are likelier to accept each other rapidly.
If you do settle upon a same-sex pairing, you cannot skip spaying or neutering. It’s just as important, especially in males. An unfixed male rabbit will undertake a reign of terror until he’s neutered.
Two unspayed females will not be without issues either. Female rabbits are territorial. These animals will continuously snipe at each other, leading to fights. Spaying will calm both rabbits down.
Pre Bonding Rabbits
Rabbits meeting for the first time can be a tense experience. Some steps should be taken before expecting your pets to share a hutch. Think of this process as pre-bonding.
You’ll need to get the rabbits used to each other’s scent from a safe distance. If it’s an option, place two hutches side-by-side, one for each pet. The rabbits will detect each other through the barriers.
You should also let the rabbits learn each other’s scent through objects. Switch litter trays every other day. Take a small amount of bedding from one hutch and place it in the other. You are slowly and steadily building familiarity.
After a while, let the rabbits see each other. Again, this should be from a distance. Keep a barrier between the two animals. There is always a risk that the rabbits will fight until they know and trust each other.
Arrange ‘dinner dates’ for the rabbits. Feed both pets at the same time, still separated by a barrier. This is creating a positive association. It prevents a rabbit from worrying that her needs will not be met because of the other.
Introducing Rabbits to Each Other
When the time comes to introduce your rabbits face-to-face, there is more to consider:
- Wait until the winter months to introduce the rabbits. Even spayed and neutered rabbits have some remaining hormones. These will be less of a factor between October and February.
- Always use a neutral location that’s new and unique to both animals. If one rabbit considers the area to be claimed territory, it will be jealously guarded. The ‘owner’ of the territory will attack.
- Ensure there is enough space for both rabbits. The rabbits may fight initially. This is a virtual certainty if you squeeze both animals into a small space.
- Ensure the rabbits both have possessions that smell familiar. This means that both rabbits need familiar litter trays and bedding. This will keep each rabbit calm.
- Provide as many distractions as you can. This means multiple piles of hay and a range of toys. The rabbits need things to focus attention on, apart from each other. Here are some quick and easy enrichment ideas for pet rabbits.
- Start with a short introduction, and build up over time. The first time, only leave the rabbits together for a minute. Next try, two minutes. If they fight, start again from scratch.
- Be on standby to immediately separate the rabbits, if necessary. Rabbits can be surprisingly vicious when fighting. Wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and thick gloves. You may be bitten or clawed while breaking up a fight.
The rabbits will race through the seven stages of bonding that we describe below. Usually, this is a long and slow process. Occasionally, it will be squeezed into a couple of hours.
Positive Signs of Rabbit Bonding
When you’re ready to start bonding your rabbits, there are positive signs to look out for. These will often happen in the order we list below, but sometimes they’ll get jumbled up.
Be aware that this process may take time. It could be as long as two months before the animals are fully bonded. Do not attempt to house two pets together until you’re certain it’s safe to do so.
1) The Rabbits Ignore Each Other
This may seem counter-productive at first. After all, you want your rabbits to bond. If they’re just ignoring each other, how is that going to happen?
The fact is, the process takes time. Ignoring each other initially is actually a good thing. If the rabbits are not interacting, they’re not fighting. That’s a critical first step toward bonding.
Don’t push your luck at this stage. Rabbits new to each other will not ignore each other forever. Keep your pets together in short, controlled bursts at first.
2) The Rabbits Start to Show Interest in Each Other
After a while, the rabbits will start to communicate. They’ll sniff each other and communicate in a multitude of tiny ways.
It’s crucial that you know what your rabbits are saying. To the untrained eye, it may look like nothing. Rabbit body language can be subtle, though. One pet may be plotting an attack.
The House Rabbit Rescue Network summarizes how rabbits communicate. Grunting and tooth grinding are particularly bad signs. Separate the rabbits at once if you notice these behaviors.
3) The Rabbits are Willing to Share
Rabbits are territorial. Also, sharing is not a behavior that comes naturally to rabbits.
We suggested earlier that you provide both pets with familiar distractions. Over time, the rabbits may start to show interest in each other’s toys or hay. This will start as a test of boundaries.
If the bonding is going well, neither rabbit will mind sharing possessions. Once this starts to happen, your pets are making good progress in bonding.
4) The Rabbits Play Together
Once a sharing of objects has been established, the next step is the rabbits playing together. This could take on many forms. A common example is chasing and circling.
The Sacramento House Rabbit Society said that play often looks like fighting. If chasing also includes biting, the rabbits must be separated. Rabbits do lightly nip each other for attention.
As a rule of thumb, playing rabbits enjoy activities together. This could include running and jumping. If one rabbit is withdrawn, the other may be bullying her.
5) The Rabbits Start to Cuddle and Sleep Together
The next step of playing together is sleeping together. Rabbits are a prey species. Your pet knows just how vulnerable she is while she sleeps.
If rabbits are prepared to snuggle up, it’s a sign of trust. Your pets are seeking safety in numbers. It’s also confirmation that neither rabbit fears being hurt at this vulnerable time.
Cuddling is not quite a confirmation of bonding. The relationship can still turn sour, even after several hours of snuggling. It puts your rabbits well on the way to forging an unbreakable connection, though.
6) The Rabbits Groom Each Other
Grooming is the most critical part of the bonding process for rabbits. It’s how your pets show affection and how boundaries are established.
When your rabbits start grooming each other, they are establishing a place in the pecking order. This is critical to rabbits. Rabbits that don’t get along will never groom each other.
One rabbit nudging the other, often with head bowed, usually initiates grooming. Sometimes it’s unprompted, though. One rabbit may just start to lick the other. This, again, is a great sign. It’s the ultimate expression of rabbit affection.
Typically, you’ll notice that one rabbit primarily grooms the other. This is nothing to worry about. It just means that this rabbit has been established as the dominant member of the pair.
7) The Rabbits Observe a Social Hierarchy
The final stage of bonding is confirming a social hierarchy. Rabbit pairs always have one dominant partner and one subordinate. Once this has been established, your pets have bonded.
This sounds like a raw deal for the submissive rabbit, but that’s not the case. Once the hierarchy is confirmed, both rabbits are perfectly happy. It may just take a while for both pets to agree who is head of the hutch.
Until this happens, the bonding process is incomplete. Both rabbits will assert dominance until it’s decided. This is the main reason that you cannot rush bonding. Two aspiring dominant rabbits will continuously fight.
My Rabbits Keep Fighting When I Try to Bond Them
A little fighting is normal when you first start to bond rabbits. That doesn’t make it a good thing. You’ll need to separate the warring animals immediately before permanent damage is done. It is to be expected, though.
If your rabbits do start to fight, step in at once. Don’t allow your rabbits to resolve differences this way. One of your pets could get seriously hurt.
Let both pets cool off in their respective hutches before attempting reintroduction. You certainly should not punish either rabbit for fighting. Your pet is just doing what comes naturally.
You should notice a decline in the fighting as the rabbits spend more time together. The two pets will eventually come to a mutual understanding. If this does not happen, you may need to give up. Some animals just cannot get along.
When to Give Up on Rabbit Bonding
Sadly, some attempts at bonding rabbits are doomed to fail. Not all humans are compatible. We sometimes meet people that aggravate us for no good reason. The same is also true of rabbits. Before you abandon all hope of bonding your rabbits, ask if you’ve done everything you can.
- Did you engage in all appropriate pre-bonding behaviors?
- Have you given both rabbits enough space to bond in neutral territory?
- Did you slowly and steadily increase the time the rabbits spent together?
- Have you provided enough distractions?
- Have you been consistent with the bonding for at least six months?
If you answered yes to all of the above, you likely have a problem. Your rabbits are unlikely to bond. This leaves you with a decision to make. House the two pets separately, knowing they cannot mingle, or rehome one of the rabbits.
There is no right or wrong choice. Do what is best for your family. Just remember that it’s not a character failing of either rabbit. The animal may bond perfectly well with another rabbit. You just had an unfortunately incompatible pairing.
Rebonding Rabbits After Illness
Once rabbits have successfully bonded, they should not be separated. This will cause no end of stress for both animals. The one exception is if one rabbit is unwell. A contagious disease may necessitate a temporary separation.
If you do separate your bonded rabbits, they may need to re-bond afterward. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it could also change the dynamics of a rabbit union.
Let’s assume that the rabbit who left the hutch was the dominant member of the pair. Your other pet may have grown used to being the center of attention. She may not be willing to play second fiddle again.
Alternatively, your other pet may not recognize the departed rabbit. If she has spent time with the vet, her scent will change. This can confuse the rabbits.
A lot depends on how strong the bond was before the rabbit became unwell. Place her back in the shared hutch and observe. The two animals may well pick up where they left off.
If this is not the case, begin the bonding process again. That means starting from scratch. Yes, this is frustrating and time-consuming. It’s essential, though. It will be heartbreaking if two bonded rabbits can no longer live together.
Can I Bond My Rabbit with Different Species?
Some people like to house rabbits alongside other animals. Rabbits and chickens sometimes live together, for example. Another popular pairing is rabbits and guinea pigs.
In some respects, this will work. Your rabbit will have company, and the other pet may be lower-maintenance. Your rabbit will not bond with animals of another species, though. At best, she’ll tolerate these enforced housemates.
The usual caveats apply here, too. A rabbit must be spayed or neutered before sharing a hutch with any animals. Before undertaking this procedure, she’ll be dominant and may even harass the other animals with mounting.
The biggest challenge for your rabbit will be communication. Rabbits converse through a range of micro-gestures and sounds. Rabbit ears are particularly expressive. Another species cannot reply in kind, leading to misunderstandings.
Wherever possible, pair your pet up with another rabbit. It makes for a happier life. If she must share a hutch with another species, she’ll likely make the best of it. Just don’t expect the different animals to become inseparable friends.
Bonding rabbits can be a slow and arduous process. The rewards are rich if you stick with it, though. Bonded rabbits keep each other amused and happy, significantly reducing your burden of care.
Just be prepared to take the time to do this properly. Bonding rabbits is like a marriage. If you allow the union to grow organically, it will be a wonderful thing. If you force it, resentment and disagreements are almost inevitable.