There are two main ways of bonding rabbits, side by side or the 24/7 method.
Side by side
Set up two areas, side by side where the rabbits can sniff each other without biting/harming each other.
If you want to try to do the pairing yourself at home there are some ground rules.
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, all of which have their devotees. The RWAF does not support any ‘stress bonding’ methods. So no very small spaces and no unnecessary car journeys because it’s simply not right to put them through such stress. The following method isn’t the quickest, but it is easy to follow, we think it is the least stressful, and it nearly always works.
- Put the rabbits in nearby enclosures, where they can sniff each other through wire.
- 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.
- Once the rabbits are used to the sight and smell of each other, start putting them together for very short periods of time in strictly neutral territory where neither has been before – try the bathroom, but not the actual bath! 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.
- 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.
- When the rabbits are happy to groom each other and lie together, they can be left unsupervised together. 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 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 the top spot, and by licking it, the partner is accepting that the other rabbit is boss. If they do 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. We are often told about same-sex siblings that have started to fight when they have reached sexual maturity. The owners will at that point, have separated them and have them neutered. Sadly by this point, it is unlikely that they will ever be able to live together again.
Another option is the 24/7 method, this consists of placing the rabbits together in small, neutral area. It is essential that the rabbits are fullly supervised for the first 24 hours. Although intense, this method is often quicker and it is clear early on whether the rabbits are compatible or not.
This website is helpful, see Technique 2 for more guidance
These websites also offer some excellent advice.