Every rabbit needs a friend. Rabbits evolved to live in groups, never alone. Keeping a single rabbit deprives your pet of one of his most fundamental requirements; the company of its own kind. Once you have witnessed a bonded pair of rabbits grooming each other, lying down together, and eating together, it’s unlikely you will ever want to return to keeping a solitary rabbit. Getting two rabbits to live together is called bonding, mixing or pairing.
Rabbits value the company of other rabbits as much as they value food. If you do not already have a rabbit, it goes without saying that the easiest option will be to adopt an already bonded pair of rabbits. However, if you have one rabbit, you will need to find a suitable friend for your rabbit and bond them yourself.
Introductions have to be conducted carefully. Rabbits may be sociable, but they’re also territorial. You can’t just bring a strange rabbit home and expect your resident rabbit to realise the love of his/her life has arrived!
You must make sure that you have a large set-up suitable for two rabbits, although initially, you will need to be able to keep the rabbits in separate accommodation, so you must plan ahead as to how and where you are going to arrange this.
Before you start, make sure your rabbit is up to the whole process, is eating well and is fit and healthy. It will involve a bit of extra activity because they will chase each other a little to start with. Both rabbits should be wormed upon meeting (discuss this with your vet).
Mixed-sex pairs usually work best, so it’s advisable to get a male and female, although same-sex pairs can work (particularly if they are from the same litter).
Both rabbits must be neutered, if they are old enough. Neutering is important for so many health and behavioural reasons, and is absolutely necessary when pairing rabbits. If you already have a rabbit, arrange for him/her to be neutered and wait a few weeks before adopting the second rabbit.
It’s never too late to get a friend for your existing rabbit. There are many cases where older bunnies have spent their twilight years happily with a new companion.
Winter is the best time of year to bond, because hormones are less of a factor. Even neutered rabbits produce hormones, and most of these in spring and summer and that can make it a bit trickier. However, if your rabbit is alone and you’re reading this in the spring or summer then don’t wait until the winter. It might take a little longer but it’s important for your rabbit to have a friend of its own kind – even if that friend is on the other side of a wire barrier until they decide to get along.
On the Isle of Wight, the best place to find your second bunny is at the RSPCA rescue centre at Godshill (Tel. 840287). Not only will you be giving a home to a bunny in need, but an RSPCA rabbit will be neutered and vaccinated already. You will be required to have a home check and will need to show you have good sized accommodation available (there are helpful guidelines available from the centre, which detail the RSPCA’s expectations).
If there are no suitable rabbits at the RSPCA, you may be able to adopt a rabbit through Friends of the Animals (Tel. 522511) who sometimes have rabbits living with foster carers around the Island.
The Isle of Wight also has a dedicated Facebook Group called ‘Rabbit Rehome Group Isle of Wight’ (the sister group to ‘Just Bunnies IoW’) where private individuals can advertise rabbits for rehoming. If you rehome from a private individual please consider the implications/cost of taking a potentially un-neutered and unvaccinated rabbit.
Two baby rabbits (under 12 weeks of age) that are the same sex, or a “love at first sight” couple, can live with each other immediately. All other combinations will need to be carefully and gradually introduced.
Rabbits are surprisingly vicious fighters. It’s vital to keep a close eye on them throughout the pairing process as, left unchecked, one or both could be seriously injured. There are many different ways to introduce two rabbits, but the method below is easy to follow, the least stressful, and usually successful!
1. Put the rabbits in nearby enclosures, where they can sniff each other through wire. This is often called a “chatting wall”.
2. If your existing rabbit is free-range, put the new rabbit in a cordoned-off section of this area. The rabbits will start to get used to each other’s scent. To help this you can also swap their litter trays over, or rub a cloth over one bunny and then the other.
3. Once the rabbits are used to the sight and smell of each other (two weeks is a good guideline) start putting them together for very short periods of time in strictly neutral territory where neither has been before. Make sure you put lots of distractions in with them, so three piles of hay, three piles of herbs, and a tunnel for example. Make sure there is nowhere that one rabbit can get backed into and trapped. It’s also important to make sure there is nothing on which they can injure themselves. You will need to be in this area with them. Make sure you’re wearing sturdy shoes (no open toed sandals!) and have a towel with you in case you need to intervene and separate them. At the slightest sign of tension, separate the rabbits. Try again next day, gradually increasing the time the rabbits spend together. A little bit of chasing and nipping is normal, but it’s better to separate the rabbits too soon than risk an all-out fight.
4. Repeat this until the bunnies are relaxed in each other’s company. You can assist this process by feeding the rabbits together and providing lots of cardboard boxes and hidey holes so that they don’t have to stare at each other. Rabbits are very territorial and any competition for resources might cause tension so ensure you have at least two of everything – feeding station, water bowl, hidey hole – one for each rabbit.
5. When the rabbits are happy to groom each other and lie together, they can be left together unsupervised. The whole process can take anything from a couple of hours to a couple of months. The better the rabbits get on at their first meeting, the quicker they will bond. And if you are able to put the rabbits together for very brief periods every day, they’ll get used to each other far more quickly than if you do it less often.
It’s completely natural that one rabbit will be dominant over the other. It shouldn’t be in any way aggressive though.
There may be some mounting, but it should be accepted by the less dominant rabbit. The subordinate rabbit shows its acceptance of the other’s dominance by licking it. The rabbit that puts its head down to be licked is claiming top spot, and by licking it, the partner is accepting that the other rabbit is boss.
If the rabbits have a proper fight at any point, do not try to introduce them again. If this happens get in touch with an expert for advice, but it might be that they will not be able to bond. The same is true for same sex pairs that have previously lived together. If same sex siblings have started to fight when they have reached sexual maturity, then been separated, it is still unlikely that they will ever be able to live together again, even once neutered.
Some rabbits will establish an instant bond. You can recognise this by an initial lack of interest when first introduced followed by individual grooming. This will soon progress to mutual grooming and the rabbits sitting together. Do keep a careful eye on a “love at first sight” couple for any possible aggression, but if all goes well, don’t separate them you, and your rabbits, have won the love lottery!
Don’t separate them once they’re paired up!
Once your rabbits have paired up it’s important to keep the bond alive. If one of your rabbits needs a vet then take them both in the same carrier. They will stick together for comfort.
Contrary to popular opinion, rabbits and guinea pigs do not make ideal cage mates. Although some rabbit/guinea pig pairs get on well, many more end in disaster, often with injuries to one or both animals. If you have a rabbit and guinea pig living together happily let them stay together but make sure the rabbit is neutered, or the guinea pig is likely to be sexually harassed. Male guinea pigs may also need to be castrated. Take care with their diet; guinea pigs need vitamin C daily, whereas rabbits don’t. You must always provide a hidey-hole where the guinea pig can escape from the rabbit.
Please don’t start off with this combination; your rabbit will be much happier with a companion of its own species and the same goes for the guinea pig.
Rabbits feel safer with other rabbits
Credit: Thank you to Rosalind Crosby (a.k.a Ros/Rosie) and the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) for the excellent advice on their website which has been used as a basis for these guidelines. For more advice on all aspects of rabbit care visit: www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk