Bonding is never a straight forward process. You can do all the research in the world and still have no clue what to do when your two rabbits won’t get along. Bonding becomes even more difficult when you are trying to bring a second bunny into the home of a free roam rabbit. The guides you find online are all geared toward rabbits who are used to living in a hutch or enclosure for most of the day, so there is very little knowledge about bonding rabbits who live freely in your home.
To bond free roam rabbits, you’ll need to create a neutral environment that will be large enough to give your rabbit a sense of freedom and fun during the process. You’ll also need to spend extra time to thoroughly clean the original rabbits territory before the two can move in together.
What I realized when bonding my free roam rabbit with her new partner was that if the two rabbits were not happy they would never get along long term. While trying the traditional bonding techniques worked when the two rabbits were together for a short time, my free roam rabbit quickly got frustrated when kept in a pen for long hours at a time. She would take her frustration out on the new bunny, causing a dangerous bonding situation.
I had to put a temporary end to the bonding and try again after I had time to reconsider the best way to approach bonding a free roam rabbit. This is the technique I came up with that worked out in the long run.
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How to keep your two rabbits separate
Before your rabbits are bonded, they’ll need to be kept in separate areas to prevent fighting. Normally, you would simply have two separate side-by-side enclosures that you set up for your rabbits, but that’s not always the best solution for a rabbit who’s used to free roaming the house all day long. Suddenly being kept in a very small area for most of the day, can be frustrating for the rabbit and can make bonding more difficult because they take their anger out on the second bunny.
For free roam rabbits you’ll need to get creative in where you keep them while they are not being bonded. No matter what you choose, you want to make sure the setup is secure so that the two rabbits will not be able to sneak into the other rabbit’s area and start a fight. It’s also best if you can make sure the two rabbits are still able to see and smell each other during their time in their separate areas. This will help them become more familiar with the second rabbit.
Switch to ex-pens
The first option is to use large exercise pens to keep your rabbits separate while you time-share the free roam area. While you’ll still have to keep your free roam rabbit in an enclosure for part of the day so the new bunny can get time to exercise, they’ll still be able to have a large portion of the day to maintain their lifestyle.
How I managed this was by letting my original free roam rabbit have access to the whole room overnight and through the morning. Then during afternoon nap time, I would switch the two rabbits so the new bunny would have time out to exercise until late in the evening. Since the two separate pens were in the same room, that meant that my two rabbits were still able to see each other and sniff each other, but they couldn’t get at each other to hurt each other in any way.
Some people will also suggest keeping only the new rabbit in a pen while your original rabbit continues to have free roam of their area since the new rabbit is probably not used to having so much space just yet. You’ll have to make this choice based on the personalities and energy levels of your rabbits, but try to make sure the new rabbit gets some time out to exercise every day, even if it’s not as much as your first rabbit.
Use separate rooms
If you have a home with multiple rooms that you can use for your rabbits, it may be easier to simply set up your rabbit areas in two separate rooms across a hallway. Put a pet gate on the door so your rabbits can’t hurt one another, but are still able to see each other through the doorway.
This setup can work best if you expect the bonding to be especially difficult. It can be tedious to maintain that daily switching of free roam space over the long term, so if you believe the process will take more than a couple months, try this setup. This way, the two rabbits will both have plenty of space to live in the meantime. If, for some reason, the bonding never works out, you’ll also be able to maintain two separate rabbit rooms more easily.
Divide the room in half
Dividing your rabbits free roam room or territory in half with a gate (an exercise pen stretching across the length of the room) is another option. This is probably the least convenient for you, because you’ll have to constantly climb over the gate to get from one rabbit to the other. Additionally if you don’t have ways of securing the gate at the edges of the room, this method leaves the biggest chance for a breach in security, with one rabbit making their way onto the other side.
However, this method does have its advantages. You won’t have to worry about time-sharing their exercise time, preventing any potential frustration from not having enough time to roam around. It also gives your rabbits a wide area where they can see and interact from either side of the fence. Instead of only being able to see each other through a small doorway, the two rabbits will be able to get used to seeing each other along the whole length of the room.
