Introducing Rabbits and how to bond two rabbits

When introducing rabbits to each other, both rabbits must be neutered (males) or spayed (females).

Rabbits are sociable creatures and gregarious in nature. They enjoy company of their own kind but they are also prey animals and will be cautious and wary of unfamiliar rabbits.

For this reason, if they are to live together they have to be introduced and bonded.

Rabbits get pleasure from being with their own kind. They will not only run and play together, but also spend time just sitting with, petting and grooming each other.

Introducing rabbits to each other is not an exact science and do not get daunted if at first it does not seem to be going well.

There are influencing circumstances, such as which sexes are being introduced, ages and temperament etc, but in most cases bonding will happen and it will be worth all of the effort that you put into it.

A male and a female are the easiest to introduce/bond, being the most natural, and they can fall in love with each other very quickly.

Two females can be relatively easy whilst two males can be more difficult, and two babies are very easy.

Bringing home a rabbit to an existing one is easier if you're bringing home a rabbit to a male rather than if you are bringing home to a female. This is simply for the reason of the male's territorial nature.

Bringing two rabbits home at the same time is easy.

If you bring home two or three baby rabbits together, from the same litter, they will bond very easily, in fact they will probably already be bonded.

However, as they grow to adulthood they will become aggressive towards each other and must be neutered/spayed, otherwise the bond will be broken.

After having a doe spayed you should wait for about two weeks before considering introduction. This is for the reason you want the rabbit to have healed nicely and for the hormones to have calmed down.

After having a male neutered you must wait for a period of up to six weeks before any introduction to a female rabbit because males can remain fertile for up to six weeks after neutering and the last thing you want is the rabbits to breed.

Before introducing rabbits face to face, start off by placing each rabbit in adjoining cages/hutches. In this way they will get use to each other's sight and smell.

If you already have a house rabbit you can let it run free and put the other rabbit in a cage by the house rabbits litter area. It will also be beneficial to feed them together.

It will help for them to see and smell each other before any direct introduction, allowing the rabbits to become familiar with each other and you will see the curious touching of noses through the bars or wire etc.

A good sign will be when both rabbits lie down and relax, each side of the bars/wire. Rabbits are territorial. In the wild, males defend territory and females build homes and nests. The territorial aspect can be used to your advantage.

Since you are trying to eliminate territorial behaviour, introducing rabbits to spaces that are as different to the rabbits existing territory as possible is the way forward.

You are trying to create a situation where snuggling, rubbing noses, smelling each other etc are nice memories and feelings, so they do not associate the other rabbit with stress.

It is important to try and avoid fighting because if they fight they will associate those memories with the other rabbit.

So, all face to face introductions must be carried out on neutral territory to both rabbits, regardless of age or sex.

This can be a room in the house that neither rabbit has been in before, maybe the bathroom, or perhaps a yard area or even a room in a friend's house.

Some suggestions are to take the rabbits on a car journey, the reasoning behind this, is that the journey will probably be stressful enough to both rabbits and therefore they will unite against the common enemy.

If you do try this, do remember to have the rabbits in cages and not running freely in the car.

When introducing rabbits, get down on the ground with them, down to their level. Be calm and relaxed, not nervous. Do not shout, just be calm and firm. If you are nervous or tense, the rabbits will pick up on your tension.

Believe it or not, it is probably more stressful to us than it is to the rabbits.

Introducing rabbits has to be slow and steady. Start with around 10 minutes for the first day or two, building up to 30 to 40 minutes as the days go on.

Do this daily in different neutral spaces or if not, in the same neutral space. You may find matters go well and you can spend more than 10 minutes on the first day or two. Be guided by how well, or not, the introduction is going.

Have a water bottle with nozzle, on stream, to hand, to break up any fighting. Gently spray if fighting breaks out and try to spray before the start of a fight, which you will notice by aggressive behaviour.

It is common for one of the pair to show more interest than the other or one seeming indifferent.

When not working with the rabbits keep them in eye contact of each other. The more work you put in, the quicker the progress.

The introduction area should be broken up with various obstacles and perhaps a few vegetables for treats as distractions.

Introducing rabbits can be slow to develop; it may take a week or maybe just one or two sessions. It takes time and commitment, but it will be worth it in the end.

Rabbits that may be chasing or lunging at each other on the first day will soon be cuddling and petting .

There are several ways introducing rabbits can develop;

Although rare, one or both rabbits immediately attack the other.

If this happens you need to intervene quickly to prevent the rabbits being hurt. Separate the rabbits immediately and go back to trying separate cages/hutches with just the bars/wire separating them for a day or two.

