There are different rabbit bonding stages with different expected behaviors. To bond rabbits properly, you must understand what they’re going through. Here’s what I experienced while bonding rabbits.
The first thing that you should keep in mind is that bunnies are incredibly territorial (especially the females). For them to accept a friend into their space takes time, effort, and incredible patience from the owner.
Warning: Be prepared for a lot of new gray hairs. Rabbit bonding is unbelievably stressful.
Secondly, let your bunny help choose their new friend. A lot of rescues and breeders allow bunny dates. During these speed dates, you’ll see which bunny personality gets along with yours the best, making bonding so much easier.
There are a few positive signs and behaviors you can look for during this initial introduction that can point toward an easier bunny bonding experience. These are:
There are also a few red-flag behaviors to watch out for. Keep in mind that they don’t mean your bunnies can’t bond, but it will take a bit longer for them to get along and a lot more effort from you.
Here are a few pre-bonding tips:
There are a few must-do’s before you attempt bunny bonding. If you’re not sure how to get started, take a look at the list below.
Introducing rabbits is stressful enough without getting hormones involved. Getting your bunnies neutered (if you have males) and spayed (if you have a female rabbit) takes the unpredictability of hormones out of the mix. Wait at least eight weeks after getting these procedures done before you attempt bonding two rabbits.
Why? It can take around eight weeks for the hormones to settle down after your bunny gets fixed. In some cases, they become even more hormonal for a few weeks before settling. A lot of aggressive behavior might be seen during this time.
Getting your rabbits fixed can be very beneficial for your beloved pets. You won’t need to worry about unplanned pregnancies, uncalled-for aggression, phantom pregnancies, hormone-related behavioral issues, and cancer of the reproductive tract.
In the case of bonding, taking hormones out of the mix means you’ll see less aggression and territorial behaviors than before. That means less chasing, humping, charging, and full-on attacking. The whole process is just so much easier, and the bunnies accept each other much faster.
It’s especially important to fix male rabbits. They run the risk of having their testicles bit off if not fixed before bonding. They also spray urine everywhere during marking, which can create quite a smelly mess.
Female rabbits can be fixed when they are around 4-6 months old. Generally, dwarf female rabbits can be fixed at four months, while giant breeds need to wait until they are six months old. This is due to dwarf and giant female rabbits maturing at different rates.
Male rabbits can be fixed when they are around 3-4 months old. Again, take the size of the breed into account. Giant breeds mature much slower than dwarf breeds.
Don’t stress. It’s still possible to bond rabbits that are not spayed or neutered. Some rabbits can’t be spayed or neutered due to a health issue or are simply too old (7+ years). For this to work, however, you need a huge area to get them to coexist peacefully.
You also need to make sure the sickly or older rabbit won't get injured by the new friend. If the health issue is very serious, rather keep them separated.
While you’re waiting for those pesky hormones to calm down, you can start to prepare a neutral space. This is an area neither bunnies have been allowed in for at least a week. Make sure the area is free from any rabbit-related smells.
If your existing cotton-tailed friend is a free-roam bun, you will need to restrict access to a part of your home for at least a full week before bonding starts. This means using a baby gate, exercise pen, or door to restrict access to the soon-to-be neutral areas.
If you’re existing bun had access to the area before, you can spray or wipe down the restricted area with white vinegar to remove any residual bunny smells. If you’re bonding outside, simply spray some white vinegar on the grass to remove any unwanted smells.
Make sure the bonding area is big enough. You will start with a very small neutral pen, but as the bonding progresses to the next stage, you will need to be able to expand the bonding area. Every time you reach the next stage, expand a bit more until your neutral pen reaches at least 2 by 2 meters (6.6 x 6.6 feet).
By Benny Mazur
You will need some things to keep yourself safe as well. Make sure you get thick gloves to separate your bunnies in case of a fight. Something like ski gloves or thick leather gloves work best.
You will also need a dustpan to separate aggressive bonding rabbits without getting yourself bitten. Once you have all that, get something like a puppy pad to place under the cage for absorbing wee. You will also need an exercise pen or something similar to restrict the space.
Bonding rabbits is a very intense experience for everyone. Make sure you are mentally prepared and act quickly when any unwanted behaviors are noticed.
You can start the bonding process before your rabbits officially meet. House rabbits separately near other rabbits in the same room. Put the other rabbit pens next to your original pen with a double fence and a bit of space between them to prevent biting through the divide. This way, they can smell other rabbits but cannot physically interact with them. Do this for a few days.
Make sure to feed your rabbit right next to the fence, as close to the other rabbits as possible. Eating together is a way of starting the bonding process without introducing rabbits. Keep in mind that most bunnies can jump 1.5 meters high. Your pens need to be high enough so that they cannot get into each other's pens and go into full attack mode.
Different rabbits may behave differently during each rabbit bonding stage. Some behaviors need to be stopped immediately, and others need to be allowed, no matter how stressful they are to watch. Let’s take a closer look at rabbit behavior when bonding.