Finding neutral territory
Neutral territory is another aspect of bonding free roam rabbits that can be difficult to come by. When house rabbits are kept in an enclosure, they typically will only feel territorial toward their living space and maybe their exercise room as well. However, free roam rabbits might feel ownership over the entire place, feeling the instinct to attack any other rabbit who enters the home. My Elusive has even followed me into the bathroom, so that’s not always an option either.
While there have been some people who manage to bond their free roam rabbit despite having no neutral territory, this has a very high potential to not work out. It’s always best when bonding rabbits to introduce them and begin bonding in a place where neither rabbit will feel ownership.
Some possibilities include:
- A large bathroom or kitchen. If your rabbit doesn’t go into the bathroom or kitchen, these can be great areas to set up large neutral spaces. They can also be thoroughly cleaned with relative ease, making it easier to get rid of your original rabbit’s scent in the area.
- A friend’s house. If there are no neutral spaces in your home, try to get the help of a friend or family member. See if they’ll allow you to stay there with your rabbits for a couple weeks while you get the rabbits bonded.
- Blocking off an area of the home ahead of time. If you know you are going to be welcoming a new rabbit soon, try blocking off a room or large section of your home from your original rabbit. Clean the area thoroughly and keep your rabbit out of it for a least a couple months. This should make the area more foreign and neutral when it comes time to bond.
- Wait until you move. This is what I did. I knew I was only going to be living in my apartment for another year, so I waited until I moved out to get another rabbit and bond them. You can also bring another rabbit home first, but keep them separate until you move. Then start the bonding process.
What to expect
As much as I do believe that free roam rabbits can be bonded with a new bunny, it’s important to make sure you temper your expectations. Getting impatient with your rabbit can end up causing the bonding to go downhill. You may even have to take a break and start all over, so make sure to take it just one step at a time and wait for your rabbits to be ready, no matter how long it takes.
- Expect more territorial behavior. Free roam rabbits will likely feel ownership of a large territory. Be ready to prevent any aggressive behavior that may follow by using a dustbin, broom, or heavily gloved hand to separate the rabbits.
- Expect it to take more time. Expect it to take a number of months to bond your rabbit. Plan for a drawn out process that may take two to six months or even longer.
- Don’t underestimate your role. Your original rabbit is likely very closely bonded to you already. If you completely step out of the picture, they’ll be confused and upset. It’s important to make sure you still spend some time with your rabbit apart from bonding.
Bonding free roam rabbits
This is the technique that I used for bonding my free roam rabbit. This method was used after attempting a more traditional bonding method, so there was already a little bit of history between the two rabbits. already I was dealing with one rabbit who was mildly territorial and one who was very anxious, but neither were extremely aggressive. You may have to adjust the technique depending on your rabbits personalities and the way they interact with each other.
For this technique, I recommend having two or three exercise pens available so that you can easily and quickly increase your rabbit’s space in a neutral territory. You can usually find these in the dog section at pet stores or purchase these ex-pens online.
To find out more about other bonding techniques and the behaviors to expect during bonding, check out my article going over all the basics of bonding.
1. Start small for short periods of time
This bonding technique starts in the same way as more traditional bonding. You’ll want to start your rabbits in a small neutral space for a short amount of time. You can put your rabbits in a carrier together (one that opens from the top), use a laundry basket, or a box with just enough space for the two of them. During the first 2-3 sessions you will spend 10-15 minutes of stress bonding, followed by 10-15 minutes in the same small space, but without the stress.
What is stress bonding? This is when you purposefully put your rabbit into somewhat scary situations so that they will comfort each other and gain some trust in each other. Common scenarios include bringing them on a short car ride, putting them in a laundry basket on top of a washing machine, carrying your rabbits around the house (in the box/carrier), or running the vacuum around a box on the floor.
In the time after the stress bonding, you’ll want to help your rabbits calm down by petting them next to each other inside their box or carrier. You can stop petting them for a couple minutes at a time to see how the rabbits interact with each other. After a few minutes, they may start to move around. Be ready to intervene if they act aggressively toward each other, but usually the small space prevents any fighting.
After the first few sessions, you can skip the stress bonding if the two rabbits are not acting aggressively toward each other. Instead go straight to half an hour in the small space, petting them for a few minutes at a time every now and then. Every day, increase the amount of time they spend together until they can be in the small space for an hour without any concerning behavior.
