Bonding & Companionship
Introducing your rabbit to a new friend.
Rabbits are much happier when they have a friend to share their life with. They are emotionally and physically healthier because their friend offers companionship and can groom places that are difficult or impossible to reach.
Care and thought must be given when considering a friend for your rabbit.
Both rabbits should be altered and allowed enough time for their hormone levels to dissipate.
This typically takes three to four weeks. Failure to alter the rabbits and wait the appropriate amount of time could result in pregnancy, fights and/or spraying and marking of territory.
Adopt a friend that is the opposite sex of your rabbit.
Trying to bond two males will result in violent fights that could cause serious injury to the rabbits and you! Two females are very likely to be much more difficult to bond also.
We do not recommend brothers or creating trios/groups.
We have found that even neutered brothers can unbond and that re-bonding them is almost impossible. If brothers start fighting, your best bet is to house them separately and get each of them a spayed female companion.
Trios (or more) are certainly possible, but we have found that the process of bonding in a third can disrupt the bond between the pair, so we don’t recommend it. In some cases, groups of bunnies can do very well, and we recommend that you do additional research to find people who have successfully created bonded groups. When bunnies are old or disabled, you may find it easy to bond a group together, like the ‘Old Timers’ Club’ at SaveABunny rescue in California.
Size does not make a difference in whether the rabbits will bond or not, but age is a consideration.
Size doesn’t matter! Winston (the little guy) loves his huge girlfriend. When you bond your buns, look for a friend with a similar temperament and energy level…but don’t worry about size! The big bun won’t ‘accidentally hurt’ the little one if they are bonded. In fact, sometimes the little one purposely crawls underneath his or her big friend for a full-body hug!
An older rabbit would be much happier with a companion closer in age rather than a young one that is full of energy and vice versa.
You must be able to provide separate housing accommodations until the bond between the two rabbits has been established.
This also means you’ll need another litter box, water crock, food crock, etc. to set up this second space. It can take several weeks to months for a bond to solidify between the rabbits. Once bonded the rabbits should be housed together in a space large enough to accommodate them both comfortably.
Bonding can take a considerable amount of your time and effort in order to be successful.
It is very rare that two bunnies will meet and get along perfectly. Typically there are negotiations that need to be worked through in regards to who gets what role in the relationship. Mounting and chasing is quite common during this adjustment period. It will be your responsibility to monitor these negotiations and to intervene when appropriate to prevent things from getting out of hand.
Once your rabbit has a friend, he/she will not forget you!
Like humans, rabbits can have many individual relationships. You may even find that your rabbit is more friendly and outgoing once bonded with a companion.
How to introduce your rabbit to his/her new friend.
It is best if a bunny date can be set up with the facility you are looking to adopt from. This will provide the best opportunity for a neutral introduction and support for their initial encounter. You could also consider boarding your rabbit at the facility and let them do the bonding. If neither of these options are available, you’ll be looking at doing the bonding at your home.
Bonding at home
Locate a neutral place, somewhere your rabbit doesn’t normally frequent, in the house that isn’t too large; a bathroom or laundry room typically works well. Make sure to pick up anything that might be harmful to the rabbits and protect any cords before bringing them into this area. If this area has a slippery floor, then towels or an area rug can placed on the floor. Bring both rabbits into the room; you will need to be right in there with them at all times.
Remove them from their carrier, if they are in one, and allow them to explore the area and one another, paying close attention for any signs of aggression. Mounting, thumping and light chasing should be allowed without interference.
What to expect during bonding
Aggression during the bonding process is natural. If nipping or hair pulling occurs, clap your hands together loudly and say, “No bite!” You can also stomp your foot and/or whistle, but be consistent with the “No Bite!” If the rabbit ignores you, then carefully separate the rabbits. You could easily suffer a bite while doing this; heavy leather gloves can help to protect your hands from teeth.
The severity of the altercation will decide how long of a break the rabbits will need from each other before trying again. If it was just nipping, they should continue negotiations. If the bite was more serious or either of the rabbits are showing signs of stress, then both rabbits should be removed and placed back in their housing for a break after each rabbit has been thoroughly checked for injury.
Introductions should be short and frequent in the beginning and increased in duration as the rabbits become more tolerant of each other.
