This article addresses what to do when bonded rabbits have been fighting, but it also contains need-to-know information for anyone who has bonded rabbits or wants to bond rabbits in the future.
Tiffs (disagreements or scuffles) can frequently occur between bonded rabbits. Of course, there is a difference between fighting rabbits and normal tiffs. After bonded rabbits fight, rebonding can be very difficult. Like other animals, rabbits have moods and experience changes in behavior. They also have good memories and remember their fights. Some rabbit owners report that years pass with no problems at all, and then all of a sudden trouble is afoot.
Is it a Tiff or a Fight?
Rabbit behavior will often tell you whether your bonded bunnies are having a tiff (disagreement or scuffling) or a fight. Acceptable or normal tiff behavior does not usually require any human intervention. In fact, rabbits need to work certain things out. Often, it is best to stay out of it. Fighting is different. When you see unacceptable behaviors, harm can come to one or both rabbits in a short amount of time. To avoid serious injury and other problems, owners need to intervene. Acceptable Behavior: A Tiff
- Lunging or light boxing, then retreating. No pursuit follows. These behaviors are usually one bunny giving the other a warning. It is body language – a type of nonverbal communication of displeasure.
- Nipping that does not produce a full bite or appear to be harmful. Again, this is typically body language indicating “back off”, “stop doing that” or some other warning.
- Mounting. This behavior is often misunderstood. While mounting (aka humping) is often a display of dominance, it can also mean that one rabbit accepts the other one as a partner.
- Nose-bumping. Rabbits often use their noses to “bump” their partners to get attention.
- Following one another across the room (playing versus chasing). Submissive bunnies will often follow the dominant (alpha) rabbit. This behavior is common in bonded pairs or in groups of bonded rabbits.
- Chasing. One rabbit is pursuing the other one with intention.
- Biting. Bites don’t always break the skin, but often they do. They can be very serious and cause severe damage, depending upon several factors. The fur might be missing in the area of a bite, and there will either be a tear (very bad!) or teeth marks in the skin of the rabbit that has been bitten.
- Circling. This is when rabbits are literally chasing each other in a circle – going round and round. It is often called the “tornado”.
- Rough mounting or mounting that continues too long or is upsetting the submissive (bottom) rabbit. Also, mounting where the submissive rabbit is getting bitten, is trying to escape or starts thrashing.
- Grunting (a rabbit growl-type noise). This typically indicates severe displeasure – often the sign of an angry rabbit.
- Other rough behaviors that might cause injury.
A Fight Is Underway
You walk into the room where your bonded bunnies are usually calm and quiet. Instead of enjoying that familiar sight, you see them going at it. There is a chase in progress. One is fleeing and the other is close behind, trying to get a grip of his partner’s hind end. Or worse, they are in a full circle-chase (the dreaded “tornado”) – teeth gnashing and fur flying. Obviously, this is a fight which means quick action is necessary.
- Don’t ignore fighting. Rabbit owners sometimes believe that their perfectly-bonded bunnies will not harm one another. In a tiff or when establishing dominance, this is most often true. On the other hand, fighting rabbits can, and often do, seriously hurt each other. Not only is it dangerous for them, but it can result in a high vet bill for you.
- Make a loud noise. Clap your hands together and loudly say, “eeeeeeek” at a high pitch. You can also keep a whistle close at hand and blow on it just long enough to create some stress and disrupt what they are doing. Anyone who has bonded rabbits knows that they cling to one another when they are stressed out or fearful. Stress bonding is the theory behind taking unbonded rabbits for a car ride together when nothing else has worked. Note: If your rabbits are in the middle of an all-out rabbit war, noises might not distract them in the least.
- Quickly separate them. Wrap your hand in the cloth to protect you from bites or scratches and break up the fight. When rabbits fight, they appear to be out for blood. Don’t let it be yours!
- Carefully assess each rabbit for injuries. This is sometimes difficult because of thick fur, but do your best. Watch each rabbit hop. Check the legs, face, eyes, jaws, hind area, ears, et cetera. If you see an injury that needs medical intervention, call your veterinarian.
- As part of your injury assessment, set the rabbit down and keep him calm.
- Pay close attention to any area he starts grooming. If he has been bitten or otherwise, he will likely start licking the area that is hurt. This will help you locate injuries you may have missed.
- Keep them separated for the time being (a few hours or more, if needed). Rabbits remember fights – especially bad ones. Even fights which only last a few seconds are enough to break up what used to be a close relationship. If you force fighting bunnies to share the same space (hoping things will go back to normal), they will most likely fight again. Over time, unaddressed fights tend to get worse.
- Separate them by using pet fencing or large housing crates which are side-by-side so that they can still touch and have contact. The important thing is to keep them in separate living spaces until things settle down. If the fight is bad enough, they may continue to fight through the spaces in a pet fence or crate/housing. If fighting through the gate continues, you may need to put one in another room (this is usually not the case. Bonded rabbits tend to want to be together, even after a fight). Sometimes you can fully separate them in the same room and still achieve your goal of letting things cool down.
- Consider a temporary “block” over the pet fencing that separates them. Do this by draping a towel over the fence that separates them so that they cannot see one another. When things cool down, remove the towel and let them interact through the fence, watching to make sure they do not start fighting through the fence.
- Since rabbits tend to hold grudges after real fights, bad memories will quickly replace all the good times they previously had together. Do what you can to reduce the fights. If fighting continues, bonded rabbits will start acting as though they were never bonded at all.
Why Are They Fighting?
Why are your perfectly-bonded rabbits all of a sudden fighting? Reasons can be difficult or even impossible to identify. Fortunately, some patterns have been documented. Below is a list of circumstances which might create a tense situation between your bonded buns.
