10 Tips for When Bonding Rabbits Is Not Working


10 tips when bonding is not working

Bonding rabbits is rarely easy. There are always roadblocks, and unexpected scenarios that can make it seem like the bonding will never work out. During these times, you need to turn to new techniques to push your rabbits closer together and help them become best friends.

The best tip for bonding rabbits is to make sure you move at your rabbit’s pace. Be patient and avoid rushing your rabbits since that is sure to make the process take even longer. Once you find a method that works for your rabbit, stick with it until your rabbits are bonded.

But of course, “be patient” is not always very helpful. Sometimes rabbit bonding simply isn’t working, and we need other tricks to try. If you find yourself at a dead end with your rabbits and just don’t know how to help them get along, try one (or many) of these tricks.


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petting two rabbits simultaneously
For anxious rabbits it can be helpful to allow the rabbits to approach each other and then start petting them together. This will reward them for their behavior and help them start to feel comfortable around the other rabbit.

1. Petting side-by-side

Petting your rabbits next to each other is one of the most useful actions you can take. This causes your rabbits to feel calm and pleasant when they are near each other, making them more likely to get along even when you are not around. 

If your rabbits are having trouble getting along, pet them together for 10-15 minutes at a time. It’s also a good idea to end each bonding session with 5-10 minutes of head scratches and petting side-by-side to make sure you end on a positive note.

I’ve also adjusted this technique to use as a reward when working with anxious rabbits. Rather than placing them next to each other, I wait for one rabbit to approach the other. Then I immediately start petting the rabbits. This calms the rabbits’ anxiety and rewards the behavior and bravery of approaching the other rabbit, making it less likely the rabbits will fear each other in the future.

2. A bit of banana

You can trick your rabbits into grooming each other by using a little bit of banana. Mash up the banana and place a small amount on one of the rabbit’s forehead. The other rabbit will come and lick the banana mush. This causes one rabbit to feel like they are being groomed, a loving behavior among rabbits, and the other rabbit is happy because they get a yummy treat. You can then reverse the roles and place a bit of banana on the other rabbit’s head.

If your rabbits don’t like bananas, you can use other foods as well. Unsweetened applesauce is a common option that is well-loved among rabbits.

3. Move to a new location

If you find you are stuck in the bonding process, try switching up the bonding area. Sometimes the first location you choose is not a place that’s working for your rabbits. The area might not be neutral enough, or your rabbits might just not like the place.

Try experimenting with different sized spaces as well. If your rabbits are in a small space, increase the size, or reduce it if your rabbits are in a large area. Every pair of rabbits will respond differently to the place they are in, so change it up until you find something that works, then stick with that for a while.

two rabbits in a laundry basket
A laundry basket is a good option for the first stages of bonding. It gives you easy access to the rabbits from above, and you can pick up the basket and jostle it (lightly) to stop the rabbits if they start to show aggressive behaviors.

4. Stress bonding

To be honest, I was wary about using stress to bond rabbits before I started. I don’t like the idea of causing unnecessary anxiety. While stress bonding is not a technique that should be used all the time, I’ve learned that it can be necessary when bonding rabbits who continue to be aggressive toward each other. 

Stress bonding forces the rabbits to comfort each other when they are scared, thus causing positive feelings toward each other. You should never consider your rabbits fully bonded, even if they get along after a stress bonding session. However, it is a way to get your rabbits to stop attacking each other so you can start to see progress during their regular bonding sessions.

Common stress bonding techniques are:

  • Bringing your rabbits together for a car ride
  • Walking up and down stairs with your rabbits in a box
  • Vacuuming around your rabbits when they are together
  • Placing your rabbits in a basket on top of a laundry machine

5. End sessions on a positive note

No matter how poorly the bonding session went, ending on a positive note can give you a better starting place for tomorrow. This technique makes it more likely that your rabbits will have positive memories of each other since that’s how they ended together.

To achieve this, you can feed your rabbits at the end of a session. Give them their daily pellets or leafy greens to encourage the positive feelings of eating near each other. You could also end each session by petting your rabbits side-by-side to encourage those calm, relaxed feelings.

6. Use a squirt bottle when necessary

This is another action that I avoided to begin with. I am a big fan of positive reinforcement in animal behavior and training, so using a squirt bottle to discourage bad behavior seemed wrong. However, taking the advice of someone more experienced at rabbit bonding, I found that sometimes it is necessary and helpful to use a squirt bottle with aggressive rabbits.

