Rabbits are very social animals and thrive in bonded groups and pairs; however, it’s not as easy as just getting another rabbit and putting them together. Rabbits are territorial and can fight, which can lead to serious injury if the bonding is not done with great care.
It’s essential that both or in fact all of your rabbits are neutered to avoid any unwanted litters. With the shear volume of rabbits in rescue centres we don’t want to add to their already straining resources.
The best combination and generally most successful combination is a male and female neutered pair. Two neutered females can be kept together and usually work if they are from the same litter and have grown up together. Two males are not advisable as they are often more territorial and prone to fighting, however, that’s not to say that its impossible to do, just generally not advisable. When you introduce same sex pairs there is usually a greater risk of fighting.
If you’re introducing a very young rabbit to an older rabbit do so with caution, very young rabbits can be seriously injured by the older rabbit should fighting break out. The same also applies to introducing larger breeds with smaller breeds.
The Bonding Process
The process can be very long and arduous, especially if it’s not an instant attraction scenario. But by following these steps you’re more likely to secure a successful bond:
- Keep the rabbits separate so that they can’t fight but close enough that they can still smell and see each other. Cordoning off an area of the room or putting them in runs next to each other will enable them to get used to each other but not cause harm should fighting break out.
- Swap over a small amount of litter from each of the rabbits litter trays. This will help them to get used to each others smell. Transferring scent on to each rabbit can also be beneficial, using a cloth gently stroke each rabbit in turn.
- When your rabbits are getting used to each other, take them to a neutral territory where neither rabbit has been before and allow them to spend small supervised amounts of time with each other. Provide hiding places so that they have somewhere they can escape to, should they need to. If you sense any tension between the rabbits separate them and try again the next day. Chasing is normal behaviour, but if they start getting aggressive separate them immediately. Rabbits can cause serious injury to each other if a fight breaks out.
- Give the rabbits food so that they can eat together; make sure there is enough to share to avoid them fighting over it.
- Encourage your rabbits to groom each other by gently wiping a small amount of juice from a piece of fruit over their ears, this should encourage the start of the grooming process. If not they will be occupying themselves with cleaning their ears rather than fighting.
- Once your rabbits are relaxed in each others company and can happily lie next to each other then they can be left unsupervised.
Signs of Aggression
Signs of Positive Bonding
|Ears flat back||Indifference|
|Biting/ scratching/ kicking out||Laying down in the same room|
|Raised tail||Grooming each other|
|Grunting||Eating near each other|
|Charging rather than chasing||Lying next to each other|
You may find that during the bonding process you have set backs, but if you keep following the steps your rabbits should bond.
Some rabbits will fall in love with each other instantly and after the initial chase may start grooming and lay snuggled on the floor with each other. You should still keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t start fighting. Once they have bonded, unless they start fighting you should not separate your rabbits.
In some circumstances, despite your very best efforts your rabbits may continue fighting to a point where one or both rabbits are very stressed out. If this happens you may have to consider whether or not it’s worth trying to persist with bonding them. Personalities play a big roll in the bonding process, it may be that you have two dominant rabbits, why force a relationship when a more suitable partner can be found elsewhere. There are an estimated 67,000 (RWAF 2012 survey) rabbits in rescue centres across the UK, so there are plenty of rabbits out there to choose from.