Did you just get a new rabbit as a friend for your existing bunny buddy? Then this house rabbit bonding guide is for you.
There are different rabbit bonding stages with different behaviors. To bond two rabbits properly, you need to understand the process.
Let’s take a look.
Many new rabbit owners may wonder if there are two bunnies that bond better than others. If you’re also wondering, you’ll be happy to know that gender, breed, size, and age don’t play a role when bonding rabbits.
Male and female rabbit groups are generally thought to be an easy bond, but this is not necessarily true. You can mix and match genders all you want as long as their personalities don’t clash. If you can find a submissive rabbit for a dominant bunny, you’ll most likely see a happy couple much sooner.
This is the most common group size seen in most house rabbit homes. Going through all the rabbit bonding stages with a group this size is usually very intense since only two rabbits are trying to sort out their hierarchy. Once this group is successfully bonded, you'll have a very happy pair of rabbits.
For this group, it's easy to do pre-bonding. During pre-bonding, you'll house your two rabbits a safe distance away from each other in their own territories. This way they can get used to the other's scent before introducing them. Make sure neither rabbit can get into the other's cage.
Bunny groups of three are another very popular group size. Bonding this group size is also extremely intense, and you’ll often end up with one of the rabbits on the outside of the group. Rabbits usually bond in pairs, which is why one rabbit ending up as a third-wheeler is common.
The third bunny is still part of the group, even when it seems left out. Some rabbits can even benefit from being the third wheel. These are usually the extremely dominant sort or the very old. It's usually a good idea to bond rabbits of a similar age with an older rabbit. The two rabbits of a similar age will have similar energy levels which means they will keep each other occupied while leaving the older bunny in peace.
Also keep in mind that when you bond an existing pair with a new rabbit, you will often find that the new bunny ends up “stealing” one of the rabbits from the bonded pair leaving the other as a third wheel. Many rabbit owners get very upset when this happens, so make sure you’re aware of the possibility before introducing another rabbit to the mix.
In groups of four or more rabbits, you’ll see some behaviors that only appear in larger groups. The first difference is that bonding rabbits in a group this size is a lot more relaxed. Some bunnies in this situation will instantly submit, which also speeds along the rabbit bonding process.
The total length of time it will take to bond rabbits in a large group depends on the dominant rabbit in the group. It's also possible for one of the dominant rabbits to claim one or more submissive rabbit as theirs. This can lead to some nasty fights, which usually end in the submissive rabbit getting hurt.
In large uneven groups of 5, 7, or more, you won’t see a third-wheeler. This is because the rabbits in these group sizes switch bonded pairs quite often in the time they spend together.
Once you’ve decided on your group size, it’s time to prepare for bonding.
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 got 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, 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 they are simply too old (7+ years). For this to work, however, you need a really big area to get them to coexist peacefully.
You also need to make sure the rabbit with health problems 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.
Just before you start bonding, you can set up the bonding area. To start with, the area should be just big enough to allow all the rabbits to stretch out. This means that an area meant to bond 4 bunnies will be a lot bigger than one meant for two rabbits.
Place hay and something absorbent like a puppy pad on the bottom of the cage. Avoid food bowls since they might fight over them. You can also add either a water bowl or two water bottles. It’s better to add bottles since anything in the bottom of the cage could potentially cause injury.
Now you’re finally ready to start bonding.
There are a few ways to bond bunnies, but not all of them are recommended for a lasting bond. If you’re wondering which method to use, take a look at the list below.
If you’re a bit nervous about bonding rabbits on your own, this method is recommended for you. This method allows you to try to bond over short periods starting with a meet and greet before moving on to longer sessions. Here’s how to set up rabbit dates:
Make sure to set up your bonding pen in a neutral area. Place your bunnies in each other's company for a maximum of 10 minutes for their first time together. Here's how to gradually increase the time over the next week:
Day 1: 10 minutes
Day 2: 20 minutes
Day 3: 30 minutes
Day 4: 1 hour
Day 5: 2 hours
Day 6: 3 hours
Day 7: 4 hours
Once you reach 4 hours, you can keep it at that for a while. 4 hours is the minimum bonding time required per day to bond two rabbits. It is, however, recommended to bond for 8 to 12 hours a day toward the end of the bonding process. This way you know the bond is solid before you call your buns best friends.
