While there are many articles written about how to bond rabbits, I’ve found very little about how to know when it’s time to move your rabbits in together. Maybe your rabbits are finally starting to get along, but you don’t want to make a mistake and move them in before they are ready. By paying attention to your rabbits’ body language, you can figure out when they are fully bonded.
As a general rule, rabbits are bonded once they can spend 48 hours together without any chasing or aggressive behaviors. You also want to see positive signs such as grooming, sharing food, and sleeping next to each other to confirm that your rabbits feel safe around each other.
After your rabbits tell you that they are ready to be together, you also need to take some extra precautions during the move-in. This will prevent your rabbits from suddenly becoming territorial with each other again, and it will help keep your rabbit’s bond solidified through the transition.
This post goes over the final steps in the bonding process. For more information on bonding methods, check out my guide to bonding rabbits.
How to know your rabbits are bonded
If this is your first time bonding rabbits, you might think that your rabbits aren’t bonded until they act like best friends and inseparable partners. However, most pairs of rabbits won’t reach this level of friendship until they’ve been able to spend many months, or even years, together.
Rabbits are bonded when you are confident they won’t hurt each other. That’s all there is to it. They don’t need to be lovebirds who groom each other all day long, and it’s okay if they spend a lot of their time playing separately. As long as your rabbits can coexist peacefully, they are bonded.
Over time, the rabbits will probably get closer and closer together. They’ll spend more time together and cuddle next to each other. But to start with, all you need to see is a friendly and cordial relationship between your rabbits.
Behaviors of bonded rabbits
To know your rabbits are bonded and ready to move in together, you want to see most or all of these behaviors:
- Mutual grooming. You want to see both rabbits grooming each other. It’s okay if one rabbit grooms more than the other, but you want to observe the behavior reciprocated at least a little.
- No aggressive chasing. Chases should be minimal or nonexistent when your rabbits are ready to move in together. If there is a short chase every once in a while, it’s okay, as long as there is no aggressive biting or lunging and the two rabbits show positive behavior immediately afterward. Basically, minor disagreements are okay, but at no point should you be afraid the chasing will escalate to a severe fight.
- Sleeping next to each other. You want to see the two rabbits sleeping near each other before moving in together. This is a sign of trust among rabbits.
- Sharing food. The rabbits should be able to eat next to each other and not get too defensive about their food.
- Playing together. It’s okay if the rabbits don’t play together all the time, but you do want to see them sharing toys occasionally or otherwise positively interacting with each other.
- Using the same litter box. Since litter boxes can be significant territorial spaces for rabbits, you want to make sure they can share a box before putting them together full time.
- They can get along in a larger space. Many rabbits will get along in a small bathtub-sized space but start fighting in a larger area. Make sure your rabbits will get along in a space that’s at least 16 square feet or larger so that you know they can share territory.
The test: 48 hours together in a neutral space
When your rabbits are getting along, and they seem to be bonded, wait before moving them into their together-forever space. It’s always better to be patient and move slowly with rabbits. You want to make sure your rabbits are fully bonded by giving them a full 48 hours together in their neutral bonding territory.
Plan to take a weekend to spend next to your rabbits to make sure they are really ready for move-in. I recommend starting them on a Friday and keeping them together in the neutral space until Sunday morning. When you move them in together, you can continue to watch their behavior for the day and make sure they are settling in together.
This gives you the chance to test how your rabbits behave toward each other at all times of the day. You can ensure that your rabbits stay friends after spending the night together. You’ll also be able to watch their behavior toward each other in the morning and evening when rabbits are most active. In most cases, they will continue to get along during this marathon session, and you can move them in together on the third day together.
If the rabbits don’t get along during their weekend together, you will have to bond them longer. Try giving them sessions during different times of day to test their bond together.
How to clean your rabbit’s territorial space
If the rabbits do well after the first day, I will take time during day two to thoroughly clean out my rabbit’s move-in area. This is a crucial step. If you skip it, your rabbits are likely to get territorial and start fighting as soon as you move them out of their neutral bonding territory.
The goal of cleaning your rabbit’s space is to remove their scent from everything. Rabbits recognize objects by smell and claim territory by spreading their scent, so you need to neutralize the entire area. This should prevent either rabbit from feeling ownership over the space, leaving them on even ground when it’s time to move in together.
How to clean your rabbit’s scent
The most effective way that I’ve found to clean is using a vinegar cleaning spray. Vinegar is excellent at getting rid of scents when cleaning, which is precisely what we need for our rabbits. Vinegar is also entirely safe for use around pets, so it’s an excellent all-purpose cleaner to have around.
To make this cleaning solution, simply add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of vinegar to a spray bottle. Shake it up, and it’s ready to use. You can also add some drops of your favorite essential oil to make the vinegar spray smell a little better.
When cleaning, you don’t want to take any shortcuts. Spray everything and clean thoroughly. This includes the rabbits’ enclosure along with their exercise space. Spray the carpets, scrub the walls, wipe down the enclosure’s gates. Clean the furniture in the room and any objects that the rabbits will come into contact with.
