You’ve heard that rabbits tend to be happier in pairs and groups of their own kind, so you’re thinking about bringing a second rabbit home. However, the idea of bonding your pet rabbits sounds daunting and overwhelming. That fear is not completely unfounded. Bonding rabbits can be an incredibly difficult and stressful process (but not always). However, you can find a friend for your rabbit if you take the time to plan and prepare for bonding.
It usually takes between two weeks and two months to bond a pair of rabbits. The process should always take place in a neutral territory and all rabbits involved should already be spayed or neutered. Above all be patient with your rabbits. It is tempting to move too quickly. Take it slow and give your rabbits time to work out their disagreements.
There are many different techniques for bonding that we will go over in this article. You can choose whichever technique you want to get started, but if the bonding is not working, try moving to a different technique and see how it goes. While I can’t make the promise that any two rabbits can be bonded, most can learn to coexist with enough time and patience.
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When to get a second rabbit
While it is an excellent idea to find a friend for your rabbit, there is actually a lot you need to consider before making this important decision. Don’t get another rabbit just because you think you should. If you’re not prepared, bonding can easily end up in heartbreak rather than the happy bunny family you want.
Maybe someone on the internet told you that your rabbit will never be happy unless they are bonded. This is simply not true. Rabbits can be happy with a human or other animal companion if they are given enough attention and socialization.
That being said, rabbits are social animals and it is much easier for them to meet their social needs with another rabbit as a partner. If you take the time to introduce and bond your rabbit with another bunny friend, it is usually beneficial to their mental health and will cause your rabbit to be overall happier.
What do you need to consider before deciding when to bring home a second rabbit?
- How much time are you spending with your rabbit? If you find you’re leaving your rabbit alone for most of the day despite your best intentions, you may want to get them a friend to prevent loneliness and depression.
- Are you able to keep the rabbits separately? Before rabbits are bonded, they need to be housed separately, otherwise they are likely to fight and injure each other.
- Do you have the resources to take care of two rabbits? While cost of owning a second rabbit may not double since you can buy in bulk, it can still increase significantly.
- Is your rabbit happy? If your rabbit shows signs that they are happy and content, then there is no urgency for getting a second rabbit.
- Are all rabbits involved spayed or neutered? It is very difficult to bond rabbits who have not been fixed, even litter mates often end up fighting.
- Can you handle the added time and stress of bonding rabbits? If you are going through a stressful period at work or in your personal life, you may want to wait until things have calmed down before adding the stress of bonding rabbits.
- Do you have neutral space available? Rabbits should be bonded in a neutral area that neither rabbit will consider their own territory.
- How old is your rabbit? As rabbits get older, they become less able to handle stress, so bonding may end up causing health problems for an elderly rabbit.
What to expect from bonding rabbits
Bonding is a stressful process. You will be stressed, and your rabbits will be stressed. Almost inevitably, you will experience setbacks along the way, making you wonder why you decided this was a good idea to begin with. Even more confusing, every bonding is different so there is no set of rules you can follow that will 100% lead you to success.
If you are new to bonding rabbits, the whole idea of it can feel overwhelming. All of the information out there can seem confusing and contradictory. Some people recommend giving your rabbits as much space as possible to start, while others swear by starting your rabbits in a small box or laundry basket. Some people will tell you to start with short sessions, while others will insist that it’s best to jump in for hours right from the start. Any of these techniques might be right for you. The bonding process that you choose will depend on the personalities of the rabbits involved and the amount of time you have.
This is not to scare you away from ever getting a second rabbit, but instead to be realistic. It will be a stressful and potentially confusing process, both for you and the rabbits, as you figure out how to help your rabbits to coexist peacefully. But in the end if you stick with it, you’ll have a happy pair of bonded rabbits.
Why is bonding necessary for rabbits?
Rabbits are very territorial animals. They have an instinct to defend their territory. This means that if you immediately place a second rabbit into your original rabbit’s home, they will likely end up fighting. The new rabbit is a complete stranger and it will take time to build up trust.