This is a very slow bonding method. If you feel a bit impatient, try the next method.
By Reinhold Möller, CC BY-SA 4.0
For this method, you’ll be placing your bunnies together for at least 4-12 hours a day from the start. You’ll need to keep a close eye when they are together, so make sure you have the time every day. When you cannot watch them, or at night when you go to bed, you need to separate them.
Make sure not to bond for less than 4 hours a day. If you do, it will take a lot longer for the bond to become established. Once they're getting along, your bunnies should be able to stay in each other's company for at least 8 to 12 hours every day. If they can be trusted together in the same enclosure for that amount of time, you’ve been successful and can attempt to move them into their permanent home.
This method is the best one to start with, but you can always switch to a different method if it doesn’t work for you.
This is the most intense bonding method. Don't separate them again once placed together. Keep an eye on them for several hours on the first day. You’ll also need to sleep right next to the neutral territory until they've established a pecking order and are fully bonded. This can take anything from two weeks to a few months.
This bonding method works the fastest. Unfortunately, it’s only recommended for bunnies that behave from the start. If not, you won’t be getting any sleep at all. Spend some time figuring out if this works for you, otherwise switch to one of the other methods.
You also run the risk of your fluffy friends getting bored in the small spaces with no hiding places and acting out as a result. Prepare for fights at dusk and dawn. That's when they are most active.
Rabbits find ways to get into trouble even when you think it's impossible.
Before starting, you will need to make sure your bunnies are spayed and neutered and have been apart for at least 8 weeks after the surgery to allow the hormones to settle. Choose a method above and apply the steps below to bond your bunnies.
You can start the bonding process before your rabbits officially meet. Simply 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.
While their hormones settle, you can set up a rabbit bonding cage in a neutral area of your home. The area needs to be big enough for you to slowly expand the area. Eventually, your bonding pen will be around 2x2 meters (6.6 x 6.6 feet).
You can clear the area of any smells by spraying white vinegar on the pen, floor, and any other accessories like the water bottles. Wipe the vinegar away or let it dry for the best results. If you’re bonding outside, a nice rainstorm should clean away any smells. You can also spray white vinegar on the grass to clear any residual smells.
The starting size of the pen will depend on your bonding group. An area for two bunnies will be a lot smaller than one for 5 bunnies.
If you don't have a neutral area, try using a friend's house for bonding.
Place all your bunnies into the bonding area at the same time or as close to the same time as possible. The best way is to have them in carriers and release them into the pen at the same time. If you don’t do this, one rabbit will claim the area before you can add the rest.
If you’re using carriers, make sure to remove them immediately to prevent fighting inside of one.
If your fluffy friends were housed near each other, they might smell familiar to each others and fight less. You can increase the likelihood of them knowing the other's smell by swapping cage items.
You will need to be on standby. Make sure you’ve read the section on bonding behavior to know when you need to step in to stop fighting. To prevent bites, wear thick gloves. Emotional preparation is key, it can be nerve-wracking to just watch.
You can also stop fights by turning a vacuum cleaner on right next to the pen. If they start to attack you, establish dominance by holding both down until they stop struggling.
Once your rabbits start to accept each other in the small space, you can gradually expand the pen. Make sure to read the section on rabbit bonding stages to know how often you should expand the neutral territory.
By the time you’ve reached the maximum pen size, there shouldn’t be any bad behaviors left and your bunnies should be trusted with each other 100%.
Now that you’ve reached the maximum pen size, you can start to introduce some rabbit toys and other items. Make sure to wipe the item down with white vinegar before the introduction. Also, make sure to only do one item at a time.
If there's no bad behavior and they didn't fight over the items you placed into the rabbit bonding cage, you can now move them to their new home. Clean all items inside their new pen as well as the pen itself, the floor, and walls with white vinegar.
Also, make sure the litter boxes are properly scrubbed or even replaced. Litter boxes carry the most scent of anything in the pen.
