Bonding Rabbits

If you are a new bunny owner, a pet shop or breeder may have sold you a single rabbit and told you that it will be fine on its own. Or, you may have sadly lost your bunny’s beloved partner and need a new rabbit companion. Either way, rabbits are very social animals and should always be kept in pairs or groups with other rabbits. However, rabbits are not always easy to bond!

Step 1 - Choosing a potential partner

  • Ideally, you want to look for a partner of the opposite sex to your rabbit as the best combination is normally a male/female pairing. However, some bunnies prefer same-sex partners and this can be done!

  • The size, age and breed of the potential partner is not relevant. Rabbits don’t mind a size or age difference – although you may prefer a bunny of a similar age. The personality of the rabbit is what’s important. A very dominant rabbit may end up fighting to be the boss if put with another dominant rabbit, but a shy rabbit may benefit from having a confident companion.

Before you get going… 

  • Neuter both rabbits

    • Male rabbits can take up to six weeks to become sterile after being neutered.

    • Female rabbits shouldn’t be bonded immediately post-neutering to reduce the risk of injury.

  • Prepare side by side accommodation. Each side needs hiding places, food and water.

  • Prepare a neutral area whether neither rabbit has been housed before.

Step 2 - Living side-by-side

  • It is very important to give the rabbits time to get used to each other. If you rush the process, you may end up ruining any chances of the bond being successful and scaring your rabbit at the same time.

  • When you first take the potential partner home, it is advised to keep the rabbits in pens next to each other so that they can become accustomed to each other’s smell, but not touch each other. This may mean using two layers of fence as some rabbits will try and bite through the bars. This will also give your new rabbit a chance to settle.

  • You may initially get some aggressive behaviour. This is very common for the existing rabbit as a new animal has entered their territory.

  • When both rabbits have settled and are not aggressive towards each other, you can start swapping their litter trays or bedding. This will encourage each rabbit to get used to the smell of the other.

  • If things continue to go well, you can then swap the rabbits over each night.

Positive behaviour

  • Lying/sitting side by side

  • Grooming each other

  • Seeking each other for positive interactions

  • Behaving normally (e.g. eating, drinking, grooming) around one another

Negative behaviour

  • Chasing each other

  • Fighting

  • Growling

  • Excessive mounting

Step 3 – Introductions in a neutral territory

  • If stage 2 has been a success and, after a week or two, the rabbits seem relaxed or indifferent to one another, you can move on to stage 3. If they are still unsettled, leave them next to each other for a little longer.

  • When introducing the rabbits for the first time, it is important to use a neutral territory so that neither of them “own” the area. This could either be a pop-up run in a different part of your garden, in your bathroom or somewhere else your rabbit has never been.

  • When setting up the bonding space, don’t allow too much space as this will cause them to chase each other. At the same time, they do need to be able to get away from each other. This is where tunnels, cardboard boxes and hides come in handy! It is always a good idea for the hides to have two exits so that the rabbits can’t corner each other or get stuck.

  • Only put them together for as long as they can tolerate each other – this may only be for a few seconds each day.

  • For the first few sessions, you can sit in the bonding pen and be ready to intervene if anything goes horribly wrong. Lunging, mounting, growling and “boxing” is very common and does not mean you need to intervene. If, however, any of these behaviours escalate into a fight, be prepared to separate them swiftly. We recommend wearing thick gloves for this!

  • Mounting is one of the most common behaviours when establishing new bonds. When bonding, this behaviour is to determine dominance rather than for breeding. Therefore, you may have either the male or the female on top. Mounting on the rear is absolutely fine, but if they mount the face, they will require you to intervene to avoid injury to the genital area.

  • You may see a few clumps of fur come out, but this is very common as they will hold onto each other with their teeth.

Step 4 – Spending more time together

  • When the rabbits are comfortable with each other, you can try increasing the size of the area and adding more toys, treats and houses.

  • You can now increase the length of time they spend together. Continue to allow mounting and the occasional ‘spats’ so they can establish who is dominant. Instead of intervening, try distracting them with food or attention (or even making a loud noise).

  • If the sessions continue to be successful, the rabbits can move into their intended living space together. Make sure this area is fully disinfected and has new toys/boxes to avoid your rabbit becoming territorial.

Step 5 – Leaving the rabbits together

  • Leaving the rabbits together is the scariest part. Knowing when to do this can be difficult, but some good indicators are:

    • They can spend several hours together without fighting

    • They are lying side-by-side

    • They are grooming each other

    • They are seeking each other for positive interaction

    • They are happy to eat/drink and groom themselves in the company of each other

    • You feel it would be detrimental to their progress if you separate them.

  • Once bonded, you must not separate them. For example, if one needs the vet then they should go together.

Avoiding a future fall-out

  • Provide plenty of space and enrichment to keep them occupied

  • Provide two food bowls, bottles, etc to give them one each

  • Maintain routines to avoid stress

  • Keep them away from other rabbits until their bond is completely established.

FAQs

  • How long does it take to bond rabbits?

Every rabbit is different and every pairing can take a different amount of time. Some rabbits will seem to bond with “love-at-first-sight”, whereas others can take around 6 months.

 

  • Can I bond my rabbit with a guinea pig?

We do not recommend housing rabbits and guinea pigs together as this can be very dangerous. Not only can rabbits bully guinea pigs and kick them with their powerful hind legs (even accidentally), but they also carry a which can make guinea pigs very unwell. As well as this, rabbits and guinea pigs have different diets and communicate differently.

 

  • Does it matter what sex my rabbits are?

The best combination for bonding is normally a male/female pairing, although it is possible to have female/female or male/male bonds, but this is ultimately down to the bunnies!

Help with bonding

At Furlock Holmes Animal Care, we do offer to help you with bonding rabbits (or guinea pigs). If you have a single bunny in need of a friend, we can bond your bunny with one of ours. Alternatively, you may have two un-bonded rabbits and need help putting them together. Please click here to find out more about our bonding service. Thank you!

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Contact Us

Phone: 01256 973727

Emergencies: 07594473339

Email: enquiries@furlockholmes.uk

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