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. Two baby rabbits, either bought together or separately and who are under 12 weeks of age can live with each other immediately. All other combinations will need to be carefully and gradually introduced.
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. For a doe this is usually for around 2 days but for a buck they must be kept separate for about 10 days to allow time for his sperm to disperse.
The Bonding Process
If you have one rabbit and wish to introduce another one then you will need to follow this advise and be 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 follow the bonding process properly.Rabbits are surprisingly vicious fighters. It’s vital to keep a close eye on them throughout the pairing process as, left unchecked, one or both could be seriously injured.
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 periods, supervised by you. Remember that mounting, chasing and nipping are normal behaviour and you do not need to do anything except observe, if they start becoming aggressive; biting, lunging for each other and actually fighting you must immediately separate them and try again the next day. I would suggest wearing some thick gardening gloves to protect you from being bitten.
Once these initial introduction sessions go well you can gradually increase the amount of time you leave them together. You can assist this process by feeding the rabbits 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.
It's completely natural that one rabbit will be dominant over the other but it shouldn’t be in an aggressive way. There may be mounting, but it should be accepted by the less dominant rabbit. The subordinate rabbit can show its acceptance of the other’s dominance by licking it. The rabbit that puts its head down to be licked is claiming top spot, and by licking it, the partner is accepting that the other rabbit is boss.
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.
Certain events can cause bonds to be broken such as:
Separation for more than 24 hours
A major change in the environment
Neutering after bonding
But don’t worry. You can re-bond a formerly bonded pair using the same process.