South Side Tails Blog


Helping Create Bunny Friendships (How to Bond Two Bunnies)
Written by Danielle Bailey, RAHT

Is there anything sweeter than two bunnies in love? The way they snuggle up with each other, taking turns licking and chin rubbing one another is such a wonderful thing to witness. Of course, it doesn’t often start out that way, so how does one go about bonding two rabbits?

I first decided to find a friend for my male lionhead, Finnigan, after seeing a client's bonded pair and how sweet they were together. I was unsure how Finn would feel; what if he didn't like his new friend? I wasn't really planning to have two rabbits if they’d have to be kept separately. I thought about adopting from the Edmonton Humane Society but I would be uncomfortable returning an animal when so many of them need homes. Fortunately a perfect opportunity fell into my lap. A rabbit was surrendered to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton (WRSE) that clearly was not a wild rabbit – a friendly white female lionhead with brown and black spots! They could not keep her since technically she was not a wild animal and the Humane Society was also unable to take her. One of the amazing volunteers from WRSE was fostering her, but the resident cat was a little too interested in this fuzzy "snack". I offered to take her for a trial. If they got along, great, and if not then we’d try to rehome her. That thought didn't last long. We fell in love with our new girl Izzy; she was going to be part of the "furmily" with or without Finnigan's consent. Since she was recently spayed and would need time to recover and get used to her new home we kept her well away from Finnigan. Once she had healed and was comfortable the process began.

I started by allowing them to see each other at a distance. Then I moved her temporary kennel into Finn's room when he was confined to his house. After about a week of that, I figured it was about time to let them meet nose to nose. In separate carriers, I took them for a short car ride to stress them a bit in the hopes that they'd look to the other for comfort. Immediately after we got home I took them out and placed them together in the front hallway – neutral territory, as Finn had never spent time there. They both seemed disinterested in each other. They hopped around a bit, seemingly ignoring one another. This was a good start. After about 10 minutes of this I placed them back into their respective houses. The next day we tried the kitchen without the car ride first. There was some sniffing but again mostly no interest. The next time was mostly the same.

Next up was meeting in the living room, where both had spent some time separately. This is where their first "discussion" of who was in charge took place. After a couple minutes of hopping and sniffing apart, Finnigan decided Izzy was not welcome and charged her. There was chasing and some fur flew but I stepped in to break things up when I thought it was getting too serious. They got a break from each other and then it was back to neutral territory the next day. We repeated this, slowly increasing the time spent together and eventually the fighting decreased. After a few good sessions they then swapped houses every night to get used to being in the other's territory.

When they seemed to be getting along better in the sessions, I decided it was time to try them in Finn's room. They fought, with both of them trying to dominate the other, so I went back to stressing them by placing them on the slippery floor of the bathroom (aka lava to my bunnies) where they were unable to get enough traction to chase and fight. I brought the handheld vacuum into the mix and they snuggled up so fast I could hardly believe it. Every time they started to get nippy, the vacuum would be turned on. After that, it only required a couple more sessions and they were fast friends.

It was amazing to see the personality changes in Finnigan. He went from a shy, standoffish fellow who refused to be petted and charged me every time I reached into his house to this curious, friendly boy who would let me pet his forehead (when he felt like it of course!). He was clearly a very happy bunny. Izzy became the boss, but he didn't seem to mind, and she was just as spunky and friendly as ever. Sadly, Izzy passed away suddenly 7 months after she came to live with us. Finnigan spent the next 6 months as a single bunny and although he retained much of his confidence, he was just not the same as he was with a friend. In December, a new addition came to stay – a little outgoing girl named Amelia from the Humane Society. It was practically love at first sight; not even 2 weeks of bonding sessions and they were the best of friends. They are both extremely happy buns!

Some helpful tips:

- Make sure both parties are spayed or neutered and completely healed before starting. Males, even after being neutered, will still be able to impregnate a female for up to 2 months, so be sure to wait the appropriate amount of time.

- Male and female pairs tend to be the easiest to bond, although same sex pairs and even groups can be bonded, it may simply take more time and effort.

- Always start introductions in neutral territory and work your way up to established territories.

- Two new rabbits may be easier to bond since they haven't already claimed an area as their territory.

- Let them spend some time on their own in the other rabbit's housing.

- Add an element of stress to aid in the process, since they will usually look to the other bunny for comfort and support, which is what we want! Try car rides in separate carriers and then in the same carrier, a vacuum or some other noisemaker.

- Start small. Smaller areas with slippery footing like a bathtub, a laundry basket or a small bathroom will force them to be closer together and they will be less able to chase one another.

- Mounting and humping will often happen and it's not always a bad thing. They are going to have to figure out who is going to be dominant and this is one way to establish that. Make sure you monitor them and don't let one continue for too long. If it looks like one is trying to get away and is unable to or the dominant one won't stop, gently push him or her off and give the other a chance to get away. And yes, females will sometimes mount the males!

- Always supervise and start with short sessions. Don't rush! Start with 10 to 15 minutes at a time and gradually work your way up. You may have to go back a few steps if they aren’t getting along when moved to larger, known territories.

- Rabbit fights can be very serious. Always be prepared to intervene in order to stop a fight, and be sure to protect yourself as well. They may unintentionally bite or scratch you when you try to break them up. Wear shoes and long pants, and even have thick gloves or oven mitts handy, just in case. Also have a spray bottle with water and a noise maker (a vacuum, a can of coins, etc) to help get them to stop if things get out of hand. If there are any injuries be prepared to take them into your veterinarian as soon as possible.