Rabbits are social creatures.
Perhaps this is because their ancestors (the European
Wild Rabbit) lived in social structures called warrens.
Warrens are very ordered, and all members have their
place in the hierarchy. Ironically, it is this same
social structure that often makes bonding a stressful
experience. This article provides tips on how to bond
your rabbits while minimizing bonding stress.
Some feel that the best way to ensure a bond is to let
your rabbit choose its own companion. However, this
isn't always possible. In addition, even if the initial
meeting goes well, bonding may still be difficult.
So, if your rabbit
isn't able to choose its own mate, how do you choose the
right companion for him? The key to a good match is
personality - not breed or size. It is important to
choose a rabbit with a personality that is compatible
with your rabbit's personality. Two very dominant, and
territorial rabbits are more difficult to bond than one
dominant and one submissive rabbit. However, the size
and breeds of the rabbits involved have no effect on the
Generally, the easiest
bond is between a spayed female and a neutered male.
Babies often bond easily with one another and to some
adults, but the bond may be broken at the onset of
puberty. Male-male and female-female bonds may also
work, but these pairs may require more effort and
patience on your part than a male-female bond. For this
reason, spaying and neutering, which helps to alleviate
hormonal tendencies and territorial behaviour, is
important for bonding even same sex pairs.
Bonding sessions must
take place in a small neutral area, i.e., an area that
is not frequented by either rabbit. Make sure that there
are no places that either rabbit can crawl into, such as
an open cage or box, in your bonding area. You do not
want either rabbit to feel cornered or for a fight to
break out in an area that you cannot readily get to.
At first, bonding
sessions should be short. As the rabbits start to become
friends, your sessions can be longer. You want the
bonding sessions to be a pleasant experience for your
rabbits, so that they associate the other with pleasant
things. Provide them with new toys, litter boxes filled
with piles of fresh hay or a platter of veggies to
share. Try to end the sessions on a positive note and
work with your rabbits every day. Some rabbits bond very
quickly, others may take several months.
The bonding process will be easier if both rabbits
are spayed or neutered. At the very least one rabbit
MUST be altered when bonding male-female pairs to
avoid accidental pregnancy. (Note: Adult rabbits are
fertile at all times, mate quickly, and can conceive
at a very young age. Don't take this chance!).
Prepare for marking of territory with feces and
urine. After the rabbits get used to each other, the
marking will gradually subside. Even spayed and
neutered rabbits may mark territory in the presence
of a new rabbit.
For tough bonds, sometimes it is helpful to take
both rabbits for a car ride before the bonding
session. If there is any danger of the rabbits
attacking one another in the car, put them in
separate carriers. If you put them in the same
carrier, have a friend drive while you supervise the
If you are planning to house the rabbits together in
an existing cage after they are bonded, it is
helpful to switch cages each day to avoid
'ownership' of one cage.
Learning to recognize aggressive body language
(e.g., tail erect, ears back, tense body posture) is
helpful in preventing fights before they happen.
Rabbits who fight will sometimes hold grudges,
making the bonding process harder.
The importance of neutral territory cannot be
stressed enough. Often two rabbits will get along
fabulously in familiar territory when one rabbit is
caged and the other is not. However, they will
behave aggressively when they are both out of their
cages. Sometimes, it only takes a couple of hours in
neutral territory before they start snuggling and
grooming each other.
If, during the bonding sessions, the rabbits ignore one
another and go about their business of eating, grooming
themselves or relaxing, the session is going well. In
time, the rabbits will bond. However, if the rabbits are
continually aggressive towards one another, it may be
best to allow them to continue to live separately.
In order to assess
progress, it is important to be able to understand your
rabbit's body language. For example, to a rabbit,
nipping and fighting are very different, even though
they may look the same to us. Fighting is a deliberate
attack. Nipping is a means of communicating.
chasing are common occurrences during bonding and can
escalate into a fight. Stop circling and chasing when it
occurs, but do not separate the rabbits. Instead, place
them side by side, while petting them or feeding them
treats. After they have calmed down, you can let them
run around again.
Mounting is a natural
part of the bonding process. It is not necessary to stop
mounting as long as the rabbit being mounted does not
become aggressive or afraid. However, never allow
backwards mounting because the rabbit on top can be
seriously injured with one bite. Mounting can be
amorous, as well as a way to establish dominance.
After your rabbits are getting along well in neutral
territory without supervision, you can expand the area
to gradually include territory that both have
frequented. It is advisable to cage them separately
until they are getting along well in territory that is
not neutral. Start to cage them together for short
periods while you are there to supervise. You do not
want a fight to break out in the cage when you are not
there to intervene.
Case of a Fight
When a fight occurs during a bonding session, our first
instinct is to reach down and try to pick up one of the
rabbits; however, this can lead to serious bite wounds.
Do not use your bare hands to break up a scuffle.
Instead, dump a bowl of water onto the fighting pair or
cover them with a blanket. To prevent another fight, it
is helpful to have a broom or a piece of sturdy
cardboard handy to slip between two angry rabbits. It is
also helpful to wear oven mitts on your hands during a
bonding session, in case you have to break up a fight. A
water bottle set on the 'stream' setting will also
sometimes deter aggressive behaviour.
After a fight, it is
important to check your rabbits for wounds. Remember,
not all wounds will bleed, so check thoroughly.
One important thing to remember when adopting another
rabbit: Never adopt a rabbit as a companion for your
current rabbit if you cannot accept the fact that they
may never bond. Instead, consider fostering a rabbit in
need of a permanent home. If your current rabbit bonds
with your foster rabbit, then you can adopt him.
definite advantages to having bonded pairs. Rabbits who
have a bonded mate tend to be less bored - and,
therefore less destructive - than single rabbits. They
have company when you are working late, and it is easier
to clean one rabbit cage than two. Sometimes, however,
it is just not meant to be. We have to remember to do
what is right for our rabbits - and not what is most
convenient to us.