If one of your rabbits is constantly snapping and lunging at the other, use the squirt bottle to stop them in their tracks. Watch your rabbit very closely; as soon as you notice their aggressive body language toward the other rabbit, give them a little squirt on the forehead. This forces the rabbit to stop and clean off their face, preventing potential injury to your other rabbit. If you are consistent about using the squirt bottle, your rabbit will eventually learn that their behavior is causing the water, and they will stop trying to attack your other rabbit.

The water is not harmful to the rabbit in any way; it’s just annoying. The squirt bottle works as a distraction, protecting the second rabbit.

7. Calming herbs and scents

You can try giving your rabbit calming herbs or spraying a calming scent to help your rabbits relax around each other and get along more easily. Products like this use the natural calming quality of valerian, chamomile, kava kava root, and other plants to naturally calm down an aggressive rabbit.

There are two products I know of that help anxious and aggressive rabbits relax:

  • Zen tranquility herbal blend: I used this blend of calming herbs when bonding my rabbits. While it didn’t seem to cause a significant behavior change, I did notice less aggression on the days when I sprinkled this blend in the bonding area with my rabbits. You can get it at Small Pet Select (my favorite online store for rabbits!) and use the code ‘BUNNYLADY’ at checkout for 15% off your order.
  • Pet Remedy: Pet Remedy was initially developed in the UK and only recently became available in the US. It’s a scent that you can spray on the surfaces in your rabbits’ bonding territory to cause them to relax. Pet Remedy was clinically tested with rabbits in a 2020 study that showed significantly relaxed behaviors. The scent does work at reducing anxiety. (warning: Pet Remedy has a strong, unpleasant smell to humans)
two rabbits playing with a toy
Give your rabbits toys to make their bonding a positive experience.

8. Make the sessions fun

As much as possible, you want to make bonding sessions a positive and happy experience for your rabbits. If your rabbits are bored, they might get frustrated with nothing to do for long bonding sessions. Then, with no other target, they’ll take that frustration out on the other rabbit. 

If you give them toys, treats, and hiding houses to play with, you can make these sessions fun. Your rabbit will look forward to the bonding sessions, enjoying their time with their bunny friend. This will then make the two rabbits much more likely to bond more quickly. 

9. Marathon bonding 

A more advanced method of helping your rabbits finally bond is going for a marathon bond. This is when you put the rabbits together 24/7 and keep them together until they get along. You’ll need to be with them through the whole process, bringing them with you in a carrier when you need to leave the house (or getting someone else to watch them). 

The idea is to give your rabbits no other option than to get along. One way or another, they’ll have to learn how to share the space because now they are together until the end. However, I do not recommend this technique to anyone new to rabbits or bonding. You’ll need to spend a lot of time with your rabbits and observe them very closely to prevent fights. It’s bound to be stressful for both you and the rabbits until they finally learn to get along.

10. Take a break

If things really aren’t working and your rabbits won’t get along, sometimes the best course of action is to take a break for a while. Separate your rabbits and let them live in their own independent spaces. Don’t worry about swapping enclosures or daily bonding sessions. Just let your rabbits relax and forget about everything. After a couple of months, you can try bonding again. Many times a break like this will almost reset your rabbits’ attitudes toward each other, making them possible to bond after a long break.

You can also choose to take a break if you’re the one feeling too stressed. Sometimes rabbits can sense the anxiety from us, which affects the bonding process. If you need to, take a break for a while. Try again when you are in a better mental state.

When to give up?

Some bonds are better left to fade away. If either rabbit shows severe amounts of stress or anxiety that do not fade with time, it may be best to discontinue the bonding. We want our rabbits to be happier in the end, not stressed out about having to share a space with someone they’re scared of.

The other reason you might give up on bonding your rabbits is if they continue to show aggression toward each other, despite your best efforts to prevent this behavior. This is especially true if either rabbit has managed to injure the other since that will not be forgotten. The rabbits have bad blood between them and are less likely to ever get along.

Despite this, most rabbit bonds do work out eventually. I’ve even heard of rabbits who finally bonded after two years of trying. If you’re up to it, you can take breaks and try again as many times as you need to. However, it’s also okay if keeping the rabbits separate makes everyone happier in the end.

Sources

  1. “Bonding When the Going Gets Rough.” House Rabbit Society. July 2011. https://rabbit.org/bonding-when-the-going-gets-rough.
  2. Moore, Lucile. Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing. 3rd ed. 2017, pp. 62-75, 129-155, 164-170, 180-183, 203, 220.
  3. Sarah Louise Unwin, Richard Anthony Saunders, Emily-Jayne Blackwell, Nicola Jane Rooney. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial investigating the value of Pet Remedy in ameliorating fear of handling of companion rabbits.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior. ScienceDirect. April 2020. Accessed: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787818301898.

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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