Rabbits are highly social animals and should always ideally be kept in companion pairs. We strongly recommend a neutered male and a neutered female pairing to reduce aggressive behaviours and unwanted pregnancies, however pairings will depend on individual bunnies. Most pet owners get rabbits in pairs when they first acquire them, but one rabbit sadly passes away, they may be nervous about getting a new companion for an older rabbit.
If you’ve decided it’s time to introduce a new bunny to your existing pet, well done! A friend is the best enrichment you can give a rabbit and, once bonded, provides them a stimulating companion and lowers stress levels. The best place to find a new bunny is at a rescue centre and they will often help with the bonding process. The following advice is to help ensure a stress-free, safe introduction of new rabbits for both bunnies and owner. Be aware that this can be a time consuming process, and some bunnies just won’t click. Be patient, it can take hours up to many weeks for bonding to be successful, and if you need help speak to your vet or a rabbit behavioural specialist. Once your bunnies are bonded, keep the love alive! Don’t separate them unnecessarily, which means always bringing them to the vet together too!
Step 1: Preparation
- Make sure both bunnies are up to date on their vaccinations and have a cleared health check with a vet
- Make sure both bunnies have fully recovered from neutering surgeries
- Make sure their new home is suitable for two rabbits
Step 2: Sights and Smells
- Scent is the most developed of rabbit communication channels, so this stage is important!
- Start by getting the rabbits used to each other’s smells by moving bedding or litter trays into each other’s cages regularly. This gets them used to each other in the comfort of their own territories
- After a fortnight or more of this, start keeping them in sight of each other. Feed the rabbits in separate enclosures separated by a barrier so they can get used to doing a social activity together – eating!
- Once they are showing positive interest in each other, such as lying alongside each other on either side of the barrier, then move one to Step 3
Step 3: Physical Introduction
- Meeting in a neutral territory is very important: think of a room where neither has been previously, a bathroom or an outside area new to them both. Introducing one rabbit into another’s territory greatly increases the risk of fighting
- Make sure there is an adult present prepared to physically separate the rabbits if fighting ensues: they can bite indiscriminately whilst this is happening, so be careful. Have a towel with you to help with separation just in case
- Scatter food around the area so there is no dominance over food bowls and encourages social eating. Have at least 2 water bowls, too
- Provide tunnels and other enrichment, but make sure there is nowhere that one rabbit could be backed into a corner
- A short 5-10 minute meeting is suitable for the first time. There should be some sniffing but the meeting should be ended immediately if there is fighting. If they ignore each other this is a good sign!
- Treat any wounds if fighting occurs
- Meetings can be repeated daily for increasing lengths of time, all in a neutral territory
Step 4: Permanent Roomies
- Once the bunnies are grooming each other, lying together and eating together they can be put together back in their original territories
- If this positive behaviour continues for hours at a time, they can be allowed to share a sleeping area and live together permanently
Here’s a handy list of different behaviours to look out for during the bonding process:
- Self grooming
- Mutual grooming
- Lying alongside each other
- Ignoring each other
- Pulling fur or nipping, but not breaking the skin
- Lunging towards each other
- Biting deeply
- Obsessive grooming of one rabbit to another.