Instead you need to slowly introduce the two rabbits in a neutral territory that neither will feel ownership of. This will allow the rabbits to develop a friendship without the instinct to defend their space. Once they become close enough friends and can live together without fighting, then they are bonded and can be together full time without supervision.
Rabbits are also hierarchical by nature. In almost every relationship, one rabbit will be the more dominant bunny. However, they are not necessarily going to agree on who gets to be dominant right away. If neither rabbit backs down, they may end up fighting until they work out their disagreement. Your job in bonding is to make sure the rabbits don’t hurt each other during the process.
How long should it take to bond rabbits?
On average, bonding two rabbits will take anywhere from two weeks to two months. However, you will very rarely find two rabbits who are able to get along right away. In other cases, the rabbits will take many months or even years to be bonded.
It depends on the personalities of the rabbits involved and the amount of time you are able spend on bonding them. However long it takes, it’s important that you stay patient and avoid rushing the process. It’s better to spend more time than necessary on a stage of bonding, than to rush the rabbits and have to start over from the beginning.
Be prepared to have two rabbits living separately
Sometimes no matter what we do, the two rabbits just won’t get along. You need to be prepared from the start for this scenario. Whether it’s planning to have two separate enclosures permanently in different areas of the home or having an agreement with a family member or shelter to give the new rabbit a place to stay if the bonding doesn’t work out. With enough time, the bonding will usually stick, but it’s important to be prepared with a plan in case it does not.
Will your rabbit stop loving you?
A lot of people who have a very close bond with their original rabbit will worry that they won’t show the same kind of affection after a new bunny is introduced. In almost all cases, you have nothing to worry about. Rabbits who are friendly and have a special bond with a human will continue to show affection.
That doesn’t mean your relationship will be exactly the same, however. Think of it like bringing a new baby into a family that previously only had one child. The first child will still love their parents, but they’ll have another separate relationship with the younger sibling and the family dynamics will change a little.
Setting up for bonding success
If you want to successfully bond two rabbits, you’ll need to make some preparations and do some planning. These will be important steps that will give you a better chance of success no matter what technique you use for bonding, so don’t skip the preparation and planning stage.
Pre-bonding bunny dating
If at all possible, you want to try introducing your rabbit to a number of other rabbits so that your bunny can help to choose their own partner. Not all rabbits have compatible personalities, and it’s impossible to predict who your rabbit will easily get along with if they haven’t been introduced.
Many animal shelters will be able to facilitate this kind of bunny speed dating, especially those that specialize in small animals. You may also be able to set up a foster to adopt agreement, where you foster rabbits and adopt one if they seem like a good match for your bunny.
When looking for a potential partner for your rabbit most people agree that it’s usually easier to bond a male and a female rabbit together, rather than rabbits of the same gender. However same-sex pairs can also work. It’s more about the individual personalities of the rabbits involved. In general, it’s harder to bring any rabbit (whether male or female) into a home where the original rabbit is female. They tend to be more territorial, so it’s more difficult to convince a female to live with another rabbit.
The size and age of the rabbits generally don’t affect their ability to get along, but you might want to look for a rabbit with similar energy levels. If one rabbit is much more active than the other, it may end up causing friction in the relationship when one rabbit wants to play, but the other just wants to cuddle.
Neutering your rabbits
Before getting started, you want to make sure all rabbits involved have been spayed or neutered. A rabbit who hasn’t been fixed is more territorial and tends to be more aggressive than those that have been altered, so it’s very important for the safety of your rabbits and increases the likelihood of success in the bonding. If you are introducing a male with a female rabbit, you will also prevent unwanted babies.
Wait at least four weeks after all rabbits involved have been spayed or neutered before introducing them in the same space (they can still be housed next to each other in separate enclosures). This will give them time to heal and it will give their hormones time to calm down. Male rabbits are also still viable for a number of weeks after the surgery.
Side-by-side housing and swapping enclosures
You cannot immediately house two new rabbits in the same enclosure, but you still want the two rabbits to get used to the sight and scent of each other. Set up the two pens or enclosures right next to each other so that the two rabbits can see each other and sniff each other if they want to. They’ll both need to be let out for exercise separately to avoid any fights while they get used to each other.
