Those of us who share space with bonded rabbits, or rabbits who have become close friends, know the joy of watching these wonderful buddies groom and play with each other. Just as humans look for love and companionship in their lives, so do rabbits. They are socially active and enjoy and benefit from having a friend of the same species.
If you are thinking about finding a companion for your solo rabbit, there are a few things to review and consider before you make the introductions:
- Before you go out and get a second rabbit, be sure that you want a second rabbit. Although there is a lot you can do to encourage the friendship, there is no guarantee that your rabbits will ever be friends and you may have to keep them permanently separated.
- The general rule is that neutered males and spayed females are most likely to get along. Two rabbits of the same gender are more likely to fight — even siblings, friendly as babies, can become territorial as adults.
Despite this, we have seen many happily bonded same sex pairs, so don’t be discouraged. It is more important that both rabbits be spayed and/or neutered before being introduced.
Okay, so you’ve decided that yes, a second rabbit is just the thing. What’s the best way to proceed? There are a couple of different ways you can approach this. You can adopt a rabbit from the NH HRS, or from a local shelter. After you decide where you want to go for your new rabbit, prepare for bringing your new rabbit home and introducing him or her to your first rabbit:
- Be sure both rabbits have their own space and can be introduced slowly. Never leave the rabbits alone together at this stage.
- It is a good idea to put the rabbit’s cages side by side so that they can get used to each other’s smells while having the security of cage walls separating them. Try having them live like this for a few days or a week while they play separately in the same space, at least for some of their out-of-cage time.
- It is best to introduce your rabbits in space that is neutral to both of them. If your first rabbit resides in the living room, for example, take both rabbits to a guest room or bathroom for their introduction. When one rabbit’s odor is all over a room, a new rabbit can be very intimidated and have a distinct disadvantage.
- When you are ready for the first introduction, be sure that you organize the space before bringing on the rabbits:
- Schedule the first introductions during your vet’s regular office hours. Should an injury occur, you will want someone available to check out any real wounds, and “patch things up” if needed.
- Use a small, well-defined and confined space. A bathtub with a mat or rug in it to prevent slipping and scratching of the surface works well. Or a pet pen that can even allow you to be in there with them also works well. Too much space (for example, an entire room) and they will just ignore each other and remain in separate spaces.
- Have a spray bottle filled with warm water and a hand towel. The water might be useful if you have to break up a scuffle, or to encourage face cleaning (face cleaning when together is a sign of acceptance). The towel will be very useful if you need to break up a scuffle and they are not responding to squirts of water in the face. Using the towel as a barrier calms them more quickly and allows you to intervene without risking a bite or scratch to yourself.
- Have a little treat like pellets or a couple of raisins or pieces of apple. If they seem to be getting along, try putting some treats down between them. Eating together like this is also a sign of acceptance.
- Put one then the other rabbit in the space together. If it is a pen and you want to be inside with them, fine, but a bathtub probably isn’t big enough. But where ever you put them, you must stay right on top of things, just in case.
- Upon meeting, rabbits may chase each other, mount each other, one may show submission by putting his/her nose down, or they may even nip each other. Occasionally, they will ignore each other. Should any real fighting take place (and the fur can really fly!), separate them using the water spritzer or towel. Don’t try to separate them with your hands; an angry bunny will be just as satisfied to take a bite out of you! If they calm down quickly and it was a minor skirmish, you can let the introduction continue for a while longer. When you have had enough, or it is clear that they are not going to take this calmly, return them to their separate spaces/cages for a break and go back to the routine of living and playing separately. Try the introduction again when you have some time to spend with them, separating them whenever they fight. About 20 minutes at a time to start is good (it may take a week or so for two determined buns to be able to be together peacefully for 20 minutes!). Give them and you a break of a day or two between meetings if they seem particularly fight-oriented.
- With some luck, perseverance, and patience your bunnies should become good friends. There is no time requirement or even rule-of-thumb. It will happen in its own time. Some rabbits bond in the matter of a few hours, some a few days, others have taken months to become friends, and of course, some never will.
- When rabbits are particularly stubborn about getting together, you can try the bunny box treatment. Put both rabbits into a box that will hold the two of them. Put the in the car with someone to supervise (and a water spritzer and towel) and take them for a long and rugged ride. There is nothing like a scary adventure to bond a pair of rabbits. A half hour to an hour ride is good, and don’t worry about being gentle on the turns or over the bumps. While we don’t recommend terrorizing rabbits as a rule, in this case, a little bit of terror can help make friends out of former enemies. You can repeat this if necessary.
- An alternative to the car is to put the box on top of a washing machine running a spin cycle, or a dryer that has an old pair of sneakers flopping around as it runs! Scary stuff, bound to encourage bunnies to seek solace from each other.
Once your rabbits have bonded, there are a few more tips to help things continue to go smoothly:
- If one of the buns needs to see the vet for anything (even a routine checkup), take both rabbits. Sometimes, if rabbits are separated for even a short time, they need to repeat the introductions. So keep them together, even during illnesses whenever possible. The togetherness also helps the compromised rabbit heal or get well quicker, and having a pal along makes a scary trip to the vet easier to handle.
- Should one of the bonded pair die, be sure to let the survivor sit with the body for awhile. Some rabbits need longer than others, but a half hour to an hour should be sufficient for most. This allows the survivor to know that death took his/her friend, and they haven’t just been abandoned. Different rabbits will do different things as they say goodbye to their friend. Some clean their pal one last time, some just stretch out next to their pal and rest for a time, some dance circles around their pal’s body (they must know something about death that we humans haven’t learned yet!). Whatever your rabbit does, you will be able to tell when they are done saying goodbye. Consider having a post mortem done, even if it seems certain why the rabbit died. So little is still known about rabbit medicine that we need to learn anything and everything that we can. If your vet finds something of interest, a report can be made to the HRS for the national health database. After the death of one member of a pair, give the survivor a few weeks before introducing a new friend.