TIP – Patience! Patience may be required in a very large dose when bonding rabbits. In a lot of cases it does not happen overnight, it can take several weeks.
Bonding or pairing is the term used when 2 or more rabbits are put together to form a connection. The purpose of bonding is to promote co operation & give the rabbit a better life. Rabbits are social animals & if left for a long period of time without appropriate companionship they can suffer greatly.
If you are bonding your rabbit after it has lost it’s partner then you should give the bereaved rabbit a couple of weeks to grieve. The bereaved rabbit will be stressed & to add more stress to them by trying to bond too soon will not be good for your rabbit’s mental health. However, that said only you know your rabbit & if they appear to have gotten over the death fully in less time then it may be time to find a new partner.
Pairings & Aggression.
- Mixed pair, that is a male & female, both should be neutered otherwise you tend to have one who is more aggressive & bullying can take place. The unneutered one can trigger fights whereas if both were neutered they will live harmoniously. This is the best kind of pairing.
- Same sex pairs generally live quite harmoniously until adolescence. Once the hormones kick in it can turn very nasty with lots of aggression. I do know of some neutered same sex pairs who do get on very well so it is possible. The pairs were neutered as soon as they were ready & went back to living with each other as before.
In a lot of cases though I have known the neutering has been done at a later stage & much aggression has already taken place. After they were neutered things did not return to normal, the aggression was still there. Most pairs ended up with one remaining very dominant & the other being bullied. It is not fair to allow that to continue. They must be separated. Generally the best pairs are a neutered male & female.
- Group pairing can work but is generally not recommended. It has been known that a group have lived harmoniously for quite some time, even a year, & then there has been a massive bust up resulting in severe injuries & even death. Another issue is the group will have a pecking order & you usually find the rabbit at the bottom of the order is unconfident, shy, bullied & not a happy rabbit.
Behaviour Sometimes Displayed When Bonding.
- Both rabbits ignore each other. This is normal & a good start.
- Chasing each other. This is fine as long as it doesn’t get aggressive.
- Nipping. This is ok but you must watch closely that it isn’t turning nasty.
- Spraying. Even neutered bunnies will spray & this is fine but you may get wet!
- Lunging, growling & boxing. This is behaviour to monitor closely, as long as it isn’t causing injury try & let it play out.
- Mounting. This is good but if one of them mounts the head of the other remove that rabbit from the position. There is a high risk of injury to the genitals from the other rabbit. Some say that this behaviour is asserting dominance, sometimes I think it is other times I’m pretty sure it’s more of a case of ‘I want you’.
- Sniffing each other then running away. This is good as they are showing interest & there is no aggression.
- Fighting. This is not good. Do not let it continue & separate immediately.
There are a couple of ways you can bond rabbits & it all depends on how confident you are at doing it & the personality of your individual rabbits. I have always used what you might term the quick way which is where you put both rabbits together & hopefully can leave together forever. The other way is a slower way where you put them together for 10 minutes & try again the following day for longer & so on until they bond.
My Quick Way of Bonding Starting From When the New Rabbit Arrives.
- I give the new rabbit a 2 week settling in period & that also gives me chance to monitor the new rabbit. I can then find out their personality & if there are any health problems. Usually I need to swap their food over too. This 2 week period helps the new rabbit get to know the routine, know me, their new home & deal with as fewer changes as possible. Therefore keeping stress to a minimum.
- Within that 2 week period I will let the potential partner play around the shed & they will always visit the new rabbit. This gives me a small indication of how they will react to each other when pairing. I will also let the new rabbit investigate the shed & once again when they meet their potential partner I gain a small insight into how they will react to each other. (One rabbit is in a pen & the other is free to run around the shed, so there is always mesh between).
- Swap toilet areas. The week before I pair I swap their toilet areas over. So each rabbit can start getting used to the other ones smell. If they happen to be moulting I will also swap each others fur over. Just a small handful spread about.
- Stroke them. I spend about 5 minutes each day stroking each rabbit & then using the same hand I stroked one with, I stroke the other in an attempt to put each others smell on them. This just gets them used to each others smell so when pairing they don’t feel it’s a complete stranger & should help relax them.
- Divide a pen in two. Each rabbit has a side to themselves & how they react to each other gives me a good indication of how the pairing is going to go. I leave them like this for a week before I attempt bonding.
- Bond. I use neutral territory to bond so both rabbits are on an equal footing. I have a large spare pen that I put in the garage. I use the garage so they are away from the rest of the interfering bunnies. I then put them both into the pen & I sit in the pen too. I never leave the first rabbit to be put in the pen on their own for long. If you do, that rabbit is going to think it is their territory & be aggressive immediately. There we all stay for as long as necessary unless things go very wrong which can happen.
