Bonding rabbits is never an easy experience. The rabbits always have a way of complicating the process before finally deciding to get along. The complicated bonding process means that there are many ways that we, as mediators, can make mistakes along the way. From setting up their space incorrectly to misreading the rabbit’s body language, we could inadvertently be making the bonding process take twice as long as it needs to.
Personally, I’ve made a lot of mistakes while bonding rabbits. Don’t feel guilty if you have as well. Instead, we can take the time to learn from each other to make bonding rabbits easier for the next person. I hope you will be able to learn from my mistakes so you can more easily help your rabbits be best friends.
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1. Starting bonding sessions too soon
Even though you may be eager to get started bonding your two rabbits as soon as you bring your new bunny home, this is often a mistake that can lead to extra stress for your rabbits.
When you first bring your second rabbit home, I’ve learned that it’s best to wait a few days, or even a week, before starting the actual bonding sessions. This will give your new rabbit a little bit of time to get acclimated to their new environment and de-stress a little. It will also give the two rabbits a little time to get used to the other’s scent.
During this time you will keep the rabbits separate, but give them a chance to interact with each other through enclosure bars. You may want to set up ‘nose guards’ along the sides of your rabbit’s enclosures so that if they get aggressive they won’t bite each other’s noses. I used some of these mesh cubes (found on Amazon). I zip-tied the squares together to create a barrier around the enclosure gates. This way my rabbits could more easily interact through the gates without any risk of hurting each other.
2. Starting at the wrong time of day
The time of day that you start your first bonding sessions can be very important for helping your rabbits make a good first impression. If you first put them together in their neutral space in the morning or evening, when the rabbits will be most active, then they are more likely to get agitated with each other and act out aggressively.
Instead, it’s best to make those first few sessions with your rabbits in the middle of the afternoon. While it doesn’t guarantee your rabbits will have a good first session together, this tends to be a sleepy time of day for rabbits. They’ll be more likely to want to settle down and go back to sleep. In turn, this can end up helping your rabbits trust each other more right from the start. They need to have some trust in the other rabbit if they are willing to sleep around each other.
Of course, before they are fully bonded you will want to make sure they have experience together during all times of the day. You’ll want to know how they react to each other when they are more energetic. However, keeping the initial sessions in the afternoon start your rabbit’s relationship off on the right foot.
3. The space isn’t neutral enough
When choosing a space to use as neutral bonding territory, you’ll need to be careful to make sure the area is neutral enough that your rabbits won’t feel any ownership of the area. This includes making sure there is nothing in the neutral space that might smell like either bunny.
I made this mistake when I forgot to consider the scent on towels in the bathroom when I started bonding my rabbits. Before use, the towels were kept in an area near my first rabbit’s home, so they must have made the bathroom smell like her. Because of this, that first session went poorly, with my first rabbit getting territorial and aggressive toward the new bunny.
This is often more of a problem for female rabbits, who tend to be more territorial. While it’s always good to take precautions, you can usually get away with a lot more when you are bringing a second bunny into a male rabbit’s home.
4. Not planning ahead with enough supplies
There are a lot of extra sets of supplies you need for bonding rabbits. You need a set of supplies for each rabbit’s enclosure setup, and you need two sets of supplies for the neutral territory as well. This means having multiple ex-pens, litter boxes, food bowls, hiding houses, and sets of toys available for your rabbits and their bonding locations.
If you don’t plan and order these supplies before starting the bonding process, you may find yourself paying a lot extra in shipping as you try to overnight the deliveries.
5. Trying to multitask
Rabbits’ demeanors around each other can very quickly go from zero to a hundred. One minute the rabbits are relaxing and laying down, the next they’re attacking each other. This means one moment of distraction from you, means you can’t intervene in time to prevent a rabbit fight.
As much as you might wish to use this time bonding rabbits to multitask and get some work done, it’s much safer to keep a very close eye on your rabbits. This is especially true during the early stages of bonding. When your rabbits are still sizing each other up and getting used to each other, there is a higher chance that one of them will suddenly become aggressive.
As you move to the later stages of rabbit bonding, when your rabbits are spending many hours a day together, you will naturally have more trust in your rabbit’s relationship. You still want to keep an eye on your rabbits and never leave them unsupervised, but as you gain this trust it’s okay to find other tasks that you can do simultaneously.
6. Getting involved too often
As difficult as it is to stand by and watch, you need to let your rabbits work through their relationship. Obviously, it’s important to be a mediator and intervene when your rabbits are acting aggressively, but many behaviors are not actually aggressive even if they appear to be. During these times, you need to take a step back and let your rabbits work through their relationship.
