BONDING RABBITS; A BULLET POINT CHECKLIST
The domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus)
- From Europe originally
- First kept as pets in the 1800’s (first as food source in first century)
- Belgian Hares became popular in the US
- Social animals that live in large warrens
- Social Hierarchy present
- Even though they are domestic, instinctive behaviors are still present
Rabbits Are Social Animals
- Pairs are recommended
- Companionship allows
- Mutual Grooming
- Less likely to be destructive due to boredom
- Male /Female bonds are easiest and recommended
- Both rabbits should be spayed/neutered
- Wait 30 days before beginning introductions
- Bonding must be carefully done
- Costs will increase
- Provide two separate pen units side by side need to be set up
- Two exercise pens or habitats side by side where they can see, hear, smell and talk. Everything except TOUCH.
- Towels or broom
- In case a rumble breaks out
- Neutral Territory
- For closely monitored bonding time
- Shelters have speed dating to find initial match
- More time will be needed at home to ensure they bond
Once home from speed date
- They cannot just live together yet
- They need to build trust
- Rabbits can and will fight to establish dominance and territory
- You need to be the referee
- These methods can be used if a pair bond is broken
- It is never safe to leave rabbits alone together until the bond has been sealed
- Ignoring each other
- This is actually good
- At least they aren’t fighting
- Is natural and normal
- Is used to establish dominance
- Circling can be normal as well
- Used to establish dominance
- May result in bites to the underside (watch for annoyance)
- Will continue throughout the relationship and be a sign of possession
- OK as long as both bunnies are OK with it
- You may see fur pulled or small bite wounds
- This is part of establishing hierarchy
- Stop them if they start moving in a tight circle or chasing tails
- Serious damage follows this
- Makes it hard for the damaged bun to trust the other
- This is good
- What one bun does, so does the other
- Mutual grooming
- This is great!
- They may start by sitting near each other and grooming themselves.
- One bun will approach the other and put their head down – requesting grooming.
- The other responds by grooming them, good bonding is occurring
- Bunny Flops and Binkies
- Show trust during bonding
- Tail waggle
- Is flirting behavior
- Thumping with back legs
- Shows frustration- Bun is not getting what it wants
- Bun wants attention now
- Bun turns and shows you or the other rabbit it’s backside
- Bun is not getting what it wants
- Bun is disapproving of the situation
- Eating near the other Bun
- Shows trust and not stressed
- Always have food out during bonding sessions
Neutral Territory Needed
Never attempt bonding in an area that the buns live
Large space is needed – kitchen or similar
It can be the exercise area if nothing else is available
Always set up a pen. This prevents them from getting under something and fighting
Provide greens and hay
How long should the date last?
For the unsure bond: 15-minute date and build up from there.
Slow and steady wins the race!
It takes time to build that trust bond.
You do not have to do a date every day
You can do two 15-minute dates a day ,or if things are going well do a long marathon session. Just use your judgement.
Some bonds will happen fast while others can take some time and TLC.
Helping the Bonding Process
- Changing back and forth between pens
- They get used to each other’s odors
- Obviously, they are not in the pens together
- Swapping stuffed animals
- For scenting and decoy to decrease territorial drive
- This may be more important than the dating
- Do it even if you cannot do the date every day
- Great item to bring when spay/neuter time arrives (or any seperation)
- Bunnies still need exercise even if they aren’t getting along yet
- Simply take turns
- Use a barrier to protect noses from bites through pen bars
- Litter box habits may not be great until they are bonded
- Free Roamers
- You need to purchase a pen
How can you help the process?
- “Bunny Magic”
- Place buns next to each other and pet them at the same time
- This spreads their scent all over both of them
- Do it at the end of each date
- “The Standoff”
- Buns face each other with their heads down
- Give them both a scritch on the head if one doesn’t start grooming the other
- Serious Fights
- “Bunny Tornado”
- Bun will have their tail up and ears back first
- Followed by tight circling and biting
- This must be stopped right away
- Place the soft broom between them. Yell if you have to
- They will bite you so no hands
- Assess damage. Go to vet if in doubt
- This results in a 2 weeks ban from dating
- Continue the cage swap and stuffed animal swap
- “Bunny Tornado”
- Give them a larger space
- Be sure it is neutral
- 2 week ban until date but continue the swap
- How long does bonding take?
- Hard to predict but anywhere from immediate to many months
Older methods of bonding
- Bathtub bonding, small cage in the back seat of the car
- Considered stress bonding
- No longer acceptable
- Gentle method is best
Male/Male or Female/Female Pairs?
- The easiest bondings are male / female
- After bunnies are spayed and neutered it is easier to bond same sex rabbits.
- A bromance ( male-male) bonding can happen.
- It will be more difficult. Best they be neutered before they meet.
- You need to expect a longer courtship and be willing to put in a little more time.
- Female/Female bond
- Female-female bondings are the most difficult.
- It is easier if they are litter mates or siblings.
- Extra time and a longer courtship may be needed.
- They may unbond for a time after the spay. Get them together the day after the procedure and monitor. Dominance may need to be re-established.
- Follow the Bonding instructions
- This combination rarely works out
Are They Bonded yet? Here is your checklist:
- Laying side by side
- Grooming each other
- Eating together
- Provide 2 bowls to prevent jealousy
- Using the same litter box
- Nipping is common in the box
- They may require two boxes
- Playing together
- Sleep and nap together
Move in Day
- Clean the area well
- Bowls, houses, blanket. Use white vinegar
- Rearrange everything to make it seem new
- Still give them lots of space
- Do it during daytime
- This way you will know if it is going to work before the first night together
Other Behaviors Defined FYI
- Binkies – jumping and spinning in the air
- Happy bunny
- Contented and comfortable
- Warning, Bunny trying to be fierce
- Circling your feet
- Means “I love you”
- Marking territory with chin glands
- Soft vs loud teeth grinding
- Soft grind is happy/content
- Loud grind is discomfort
- For attention, bunny isn’t getting something it wants
Much of this is taken from the good people at the Bonding Rabbits: A How to from Georgia HRS | House Rabbit Society