Now you may think that is not a quick way to bond. The actual bonding is the quick way but to give it the best chance of success I put effort into the preparation. I am lucky I am able to do it this way as my set up allows for an extra rabbit to stay on their own as long as necessary. Sometimes I have to be flexible in my approach as to how I pair. If the quick way does not work then I revert to the slow way but modified to suit the individual circumstances. Below is My latest experiences where you will see the differences in pairing.
The Slow Way To Bond.
This is usually done by having the rabbits living side by side. Everyday you would attempt to bond them in neutral territory. Leaving them together for as long as you can & you would continue to repeat this until they have bonded. This can take several weeks or months in some cases. It really all does come down to your individual rabbits. With this method I would definitely recommend using my preparation methods of swapping toilets, toys, fur & stroking them.
If you adopted your new rabbit from a sanctuary & did not feel confident in attempting to bond them the sanctuary may offer this service.
Stressing Them To Bond.
Stressing rabbits to help the bonding process is often recommended so that the rabbits will join forces & comfort each other against the stress, therefore forming the start of a bond. One of the ways of doing this that is often mentioned is to put them both in a pet basket & take them out for a car ride. I personally do not recommend putting any rabbits you are trying to bond in such a confined space. The reason why is Fern & Whisker’s story. On paper this idea sounded great so off I went & put both Fern & Whiskers in the pet basket & got in the car, not more than a couple of minutes into the journey a huge fight had erupted. I quickly got to them & took one of them out. Initially, apart from a lot of fur they both looked ok. So I immediately drove back home & checked them both. Whisker’s had no obvious signs of injury & his fur had just been pulled. He seemed ok so I put him back in his pen. Fern was breathing hard & fast but had no obvious signs of injury except for fur missing, so back in her pen she went.
I kept checking on them both & whilst Whiskers was back to normal Fern was looking unwell. She had a glazed look to her & was very cold to the touch, she was going into shock. I immediately tried to warm her up & got her booked in at the vets. At the vets her hip was swollen so she was given painkillers. It was decided to keep her overnight at the vets & try to raise her temperature. The following day we would then get an X-ray. The morning arrived & I got a call to say Fern had died overnight. I authorised a post mortem & it was found that her bowel had ruptured most likely by a kick or having banged herself very hard. I knew it was through the fight in the basket. The kick would have been so quick & with the best will in the world I would not have been able to stop it, even if I had been sat in the back of the car with them. In hindsight I feel it was a foolish thing to do & a high price was paid.
I know some people have done this & everything has been fine but from my personal experience I feel, for me, the risk is too high.
Rumble & Tilly a Difficult Bond.
Rumble was 5.5 years old when he lost his one & only partner, Bubbles. Rumble pretends he is a tough bunny but underneath he is actually quite a reserved, nervous & an easily scared bunny. He does not like any trouble. Tilly was 2 years old & had been in a group pairing at the sanctuary she had come from. She has some physical & mental battle scars from the group pairing. Initial indications were that they were going to get on ok. When they had met, as one played around in the shed, there had been no aggression only nose sniffing & interest.
On their first meeting Rumble was very interested & rather amorous towards her. Tilly on the other hand was very scared & went straight into panic & defence mode. This resulted in her attacking Rumble & biting him. I separated them immediately & called it a day.
I tried again when Rumble’s wound had healed. Unfortunately, Rumble had not forgotten what Tilly had done to him, this resulted in him being very defensive. When she tried to approach him he just ran at her & she stood her ground. A fight ensued but not as vicious as the previous time. Only fur was pulled out. Rumble became very stressed so I called it a day.
The next time I tried it went wrong right from the start. It was as if being put in this pen triggered an aggressive response. So I had a rethink. I took them to the house & tried them in a different neutral territory. I also decided as Rumble was attacking Tilly because he was scared I would sit with him. Now they made progress.
For several days they had reached 2 hours together without incident, had done some nose to nose sniffing with me intervening if the signs of aggression returned. Disappointingly, as I tried to back off they had a very minor scuffle & like before when I tried them again it started off with aggression. I really did think at this point they were not going to pair which would have been a first for me. I persevered as there were lots of positive behaviour too & the scuffle only occurred because Rumble panicked.
My next step was to change rooms again & I backed away from sitting with Rumble & went to sitting with Tilly. I can’t say whether this caused the breakthrough I was after, but after a couple of days it happened. Tilly’s attitude changed. If Rumble quickly shot forward on her approach to him in an aggressive manner, she completely ignored him & turned away to do something else. Eventually, this behaviour made Rumble relax. He no longer lunged quickly forward in an aggressive manner. The nose to nose contact increased & eventually I was able to leave them together. They moved back to the shed in a pen away from everyone else. I do have a lot of rabbit’s who insist on interfering in other rabbit’s business. Any interference I knew could cause an upset between Rumble & Tilly as their bond was still delicate. This was probably my most difficult bond & was one that definitely took the longest. It took well over a month & many attempts.