To prevent them from biting each other’s noses (which can happen), I recommend getting these mesh storage cubes. They act as nose guards while also giving your rabbits a chance to interact with each other. You can connect the individual cube pieces to form a flat barrier in between your rabbits using small zip ties.
Every day you will want to swap your rabbits so they are living in the other’s enclosure. Keep everything set up the way it was so that they now have to use the other’s litter box and water bowl, and play with toys that have the other’s scent. This will get them used to the idea of having to share their space and living with another’s scent around them.
Most people will recommend keeping them separated and swapping their living spaces like this for a week before starting the bonding. However, if the rabbits are not showing signs of aggression or severe anxiety, it’s okay to start sooner. You can also leave them living in this side-by-side situation for a longer period of time. This might be necessary if you’re waiting for one of them to be spayed or neutered, or if you want to wait to start the formal bonding until you have more time and attention to devote to it.
Setting up a neutral space
When it comes time to put your rabbits together and start the bonding process it’s very important that you set up a neutral area. A neutral space is a place that neither rabbit will consider to be their own territory. Usually you will want to bring them to a room in the house that your rabbit hasn’t been to before, such as a kitchen, a bathroom, or a section of a hallway.
The size and type of space you give your rabbit will vary depending on the method you use to bond your rabbit. Just remember that whatever method you choose, you want to avoid the possibility of territorial aggression by making it as neutral as possible.
When getting a space ready for the two rabbits to bond in, you also want to make sure the equipment and supplies you use are neutral. Use a new exercise pen that neither have used before and have new litter boxes, food bowls, hiding houses and toys available. You’ll also want to have two of everything because sometimes rabbits don’t like sharing litter boxes and food bowls to begin with.
What to do when you have no neutral areas
If you have a small apartment or your rabbit has full access to your house, leaving you with no neutral areas, there are still some options:
- The first is to ask for the help of a friend or family member and see if they’ll allow you to stay in their home with your rabbits for a few weeks while you bond them.
- You can also close off your rabbit’s access to part of the home (such as a bathroom) and do a deep clean of the area. Use vinegar to help get rid of any scents your rabbit might recognize.
- You can use a tabletop, being careful to block off the edges to prevent your rabbits from falling.
- Keep your rabbits side by side, but wait to bond them until you move to a different home.
Equipment for breaking up fights
While we always hope that the bonding process will go smoothly and the two rabbits get along, there are often times when you have to referee and break up fights. To prevent the rabbits injuring each other, or injuring you when they go for each other, you’ll want to wear appropriate clothing and have some equipment available.
- Dust pan or a broom. Use one of these to insert in between your rabbits and separate them if they start fighting.
- Squirt bottle. A squirt bottle can be used to stop fights before they get serious. If one rabbit aggressively lunges at the other, a spray on the forehead can stop them in their tracks and prevent a fight.
- Thick gloves. If you need to get your hands in to break up a fight, you’ll want to have thick gloves or risk being bitten by one of the rabbits.
- Long pants and sleeves. These can help if you need to ever physically get between your rabbits.
Behaviors to expect during bonding
During bonding, you will see some behaviors that you are not used to seeing. Some of these behaviors might seem concerning or aggressive, but are actually fine, while others need to be prevented because they are likely to lead to injury. There are also some positive behaviors that you want to look out for to let you know the bonding is going well.
You want to be on the lookout for actively aggressive rabbit body language. These are the behaviors that can lead to injuries between the rabbits. Rabbits that have been in a fight are much more difficult to bond because now they have negative memories of each other. Therefore it’s important to prevent any aggressive behavior from escalating into a full fledged fight.
- Aggressive body language. When rabbits start to show aggressive body language they will raise their tail while their ears go back at a 45º angle. They might also growl and lower their head as if they are getting ready to charge. If you notice this behavior, give your rabbit a little squirt of water of the forehead to prevent them from actually attack and potentially cause them to pause and start cleaning themselves instead.