Behaviors you should allow:
Nipping is a dominance behavior. You’ll usually see this occur around the face, eyes, and bum. The nipped bunny will jump in the air or pull away really quickly.
You might also notice nipping during grooming. Just hang in there. This behavior will lessen as the bond between your bunnies becomes more established.
Seeing clumps of fur flying everywhere can be quite stressful. This usually happens when one bunny takes hold of the other to either hold it in place or to mount it during humping.
When the second rabbit pulls away, some fur will inevitably be lost.
Mounting is more than a sexual behavior. It’s also a way to show dominance. Allow mounting as long as the bunnies take turns doing it, and never allow them to mount from the head to avoid a nip down below.
Chasing can be highly stressful to watch, but as long as both rabbits seem comfortable and relaxed, let them do it. If one starts getting defensive and aggressive, stop the chasing immediately.
Behaviors you should stop immediately:
Full-blown fighting is rare. During a fight, the bunnies stand up on their hind legs and start scratching at each other with their front paws in the air.
This can lead to eventually rolling around on the floor and biting. In many cases, one rabbit might end up screaming in fear or pain. This is highly stressful and will be a significant setback if you don’t stop the behavior in time.
Keep in mind that all bunnies are capable of fighting, and it doesn’t mean they can't bond. It only means the bonding process will take a lot longer.
Rabbits usually lunge out of fear or feeling trapped. Make sure to intercept the lunge or, better yet, prevent it from happening in the first place by redirecting your rabbit’s attention elsewhere.
Biting to draw blood should never be allowed. Small nips are okay. If you notice your bunny standing in an aggressive posture, be ready to intercept an incoming bite. Like a lunge, it’s better to distract.
If your bunnies circle each other in close-knit circles, separate them by forcing them to move around an obstacle, which can be either you or something you’re holding.
If you’ve been bonding for a while, you might be wondering if the end is in sight. Answer the following questions to make your call:
If you answered yes to all these questions, go ahead and move them into their new home. Keep in mind that you’ll need to supervise for the first 48 hours to make sure they don’t regress.
A change in environment can trigger unwanted behaviors. This is especially true if one of your bunnies lived in the area before.
Get ready to sleep next to their cage one last time (hopefully) to make sure all is well.
Congratulations! You now have bonded rabbits!
Never expect too much from your first few bonding sessions. The bunnies need time to get to know each other and relax before any kind of bond can form. Trust is earned, not just given in a day.
You might see a lot of aggressive behavior and mistrust at first, but these should reduce as they get to know each other and progress through the different rabbit bonding stages.
Not all bunnies do this, but some take grooming to the extreme. Grooming is a coping mechanism and a way to show submission. Very dominant bunnies may want to avoid grooming the others.
If you have two dominant bunnies, you might see them bowing and pressing their heads together, refusing to give in. If one doesn’t give in after about 10 seconds, break them up since it can lead to fighting.
Whoever gets groomed first will usually be the more dominant rabbit in a pair.
Despite what you believe, most rabbits can be extremely vocal, especially during bonding. Grunting can mean many things, so be ready to intervene if you hear one or both grunt. It's one of the signs of aggression, after all.
Grunting can be a warning before an attack, a way to express excitement, a way to express fear, or it can even be sexual.
Often, this behavior is due to aggression or fear when heard while bonding. As long as you don’t allow any fighting, the grunting should reduce as the bunnies start to trust each other.
If you’re confident in your ability to read your rabbit’s body language, you can use a water spray bottle to break up fights and prevent unwanted behaviors.
Keep in mind that your timing needs to be perfect for this to work. Rabbits learn quickly, so you may only need to do this a few times.
You have to spray at the exact moment the behavior takes place. The behavior you’re looking for after a spray is for the offender to stop and wash itself. If you don’t get this reaction, you need to find a new way to intervene.
Use this method sparingly! Bunnies get used to it quickly and stop caring.
There are many variations of products that can do this. Depending on your country, you might find it in the form of a spray or wipe. This product is often used to reduce stress when transporting animals.
You only need this if you have very aggressive bunnies. It should calm them enough to prevent fighting. Keep in mind that it’s only there to take the edge off and won’t stop all bad behavior.
If you’re unsure if such a product exists in your country, ask your vet for advice.
If you don’t have the time to bond with your pets, or if you’re too nervous to try it yourself, you can always get a professional to do it for you. Make sure you do your research, however, since there are lots of scammers out there.
Ask your local rabbit rescue or vets in your area to recommend someone for the task. Keep in mind they only do the groundwork for you, so they won’t be fully bonded rabbits when you get them back. It’s up to you to finish the bonding process.
Do the 48-hour test if you feel your bunnies went through all the rabbit bonding stages and are now a pair. Sleeping near their cage is essential during the test and once moved to their new home.
The change in environment might trigger some unwanted behaviors, especially if one of your buns owned this new space before.