Anything that you cannot clean should temporarily be removed from the space, such as rabbit toys or cardboard boxes. After your rabbits have been living together for a few weeks, you can start to reintroduce these objects one at a time. By this point, there should be less chance of your rabbits showing territorial behavior, so the objects and toys that have their scent shouldn’t cause a fight.
Rearrange the room
If you have particularly territorial rabbits, you might also want to completely rearrange the rabbit room before the move-in day. This is more often necessary when you bring a second rabbit into a female’s home since they tend to be more territorial. Moving the furniture around and changing the room’s layout can make the whole place seem unfamiliar to the rabbits. They are less likely to recognize it and try to reclaim their territory. A week or two after the move-in, it should be safe to rearrange the room back to how it used to be.
How to move your rabbits in together after they are bonded
Now, your rabbits have spent a weekend together, and you have completely cleaned their new space. It’s finally time for the move-in day. This can be a little bit nerve-wracking, but most of the time, move-in goes fine as long as your rabbits have been doing well in their neutral space.
Start in the morning, since this will give your rabbits time to adjust, and it will give you time to observe your rabbits’ behavior. Bring them to their new home and make sure to put them both in at the same time. The easiest way to do this is to bring the rabbit up in a carrier and allow them to exit into the enclosure on their own. You can also get a second person’s help and simultaneously place the rabbits into their new home.
Keep a close eye on your rabbits for the first day to ensure they settle in okay. You’ll also want to observe your rabbits over the next few weeks to make sure they don’t have a falling out. Don’t plan any long trips over these weeks so you can be home for your rabbits, especially in the morning and evening, when they will be most active.
Start small and slowly open up more space
The first day your rabbits are together, keep them in their enclosure. When you let them out into the exercise space the next day, start with just a small portion of the area. If your rabbits typically have access to a whole room for exercise, put a gate across the room and restrict them to half of it. You can open up the rest of the room after a couple of days and give them access to more rooms in the home slowly over time.
Opening the space slowly will keep your rabbits exploring together. This can prevent your rabbits from venturing out and claiming a large portion of the room as their own territory, chasing the other rabbit away.
If you have a free roam rabbit, I’ve developed a technique for getting them back into their home space. You can read about bonding free roam rabbits here.
What to expect from a bonded pair of rabbits
As your rabbits live together, they will naturally become closer friends. Most pairs of rabbits will spend more and more time together and learn to truly enjoy each other’s company. But that doesn’t mean everything will be perfect from here on out. Every rabbit pair has its quirks and relationship struggles.
Expect occasional disagreements
Just like in any relationship, bonded rabbits will have their occasional disagreements. Don’t be surprised if you occasionally see a little tuft of fur from a minor tiff. You can also expect to see the rabbits nip or nudge each other on occasion, or you could see one rabbit chase the other for short lengths.
These are simply ways that the rabbits are communicating with each other. They are in a bad mood or unhappy with the other rabbit’s behavior. None of these little disagreements should cause injury to the other rabbit, and it’s fine to allow them to work out their relationship issues on their own as long as they’re not getting seriously aggressive.
Keep your rabbits together all the time
As much as you can, you want to keep your rabbits together. This means going to the vet together, going on trips together, and staying in the same room and enclosure. The first reason is that the two rabbits will give each other emotional support and love. It’s much easier to do this if the rabbits are together all the time.
The second reason you don’t want to separate your rabbits is that it can break their bond. If one rabbit goes to the vet alone, for example, they may pick up a strange scent from the unusual surroundings. When they come home, the other rabbit will smell the unusual scent and think their friend is an invader since rabbits recognize each other by smell.
When this happens, you will need to go through the process of rebonding your rabbits. You might have to keep them separate temporarily to make sure they don’t hurt each other.
It’s okay if the rabbits aren’t lovebirds
Even if rabbits will likely get closer as time goes on, this is not always the case. That’s okay! Some rabbits are just more independent than others and prefer to spend time alone. Your rabbits are still bonded as long as they get along and don’t fight. You don’t need to try to force your rabbits to be closer together than they want to be.
They may need occasional intervention
While it’s not common, two rabbits who are bonded can end up having a serious fight. This is more than just a simple disagreement that the rabbits can work out on their own; but instead, it’s a fight that will require an intervention from you to help them rebond.
This can be caused when one rabbit goes to the vet alone and comes back smelling different. It can also happen if a new animal comes into the home, bringing their scent with it. I’ve also heard of a bond breaking seemingly at random. At least there was no apparent cause, so this is something to be aware of.
Usually, rebonding rabbits is not as difficult as the initial bond. An extended date or two in a neutral area of the home is typically enough for the rabbits to remember how much they love each other. However, they may need to be kept separate temporarily until you can trust them to be together again.
Just like the first time, you’ll want to clean your rabbit’s area thoroughly while they are together in a neutral space. Hopefully, this will limit any territorial behavior and help the two rabbits settle back together.