2. Give your rabbits more space
Now it’s time to take the jump and move your rabbits into a larger, neutral space. I started with the size of one exercise pen (approximately 4 by 4 feet). This was a small enough space that I could monitor the rabbits and prevent fights without it being too small. When setting up this new space, I also included two litter boxes and a number of fun toys and treats scattered around to make the area fun for rabbits.
The first day, plan for a short session of only 15-30 minutes. Spend the first and last 5 minutes of their time petting the rabbits side by side (or nose to nose) to help encourage good feelings toward each other. Every day, increase the amount of time they spend together until they are able to be together in the space for 2-3 hours without any serious incidents.
After this, you’ll want to start giving your rabbits more space. Use the second and third exercise pens to increase their space together by 1-2 feet every day. You’ll also want to continue to increase the amount of time they spend together during this time. Continue to go inside the pen and pet your rabbits together occasionally. This was the technique that helped my one scared rabbit the most in learning to trust my other bunny.
Make sure to end each session on a positive note. You can pet them together at the end of each session, feed them leafy greens together, or just make sure that their last encounter was a positive one. This will make it more likely that tomorrow’s session will also go well.
Keep up this technique until your rabbits have as much space as you can give them (while still being neutral) and they can spend 10-12 hours a day together.
3. Keep them in the neutral space together for a week
Now that your rabbits are getting along, it’s time to put them together 24/7 in their neutral territory. It’s vitally important that you have as large a space as possible set up for them through the process in step 2. If the space is too small, it’s likely that your rabbit who is used to having free roam of the home will become frustrated and may take it out on the other rabbit.
You want to put them together in a neutral space for a week as a way to solidify their bond. In traditional bonding only one or two nights together are usually enough, but I found that this was not long enough for my free roam rabbit. She became territorial again once we went back to her original space, so we needed to go a whole week together in the neutral territory.
During this time, the rabbits should continue to get close together. Make sure you are still spending time with them and keeping their routine as normal as possible. This will help the rabbits to feel more comfortable even while they are away from their ‘home.’ You’ll also want to make sure you sleep within hearing distance of the two rabbits, just in case something happens overnight.
4. Thoroughly clean the free roam space
During this week that your rabbits spend together, you want to take the time to clean the free roam space in its entirety. Anything that the rabbits might have sniffed or rubbed their chins on needs to be wiped down or temporarily shut away in a closet. Don’t take any shortcuts here. Everything needs to be cleaned.
I found that the easiest way to tackle this was by using a spray bottle with a vinegar and water solution. Add 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water and shake it to make a cleaner that is excellent at getting rid of rabbit scent.
I sprayed this solution on everything on the ground level, including rabbit habitat objects, bookshelves, furniture legs, and even the wall. Then I wiped the objects down with a sponge to make sure everything was thoroughly coated in the vinegar and water solution. I also sprayed down material objects, such as their cat tower, the sofa, chair, and even the entire carpet to make sure there were no scents left behind.
Then, once everything had been cleaned and deodorized, I took the time to rearrange all of the furniture in the room. Rearranging the furniture can make the entire room look unfamiliar to a rabbit who only sees it from ground level. Between getting rid of their scent and moving the furniture, you are trying to prevent your rabbit from feeling like they know and own the place.
5. Move in one section at a time
After your rabbits have been together for an entire week and their room has been thoroughly cleaned, it’s time to move them in together. Use all of the supplies that they had together in their neutral area, and not the objects they had in their individual set ups. So the litter boxes, food bowls, toys, and other habitat items they shared should be moved in with the rabbits.
Instead of moving the rabbits into the entire free roam area at once, you’ll want to use the exercise pens again to section off the space. This will help them get used to the new area together slowly and hopefully prevent the rabbits from getting familiar with the area and getting territorial again.
I started by giving my rabbits about two exercise pens worth of space. Then increase it by another pen size every day. I took six days to slowly open up more of the room to my rabbits, but depending on the size of their space, you may not need to take as much time.
After your rabbits are behaving in their always together home, you can start to bring back some of their old toys that you couldn’t clean. The more time they spend together, they less likely that they’ll react to objects that have the other rabbit’s scent.