- Biting/lunging. This is when one rabbit lunges at the other with their mouth open intent on biting them. If this is a consistent behavior of one or both of the rabbits, then you may want to take a step back and do some stress bonding with the them.
- Circling/bunny tornado. This is when the rabbits start to circle each other in tighter and tighter circles until they are moving so fast they look like a bunny tornado. This is a serious fight that will cause fur to fly as the rabbits try to bite each other. It can result in serious injury and the rabbits should be separated as soon as possible. Use a dust pan, broom, or heavily gloved hand to prevent injury to yourself.
Neutral behaviors aren’t necessarily good or bad. Most of the time you can let them continue as long as both rabbits still seem comfortable around each other. However, with some of these behaviors, such as chasing, you do want to keep a close eye on the rabbits to make sure it doesn’t escalate into something more aggressive.
- Chasing. Chasing may seem scary to watch, but as long as the rabbits aren’t actually hurting each other, then it can actually help them work out who is more dominant in the relationship. Allow small chases to happen, but if they last more than 10-30 seconds then you may want to step in to prevent it from escalating into anything more serious.
- Mounting. Mounting is not only a sexual behavior for rabbits, it’s also a dominance behavior. The rabbit that mounts the other is trying to show that they are the boss. As long as the rabbit being mounted does not appear too irritated or anxious, you can allow the behavior to continue. If it lasts longer than 30 seconds you may want to separate them, since the longer it goes on the more likely the submissive rabbit will get frustrated.
- Nipping. Light nipping along with a small amount of fur pulling is acceptable behavior. This is one of the ways that rabbits communicate with each other, to say ‘leave me alone’ or ‘get out of the way.’ If it starts to happen very frequently or along with aggressive behaviors then you may want to take a step back and reevaluate you approach.
- Ignoring each other. While it may seem like a bad sign, two rabbits ignoring each other are actually just getting used to each other. It’s very common early on when rabbits first meet each other, and is a good sign because the rabbits aren’t acting aggressive toward each other.
- Marking. Even if they are litter trained, rabbits will urinate and leave fecal pellets all over the new place to mark their territory. It doesn’t usually have any correlation with rabbits getting along or not.
- Bowing. You may notice one rabbit put their head down in front of the other rabbit, or sometimes even underneath the chin of the other rabbit. This is not cuddling, but is actually a dominance behavior where the rabbit is asking to be groomed. Usually the rabbit who gets groomed first ends up being the more dominant rabbit. Sometimes this can end up leading to a standoff or even a fight because the rabbit is offended when the second rabbit doesn’t groom them.
Positive behaviors are the ones you want to look for. These are the signs that your rabbits are really starting to get along and feel comfortable with each other. As you see them interacting comfortably closer together and showing signs that they are relaxed and not on edge, then you know your rabbits are close to being bonded.
- Grooming. Grooming is the most positive behavior you can see among rabbits. This is when rabbits lick each other, usually around the forehead and ears at first. It’s a sign that they are really starting to love each other and feel comfortable together. It’s best if you can see both rabbits grooming each other, but most often one rabbit, the dominant rabbit, will receive more grooming than they give.
- Mirroring. Mirroring is when the rabbits copy each other’s behavior. One rabbit might start cleaning themself, and so the other starts. Or one rabbit will lay down on one end of the room, so the other lays down on the other end. You may also see this behavior while the rabbits are living side-by-side in their enclosures too.
- Laying near each other. Rabbits who lay down near each other are showing a lot of trust in the other rabbit. They trust that the other rabbit won’t get up and attack them, and they are showing that they enjoy being around their new friend.
Technique 1: Start small
This ‘start small’ technique is most useful in bonding rabbits who are more anxious or aggressive toward each other. It starts by forcing the rabbits into a small space so they can work things out and learn to share. Then you slowly increase the space so that neither rabbit gets either territorial of the new space or uses it to nervously stay away from the other rabbit.
