Bonding rabbits means introducing individuals so that they’ll be comfortable living together. Bonding can take time and patience. But it’s worth it to prevent rabbit fighting, discomfort, and even injuries. Once bonded, your bunnies will start down the road of a lifelong friendship.
Rabbits are social animals. They don’t like to live alone. They can and do bond with humans, but they’re happiest when living with another rabbit. You can’t just throw two bunnies together without an introduction, though. Bonding rabbits provides that introduction and helps strangers to become friends. But you have to do it right.
What Do You Mean by Bonding?
You wouldn’t want to be locked into a house with someone you’d never met, would you? Neither would your rabbit.
Rabbits are social, but they’re also territorial. Bonding is especially important if you’re introducing a new rabbit into an existing rabbit home. Introducing a new rabbit suddenly can feel like an invasion of the bunny that was already living there. That can cause fights as the two rabbits establish territory and a hierarchy.
And a rabbit fight might sound cute, but they can be quite vicious.
Bonding is a gradual process that allows your rabbits to get used to seeing, smelling, and being around each other. Once your rabbits are bonded, one bunny won’t see the other as an intruder, but rather as a companion.
How Long Does it Take to Bond Rabbits?
According to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, bonding can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months. There are a lot of factors that will affect this time, though.
Generally speaking, two rabbits under 12 weeks of age can begin to live together immediately. Some people call this “love at first sight.”
A mixed-sex pair will often be easier to bond together than a same-sex pair.
And bringing a female rabbit home to a male rabbit is often easier than the other way around.
The RSPCA recommends first neutering all rabbits before attempting to bond them. Neutering reduces aggression and territoriality. It also has numerous health benefits for both male and female rabbits. And, of course, it will make sure that you won’t have any unexpected baby bunnies.
Be aware, however, that with males, it can take as long as six weeks for them to become sterile after neutering. Also, recently neutered females will need as much as a month to recover from their neutering surgery before you attempt to bond them. If you have any questions, check with your vet.
There’s also the issue of personality. Rabbits have different personalities, just like we do. Some are more outgoing, and some take longer to get to know. Still, others are simply prickly characters. Try to suss out the personalities of your bunnies before attempting to bond them. Knowing how your bun might react can make the process go more quickly and smoothly.
Some rescues will insist that you bring your current pets to the rescue to see how they get on with prospective adoptees. If you’re searching for a friend for your current rabbit, letting your rabbit pick out its new companion can increase your chances for rabbit bonding success.
So, how do you set up a bunny date?
First, check to see if your rescue will allow it.
Next, bring your rabbit to the rescue. Sit inside a large pen with your rabbit and the rabbit that you’re considering bringing home as a friend. Watch the bunnies interact, but be prepared to intervene if necessary.
Signs of a good match include:
- Ignoring each other
- Grooming themselves or each other
- Laying down or flopping on its side
- Turning their back to the other bunny
If it looks like your bunny may have found a friend, then you can take the new rabbit home and begin the bonding process.
A Word About Stress Bonding
You might have heard the term stress bonding and wonder what it means. Have you ever seen a film where the two main characters bicker and fight, but then they go through a disaster together and fall in love? That’s an actual phenomenon. And this phenomenon is behind the idea of stress bonding.
Proponents of stress bonding suggest putting two rabbits together in a mildly stressful situation, like a car ride, in order to force a bond.
It’s a controversial practice. Rabbits are very sensitive to stress. Stress can cause real physical problems for them, including gut stasis, blood sugar spikes, and liver problems. Also, things that humans find mildly stressful may be terrifying for a rabbit.
On top of that, a lot of people would agree that putting rabbits under stress simply to save oneself the time and effort of a rabbit-friendly introduction is just plain cruel.
So, how do you set up a rabbit-friendly introduction?
How to Bond Rabbits
Bonding your bunnies means letting them get to know each another gradually and safely. You’ll need three spaces to start with: a “home base” for each rabbit, and a third, neutral space which is neither rabbit’s territory.
Bunny Home Base
Your rabbits’ private spaces should be adjoining but separate. The rabbits should be able to see, smell, and touch one another through the barrier, but not to enter the other rabbit’s territory. For example:
- Two-wire enclosures set next to one another
- A hutch with a wire dividing screen
- A run divided by a gate or wire screen
- Two adjacent runs
Each rabbit’s space should also contain an enclosed area where your bunny can get away when he or she has had enough social interaction for the day. This can be:
When your bunnies meet one another for the first time, it should be in a third space that neither bun has claimed as its own. This will ensure that one bunny doesn’t have the advantage or feel that its territory is being invaded.
A portable run works well for this purpose. You could also use a pet playpen. This isn’t going to be a permanent enclosure, but it should keep your bunnies from running off.
