Can Pet Rabbits Bond With Humans?


Can rabbits really bond with humans?

Pet rabbits can form a close, affectionate bond with their humans, much like dogs or cats can. When you treat your pet rabbit not just as a pet but as a companion, they will respond in turn. It’s a relationship built on mutual trust and affection, growing stronger as you spend time together.

Understanding your rabbit’s body language is key to accelerating this bonding process. Rabbits communicate much differently than humans, so learning their unique ways of expressing contentment, fear, or curiosity will help you bond more quickly. By respecting their space and allowing them to approach you on their terms, you’ll find they become more confident and willing to engage.

Remember, every rabbit has a distinct personality, and the way they bond with you will reflect that. Of my two rabbits right now, one of them will fall asleep on my lap and lick my face whenever she gets the chance. The other likes to come and sprawl out on the floor next to me, but prefers not to cuddle. 

Bonding with your rabbit won’t happen overnight, but with consistent and caring interaction, you’ll soon notice the special connection you’ve been nurturing is starting to flourish.

Rabbits can (and do) bond with their people

Rabbits are known for their intelligent and social nature, thriving on interaction with other rabbits and humans alike. Unlike the old school belief that they are simply cage pets, rabbits can flourish as companion pets, provided they receive the proper care and affection. When treated as part of the family, rabbits will establish a significant bond with their human counterparts.

Pet rabbits are absolutely capable of recognizing individual humans and commonly form stronger bonds with some people in your family over others. Some rabbits even show a distinct preference for human over rabbit company.

In your journey to form that special connection, remember that rabbits express their affection differently. Some might seek out pets and cuddles, while others might show their trust by simply choosing to sit nearby. They are prone to exhibit joy around their favored humans, sometimes performing entertaining antics like binkies or giving affectionate nudges.

  • Learn how to bond with your rabbit through consistency in this nurturing process and by respecting their individual personalities.
step4: pet your rabbit on your lap
Some rabbits show their affection for humans more easily than others.

Is human companionship enough for rabbits

In the rabbit community, this is an extremely controversial topic. Many people believe that rabbits must always be kept in pairs and groups for their own welfare and happiness, while others believe that human companionship is enough for rabbits.

I believe that while all rabbits need some form of socialization, human companionship is frequently enough. Notice I didn’t say it’s always enough. I prefer to take a more nuanced approach to this topic and ask that you try to keep an open mind as I explain my viewpoint.

I believe wholeheartedly that it depends on the circumstances and the personality of the individual rabbits. From what I’ve experienced working with rescue rabbits, some rabbits do best with others of the same species, while many others are plenty happy with humans as companions. I believe it’s important to watch your rabbit’s behavior and social cues to determine if human companionship is enough to meet the social needs of your bunny.

First, I want to mention some of the research that I’ve found that brings more nuance to this topic. In 2016, a comprehensive analysis of studies on rabbit behavior and socialization was published. There are two major findings in this study that cause me challenge the idea that bonded rabbits are always the way to go:

  1. Subordinate rabbits showed higher levels of stress and showed notably less activity and ‘happy’ behaviors (such as relaxed postures, binkies, zoomies) compared with the dominant rabbits in pairs and groups. This leads me to believe that social hierarchies are not beneficial to all rabbits, and it really depends on the type of relationship the individual rabbits have with each other and how mutual their relationship is.
  2. The other finding was that many of the previous studies done to determine whether rabbits preferred group living or solitary living did not take into account the amount of space the rabbits were given. That is to say, rabbits who are kept in groups tend to have larger cages or enclosures, which directly affects the happiness of the rabbit. It’s unclear whether the presence of other rabbits made much of a difference in rabbit welfare as much as having a large enclosure did. There was even a study done testing whether rabbits would choose a solitary pen if it was sufficiently big, and more than half the rabbits (both dominant and subordinate) preferred the solitary pen.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not saying that I believe all rabbits should be kept separate and bonding rabbits is a sham. For one, almost all studies on rabbits are fairly small, and tend to look at the behavior of unaltered rabbits. They cannot be taken as conclusive evidence one way or the other. 

However, I do think it’s okay to question the conventional knowledge and make a decision based on the personality and individual needs of your rabbit.

Happy rabbit behaviors
A happy bunny is more likely to be energetic, zooming and binkying around the room. They are also more likely to feel safe and flop over when they sleep.

Take your rabbit’s personality into account

Just like people, rabbits have their own dispositions. Some may be outgoing and sociable, while others are more introverted and independent. Like many people prefer the company of other animals, some rabbits even seem to prefer hanging out with people more than the company of their own species. 

The best way to know if your rabbit could use a companion of their own species is to watch their body language. Does your rabbit have a lot of happy behaviors? Do they zoom and binky when they hang out with you? Or are they somewhat aggressive and stressed out around people? 