- Start in a laundry basket or small box for 15-30 minutes. You could also use a carrier that can open from the top (to make it easier to intervene if necessary) or block off half of a bathtub. This step is often used in conjunction with stress bonding. Do a stress bonding session in the small space for 15 minutes then calm for the next 15 minutes to let them interact. If they try to attack or get aggressive with each other, pet them side by side nonstop during the time they are in the small area.
- Increase space to about a bathtub sized area. When the rabbits can be in the small space together for 30-60 minutes without any aggressive behavior, increase the space they have so it’s about the size of a bathtub.
- Increase the amount of time the rabbits spend together. Every day you’ll want to let your rabbits spend a little more time with each other until they can be together for at least 3-4 hours without fighting.
- Increase the amount of space the rabbits have then increase the time they have in the bigger space. After your rabbits do well in a bathtub sized space, move them to a bigger area. This could be the whole bathroom or an ex-pen in the living room. Start by giving them about 30-60 minutes together, then increase the amount of time every day.
- Go a full 24-48 hours together. When the rabbits can spend 7-8 hours without any fights you’ll want to take a weekend and give them a couple of overnights together to make sure they’re bonded. Sleep within hearing distance of them so that you can break up a fight if necessary.
- Clean their enclosure and move in together. Thoroughly clean out the enclosure that they will live in so it doesn’t smell familiar to either rabbit. Then move them in together. Be cautious the first few days to be sure they remain bonded in their new permanent living area.
When moving from one step to the next, especially when increasing space, it’s common for rabbits to have minor setbacks as they settle into the new space. If they can’t seem to figure things out between them, then you should go back a step for a few more days before moving on.
- It’s easier to control aggressive or anxious rabbits.
- It can be done in shorter intervals of time if you work during the day.
- It’s relatively stressful for rabbits, especially to start with.
- If you increase the space too quickly you risk breaking the bond.
Technique 2: Together from the start
This technique puts the two rabbits together full time from the start. It is typically the fastest way to bond rabbits, but it requires you to be with them full time for at least 1-2 weeks, bringing them with you in a carrier if you need to go anywhere out of the home.
With this technique you are basically putting the rabbits together and telling them that one way or another they have to get along because they’re not going to get a break. If you are new to bonding rabbits, I don’t recommend starting with this technique since you will need to have a good understanding of rabbit body language and how they interact with each other to prevent injuries and for this to be successful.
- Put the rabbits together in a very small neutral space. Rather than giving your rabbit’s short sessions, you will put them together full time from the start. It’s best if you can find a completely foreign neutral area, such as a friends house, for this technique. Start in a very small space, so the rabbits will be forced to interact and get used to each other.
- Every day increase the space a small amount. Only increase their space by a foot or less every day so the rabbits will not get territorial over the new space. A fight can force you to go all the way back to the beginning.
- Bring the rabbits with you in a carrier if you have to leave the house for any reason. If you need to go anywhere, the rabbits should go with you. You want to avoid fights at all costs.
- Once the rabbits are grooming each other and not fighting for 24-48 hours, they can move in together. After one to two weeks of living together full time, you will hopefully be seeing some positive body language. After both rabbits are willing to groom each other and there has been no serious aggressive behavior for two days, you can clean out their home enclosure and move back in.
- Bonding usually takes a shorter amount of time (1-2 weeks)
- The rabbits are very stressed..
- You need to be with the rabbit’s 24/7.
- Increasing the space too quickly can lead to broken bonds and cause the process to take much longer.
Technique 3: Gentle bonding
The gentle bonding technique works on the idea that if the rabbits are happy and enjoying themselves they will be more likely to bond with each other for the long term. Instead of putting rabbits in a miniscule area to start, you let the rabbits roam an area that’s as large as you can control (so you can still break up any potential fights). You’ll also leave treats and piles of leafy greens around so that the rabbits can see this as a fun playtime.
This technique is ideal because it won’t be as stressful for the rabbits. You also don’t have to spend the time slowly increasing the rabbits space to make sure their bond doesn’t break. However, it can be difficult to get this technique to work with rabbits who are highly aggressive or anxious around each other.