- Illness or injury of one (or both) rabbits
- One has recent had surgery or health problems (including not feeling well or things unknown to human owners)
- Both are altered (spayed/neutered), but one or both are still young
- Young rabbits are still maturing which means changes in personality and behavior will occur
- As changes occur, the rabbit that was historically more submissive now wants dominance
- Rabbits come of age and experience raging hormones that cause radical changes in behavior. Time to spay/neuter, separate them while healing occurs. After total healing occurs (10 days to 2 weeks), rebond them. During healing, make sure they can still see and touch one another through gates or crates. This will help the rebonding process after healing
- New environment such as moving to new home, change in primary crate or enclosure (housing), et cetera
- A new rabbit has entered the home and is living in another part of the house – your bonded rabbits can detect the new rabbit’s scent and it confuses or disturbs them. Protective and territorial instincts are triggered, resulting in fights
- Changes in ownership – rehoming to a different human family (though most often bonded rabbits will draw closer or lean on one another for support when they are stressed out)
- Fighting over treats or foods, even when no problem existed prior
- Bonding is underway with a third (fourth, fifth, et cetera) rabbit and it causes contention between the already-bonded rabbits.
- Sometimes introducing a third (fourth, fifth, et cetera) rabbit can be helpful when bonded bunnies are no longer getting along. Unless they are too young, all rabbits should be spayed/neutered prior to introductions. Bonding additional rabbits with a bonded pair could go either way but with time, patience and proper techniques, it is usually successful
- Other factors (which are not obvious to us humans) can cause fights.
Because of fighting, your previously-bonded bunnies are now separated. You want things to get back to normal. Start the rebonding process as soon as possible. Since rabbits hold grudges (they remember bad fights!), the time you may have to wait will vary depending upon many factors, including the severity of the fight(s).
To rebond, adhere to basic bonding principles with a few extra considerations. If you have not already done so, review Bond Rabbits Safely: Helpful Tips by CLICKING HERE. Unlike introducing rabbits that have never been bonded, your bunnies will remember that they had prior problems together. Even the scent of their partner can cause agitation, but after a brief period of separation, this should not be the case if they have been allowed to continue contact through gates or crates during their separation period.
When rebonding, be aware that one rabbit might be afraid of the other, or both might be leery of interacting. One might be overly dominant whereas before the fight, that was never a problem. All sorts of problems could arise, so proceed with caution and just respect their body language and the fact that for whatever reason, they may not run to each other with open arms.
- Use a neutral space that is unfamiliar to both rabbits. This is critical for success!
- Watch body language closely and make sure a dangerous fight does not reoccur.
- Sometimes there will be what looks like scuffling (tiffs/disagreements) during the reintroduction process. As long as they are not actually fighting, let them work it out. Their problem is not with you, so your role is to supervise (and break them up before a fight starts if you know that one is imminent).
- Previously bonded rabbits will probably need to determine which rabbit is dominant (the alpha rabbit) and which is submissive regardless what the pecking order was before the separation.
- Mounting: Mounting (humping) will occur in rebonding in order to establish dominant rabbit and submissive rabbit. Let this occur, but not long enough to upset the bottom (submissive) rabbit. Remove the top rabbit (the one who is doing the mounting) to disrupt the possibility of another fight breaking out, then let him/her remount and try again. Keep a watchful eye to ensure no problems arise. Other than intervening in what might become a fight, let them work out their whose-in-charge behavior.
- Don’t let them get into circling behavior (the tornado).
- Don’t let them bite.
- Stop actual fighting, but know that some tiffs are normal during rebonding, just as they are when two rabbits first meet each other.
- To restate: let them work their dominance issues out as long as no signs of serious fights erupting are present.
- Rub a very small amount of a pleasant scent (such as parsley, dandelion or cilantro) on the tips of each rabbit’s fur. Choose one that will not harm or irritate the delicate skin if it does make contact. Do not use cooking spices, perfumes or any form of powder or seasoning as this could poison your rabbit or cause other health issues. Using rabbit-safe scents in the rebonding process is helpful because their little noses will be busy investigating the smell on their partner rather than focusing on their partner’s scent (which could bring up memories of prior fights). Using plant-scents also encourages mutual grooming.
- Feed them together. Give them a special treat, such as a piece of parsley, cilantro or the flower or a dandelion. Make sure you put their treats in front of them so that they have to eat side-by-side. Keep hold of at least one of the rabbits when you first put them back into the same space together so that they cannot immediately get into another fight.
- Instead of having short bonding sessions (10-15 minutes), spend extra time on rebonding (at least one-two hours at a time, unless fighting starts). Some rabbit owners have success with the first rebonding session because they spent many hours or even spent a whole night working on getting their two rabbits back together. Of course, time needed will vary from rabbit to rabbit.
- Use a very small space rather than large rooms. This ensures the rabbits have to interact but also prevents them from having space to chase or start circling.
- Take them for a car ride. Since stressful situations cause rabbits to cling to one another, it speeds up the rebonding process and reminds them why they feel safe with one another. For an alternative technique that you can do at home, CLICK HERE to read the article, Rabbit Bonding: Instead Of A Car Ride (article will open in new tab so you can come back here after reading).
If rabbits were bonded prior, you will most likely be able to quickly rebond. They were a good match then. Even with new behaviors, environmental changes or new rabbits in the house, success can usually be achieved by following proper bonding techniques. Don’t give up. This is a process that requires your full commitment and follow-through. For reasons to bond your rabbits (or rebond), CLICK HERE.
For your paperback copy of Bunny Conversations, The Entertaining Dialogue of Pet Rabbits (Including Best Care Practices For Pet Rabbit Owners) by Author Jana Brock, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
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