When you take your new rabbit home you must place it in its new hutch and leave it to settle in quietly. It will need time to adjust to its new surroundings and recover from its journey. I advise no handling for at least 24 hours and for the next few days only hold your rabbit for short periods of time and then put it back in the hutch for a few hours before handling again. This is very important as rabbits get easily stressed and this could end badly.
Handling your rabbit properly and with confidence is very important as your rabbit needs to feel safe in your care and trust you, all of which helps towards bonding with each other.
The correct way to pick your rabbit up is with one hand around its middle and the other under its back end, then lift it towards you, it is then held securely and is not dangling unsafely in mid-air. A rabbit will scrabble and scratch if it feels insecure!
Rabbits like to have their feet firmly on the ground and are not real lovers of being picked up, but they do enjoy cuddles and company. Do not make the mistake of thinking that if your rabbit scrabbles and wriggles it does not like cuddles and put it down when it does this. Rabbits are very intelligent and will learn quickly that if they wriggle they get put down and it will become difficult to handle them once they know they can get away with this.
I always hold my rabbits with their noses below my chin with their front legs resting on my chest and one hand under their bottom, stroking them with the other hand. This is a safe way to cuddle them whilst standing as you always have a good hold on them and it is difficult for them to jump off. If you are sitting down, which I always advise children to do, it might be more comfortable to have a blanket or carpet square on your lap for them to sit on.
Once you and your rabbit have formed a relationship and bonded your rabbit will come to greet you and sometimes follow you around like a cat or dog. They can be great company.
Bonding Rabbit Pairs
Rabbits are very sociable animals and love to have company, therefore living in pairs or occasionally trios or more is ideal for them. Rabbits living on their own can become lonely and depressed. Bonded rabbits become great friends who provide each other warmth, support, play and love.
A lot of people will buy rabbits in pairs and these rabbits will remain lifetime buddies. However all rabbits living together must be neutered or spayed at the appropriate age (bucks at around 16 wks & does at around 6 mths) to prevent the hormonal issues that cause fighting, dominance, mounting and of course with a buck and doe mating. There is also health problems that can be prevented by neutering. In the case of a buck and doe after they have each had their operation they will need to be kept apart while they recover, this is usually for around 2 wks.
The Bonding Process
If you have a rabbit and wish to introduce another one you will need to do this following advise and being careful and patient as it may take some time to bond them. Rabbits are highly territorial and will not take kindly to an intruder arriving in their home and they could fight causing serious bite wounds to each other, which is why it is important to do the bonding process properly.
You will need to set things up so the rabbits can be separate but are able to smell and be close to each other through bars. You can do this by putting a run up against the hutch, one rabbit can be in the run while the other is in the hutch, however at night they must each be put in a separate hutch or somewhere safe away from the foxes, for this if you have a 2 storey hutch you can take away the ramp and divide the two levels. One rabbit could live in the bottom and one in the top and you can swap them around so they get used to each others smell. You could also swap any toys or bowls between them.
They should remain having contact through bars but living separately for a few days. Once they seem to be getting along this way you can attempt to introduce them together. This must be done in a neutral area where neither rabbit has been eg. in a garden run in a different area of the garden or a small room in the house.
Start by putting them together in this neutral zone with plenty of food, toys and places to hide in or climb on, for short 30 min periods, supervised by you. Remember that mounting, chasing and nipping are normal behaviour and you do not need to do anything except observe, but if they start becoming aggressive; biting, lunging for each other and actually fighting you must immediately separate them. I would suggest wearing some thick gardening gloves to protect you from being bitten.
If these initial introduction sessions go well you can gradually increase the amount of time you leave them together. Then once you are totally happy they seem to be getting along well (signs to look for below) you can move them in together permanently but make sure the hutch either smells of them both or has been completely cleaned and disinfected so it smells neutral.
Positive signs include grooming themselves and each other, eating happily, lying down next to or near to each other.
Neutral signs include ignoring each other, mounting each other, chasing one another and nipping.
Negative signs include Biting each other and drawing blood, lunging and grabbing hold of each other aggressively. A rabbit that is in an angry fighting mode usually has its tail up and ears laid back.
If you have had to separate them due to fighting it is wise to leave them apart in their own areas for a few days before attempting to re-introduce them. Be patient as this may take a few attempts but most pairs do bond eventually.