- Give your rabbits a large neutral space to hang out. You want the space to be as large as you can control. A living room may be too big unless you have multiple people able to help out, but a large bathroom or a kitchen are often good sized rooms. You can also set up a large ex-pen.
- Start with short periods of time and slowly increase the amount of time they spend together. Start with about 30 minutes to see how the rabbits act together. As they show signs of being more comfortable, you can slowly increase the time they spend in the neutral space. This technique also works if you only have a few hours after work on weekdays to spend bonding them.
- Make the bonding place fun and comfortable. You want the rabbits to enjoy their time together, so they can associate each other with good things. Make sure they have a couple piles of greens and some treats and toys scattered around.
- Once the rabbits can spend 7-8 hours together, do a full 24-48 hour session. Once the rabbits can spend a number of hours together, you’ll want to plan a weekend to have some overnight sessions with the rabbits.
- Clean the enclosure and move in together. If they do well overnight, then you’ll want to thoroughly clean the enclosure and move the rabbits in together.
- Less stressful for the rabbits.
- Easier even when you only have a limited amount of time for bonding.
- You don’t need to worry about a bond breaking when you increase the space.
- It’s harder to keep track of the rabbits in a larger area.
- It doesn’t work with rabbits who are very aggressive or anxious.
- It can take a lot of time.
Technique 4: Combination
The reality is, in most cases you will be using a combination of techniques based on how your rabbits react to each other. The sequence that I like to use is to start small, especially if we’re dealing with anxious rabbits. Then move directly into a larger space to bond them gently until they are used to each other and seem unlikely to attack each other. At that point I will plan to take a week and stay with the rabbit’s full time while they get used to living together.
- Start small to get a feel for the rabbits personalities. Start with the rabbits in a small space, such as a laundry basket. This step is often used in conjunction with stress bonding. Do a stress bonding session in the small space for 15 minutes then calm for the next 15 minutes to let them interact. If they try to attack or get aggressive with each other, pet them side by side nonstop during the time they are in the small area.
- Give your rabbits a large neutral area to spend time in. Once your rabbits are comfortable with each other, move to the gentle bonding technique. Put them into a larger area for a few hours every day to make sure they can interact with each other without acting aggressive.
- Put the rabbits together in the neutral pen full time. After they can spend a number of hours together, you can speed up the bonding process without adding too much stress by immediately moving to full time in the neutral area. You will need to plan to spend the next 24/7 with the rabbits.
- After a week and 48 hours with no fighting, put the rabbits together in the original enclosure. Make sure to clean the enclosure thoroughly to get rid of any scents that may make the rabbits territorial.
- You can bond rabbits quicker than gentle bonding or starting small.
- Easier to work with anxious rabbits.
- The bond likely won’t break after the rabbits are in the larger area.
- Not as stressful for the rabbits after the first stage.
- You can adjust the technique you’re using based on how your rabbits behave.
- You need to be ready to spend a full week with the rabbits.
- The first stages can be stressful for the rabbits.
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Tips to help your rabbits bond
As you’re getting started bonding your rabbits, there are some techniques you can use to help the process along. These tips can help get your rabbit through a rough patch in their relationship, or set them up to have a better chance at getting along.
Petting next to each other
One of the best steps you can take to help your rabbits early on in the bonding process is to start petting them when they are next to each other. Place the two rabbits side by side and start petting them and giving them little massages. This will give your rabbit calm feelings while they are sitting next to each other. It allows them to associate these pleasant feelings with the other rabbit and usually helps to smooth out the bonding process right from the beginning.
Start off by giving them massages for 10-15 minutes at a time, but as they seem more comfortable with each other, you can start petting them for a shorter duration then stop to see how they respond to each other. The rabbits can be on the floor, in a box or carrier, or even on a chair or lap.
After you have some trust that they won’t immediately attack each other, you can allow them to approach each other nose-to-nose on the floor, then start giving them both head scritches and massages together. This will teach them that approaching each other leads to a pleasant interaction, and can be especially helpful if you are dealing with one rabbit who is highly anxious.
