Bonding rabbits

1st June 2016

Top tips on bringing rabbits together

As part of this years Rabbit Awareness Week, which runs from 18th – 26th June, we thought we’d give you some top tips on Bonding Rabbits.

Rabbits are social animals with complex needs. For far too long people haven’t been aware of the stress and anxiety caused to rabbits when they are housed alone. It’s estimated that there are over half a million pet rabbits living on their own in the UK, and this needs to change. In the wild they live in large complex social groups spending their time feeding, grooming and playing together.

Signs of stress in a lone rabbit

  • Quiet and hiding – rabbits are prey species, and when frightened and stressed, will sit quietly & not moving. They tend to hide and avoid investigating their surroundings.
  • Easy to pick up – when in this stressed state, many pet rabbits will be easy to pick up and handle. Many owners misread this as being well behaved, but infact they are ‘freezing’ their position to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
  • Fast heart – when you pick up your pet, put your hand on the left side of their chest. A stressed animal will have a very fast pounding heart.
  • Aggressive behaviour – some rabbits living alone become aggressive. This is usually because they are stressed, feel threatened and will attack what they perceive to be the threat.

House them in pairs or small groups

If you are considering getting a new pet rabbit, make sure you consider at least two.

Where can you get another rabbit?

At any one time there are estimated to be around 60,000 rabbits looking for a home in the UK. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we feel it’s worth contacting a local rabbit rescue group. If you call our reception team we can give you the details of the rabbit rescue groups.

We have highly experienced vets and nurses who will be able to help you. Call us on 01625 573375 and we’ll help.

Come to see us

Our top tips to introduce rabbits

Because of their natural complex behaviour, you will find that if you just mix two unfamiliar rabbits together without any preplanning you’ll more than likely end up with a fight on your hands. You need to introduce them carefully.

Checks before introducing

  • Neutered – always make sure that both rabbits being introduced are neutered. This not only makes sure you avoid unwanted pregnancies, but will also make the whole bonding process easier.
  • Vaccinated – always check that both rabbits are up to date with their vaccinations. There is no point in exposing one or more of the rabbits to an unnecessary risk of infection. Ask our clinical team for advice on how to do this.
  • Same size – ideally the rabbits that are going to meet should be around the same size, They don’t have to be the same breed, but if they are of similar proportions then they won’t intimidate each other.
  • Males and female – it generally works well if you introduce different sexes, but do make sure they are neutered! If you introduce two males together you are more likely to get territorial fighting.
  • Healthy – the rabbits need to be fit and well. You should arrange for them to have a general health check with one of our vets first.
  • Eating and drinking – find out what they are eating, and check they are consuming the right amounts of hay and feed. Water intake should be checked as well.
  • Normal droppings – one of the best ways to assess a rabbit’s general health is to check that they are producing normal faeces. Their faecal pellets should be numerous, small and dry. If you see sticky wet faeces around the bottom, there is likely to be an issue that needs investigating.

The Introduction

  • Split mix – in many cases it’s safer to introduce two rabbits with a barrier between them. A simple wire mesh separating the two will suffice. This way they can see, smell and interact without actually being able to hurt each other. You’ll need to do this for about a week.
  • Neutral territory – it helps if you can introduce them in an area that is new to both of them. Rabbits can be quite territorial, so if you introduce one into another’s home, the instinct to protect the territory will kick in quickly.
  • Feed and litter nearby – place the feed, water bowls and litter trays close to the barrier. That way normal daily routines will take place in close proximity to each other. They will have more chance to get used to each other quickly.
  • Mixing properly – do this after the initial period of split mixing. At first you’ll need to be extra vigilant, so only do this when your are available to step in if a fight occurs.
  • Hay and forage – provide plenty of fresh hay and garden picked forage (dandelions etc) to encourage them to eat together.
  • Tunnels – provide a couple of short (1m long) plastic tubes for the rabbits to run into. This will allow a female being followed by a male to retreat and avoid being mounted. Rabbits like the feeling of security inside a tunnel shelter.

Signs to look out for

Good signs

  • Feeding – when together, you should see them feeding on hay and leaves in a relaxed way.
  • Grooming – a relaxed pair of rabbits will start to groom themselves and each other in a relaxed manner.
  • Sitting together – happy, contented, stress free bunnies will happily sit next to each other.
  • Play – some chasing around the enclosure will be normal. In the wild you’ll often see companions running around after each other in a playful, non-aggressive way.

Beware of these signs

  • Attacking – if you see one of the rabbits constantly seeking the other to attack it, this is a sign that the mixing will take longer.
  • Fur pulling – dominant rabbits may repeatedly pull chunks of hair out of the other. Looks for the signs of fur in clumps in the enclosure, or bald patches on the coat.
  • Injuries – check them every day for injuries. Some bite wounds can be difficult to see. You may notice wet patches of fur that seem to be stuck with saliva. Any wounds need to be attended to so don’t hesitate to call us if you are worried.
  • Hiding – if one of the rabbits is feeling more threatened, you may notice that it is always hiding inside a tube or under a box. This need to be addressed.

Watch this great video

The RWA and Wood Green Animal Shelter have produced a video on mixing rabbits together.