Happy rabbit behaviors

I ran into this struggle when I went to find a companion for my Ellie. She’s a pretty independent rabbit and was quite happy, but I truly believe it was the right thing to do to get another rabbit. So I brought another rabbit home, Teddy Bear, and bonded the two of them. 

But the thing is, even though the two of them got along well enough for a while, Ellie frequently tried to find places she could go on her own. It was as if she wanted to be more independent. Eventually, I believe this is what led to their falling out. The two had a big fight after about a year of being bonded, and I haven’t been able to rebond them since. 

Yet, they both somehow seem happier now that they’re separated. They will now groom each other through a fence separating them, but both also get their own space to live and play. Teddy Bear has also gained a lot of confidence now that he’s not the subordinate rabbit living under the dominant Ellie.

So, what I’m saying is to watch your rabbits behavior and decide for yourself what’s right even if it’s against the conventional wisdom. Your rabbit may not be able to use words, but these behaviors are telling you how they feel. If your rabbit is telling you that they’re happy, it’s okay to believe them.

My Experiences with Rescue Rabbits

Through my time working with rescue rabbits, one thing’s been clear: every single rabbit I’ve worked with has benefitted from respectful human connection.

Rabbits come to the shelter with a wide variety of past experiences. Some are family pets that were surrendered, others were abandoned outdoors, and some come from rabbit hoarding and illegal breeding operations. 

Whether these rabbits have never been socialized with humans, or they are already fairly friendly with humans, I’ve seen first hand how simple, calm interactions with staff members and volunteers helps the rabbits feel more comfortable and confident during their stay. You see the change most significantly with rabbits who come to the shelter as anxious or aggressive rabbits. The more these rabbits get to know the shelter workers, the more signs of happiness they show, learning to come out of their shells over time.

This personal experience with caring for hundreds of rabbits from different backgrounds leads me to believe that human companionship does make a big difference. It’s a beautiful process to watch rabbits learn to trust and love, and I don’t think we should ignore the great positive effect that human companionship can have for rabbits.

sitting with a rabbit
Rabbits are very social with people and can make great companions if you spend time with them.

How much time can you spend with your rabbit?

The other thing you really need to consider is how much time you are spending with your rabbit. While I don’t think they necessarily need socialization with another rabbit, my experience with rescue rabbits leads me to believe that some form of socialization and companionship is vital to their overall wellbeing. 

If you’re away from home too much, then your companionship might not be enough for your rabbit. This is especially true if you’re frequently away on work trips, weekend vacations, or you tend to spend evenings out and mornings sleeping in.

Generally, if you work 9-5 it’s okay since this is a natural bunny nap time. And don’t feel like you can never take a vacation or go for a nice evening out. However, if this is a frequent occurrence, your rabbit might benefit from a little more companionship that you’re able to give them.

Will a rabbit lose interest in people when bonded with another rabbit?

When you bond your pet rabbit with another bunny, it’s natural to wonder if they’ll become less affectionate or interested in you. The truth is, your rabbit can still maintain a strong bond with you, even after forming a close relationship with another rabbit. Just like people, rabbits are able to maintain multiple strong bonds throughout their life.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Time Sharing: Your rabbits will divide their time between each other and you. You’re still a valued part of their world!
  • Routine Matters: If you keep up with your regular cuddle and playtime sessions, your rabbits will continue to look forward to them.
  • Individual Personalities: Some rabbits naturally seek human interaction more than others.

By continuing to be a source of comfort and safety for your rabbits, you’ll find that their affection towards you remains. They’re capable of loving both their rabbit companion and their human caretakers.

Sources: 

  1. Burn, CC, and P Shields. “Do Rabbits Need Each Other? Effects of Single versus Paired Housing on Rabbit Body Temperature and Behaviour in a UK Shelter.” Animal Welfare 29.2 (2020): 209–219. Web. Accessed: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/animal-welfare/article/abs/do-rabbits-need-each-other-effects-of-single-versus-paired-housing-on-rabbit-body-temperature-and-behaviour-in-a-uk-shelter/77C65B1FA433F8C5F739E804FED005B5 
  2. DiVincenti L Jr, Rehrig AN. “The Social Nature of European Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus).” J Am Assoc Lab Anim Sci. 2016 Nov;55(6):729-736. PMID: 27931309; PMCID: PMC5113872. Accessed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5113872/ 
  3. S.D.E. Held, R.J. Turner, R.J. Wooton. “Choices of laboratory rabbits for individual or group-housing.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science Vol. 46 Iss. 1-2. Accepted 14 June 1995, Available online 16 March 2000. Accessed: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/016815919500632X 

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Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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