If you’re having a lot of problems bonding, check out this Facebook group for more rabbit bonding advice.
By Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc. - Own work, CC BY 4.0
Pairing rabbits can sometimes be extremely difficult. Bonding comes with a host of different problems. You can also easily make mistakes in any of the rabbit bonding stages. Here’s how to avoid them.
If you allow unwanted behaviors, you might end up with one rabbit fearing the other. You might also have to deal with some severe injuries, so make sure to supervise and intervene when required.
If you expand before your bunnies are ready, you will do more harm than good. If unwanted behaviors haven't disappeared completely, don’t expand the cage.
Expanding often leads to an escalation of unwanted behaviors. One rabbit might try to claim the neutral space, which can lead to fighting.
If the area smells like one of the bunnies, you might notice territorial behavior and a lot of fighting. It's best to clean the area with white vinegar and prevent any bunnies from going in there for at least a week before you start bonding.
If you intervene at the wrong time, you can cause more harm than good. Make sure you know which behaviors to stop and which are okay. Some behaviors may appear extreme but are necessary for them to form a bond.
Only do stress bonding if nothing else works. It’s very rarely required and must be done by a professional.
NOTE: Stress bonding temporarily stops fighting. It doesn't bond bunnies permanently.
Stress bonding is something you should only do as an absolute last resort. You can place your bunnies in a crate together and take them on a car ride to do stress bonding. Alternatively, you can place the crate on a washing machine that's on its spinning cycle.
Another way is to turn on a vacuum cleaner right next to the crate or put them in a stroller and take them on a bumpy walk. You can also carry the carrier and bounce it around slightly.
This is very stressful for them, and they will seek comfort from the only companion available. Once done, they might bond easier, or you can create the opposite result, and they now hate each other since they associate the other bun with a negative experience, which can delay bonding.
This is another form of stress bonding since the slippery surface causes the bunnies to feel insecure. I advise against this method since it may lead to injuries.
The fact that they also can’t see what is around them might also heighten their fear response. This is not a great way to keep your rabbit healthy during bonding.
If you use this method, you’ll also need to change bonding areas since you cannot expand the bathtub. This may lead to a regression in all the progress you made.
If you’re having a very hard time bonding your bunnies, you can try forced cuddling. Place the bunnies on the floor or sofa together and pet their head together. Do this for a minimum of 10-15 minutes at a time. Make sure to wear thick gloves just in case of a nip or bite.
Do this multiple times a day, every day, until they get used to each other. Don't do forced cuddling in the bonding area. It’s only there to create a good memory to make it easier for them to accept each other.
Bonded rabbits get along peacefully, groom each other, and there’s a noticeable absence of unwanted behavior. A good way to tell is by letting them spend 48 hours together. Any unwanted behaviors like chasing, nipping, fighting, or biting mean they're not ready.
The best method to introduce rabbits is by using a bonding pen. Allow them to spend 4-12 hours in this pen under supervision. Once fighting and other unwanted behaviors cease, slowly expand the pen until it’s 2x2 meters (6.6x6.6 feet). Let your bunnies spend 48 hours together in the pen, then move them to their new home.
Let your bonded rabbits spend 48 hours in the same pen. They’re bonded when there is no unwanted behavior, such as chasing, biting, and fighting in their time together. If there's fighting, go back a step.
Rabbits can get along with other pets but don't expect bonding on the same level as bunny-to-bunny bonding. The process will also take a lot longer since you’ll be bonding with different species.
By Stamatisclan - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Clean the whole area with white vinegar to remove any smells. Do the same with any items or toys going into the new enclosure.
Put them together in the same carrier to move them to their new rabbit home and let them explore. This way, they are less likely to claim the neutral territory as their own.
Keep an eye on them for 48 hours to make sure no unwanted rabbits' behavior resurfaces. If the area is huge, limit the space and slowly increase once you're sure they're getting along.
No, it doesn’t matter if you use the same gender or a mix. All that matters is that you do the bonding process properly and get them fixed before introducing them for the first time.
Make sure to wipe everything down with white vinegar in your rabbit's personal space before introducing a second rabbit. This will remove any smells and create a neutral territory.
Allow bunnies to choose their new friends to make bonding easier even before you bring a second rabbit home. You can do this by taking your existing bunny to the shelter and letting them interact with bunnies there for a short time as a first date.
You can also adopt an already bonded pair. Choosing a new friend is simple if you take personality into account.
No, as long as you keep a close eye and make sure the bigger rabbit doesn’t injure the other smaller rabbit while humping. Everything's going well — hang in there. They'll be getting along in no time.
Bonded bunnies do everything with one another. These bonded rabbits groom each other, eat together, lay down together, and even play together. It's a beautiful thing to watch.
Now that you know a bit more about bonding, it’s time to try it for yourself. Make sure you’re well prepared, know some rabbit body language, and know which behaviors to look out for. Let me know in the comments below if you need any help and which method worked best for you.
Happy bunny bonding!