Reprinted with permission from Bozeman Rabbit Resource. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced elsewhere in any form.
Rabbits are social creatures that enjoy interacting with others. Of course, there are always exceptions, and your rabbit may prefer to keep you all to herself. To find out which type of rabbit you have, you can set up a “bunny date” with another rabbit to find a suitable prospect for your rabbit’s new partner. Behavior you don’t want to see includes fighting, charging, grunting and other acts of aggression. Some good signs that the date is going well are grooming, laying with each other, or successful mounting. If any of these occur, you may have found your rabbit’s match.
Incorporating a partner for your rabbit into your home can be challenging. Rabbits can be aggressive, and fighting is not uncommon in the beginning. It is rare that it will be love at first sight. For first-time owners, it may be hard to take on faith that it can work out, but patience and persistence are key in bonding your rabbits and will almost always pay off.
For a smoother transition, employ the following suggestions:
- Rabbits who are spayed/neutered are typically less aggressive and will usually make better candidates for bonding. It’s easiest to bond a male and female rabbit, and ensuring that they are fixed is obviously necessary. The next easiest pair to bond is female-female. Bonding two males isn’t impossible, but from anecdotal experience, it can be the hardest pairing, since each will attempt to dominate the other.
- The rabbits should not be placed together initially. They need time to be introduced to each other slowly, which is best done with supervision.
- Place the rabbits’ cages next to each other (with a bit of space between to avoid fighting) so they get used to being near each other without being forced to share a space. If you see them laying next to each other or attempting to groom each other through the wires, they are ready to spend some time together.
- To get them used to the others’ scent, switch their litter boxes, towels, food dishes, and toys periodically.
- For their first face-to-face meeting, put them in a neutral location – a place where neither rabbit feels that it’s his or her territory and a place where neither bunny can be cornered. Make it a small space, so the rabbits will have to be close together. Places like the kitchen floor, bathroom, hallway, or empty bathtub might work because the slick surface can help prevent them from chasing each other.
- Bonding sessions should happen frequently, for up to 15 minute intervals and increasing as the rabbits become more familiar with each other.
- Expect the rabbits to fight, especially in order to show one’s dominance over the other. Fights can be frightening, and the rabbits can cause each other serious damage. While fighting is normal, don’t let it continue for very long, and stop it immediately if one rabbit has been injured. I used a spray bottle to break up fights between my two female rabbits, aiming for their sides or butts to avoid getting water up their noses. Sometimes making a loud clapping or thumping noise can momentarily distract them. It’s important that they don’t hurt each other, but it’s also important that you don’t get hurt either, so make sure you protect yourself when breaking up a fight (wear long sleeves, maybe gloves).
- Mounting is not considered fighting. It’s actually what you want to see happen. Fights can break out when one refuses to let the other mount him/her. Note that it can be females or males attempting to mount the other to show dominance.
- They might temporarily forsake their good litter box habits in the excitement. They’ll settle back to using the boxes successfully, but this can be a discouraging turn of events if you aren’t expecting it.
Once you are convinced they are comfortable with each other, you can try to move them to a cohabitation situation, though expect some territorial feelings to arise once again. Placing food or water dishes side-by-side or feeding them greens together can ease this.
I didn’t see much improvement in behavior with my two house rabbits until one of my female rabbits was finally successful in mounting the other female. This took several weeks, and in the meantime, I was very concerned that they would never get along. However, patience paid off, and they tolerate each other quite well now. That’s not to say that there aren’t occasionally flareups; I just make sure to break the fights up quickly, and life goes on as usual.
- Drive around in a car with the rabbits in a box sitting in the seat next to you (preferably held by a passenger). The new situation, close quarters, and the unsettling feeling of being moved about may “trick” the rabbits into relying on each other for comfort in an unnerving setting.
- Put a small bit of banana on each of the rabbits’ foreheads to make their fur a bit sticky and wet. The bunnies may try to lick the banana of each others’ foreheads, and this mimicking of grooming can lead to actual grooming, a good sign for the bonding.
- Place them in an unfamiliar, small location where they are forced to be near each other, like an empty bathtub. Pet each of their foreheads at the same time to trick them into thinking the other one is providing comfort to them in an unsettling situation.
- Lastly, if you are interested in adopting a rabbit, consider adopting a bonded pair – all the hard work is already (mostly) over!
NOTE: Many of these tips also apply to introducing your rabbit to another household pet. Introductions should always be slow and supervised, and the importance of neutral locations can’t be emphasized enough. Supervision is key, as is ensuring that your dog or cat is well-behaved and not aggressive/territorial.
Bozeman Rabbit Resource can be found in Montana and was started to provide information for current and prospective rabbit owners. There, you can find information on rabbit care and behavior, recommendations, photos and stories, and a place to ask a rabbit expert questions.