Mashed banana or applesauce
Since grooming is such an important part of a bonded rabbit’s relationship, you can try to find ways to encourage or trick your rabbits into grooming each other. To do this, mash up some banana or use unsweetened applesauce. Place a small amount of this yummy treat on the forehead of one or both of the rabbits.
This should cause the rabbits to inadvertently groom each other while they are licking the treat off. One rabbit will be happy because they are getting a yummy treat, and the other will be happy because they feel like they are being groomed. While you don’t want to use this tip too often because too many treats are not good for a rabbit’s digestion, it’s a good trick to use if the two rabbits seem to be getting along and just need a little extra nudge.
Make the experience positive
As much as possible you want to try to make the bonding experience positive for both rabbits. You want to avoid letting them get bored or frustrated during bonding sessions because the rabbits may start to resent each other. Give them lots of toys to play with and hay to munch on. It’s also a good idea to spread some treats around for the rabbits to sniff out. I like to break apart pieces of hay cubes and sprinkle them around the enclosure, that way the rabbits get a healthy treat rather than a lot of sugary pieces.
This is especially important once you are putting your rabbits together for long periods at a time. For short periods of less than an hour, the rabbits will likely be fine with minimal activities. However, as the time together gets longer, no toys or treats could lead to an irritated rabbit, and they may end up directing their pent up frustration at the other rabbit.
When to use stress bonding
Stress bonding is a technique used to scare or stress out the rabbits in order to get them to comfort each other. It’s best done with the two rabbits in a small space so that they will instinctually huddle next to each other. A small box, pet carrier, or laundry basket are good options. Taking the rabbits for a car ride, running the vacuum near them, or placing them atop a washing machine are some common scenarios that people use.
Stress bonding is, as the name suggests, stressful for the rabbits involved. Therefore I only recommend using the technique if it’s necessary. If the rabbits are very aggressive with each other, stress bonding will usually help them to calm down and tolerate each other even after the fact. It can also be useful in cases where one rabbit is seriously scared of the other even if there is no serious aggression. I would only use this technique sparingly if you are working with elderly rabbits or those that have any serious health conditions.
What you will do is start each session with 10-15 minutes of stress bonding, then give them another 10-15 minutes to sit together without the stress, so that they can also get used to interacting with each other and comforting each other even when there is not something scary going on at that exact moment.
Ending sessions on a high note
It is very important to try to end every session on a high note. Spend the last five minutes petting the rabbits, or give them treats or leafy greens. The idea here is that the rabbits will likely remember the positive feeling they had at the end of their session and will be more likely to continue the positive feeling into the next day.
Unless the two rabbits are actively trying to hurt each other and there is nothing you can do to calm them down, don’t end a session if the two rabbits had a bad interaction. If they had a bad chase or some fur was pulled, step in and place the two rabbits next to each other while you pet them. Then only after a 5-10 minute massage should you bring your rabbits back to their separate homes and end the session.
Change the bonding space
You might find yourself stuck in a rut and feeling like you’re getting nowhere. If this happens try different bonding spaces until you find one that works for your buns. Sometimes this happens because your original rabbit is very territorial. Some female rabbits, especially, will feel ownership of areas of the home they haven’t ever been to; they just know it’s close to their territory.
If the bathroom isn’t working, try the kitchen. If the kitchen isn’t working, try a pen in the living room. If that doesn’t work see if you can spend a few days at a friend or family member’s house. You can also work with changing the size of the place you are working in. If a larger area doesn’t work, try going smaller or vice versa. While the circumstances will vary on the specific scenario you are in, my rule is if I see no improvement for 2-3 days in one spot, then I need to change things up a little.
Stick with what works
Alternatively, if you find a place and technique that works for your bunnies, then stick with it, and keep it up for longer than you think you need to. If they are finally doing well in a pen in your living room, give them sessions there for the next week before attempting to move onto the next stage. This will help to give the rabbits more and more positive experiences so that they’ll be less likely to fight later on when you need to change things again.
Pay attention to the time of day
When you’re first starting out, it’s best if you can give your rabbits some bonding sessions in the middle of the afternoon. This is a time of day when rabbits are naturally less active. They’ll be more willing to settle down or even nap a little instead of getting up in arms about the other rabbit they are sharing a space with.