The most common scenario is more likely that one of the rabbits will carefully approach the other, sniffing and circling them and perhaps trying to mount them. At this stage this would be for reasons of dominance and is the rabbit's way of asserting who is the dominant one.

The submissive rabbit will allow this, putting their head down on the ground, but a less submissive rabbit may nip or run away.

Make sure the one running away does not fight back or get hurt. If there is fighting, or particularly if one rabbit gets hurt, call an end to that day's session and resume the following day.

With any fighting, prepare for a lengthier introduction.

Do not allow too much chasing between the rabbits.

Stay with the rabbits on the ground, at their level all the time and intervene if you feel one or maybe both rabbits are becoming too stressed or aggressive.

When introducing rabbits, nipping and fur pulling is common, so just sit there and help by stroking them.

As the day's move on, the rabbits will start to ignore each other and take a bigger interest in the surroundings.

If you are lucky, you can get a love at first sight scenario in that the rabbits approach each other as equals, sniffing and nuzzling each other and enjoying the experience.

Not only is this lucky but also not too common, so don't worry if it doesn't happen immediately.

When the rabbits lie down together or start to groom each other, you will instinctively feel it is safe and know the bond is made.

It is now safe to leave rabbits alone without your supervision. When introducing rabbits, it is important to recognise what the rabbit's behaviour pattern means since fighting, nipping and mounting may appear similar.

Fighting will be an instant, vicious attack and rabbits can sometimes attack the other rabbit's face or genital area. Do not separate the rabbits unless they are truly fighting.

When introducing rabbits, break up any fighting and put the rabbits side by side and reassure them.

Every time you separate the rabbits, you will have to re-introduce them.

Nipping at each other is not usually serious and is done for reasons of communicating, for attention, wanting the other rabbit to budge or showing curiosity.

Nipping, or the lack of it, will improve as the rabbits become more familiar with each other.

Mounting by either rabbit can develop into circling, which could lead to fighting. Mounting which causes the rabbits to circle, head to tail and must be broken up straight away, otherwise a vicious fight will break out.

Mounting usually diminishes after the first week and, in this instance, is for the sake of asserting dominance.

Mounting is an important part of courtship and needs to be allowed, but be careful about backwards mounting.

If your rabbits are mounting each other a lot, instigating fights, stop them mounting, try not to separate them, instead put them side by side.

Stroke and pet them together, talking to them quietly.

If the male mounts the females head and she does not like it, she may bite his penis which can cause serious damage and make the male rabbit unable to urinate.

If a male tries to mount a females head, push the male gently forward so the female's nose is sticking out. In this way, the male is mounting the female's shoulder.

Good behavioural signs when introducing rabbits are any relaxed behaviour such as resting, stretching out, grooming, eating or drinking etc.

It does not constantly have to involve direct contact with the other rabbit. You may find only one rabbit is relaxing.

Mounting the other rabbit is positive provided the other rabbit does not react in a bad way such as attacking or squealing.

Bad behavioural signs are aggressive behaviours such as biting, circling, chasing, tail up, ears back or growling. If this happens several times and neither rabbits backs down then break the rabbits up.

As previously mentioned a spray of water will probably interrupt a fight before it starts but once the two rabbits are in full swing, physically separate the rabbits, give it a break then try again.

If you are unsure, keep a towel to hand to physically separate them.

It really is important to stop the fight from starting in the first place.

The area to consider when introducing rabbits is important. Make sure there is plenty of room, not cramped, yet not too large so that the rabbits run away or do not meet up with each other often enough.

Block off an area of the room you are going to use or a play pen or run may be a good idea, depending on your circumstances.

Place items in the area to occupy them, put in a litter tray if you like, and try not to have areas that may trap the rabbits or lead to confrontation between the rabbits. Give them space. When introducing rabbits, if the first attempt at introduction goes well, still house the rabbit separately afterwards until the next bonding session.

Once bonded continue to regularly observe until you are 100% confident the rabbits totally fine with each other.

A rabbit's home is a far more personal area than anywhere else and it is important to let the rabbits decide when they are ready to share their home.

Do not forcibly put them in a hutch or cage together as this may cause a vicious fight.

Let the rabbits sort out their home together in their own way.

They will decide who goes in first and where and they will gradually become a proper couple.

Bonding will usually be for life but if there is a separation for any length of time you may have to repeat the process (though not as vigorously).

If one rabbit dies allow time for the other rabbit to grieve before introducing a new rabbit.

If you intend to buy a rabbit from a rescue centre, you may find part of your work easier, in that many rescue centres, have experience in introducing rabbits and will probably allow you to take your own rabbit along to the shelter to meet a new partner on neutral territory.

In addition, if you are considering buying a rabbit, then you could adopt a pair of rabbits that have already bonded, from a rescue centre.

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