Move your bunnies over and keep an eye on them for at least 24 hours. If no new behaviors surface you’ve succeeded in bonding your pet rabbits. Congratulations, you've gone through all the rabbit bonding stages and now have a bonded pair of pet rabbits!
If your bunnies have a very large pen or free roam, make sure to only give them access to a part of the pen at a time. This will prevent one rabbit from claiming an area or litter box before the other can explore it. Gradually expand the new pen until it reached its full size.
Make sure not to move your bunnies around too much. The bond can be unstable for the first few months.
When pairing your bunnies, there are a few stages they will go through. The first thing we’ll discuss is the size of the rabbit bonding cage.
This is the recommended size to start with. The area should be just big enough that all the rabbits in the bonding group can stretch out comfortably and flop. Keep in mind that the area will vary in size depending on how many bunnies you’re bonding at once.
Usually, bonding averaged-sized bunnies in a group of 2-3 you’ll need a pen that is around 60x60 to 70x70 cm (24x24 -28x28 inches). If you have smaller bunnies, your pen will need to be smaller and with larger bunnies or larger groups, you’ll also need more space.
Small bonding pens put the rabbits at ease since they don’t feel like they need to guard themselves in a large unknown space with a complete stranger. It’s also much easier to break up fights and thus works best for very territorial buns.
I know some people don’t like seeing their fluffy friends in such a small space, but rest assured that this setup is very temporary. As soon as the bunnies start to get along better, the area will expand. This setup also doesn’t work well for very aggressive buns. Expect some injuries.
By Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc. - Own work, CC BY 4.0
Big areas work better for bonding groups with very aggressive bunnies. When I say ‘big area’, I don’t mean let them roam free and hope there isn’t any fighting. You still need to be able to control their behavior. By ‘big area’, I mean a pen with a minimum size of 1x1 meter (3.3x3.3 feet) running space.
This size pen allows the rabbits to get away from each other if and when required. It will also calm overly aggressive buns since they won't feel forced to interact with the rest of the group. In turn, you should see less fighting, but a lot more chasing.
Unfortunately, it may also become a lot more difficult to break up serious fights and prevent unwanted behaviors. It’s also possible to end up in a situation where they simply refuse to interact and avoid each other. Switch to a smaller pen if you want a fully functional bunny home faster.
Now the important question is, how do you know when to expand the bonding pen? It is recommended to expand your pen by 10 to 20 cm (4-7 inches) every 2 to 3 days if your fluffy friends get along great. Don't expand if unwanted behavior is present. Get it under control first.
Once you reach 2x2 meters (6.6 x 6.6 feet) you can prepare your newly bonded rabbits for their new home. Keep in mind that you’ll most likely always see unwanted behavior as soon as you expand the pen. Make sure you’re ready just in case.
Pens are expanded due to the lack of unwanted behavior, and not because you notice positive behavior. Good behaviors like mutual grooming will happen in time so don’t be too worried if they don’t interact in loving ways.
Bonding rabbits is a very long process that can take weeks or even months so don’t feel disheartened if you can’t expand the pen for weeks on end. Also, make sure you stick to the same bonding area every time. Changing the area often leads to major setbacks since the bond is so fragile at this point.
Different rabbits may behave differently toward a new bunny. 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 become more established.
Fighting is when 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 extremely stressful and will be a major 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.
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 not want to groom the others.
If you have two dominant bunnies, you might see them 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.
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 of them 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 bad 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.
Don't overuse this method. Bunnies get used to it pretty 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 product 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.
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 serious 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 these 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.
Don't do stress bonding unless nothing else works. It’s very rarely required and must be done by a professional. Stress bonding temporarily stops fighting. It doesn't bond bunnies permanently.
This is something you should only do as an absolute last resort. To do this, you can place your bunnies in a crate together and take them on a car ride. You can also alternatively place the crate on a washing machine that's on.
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 simply carry the carrier and bounce them 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.
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!
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 means 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 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 two rabbits. 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 very big, 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 you introduce them for the first time.
Make sure to wipe everything down with white vinegar in your rabbit's personal space before you introduce 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 larger rabbit doesn’t injure the other 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 really beautiful thing to watch.