*As a reminder – I am not a vet, nor any type of bunny specialist. I have volunteered for rabbit rescues, and this is just a method I have used and have had success with bonding rabbits.
Bunnies are very social animals by nature. They love to be around their chosen human. You might notice, even if you think they hate you, they have to be around you.
Bunnies (depending on the bunny) love to have friends as well. They, by nature, are colony animals. They create their colonies, and they feel safer in groups. That being said, it is a process of bonding bunnies. Rabbits are not like cats or dogs where they sniff each other’s butts and then say “no way Jose” or “eh you’re cool”.
I have come down to a theory on this, it’s not scientific, it’s just my guess after watching endless Animal Planet on other colony animals. My theory is, each rabbit and litter have a different colony. So it would be like one rabbit is from the California colony, the other is from a New York colony (not physically, but theoretically). The California rabbit is laid back, chill and suntanned. The New York rabbit is a little more hustle and bustle, a little more closed off, and loud. Both rabbits will have different slang and different cultures. They will come from different family upbringings and have different styles. Rabbits by nature are automatically instinctually territorial, and despite being domesticated they will kill to keep their land. This is why if you just put two rabbits together without the bonding process, there will be blood.
So how do you get two rabbits to like each other? Well, it all depends on some factors, it is a matchmaking game.
Personality Automatically I would look at the personality of each rabbit. For example, if I was wanting to bond my bunny, Batman. Batman is a jerk (love him but it’s true). He is dominant, stubborn, and grumpy. He will thump at you even just if you look at him. At the same time though, I know from force petting him he wants (deep deep deep down there) to be loved and will give in eventually.
So if I was looking for his match, I can choose a passive and more submissive bunny.
Finding the Right Bunny I try to keep the bunnies around the same size. This mainly being that if I were to put together a 5lb bunny and a 15lb bunny, if things go south that 5lb bunny won’t be able to hold their own and defend themselves.
I always bond female to male spayed/neutered bunnies. This is for a number of reasons.
#1 – No baby bunnies. Rabbits are EXTREMELY fertile, to the extent of female rabbits are able to get pregnant the day they give birth. They don’t mess around.
#2 – Unspayed/Unneutered rabbits will be hormonal. I wait until they have been fixed for over a month before bonding to ensure the hormones are out of their system. They will hump the daylights out of each other if not. They will also be more territorial and dominant if they are hormonal, they will fight over who gets to hump who. They take that very seriously.
#3 – Female to male is an easier bonding experience, and also will last longer. Female to female or male to male, down the road they can break their bond. They become territorial, and the dynamic of the relationship (gender roles) becomes a fight. Now I have had same-sex bonding work and last, not to say it never happens. But even siblings from the same litter that are same-sex, can break their bond down the road, even after years.
I make sure that the rabbits I am bonding are around the same age. This is due to once a rabbit is bonded, they need to forever be bonded.
Rabbits can go into depression if they lose their mate. They will stop eating, they will mope around and eventually become sick, or shut down completely and die. They die of a broken heart. If one of their mates does pass, usually you try to rebond within 1 month of that time.
I keep the rabbits within 1-2yrs of each other to ensure they have a long happy life together.
The Bonding Process
The number one rule before beginning any of this, stay calm, trust your bunny, and watch them closely. You want to trust them to do what they need to do, but know when to step in. Do not get emotional, the bunnies will feed on that.
Once you have selected a bun for bonding. I prefer selecting from a small rabbit rescue mainly because the bunnies are a little older than babies, and the rescue volunteers and foster parents usually know the bunny’s personalities and quirks. It makes it easier to find the right match for your rabbit.
You want to introduce and begin the bonding process in a neutral area. A place that both bunnies have not been before, neither of their scents are in that space. You can spray the area down with Vinegar water as well to help clean and neutralize the scent.
I use a stroller or some type of box on wheels to start the bonding process. The trick is that the bunnies need to be stressed, not too much but enough to need to rely on another bunny. So if you hold the bunnies and bounce up and down (like when you are soothing a human baby, not vigorous Bouncing). You want to do that before going to step 3.
Place the more submissive and less dominant rabbit in the stroller first. Then place the second bunny in the stroller. Eye to eye and parallel to each other.
Begin immediately cross petting both bunnies. Get their scents on each other. I do that for about 2 minutes to ensure they know the other is there. You want to pet with some weight, not squish them, but know that they are being pet. Don’t be too soft as you do not want to soothe them.
Once I feel comfortable I begin moving the stroller back and forth, side to side, and gently jiggle it a bit. This will keep them stressed and make them feel each other.
You want to make sure for the first 5-10 minutes they stay eye to eye. Don’t let them sniff each other really just yet. I alternate between cross petting and jiggling the stroller.
Once they seem to begin leaning into each other, I start walking the stroller
*If they begin to nip, or bring their tails up. Put your hand between them (now use common sense though, don’t lose a hand). Any time you see a nip or aggression coming, just put your hands between them, break the eye contact, get them back to parallel, and cross pet again. Start from step 4 and start the process over. If you need to separate them to give them a break, do so and then start from step 1 again.
On the walk, I make sure to go over bumps and swerve a lot. The key is to keep them stressed. You want them stressed, as they bond by soothing each other. You will see one start leaning into the other, or put their head under the other. That is a good sign. The best sign is when they start grooming each other.
