Please note: Bonding advice and tips can vary greatly depending upon your information source. Some advice is helpful, and some should be ignored entirely due to safety issues or the fact that the source is simply not credible. Due to age, health and other factors, rabbits have varying personalities and strong fighting instincts. Their behaviors can change throughout life, which means sometimes even bonded rabbits fight, have to be separated and then rebonded later.
When bonding your own rabbits, it is helpful to learn the basics of safe bonding, but also realize that what works for one rabbit doesn’t always work for another. Good luck in your bonding efforts!
If you have two or more rabbits that need to share space, they will likely need to go through a safe bonding process. Since rabbits have been known to fight to the death over issues such as territory or mating, proper introductions are important. Though there is no guarantee one rabbit will get along with another, there are some basic things rabbit owners can do to facilitate a successful bond between two or more rabbits. With a few exceptions, most rabbits can be bonded. The process takes patience, time and using the right techniques.
Sometimes, a rabbit owner gets lucky and their bunnies experience love at first sight. However, even when rabbits appear to be okay together, they need to be closely supervised to make sure there is no fighting. Since there are varying factors that will determine successful (or unsuccessful) bonding, this information will be based on rabbit owners who have one at home already and would like to introduce another.
BATHTUB WARNING: Putting rabbits that have no prior experience of one another into a bathtub together is a bad idea It is also unsafe. Bathtubs have a smooth, slick surface. Much like slick floors, the fur on a rabbit’s paws prevent necessary traction. Watching a rabbit slide around on a slippery surface might seem entertaining to humans, but it is extremely unsafe for the animal. Slippery surfaces, especially bathtubs and floors, create instability. Forcing a rabbit to struggle when he has no secure grip can cause broken spines and fractured legs. It is unsafe and also causes unnecessary fear and instability for the animals.
ALTERED RABBITS: Altered (spayed/neutered) rabbits are much easier (and safer) to bond. As unaltered rabbits grow, they experience harsh hormonal surges. Even rabbits that were bonded as young kits will often fight as they enter the teen/young adult hormonal stage. Altering also helps alleviate long-term health problems. Wait several weeks after alteration surgery to begin any bonding (or rebonding) process. Young rabbits (kits) will naturally bond, especially if they are from the same litter. Those bonds can (and often do) become difficult as the rabbit ages. As rabbits come into their hormonal stage of life, existing bonds will begin to break down and fighting will most often occur.
- Alter (spay/neuter) rabbits and allow the surgery rabbit at least 10 days of alone time to heal. THEN bond (or rebond, if the rabbit had a bonded partner prior to surgery)
- Choose a neutral space for bonding. Rabbits will often defend their territory, even after alteration surgery has occurred. It is important not to toss a newcomer into your bunny’s territory or normal living space without going through a proper bonding process
- Get some pet fencing or a pet gate that is easy to work with
- Place each rabbit on either side of the fencing so that they can see one another, but barely touch noses. Allow them to “hang out” together with the barrier between them. Do this for several days (or more if you continue to witness aggressive or hostile behaviors)
- Feed them at the same time, making sure each rabbit has his own food dish near the fence. This forces them to “eat” together, which is typically a pleasant experience for them
- If they each have crates or cages for a primary living space, place the cages so that they touch each other. Like the pet fencing introduction, this allows them slight contact with no risk of harm
- After a lengthy through-the-fence introduction period (several days), place the rabbits in a neutral space together, but keep the gate handy in case you need to immediately separate them
- Offer them each a rabbit-safe treat as soon as they are in the same area. When they are first introduced in the same space (without fencing between them), keep one hand on one of the rabbits to ensure no fighting can occur
- When the rabbits are near each other, groom them both with your hand, preferably in the face/head area where they would naturally groom one another. This gives them the idea that interacting with this unknown rabbit is pleasant
- Allow them time together under your close supervision. If you see aggression, biting, scratching or fighting (especially the “tornado” where they are running after each other in circles), separate them and start over. If this continues, take them for a car ride. For a quick and easy at-home alternative to a car ride, CLICK HERE
- Rabbits do not like car rides and will generally feel more secure when another rabbit is present. In fact, you should take your existing rabbit with you when you pick up the new one. The car ride home will encourage bonding. That might be enough to allow shared space right from the start
- Slow introductions are typically best because it allows you to observe whether or not they are a good match. Watch their body language. If they appear to be accepting of one another, increase time together and make a fairly small space for them to be in contact
- Note: Do not let fights occur (circling, biting, mounting for too long or such that the submissive rabbit (one on the bottom) is getting upset). Rabbits that have a serious fight, especially when one becomes injured, are more difficult to bond in the future;
- Use a plant scent (such as dandelion, parsley or cilantro) for the tips of each rabbit’s fur – preferably on top of the head. Get some of the scent by squishing the plant in your fingers and putting a small amount on each rabbit’s head. The rabbits will be interested in investigating the scent on the other rabbit’s fur, which can distract them from any disagreements
- Avoid choosing any neutral space that might put your animals at risk, such as a tabletop, slick floors or slick bathtubs. Rabbits are often not paying attention when they are engaging in mounting behavior (establishing dominance) or getting to know one another in other ways. Falls or serious injuries occur from rabbits being on slick surfaces because of furry paws
- If the rabbits are in a tiff (disagreement or just scuffling), let them work it out. If they look as though fighting is going to start, do not hit them or spray them with water. Though some information sources say otherwise, giving this type of physical consequence has been proven to be more harmful than beneficial – even if it works as a temporary distraction. Hitting, tapping on the nose or spraying with water will only cause your rabbit to mistrust you. Physical discipline can also cause him to become aggressive toward humans. Instead, make a high-pitched, loud “eeeek” sound, loudly clap your hands, blow a whistle or bang a pan together. Noise provides a brief stress which could provide a brief break in the fight long enough for you to separate them so things don’t get worse
- Regardless the age or sex of each rabbit, go slow with initial introductions. This will greatly reduce stress and anxiety for both animals. It also allows you to read their body language to see if the match will be easy or difficult (or, in rare cases, impossible)
Bonding rabbits requires the owner to learn basic bonding techniques, practice patience and be kind. Safety of the animals should be a priority consideration at all times. Whether your rabbits are just meeting or have been bonded prior and started fighting, you will benefit from reading the article, When Bonded Rabbits Fight. To read that article, CLICK HERE.
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