Some of the behaviors that might seem aggressive even when they are not, include:
- Chasing: This is the most confusing behavior to watch since it seems like one rabbit is trying to attack the other. In reality, this is just one way the rabbit is trying to claim dominance. If the second rabbit is running away and not turning to fight back, then they are accepting the other as the top bun. If the chasing goes on for more than 30 seconds, then it’s time to break them up. The longer the chasing goes on, the more likely the second rabbit will change their mind and fight back.
- Humping: Humping is another dominance behavior between rabbits, and it can happen even between rabbits of the same gender. Like with chasing, you can let this happen for 30 seconds before breaking it up, to prevent the bottom rabbit from getting frustrated.
- Nipping/fur pulling: A small amount of nipping and fur pulling is to be expected as the rabbits learn to communicate with each other. As long as this behavior is not frequent and one rabbit is not trying to aggressively bite the other rabbit, then it’s not something to worry about.
7. Not enough positive reinforcement
On the other hand, if your rabbits are showing a lot of aggressive behaviors toward each other or if either one seems terrified and anxious around the other rabbit, stepping in to give your rabbits positive reinforcement next to each other can help the relationship improve. Do this by placing your rabbits side by side or nose to nose (on the floor or in a box/carrier) and pet them side by side for 10 minutes. This gives your rabbits the pleasant feelings of being pet while they are together and smelling each other.
When bonding my two rabbits, one of them (Teddy Bear) was terrified of the other due to early aggressive behavior. Since the other rabbit was no longer acting aggressively, I needed to convince Teddy Bear that she was a friend and safe to be around.
What helped the most was spending an hour with my rabbits just petting them next to each other. Every time one would approach the other, I would pet them for a minute side-by-side. Then I would remove my hands, allow them to separate, and repeat when one approached the other again. This helped Teddy Bear start to feel that any time the two of them were close, he would be rewarded. It successfully helped him overcome his fear of the other rabbit.
8. Not taking the rabbit’s lifestyle into account
Before bonding, my home rabbit had a free roam lifestyle. She was used to having as much time as she wanted every day to play and explore in a large amount of space. The problem with traditional bonding techniques is they don’t take into account a free roam lifestyle. Since free roam rabbits are more and more common nowadays, this can lead to problems for many people trying to find a friend for their bunny.
If you don’t take this lifestyle into account, your rabbit is likely to get frustrated with the limited amount of space they have during the bonding process. Without making adjustments to the bonding technique you’re using, your free roam rabbit will likely take out their frustration on your new bunny.
I wrote a whole article about the process I used to bond my free roam rabbit after the traditional techniques failed. The most important lesson I learned was to make sure you increase the space as your rabbits spend more time together. This will help to make sure both rabbits are still able to have a pleasant experience around the other rabbit. Because if the rabbits can’t be happy around each other, they won’t easily bond.
9. Not cleaning thoroughly enough
When it comes time to move your rabbit back into their forever-together space, you don’t want to do a halfhearted job with the cleaning. Rabbits claim their territory and recognize their surroundings largely through their scent. This means, to successfully integrate your rabbits into their home, you need to erase any scent they left behind.
To clean your rabbit’s area, I recommend using a vinegar cleaning solution. Add 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water to an empty spray bottle and shake to combine. Vinegar does an excellent job at getting rid of any scent in an area.
Use this vinegar solution to thoroughly clean your rabbit’s enclosure and exercise space. This means cleaning the floor, the pen fences, the furniture, and any other objects in the area. Take the time to be as thorough as you can to prevent your rabbits from being territorial when they are put back together.
10. Being unprepared for setbacks
Bonding rabbits is never a straight line of progress. One day they will be grooming each other and loving each other, then the next a fight might ensue. As frustrating and stressful as it is, it’s important to remember that this is normal and expected. This is why it’s important to continue to supervise your rabbits even when they seem to be doing okay. You’ll want to be able to intervene if things start to go south.
Just like in any relationship, rabbits will sometimes have arguments and disagreements. As time goes on, they’ll get better at communicating and any outbursts should happen less and less frequently. Be prepared mentally for the emotional rollercoaster. Just because your rabbits are having a bad day doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong or that it will never work out. Stick with it and your rabbits will be okay in the end.
11. Rushing the rabbits
The biggest mistake you can make is becoming impatient with your rabbits and trying to rush the process. If you move on too soon or try to move your rabbits in together when they are not ready, you can easily end up with two unhappy, fighting bunnies.
The best advice I was given when bonding my rabbits was to stick with what’s working. Once you find a bonding scenario that works for your rabbits, where they get along and show positive signs around each other, stick with it longer than you think you need to.
For me, this meant I kept my rabbits together full time in their neutral territory for an entire week before moving them back to the rabbit room. Because they were finally getting along and I didn’t want to risk more territorial behavior, I slept on the couch and let them stay where they were. While this may have been more than was necessary, it’s better to go slow and take more time than you need than to be impatient and rush your rabbits.