The Bonding Process
First, place your rabbits in their adjoining spaces. Allow them to make the first move. Don’t force them to interact. Allow them to get used to seeing and smelling one another through the barrier first. This part of the process may take a few days to a week. It might also take longer, depending on your rabbits.
Expect a bit of unrest. Both rabbits are attempting to make sense of the situation. They’re also establishing individual territory, and trying to understand if the other rabbit is a threat or a potential friend. As long as they can’t get at one another, a little noise shouldn’t be a problem.
You can speed up the introduction by introducing each rabbit’s scent into the other rabbit’s space. You might swap their litter boxes, for instance. You could also rub one rabbit with a cloth and leave that cloth in the other rabbit’s territory.
Many single rabbits enjoy having a plush toy to cuddle up to. Consider giving each rabbit a plush rabbit in their private enclosure. Every now and then, switch the plush rabbits around. This will not only introduce your rabbits to each other’s smell, but they will smell it on a rabbit-shaped comfort object.
Look for the Signs
After a few days, look for signs that your rabbits are becoming comfortable with one another. For example:
- Sitting side by side on either side of the barrier
- Grooming one another through the barrier
- Engaging in normal behaviours around one another
When your rabbits seem comfortable in one another’s presence, you can start to introduce them.
Make sure to give your bunnies a short amount of supervised time together every day. Twenty minutes is a good starting time. Make that time a little longer every day.
Bring both rabbits to the neutral space at the same time. You might include some distractions, such as fresh hay or a new tunnel or toy. A new one will not have one rabbit’s scent on it and will be less likely to trigger territorial feelings.
Do not leave your rabbits unsupervised. Rather, watch for positive signs like sniffing and grooming.
Also keep an eye open for signs of trouble, such as:
- Stiff tails
- Ears back at a 45-degree angle
A bit of mounting and chasing is normal as your rabbits work out who’s boss. But if it turns intense — you’ll know — then it’s time to end the session. You can start again the next day.
How Do You Know When Your Rabbits Have Bonded?
According to the RSPCA, when your rabbits can spend one or two hours together in the neutral space with no problems, then you can start to introduce them into a common living space.
Again, do this with supervision, and be prepared to separate them in case of problems.
When one rabbit mounts the other and the mounted rabbit accepts it, this means that they have established their hierarchy. The boss bunny is the one doing the mounting.
Grooming is another positive sign that things are going well. In general, the dominant rabbit is the one that will get attention.
Make Sure the Shared Living Space is Adequate
Once the hard part is behind you, it’s important to ensure that your rabbits have enough space in their new shared quarters. Your hutch should be big enough that:
- Both rabbits can stand up without their ears touching the ceiling
- A rabbit can hop three times from one end of the hutch to the other
- Each rabbit should get a private, closed-off space where it can retreat when necessary
A hutch for two rabbits should have a minimum of 1.1 square metres (12 square feet) of space per rabbit. The larger enclosure your bunnies have, the happier they will be.
But that’s just the beginning.
A hutch is not enough. Rabbits also need to exercise space and, ideally, garden access. Think of a hutch like a teenager’s bedroom. They should have everything that they need there, but they should also have plenty of time outside to play, exercise, and explore.
Can Bonded Rabbits Break their Bond?
Unfortunately, yes. It can even happen after many years of being happily paired, and even if their bond was “love at first sight.”
As with human relationships, certain events or situations may cause a rupture in your rabbits’ bond, including:
- Separation for more than 24 hours
- A major change in the environment
- Stressful events
- Neutering after bonding
Ideally, both bunnies will have been neutered before you attempt to bond them. But life isn’t always ideal. Female rabbits can be very territorial. If you have removed a male to neuter him and put him back in the enclosure with an unaltered female, she may see him as a competitor rather than recognizing him as her partner.
Don’t worry. You can re-bond a formerly bonded pair using the same process.
A broken emotional bond is stressful for all of us, and your rabbits may mourn the loss.
Signs that your rabbits have broken bond may include:
- Grumpiness towards you or one another
- Pulling out each other’s fur
If your bunnies appear to have broken their bond for no reason, a vet visit might be in order. Once they both have a clean bill of health, you can start the bonding process over to reinstate the bond.
From Strangers to Lifelong Friends
Bonding rabbits can be time-consuming, no question. It may take a few hours, a few days, or even a few months. But it’s necessary to ensure that your rabbits will get on in the long term.
Think about it: you wouldn’t want to be forced into a partnership with a stranger. Bonding provides an introduction and allows your rabbits to become used to one another.
Don’t rush or force the bond. Let your bunnies set the pace. Ensure that both of your bunnies have their own separate space at first, with a place to escape out of sight when they want to be alone. Gradually bring them together in a neutral space for a supervised time until they show signs of having accepted one another.
And when you do move them to shared quarters, make sure that there’s plenty of space for living and exercise, for both rabbits.
Do you have a rabbit bonding experience you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
And if you would like to read more on bunny behaviour check out our rabbit library here.