Samson & Annie a Very Easy Bond.
Samson was 5 years old when he got a divorce. Read about Samson’s divorce. Annie was about 18 months old & had recently been a mummy bunny. I was fostering Annie at the time she had her babies & I would often let her have free run of the shed just so she could have a break from her demanding brood. One of her favourite places to rest was at the side of Samson’s pen. Often he would meet her & lie next to her.
After Annie’s babies had left home she was spayed. In the meantime Samson & his partner had got a full divorce. I decided to adopt Annie as I thought she had the right personality for Samson. Considering his large size he was an absolute gentle soul & didn’t want any hassle in life. Annie still had a strong mothering instinct & that is exactly what Samson needed. His partner had resorted to bullying him.
When they were both ready I paired them together in neutral territory & both were quite apprehensive of each other at first. After half an hour they were sitting side by side & Annie had done the ultimate thing – she had groomed his head. Samson from this point was smitten. They never looked back.
Thumper & Annie an Easy Bond.
Annie was about 2.5 years old when her partner, Samson died. She was deeply upset by his death. Thumper was adopted from a sanctuary & he was about 18 months old. He was desperate for company having only had his mother & siblings for companionship previously. They had all moved on leaving Thumper on his own.
After the settling in period I introduced Annie & Thumper in a neutral pen. Thumper was in love immediately but Annie seemed nervous & scared. Thumper tried many times but Annie just wanted to get out of the pen. I sat with them all day & tried to calm Annie down. She did seem better if I was in the pen.
Eventually, she allowed Thumper to sniff her but when he got too amorous she pushed away. When Annie finally starting to relax & show interest in Thumper he always submitted to her & let her sniff him. This made Annie relax a lot. Thumper then groomed Annie & that seemed to cement in Annie’s mind that Thumper wasn’t going to hurt her. A while later she returned the grooming & they’ve never been apart since.
From the photos above you have to wonder what happened to make these two split up. They were paired in 2011 & both were around the age of 2.5 years. When they first paired Sam didn’t have a clue what he was supposed to do as he was still recovering from being institutionalized. Kitty too had a hard life up until this point. She had been very neglected & left in a urine soaked hutched for weeks on end. The sanctuary had sorted out all her physical issues. Both their personalities at this point were quiet & they were both very scared of being handled.
In mid 2014 I noticed that Kitty had become a much more dominant rabbit. Kitty always did have the stronger personality, in fact she had become quite a handful. She was never afraid to use her teeth on anyone or give a good hard kick if she felt it was necessary. Sam on the other hand never showed any aggression & was as gentle as a lamb.
Kitty’s dominance turned into aggressive bullying, she would push Sam out of the way or terrorise him into a corner. Even though he was a good kilo heavier than Kitty he never fought back or asserted himself. I continued to monitor & was about to start keeping a record of her behaviour when I notice Sam’s tail had an injury. A vet visit ensued & his tail had been chewed & I knew immediately who the guilty party was. Sam had also started to lose weight which we wondered if it was due to stress. After a talk with my vet it was decided we’d see how Kitty & Sam got on the rest of that week & take it from there.
They didn’t make it to the end of the week as right from the moment Sam was put back in their pen she harassed him & wouldn’t leave his injured tail alone.
It wasn’t a decision I took lightly to separate them as the possible implications didn’t sit well with me but I was not going to allow Sam to be continually bullied. Within days of their separation Sam was like his old self, happy, relaxed, eating well & gaining weight.
As for Kitty her behaviour worsened, she became incredibly difficult to handle & her aggression towards all the other bunnies was very intense. However, she was never aggressive towards Sam when they met through mesh.
A few weeks of Sam being on his own he seemed to go into a depression. He started to lose weight again & wouldn’t eat well. The vet checked him over & could find nothing wrong with him. Every time he was let out in the shed he immediately went up to Polly, another of my rabbits he had formed a special bond with. She already had a partner. It was at this point I adopted Annie & paired her with Sam. They were both very happy together.
I tried Kitty with another partner but weirdly she was frightened of him, in fact some of the aggression I was seeing now I thought was down to fear. Kitty had started with a host of complex illnesses & I had come to an understanding with Kitty on medicating her so that she was manageable. In fact when I look back I wonder if her change in behaviour was due to the start of all the illnesses. One of her illnesses was E. Cuniculi & I suspect that could have affected her brain. At some future stage I will recount Kitty’s long & complex story.
Bunnies Enjoying Company.