Getting Your Rabbit a Friend & Bonding
Although rabbits are social creatures and live in a warren hierarchy, they are unique in that you cannot just put them together and expect them to get along. When they are in love, it’s the most wonderful thing to observe. When they don’t like each other, it can be very traumatic for the owner as well as the rabbits, and even be fatal for one of the rabbits. For some rabbits, it can be love at first sight and no bonding protocols are needed; for others, it’s pure aggression and they may never actually bond. But usually, it’s somewhere in between. Getting rabbits to bond generally comes down to two things – scent and territory – therefore the process is easier if the rabbits are toilet trained and desexed (preferably at the same time), as this curbs the desire to be territorial and therefore be aggressive.. The best pairing is male/female, as same-sex pairings (even if siblings) may not work or only work temporarily.
I successfully bonded my neutered 8 month-old much larger buck (Chompers) with my non-spayed 3 month-old much smaller doe (Beauty) in July 2017. She was a rescue and was in bad condition, so I wanted to wait until she had built up enough stamina to survive the invasive spaying procedure when she turned 6 months old. He was laid-back and she was a bit feisty; she was keen to pursue a relationship but he was content to be single. Initially, Chompers displayed so much hostility I thought a bond would never happen.
But it was achieved and took 5 weeks…. that was mainly because I kept them separate for 4 of those weeks due to her being so tiny, him being such a behemoth, and me being so paranoid he’d squash her. He literally wanted to kill her.
I had them separated, but so they could see each other. They were both free-roam… there were pen walls inside and out so they each had a lot of space and could both be free at the same time but apart.
I would feed them the same food at the same time, in full view of each other to stop food ownership issues; I would swap their bedding and toys so they would get used to each other’s scent; I would put each other’s poops in each other’s litter trays which would make them want to override it.
I started the physical meetings at week 5 by putting them together in a bathtub (obviously not filled with water) to get them used to there not being a wall in between – it’s so slippery they focus on that more than on each other, but will turn to each other for comfort/support.
When there was no nipping, I then moved them onto the bathroom floor – a smallish neutral space neither of them had ever been on. There was a little bit of nipping but any progression into something more physical was prevented. They both received lots of petting.
When they were at the point of sitting across from each other without a barrier or any aggression, I then took them for a 20 minute car ride to a friend’s place and put them in a pen on the lawn – they chased each other in circles and there was some fur-pulling. I just had to keep separating them before biting occurred, but he never actually bit her.
It’s amazing what a car ride can do! When I got them home, I had them separated by a pen for an hour or so until they calmed down, then I took the pen away and basically let them duke it out (under supervision – but there was little need to intervene). They need to learn social cues from each other, and that means some aggression. Chompers was initially taken aback she was in his space, but his reaction wasn’t to be aggressive. There was a bit of chasing, but they were quickly able to decide who was boss, and everything was then peachy. They need to know what sex each other is and who is in charge – once that’s sorted it’s all sweetness and light. The boss is the one who gets groomed which, in this case, was Beauty. I didn’t need to resort to any stress bonding, ie: putting them on top of something vibrating like a dryer or washer. You will know bonding has been achieved when they groom each other, stick together, and there is no aggression whatsoever.
I had Beauty scheduled to be spayed in August 2017 but, sadly, Chompers unexpectedly passed away three days before. He was going to go to the vet with her so they both smelled the same when she was done, otherwise the bonding would’ve had to be redone.
As Beauty was grieving so terribly, I got another buck, Cheese (also a rescue), within 24 hours of Chompers passing to stop Beauty fretting and developing GI stasis, but kept them separated until I had toilet trained him and they had both recovered from their desexing operations. I had gotten Cheese neutered the same week as Beauty so they had stitches and smelled ‘medical’ at the same time!
I had no involvement in their bonding – they decided they were going to do it without me. A week after their surgeries, while we were out, Cheese escaped his enclosure, so we came home to bunnies in love. Their stitches had all dissolved and their wounds healed so neither got hurt. There was no need for any bathtub or neutral turf dates. It was positive confirmation for me that toilet training and desexing made a huge difference – but also, perhaps, that a grieving bunny and an affection-starved bunny are more accepting of a new relationship. We can learn so much from them. They are inseparable now and do everything together… and it always must be this way now, so their bond does not break.
The Importance of Getting Your Rabbit Fixed
Getting your female rabbit spayed (at 4 to 6 months old) or your male rabbit neutered (at 3 to 5 months old) prevents accidental litters, reduces the likelihood of cancers and urinary tract infections, lengthens their life span, makes bonding easier, curbs aggression, and makes them easier to house train as it reduces their desire to mark territory.
It is important that a rabbit savvy vet performs the procedure, as pre and post-op care is different than that for other animals. The cost varies vet to vet and a spay, being more invasive than a neuter, generally costs more. A spay is a hysterectomy and the doe is safe immediately due to her reproductive organs being removed – however, it can take 6 weeks for hormones to settle down. A neuter involves removing the testicles, however the buck can remain fertile for 3 weeks so still needs to be separated from other unaltered females for that period.
Pre-Op: Find a vet who will perform a pre-op assessment to confirm gender and the health status of the rabbit; ask about the procedure type being used – ideally for a rabbit, it should be an internal dissolving suture technique to minimize any external wound; continue to feed your bunny right up to surgery (nil by mouth from the night or morning before does not apply to rabbits because there is no danger of them vomiting during the procedure); pack your bunny their own food for their stay at the vet (which should be 8 hours) – being fed different food at the vet can potentially cause illness; if you have a bonded pair both should go to the vet, as the bond can break due to a change in scent; call the vet regularly for progress reports.
Post-Op: Do not follow aftercare instructions for a cat or dog – they are not the same as for a rabbit; your bunny should have had pain relief at the vet, but INSIST on taking at least 5 days worth of additional pain relief home (a surgical cone is not recommended for a rabbit); once home, your rabbit will need to be kept warm and dry, temporarily confined so as not to rupture the wound – your bunny should return to normal eating and toileting habits within an hour of getting home (if not, call the vet); a post-op check 3 days later should be carried out.