However, before you can call your rabbits bonded, you’ll want to give them some sessions that cover their more active times of day as well. Even if they are calm and able to get along in the afternoon, sometimes rabbits need more time to get used to each other before they can be friendly during the more active hours.
Similarly, it’s best to make sure the rabbits have had time to get out and exercise (separately) before putting them together. This is especially important when working in small spaces or long periods of time. The exercise, of course, helps to keep the rabbits healthy, but it also prevents them from having pent up energy. You want to avoid the rabbits getting frustrated and taking out that irritation on the other rabbit.
How to know your rabbits are bonded
This is a big question that many people have because it’s not always as obvious as you might think. Rabbits are bonded when you can trust them to not hurt each other. You do want to see some mutual grooming behavior, but they actually don’t need to be lovey dovey all the time. That’s likely something that will happen with time, but as long as they are not going to attack each other and there are no serious chases, the rabbits are bonded and they can move-in together.
Most people will agree that if your rabbits can go a full 48 hours together in a neutral territory without any fights or major chases, then they can move in together. In some cases, you may want to put them together for even longer periods of time, especially if you are bringing a partner into a female rabbit’s old enclosure. They tend to be more territorial so you may want to give them more time together to solidify their bond before the move-in. For example, I left my two rabbits together in the basement for a week after they seemed ready to move in, because my female had been showing signs of serious territorial tendencies.
Cleaning the space of your original rabbit
Before your rabbits move into any space or enclosure that has been used by either bunny in the past, you want to do some serious cleaning. Rabbits identify a lot of objects and places by scent rather than sight, so you want to spend time erasing the scent of the rabbits as much as possible.
A good way to do this is using vinegar. Regular old white vinegar is a great scent neutralizer that can be mixed with an equal amount of water to create an all purpose cleaner that also gets rid of odors. If you hate the smell of vinegar (like I do), try adding 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil to cover it up.
Then get to work cleaning everything. All of the bowls, and habitat accessories. The hutch or pen gates should be wiped down, even cleaning the walls is a good idea. If your rabbit lives in an ex-pen then you’ll want to clean the flooring as well. You can either get a completely new area rug to use for the rabbit enclosure, or you can spray the flooring with the vinegar solution.
When to give up on bonding rabbits
Sometimes, despite our best intentions, a rabbit bonding does not go as planned. The rabbits are just too aggressive with each other and refuse to get along. The only time I would say to give up and stop trying to bond them is if the rabbits have actually hurt each other in a fight. It becomes more difficult and even dangerous to try to bond rabbits once they have bad blood between them.
However, there are other reasons that you may want to give up or at least take a break for a few months before trying again.
- You don’t have the time to continue with the bonding.
- The rabbits are showing serious signs of stress or anxiety.
- You are experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety around the bonding.
- There are no other places you can use as neutral areas.
- The rabbits involved are continuously aggressive with each other.
- The bonding has gone on for more that 6 months with little or no progress.
If the two rabbits mostly get along, but you just don’t trust them together unsupervised, there is actually another option. They can continue to live with separate enclosures, but have supervised playtime together whenever you’re available. This will allow the rabbits to have a playmate sometimes, but it won’t make you feel afraid for their safety when you’re not there to watch them.
After your rabbits are bonded
After your rabbits have been bonded and living together, you might expect them to be lovey dovey all the time and live happily ever after. Most of the time, this is not a realistic expectation. Even bonded rabbits will have occasional disagreements. They may have occasional chases, or they’ll nip each other when they get annoyed. Don’t panic if you see this behavior occasionally. Usually the rabbits will be able to resolve the issue on their own in now time.
The times when you want to be careful are if the rabbits are ever separated and then put back together. If at all possible, you want to keep your bonded rabbits together at all times. Bring them to the vet together, or out to play together. It often happens that a rabbit who travels outside the home can pick up a strange scent. When they come back the other rabbit might think they are a stranger and attack.