If the time-outs don’t seem to be working, place both rabbits in a carrier and take them for a car ride. They do not enjoy the trip and most likely will turn to one another for comfort. Be sure and take an extra carrier should they still decide to fight even when moving.
Place the housing for the new rabbit next to or, if possible, inside of the other bunny’s housing area. Exercise pens work wonderful for bonding are financially more reasonable than adequate housing and have many uses even after the bonding is completed. Alternate who gets what housing/space regularly so that no one is able to claim one as just theirs. This also helps the rabbits to become use to the other rabbit’s scent.
Do not leave the rabbits unattended, even for a second, until you are sure they are bonded. Serious injury can easily occur without you there to supervise their interaction. Once you feel they have bonded, you can test them. Move out of sight, but not out of ear range, for short amounts of time until you are certain they will behave nicely towards one another.
Bonding takes time, patience and effort; it will be up to the rabbits how much of each are necessary. The end result will be your rabbit being much happier and your new rabbit getting a second chance for a happy and full life.
Our Bonding Techniques Videos!
“Bunny Date” instructional video (Bonding 101)
This is a nice video with some good basics we found online (not a Special Bunny video, but we love it anyway!)
Special Bunny Bonding Techniques #1: “The Smoosh”
Special Bunny Bonding Techniques #1.5: “The Smoosh” Part 2!
Special Bunny Bonding Techniques #2: Building Trust through Face to Face Work
Special Bunny Bonding Techniques #3: Extended Session Part 1
Special Bunny Bonding Techniques #4: Extended Session Part 2
Special Bunny Bonding Techniques #5: A Note on Humping
Special Bunny Bonding Techniques #6: Creating a New Shared Space
Microspace + Marathon: A new method from Tokihut
We got this info via email from the founder of Tokihut, which has great bunny products. She suggests marathon bonding sessions in very small spaces, and has apparently had success even with bunnies who could not be bonded in other ways. We haven’t tried this ourselves, but it sounds promising (if exhausting!).
Stories of especially challenging bondings
It’s true, some bondings are tough! We know of now-bonded pairs who wanted to kill each other for MONTHS before they got over themselves and settled into married life. It’s helpful to share these stories to give ourselves hope during trying times…and share great ideas! If you have a story of an especially difficult bonding, and tips on what worked for you and your buns, send them to us!
Norbert & Padfoot
Norbert was a spoiled rotten single bunny who was completely doted on by his humans, in the best possible ways. But they decided to try bonding him and found pretty Padfoot at Special Bunny. Story shared by their human, Michelle — thanks Michelle!
First you, Tamara, tried to bond them, and Norb was injured…mobile vet visit #1.
Then we put a fence that ran though a couple of rooms, separating the two of them, but allowing them to observe each other safely. One afternoon, Paddy sprung over the fence and engaged Norbert in a death roll….mobile vet visit # 2, with both bunnies requiring treatment.
Several nights per week, Jim and I would “sit guard” for about 30 minutes monitoring each bunny, putting them near the other, but pulling them back if they became aggressive.
Finally, the thing that really worked… Jim built a special fence/gate (pictured below) with bars spaced widely enough to allow the rabbits to get their heads through, but not their shoulders, enabling them to bump heads, yet safely retreat.
After a few days with the “bonding gate” in place, Padfoot stuck her head through the gate and lowered it for Norbert to kiss her…and he did! Success!!!
Paddy and Norbie are wonderful, and more in love than ever. Everything they do, they do together…usually bumping into each other all the way. Paddy is the best thing that ever happen to Norbie (well, except when we rescued him from the parking lot). Paddy still doesn’t really appreciate human contact but adores Norbie and her life of freedom (throughout the house, that is).
How to create your own ‘bonding gate’
We haven’t created our own yet, but we have a new pair being bonded by one of our adopters and we’ll get photos from her when she creates it.
She’s going to use a neat idea cubes / wire mesh shelving panel. She’ll cut some of the wires with a bolt cutter to turn four of the small opennings into one large openning, and then she’ll cover the rough edges with tape. We’ll let you know how it goes…or you can let US know if you try it first or have other ideas!
Remember, never leave unbonded bunnies unattended with ANY holes between their areas. Bunnies can slip through incredibly small opennings…and as we all know, the little buggers simply can’t be trusted!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Special Bunny by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Emergency questions can be directed to Angie by calling (206) 351-2637.