I do the walk around the block, maybe 5 laps, then stop. Let them rest in the stroller, see what they do, how they respond. Watch their interactions.
After the first walk, I watch them, let them begin exploring each other. Then I get them back to parallel and go again.
After completing the walk for about 30-45minutes, I put them in a box and go for a car ride. Make sure you bring someone with you to drive, just in case a fight begins and you need to intercede.
You want to make sure that the bunnies have no room to move really, a small box that’s big enough for both of them to lay parallel, but maybe a few inches on each side. I drive around maybe an hour or two. Find some curvy roads, or some speed bumps, potholes, stuff that will be a little bit of noise and movement.
Once you get back from the car ride, have a small x-pen set up. Just enough for them to stretch and walk around but small enough to where if you need to break them up you can. I usually have the x-pen overlap so I can swing a panel to separate the cage if a fight begins.
Things you will see: (*when I say hold one back, do not pick them up. Just use a hand to hold one down, break contact, or to separate them)
They will hump each other. This is them proclaiming dominance. I usually will let this go, but if I see it becoming aggressive, I will tap the humper’s forehead, pet behind the neck around the forehead, or squirt the humper with a water bottle to get them to dismount. You do not need to tap them hard, just enough so they lose their concentration. Do not pull them off, as most of the time the humper has a bite of fur and possibly skin in their mouth of the humpee. If you pull them off, you can pull a chunk with them. You need them to release on their own.
You will see circling, this is a sign of a fight coming on. I usually will hold one back, but not intervene. If they are just circling slowly, let them go. If they are increasing speed and nipping at each other, or raising their tails, hold one back and place them parallel to each other and do cross petting again to "reset".
Charging, you will want to separate them with the x-pen panel for a couple of minutes and let them breathe. If tails are up, give them a break and start with a stroller ride again in an hour or so. Keep them separately, with an x-pen panel between them, so they can still see and smell each other, but cannot touch.
Grooming, oh the sweet grooming. Let them go all day long. If they are grooming each other and submitting to each other you have a linked bond. They might snip a little as they are learning each other’s spots. One of mine HATES his ears cleaned, but the other knows she needs to. So they squabble over that. They are just learning their relationship.
It all depends on how much you trust the bunnies. I will let mine be in the x-pen until they say otherwise. I will begin adding things, litter box, water bowl, toys. See how they do with each item added. The food is last. I want to make sure I add the less territorial things first.
When adding the food, I start with maybe a leaf of greens. See how they share it, see if one cares. Then I will add some hay, maybe a treat for each of them. Just slowly introducing food. The last would be a scoop of kibble to see if they will share a bowl. If they share a bowl of food, you are in the clear.
Once you have them sharing food, I would keep them in the neutral x-pen overnight. See how they do. I add jingle bells to the sides of the kennel and noisy jingle toys/balls in with them so if they begin fighting I will hear it.
Prepping the Hutch/Home for Bonding The number one thing I do is wash everything with vinegar water, this neutralizes the scent of the hutch, litter box, kennel, hutch walls and floor, everything. You do not want your rabbit’s scent on anything for the new bunny to smell. Also, your rabbit will feel ownership over anything that has its scent on it. The rabbits will need to chin what they want as theirs. Clean Slate.
Empty all items out of the bunny area, let it just be the kennel/hutch and their area.
Start with the new rabbit in the area, let them get a head start. Then re-introduce your rabbit. You will do the same as you did in the x-pen, watch them, and re-introduce the litter box that they used in the x-pen, let it be a day dirty so both of their scent is in it. Then introduce a toy or two. Then a treat, then some greens, then the kibble. Just watch them, and see how it goes.
There will be a little bit more of a territory/dominance battle in their new home as it’s just like when you move in with someone, you need to learn them. Learn how they keep their home, their habits, and stake claim on what you want.
*The full bonding process can be overnight, or it can take up to 6 months. It really is all about consistency, and the rabbits.
Don’t give up, and don’t feel defeated if you are still in the stroller and car rides at a month in. Some rabbits are beyond adamant and stubborn and don’t want to give in.
No one knows your rabbit better than you do. If you feel that the pair will not bond, and it is not getting any better, that is your call. That is also why I recommend rescues, as most rescues will let you exchange rabbits (I know that sounds horrible, but they want to ensure you have the right fit for your bonding and the right home for the rabbit). If it isn’t the right match, it isn’t the right match. You won’t know if it is right until you begin the bonding process.
All rabbits, I say give them at least 3-4 weeks before throwing in the towel. Most rabbits don’t feel “At Home” until the 2nd week in a new environment. Their personalities really start showing after week 1. This is all new to them, a new home, a new human, a new rabbit who isn’t too sure about them, it is a lot for them.
Now the only exception to this is if the rabbits are full-on fighting, tails up, ears back, and drawing blood. You do not want the rabbits to hurt each other, or traumatize your rabbit to a point that they do not trust any other rabbits. Rabbits will shut down, and will not tolerate any other rabbit.
Most rescues are great about helping you, and beginning the process with you at the adoption events. That way you can see it being done in person, try out multiple rabbits, and have someone with experience to walk you through it. I do not recommend trying more than 2 rabbits in one day. Your rabbit will shut down, and you will not get an accurate result when you bring them home.
Be patient, be calm, and be excited! Once the bond is complete, it is so fun to watch them grow together and become an old married couple. You get to see the payoff and the reward of a successful bond. You have got this Bunny Parents! Happy Bonding!