Bonding

Rabbits are very social animals who are happier, healthier and live long if they have a mate. It is true that rabbits can “bond” with a dog or cat, but it is much better for them to bond with their own kind. 

Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they are most active in the early morning and evenings. Dogs and cats are nocturnal or diurnal, this means they won’t be spending all of their time together. So if you’re able to, bond your rabbit with one of its kind.

I, unfortunately, have not been able to keep another rabbit at home for Cooper to bond with. I did try, however, she was a lion head mix and her fur got me extremely sick because I suffer from asthma. Eventually in the future I’ll give it another try, but for now, I have to allow my lungs to heal.

Rabbits are picky just like us and it is likely for them to be less picky when being bonded at a young age. This however, does not mean that an older bun cannot be bonded. Senior rabbits are often very gentle with each other, seeming to want a quiet companion with whom to share their lives with.

Ideally, both rabbits should be close to the same size and age; not that they care, but it will be less likely that they hurt each other during squabbles that usually accompany introductions. The most natural pairing of two rabbits is done with a neutered male, and a spayed female. It can be difficult to pair them when one is altered and the other isn’t, it can be done but it will take a lot of time and patience. The hormonal needs are too different so this will cause some issues.

First Steps

Start with two crates, one for each rabbit. Put them next to each other, with two or three inches separating them at first, so they can’t bite each other’s noses through the sides of the crates. (This is an ideal setup if one of the rabbits has just been spayed or neutered. The two can be next to each other throughout the healing period.)

Each day, switch the rabbits so each is in the other’s crate. Don’t switch the furnishings of the crates, and don’t clean prior to switching the rabbits, so each rabbit is living in the other rabbit’s space. Of course, you will have to clean the crates from time to time, but try to do it after the rabbit has been in the other’s crate for at least several hours.

After a few days of this, move the crates as close to each other as you can, but move them apart immediately if the rabbits are nipping at each other. If they are trying to groom each other, or are lying next to each other, take the next step. (If the rabbits never stop nipping at each other, you might want to start over with a different rabbit, although it is possible that, if you continue with the next steps, you might still get a pairing.)

Introductions

Take the two rabbits to a neutral area that is fairly large, you can either take them to a room that neither is used to.  If the surface is linoleum or tile, rather than carpet, the rabbits will be unable to get traction, and will be less likely to hurt each other if they do start fighting. On the other hand, a flat carpet, with no pile, provides traction, and makes the rabbits feel more secure. I select the type of flooring I use based on how I perceive the rabbits; slick if I think there will be major scuffling; carpeted, if either rabbit isn’t totally confident. (Some people use a bathtub to introduce rabbits, but I prefer a larger space so the meeting can be more “natural.”)

Put several stools, tunnels, boxes, etc. in this area so the rabbits can get away from each other if they want. Include a litter box that has been used by both rabbits, a box of hay, and a heavy crock of water in an out-of-the-way spot, so the rabbits are less likely to land in it if they start scuffling or racing around frantically. If the rabbits do start to fight, use the broom or your feet to separate them (make sure to wear shoes and not sandals!). Grab one with your hand only when you have them separated so you aren’t bitten by a rabbit who thinks you are part of the other rabbit!

Note: when rabbits fight, they draw the third eyelids over their eyes to protect them. They don’t see detail to begin with, and with their eyes covered by the third eyelid, they see even more poorly. They may attack your feet, not realizing that you aren’t the other rabbit. Obviously, if your hand is in the way, they may attack it, not meaning to hurt you, but mistaking you for their foe. So be careful about getting your hands where the rabbits may bite them. Once the rabbits have been separated, grab one quickly, lifting him or her off the floor into your arms.

Pairing

Eventually, the rabbits will begin spending less time scuffling and chasing each other. They may take naps a foot or two apart, or explore different parts of the room. Little by little, they will begin lying closer to each other, grooming each other, and fully accepting each other. The “cage” (the rabbit’s personal home) tends to be a far more personal possession than the space around it. It is important to let the rabbits decide when they are ready to share their home. If you put them in it together, you may cause a vicious fight. It can be very difficult to break up such a fight inside a “cage”.

Allow the rabbits to go into their home together on their own. One may go in, the other start to follow, and quickly back off, acknowledging the territory of the other. Gradually, they will agree that they are, truly, a “couple,” having equal rights to their home, and will curl up together in it.

Working on this little by little will hopefully help you bond your pair. If this does not work, try going on car rides with them, placing them in a laundry basket or a large carrier and going for a car ride. This seems to help by bringing them closer together in a strange environment and learning that they can trust each other. This will take several trips in order for them to bond.

You can also try placing them in a bathtub and allowing them to spend some time together, just like in the car rides. Allowing them to spend time in a neutral space, both feel are uncomfortable with their surroundings so they tend to find comfort in each other. But this will also take time, so be patient!

Good luck, I hope this helps!

(Cooper & Lady, the bun I tried bonding Cooper with.)