Is Stress Bonding REALLY Necessary for Rabbits?

Is stress bonding necessary?

If you are new to bonding rabbits, you may have heard about stress bonding and how you can use it to help two rabbits become friends. Many people swear by this method of bonding rabbits, but the name makes it sound kind of scary. Do we really want to stress our rabbits out in order to bond them?

Stress bonding should only be used to bond rabbits who are either aggressive or anxious around each other. This technique is not necessary for every rabbit introduction, and it should not be the only step you take to bond your rabbits. However, stress bonding is a useful tool to start your rabbits’ relationship and learn to get along.

When I first started bonding my rabbits, I was hesitant about stress bonding. The idea of purposefully putting my rabbits into a stressful situation did not sit well with me. However, I’ve learned that this can be a valuable and necessary tool in certain circumstances. Stress bonding does not need to be used every time, and it should not be the only technique you use, but it can prevent injury and help your rabbits get along faster.

Stress bonding should only be a part of your bonding process and should not be the only technique you use. Learn more about the methods for bonding rabbits by visiting my complete guide to rabbit bonding.

What is stress bonding?

Stress bonding is a technique used to mildly stress out the two rabbits to create a tentative friendship between them. The idea is that the two rabbits will be scared enough to cuddle closer to each other. In the end, it gives the rabbits a positive interaction with each other because they were able to find support in the other rabbit.

It’s the same idea with humans. When two people go through a challenging situation together, we will often find ways to get along and be closer friends after weathering the storm together. In a similar vein, it can give rabbits who are struggling to get along the chance to comfort each other and become friends.

The ultimate goal of stress bonding is to help your rabbits become friends. Usually, this will speed up the bonding process, especially when dealing with rabbits who are anxious or aggressive around each other.

Types of stress bonding

There are actually a few different types of stress bonding that you’ll hear people talk about. This can make it a little confusing when you hear someone talking about stress bonding since it might not fit the definition that you understand.

From listening to people talk about bonding their rabbits, I have found three patterns. There is the traditional definition of putting rabbits in a stressful situation to bond them, utilizing small spaces for long periods, and using slippery floors during the bonding process.

two rabbits in a laundry basket
You can place your rabbits in a laundry basket and put them on top of the washing machine, or carry them up and down the stairs for a few minutes as a form of stress bonding.

1. Stressful situation

Most of the time, when people are referring to stress bonding rabbits, they are talking about putting rabbits into a stressful situation for a short time. The classic example of this is bringing the two rabbits for a short car ride together. Since the vibration and movement of cars tend to be scary for rabbits, this is an easy way to encourage them to lean on each other.

However, the car ride is just an example. There are plenty of other ways to stress bond rabbits even if you don’t have a car. What you will do is put your rabbits together into a box, laundry basket, or carrier and do something that will scare them just a little bit. This could be:

  • Putting the rabbits on top of the laundry machine.
  • Carrying the rabbits up and down the stairs.
  • Running the vacuum cleaner near the rabbits.
  • Rocking the box on top of a bed.

Really, the traditional stress bonding technique is anything you can do to put your rabbits in close quarters and then shake them up a little bit. You don’t want to stress your rabbits out too much, so it’s best to stick to sessions that are 15 minutes or less. 

After these stress bonding sessions, you also want to give your rabbits a cool-down period together, where you pet them both side by side to help them calm down and relax next to each other. This will further cement the positive feelings of support they have when they are next to the other rabbit.

two rabbits in a small ex-pen
For highly anxious rabbits, using a small space for bonding can help them feel more comfortable around your other rabbit.

2. Small spaces

Every once in a while, I hear someone referring to the use of small spaces as a stress bonding technique for rabbits. This is when the rabbits are kept in a box, laundry basket, carrier, or similarly sized small space for an extended period of time to force them to have contact with each other and get along.

Personally, I prefer to only use these small spaces for short periods, up to about an hour together. If the rabbits can get along in the area for short periods of time, I try to move to a larger space. However, there are some people very experienced in rabbit bonding who claim this is the fastest way to bond rabbits. If you can decrease the overall amount of time spent bonding, you also reduce the overall stress from the bonding process.

3. Slick floors

The other type of stress bonding that I hear people talk about is utilizing slick or slippery floors. The idea with slick floors is that rabbit feet cannot get any traction. It will be somewhat stressful for them to move around, and the rabbits won’t be able to easily chase each other.

While I understand the principles behind using slick flooring, I don’t recommend this bonding technique. Because rabbits can’t get any traction on slippery floors, it can end up causing injury to their back. It is okay to use a bathtub or similar sized space for bonding rabbits, but it’s best if you put some kind of towel on the floor to give rabbit feet some traction.

two rabbits in the kitchen
For a gentle bonding method, find a large neutral space to allow your rabbits free roam. This is optimal for rabbits who are not aggressive or anxious around each other.

Should you avoid stress bonding rabbits?

While stress bonding is a widely used technique for bonding rabbits, it also receives a lot of criticism. After all, who would want to purposefully stress out their rabbits? There are valid criticisms to stress bonding techniques. And it is important to understand the criticism and take it into account before choosing to stress bond your rabbits.

Criticisms include:

  • Stress is not good for the rabbits’ health.
  • Stress bonding can lead to injury.
  • Bonding with only stress bonding does not always last long term.

Many people advocate for using much gentler bonding techniques. These methods utilize a large space and allow the rabbits to choose to befriend each other at their own pace. Typically these techniques take longer to bond rabbits but are less stressful overall.

If your rabbits generally get along and either ignore each other or are curious about each other, there is often no need to use stress bonding techniques. However, if your rabbits are struggling to get along, you may still need to use stress bonding techniques to prevent your rabbits from fighting and injuring each other.

Put it in perspective. Even though we try to minimize stress for our rabbits, there are many actions we take that can stress them out. For example, when we clip our rabbits’ nails. The 10 minutes of handling your rabbit to clip their nails will certainly stress them out, but since it’s beneficial to them in the long run, it’s acceptable. In the same way, if 10 minutes of stress bonding will be beneficial and help in preventing aggressive behavior between rabbits, it’s not something that has to be avoided.

When is stress bonding necessary?

I believe that stress bonding should only be used when necessary. While many pairs of rabbits can get along without significant aggressive behavior, many other rabbits will attack each other or anxiously stay away from each other. In these cases, it’s usually necessary to bring the rabbits together and teach them how to get along using stress bonding techniques.

Mainly, I recommend using stress bonding to help a pair of rabbits where one or both are aggressive toward each other. In these scenarios, the rabbits need to learn how to be courteous with each other before they will be able to make any progress on their bond. Traditional stress bonding methods, such as riding in a car, can get them to the point where they are not attacking each other anymore.

Stress bonding rabbits in a small space can be helpful for especially anxious rabbits. If one rabbit runs away from the other and refuses to get close because they are scared, a small area can help them get used to the other rabbit. It forces them to be close to each other and helps them feel comfortable around the other rabbit.

Even without stress bonding, there will almost always be stress when introducing rabbits. Whether you use stress bonding methods or not, bonding rabbits is never easy. Sometimes using these techniques can help shorten the overall time it takes to bond two rabbits together. In turn, this can help reduce the long-term stress that a drawn-out bonding process brings. 

Do NOT over-stress your rabbits

While there are times when it’s necessary to stress bond rabbits, you want to avoid overstressing them. Rabbits can become ill when they are too stressed out, so you will want to take some precautions to prevent adverse side effects.

  1. Never have traditional stress bonding sessions for more than 10-15 minutes. By limiting the amount of time, your rabbits are acutely stressed, you can limit any negative health outcomes. 
  2. Follow stress bonding with a cool-down period. After the 10-15 minute period, give your rabbits a chance to recover. Pet them together and allow them to relax for at least 5-10 minutes afterward.
  3. Take your rabbit’s health into account.  Keep an eye on your rabbit’s appetite and litter box habits. Make sure they are still excited to eat and ensure their droppings are still uniform in size and shape. If you see small poop or two fecal pellets that are merged together, that’s an indication that your rabbit is too stressed out and needs a break from any stress bonding for a while.
two rabbits in an ex-pet
Before your rabbits are fully bonded, you want to make sure they can get along in a large area under non-stressful circumstances.

Is stress bonding enough to fully bond rabbits?

Think of stress bonding as a tool to use. It’s not the entire bonding process. It’s a way to start a tentative friendship between two rabbits. However, just because the two rabbits can get along in a small space or stressful situation doesn’t mean they are ready to move in together.

Stress bonding is a method you will likely only have to use when you start bonding your rabbits or if they are having a bad day, acting aggressively toward each other. Once they start getting along, you want to move them into larger spaces and stop using stress bonding techniques so that your rabbits will be able to get along with each other even in normal situations.

Before your rabbits are ready to move in together, you want them to get along in a large neutral space under non-stressful circumstances. I recommend waiting until they can get along in at least 16 square feet (a 4ft by 4ft pen) for 48 hours before putting them together full-time in their non-neutral space. For more information on the full bonding process, check out my article.

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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