How To Bond Two Rabbits
Making the decision to get a second bunny can be a huge commitment and may feel overwhelming for some, while it can feel more simple and natural to others. Some of you may have brought home two bunnies from the get go, others may have always planned to get a second bunny down the line, and then some of you may never have really anticipated getting a second bunny or even thought it was necessary in the first place.
So why should you get a second bunny?
If you are one of the latter individuals who never really felt like you needed a second bunny, you may be wondering why it's important to get a friend for your bunny. To put it simply - bunnies are social animals and like to be with other members of their species. You may feel that your single bunny is very happy and loved with you - and trust me, I’m 100% sure that they are. However, a human to bunny bond can never truly replace a bunny to bunny bond, and if you do ever end up with a bonded pair (or more), you will soon witness that. Bunnies groom each other, seek comfort in each other when scared, snuggle together, play together and most importantly speak the same language as one other. As much as you can provide company, love and care, there are just some aspects of bunny behaviour that you will never truly be able to mimic as a human. Moreover, bunnies are crepuscular (i.e. they are most active at dawn and dusk), thus there will be a large portion of the day where you will be sleeping while they are awake and vice versa, and hence alone and without company. Furthermore, there will also be the other times you have to leave them at home alone, whether that be for school, work, or meeting friends and family etc. Having two bunnies will prevent your bunnies from feeling lonely while you are gone for long periods of time.
What if I can't get a second bunny?
The decision to get a second bunny should always be yours and yours alone, and should not be influenced by others pressuring you or guilting you into this. Having one bunny is a huge commitment, especially financially, and moreover, bunnies require a lot of care and attention. Therefore, having a second bunny is naturally double the commitment and should only be done if you feel you are truly able to. However, if it is something you are able to do, even if it's further down the line, I really recommend you looking into this and planning for it in the near future.
This isn't to say however, that you are bad rabbit owner if you aren't able to cater to a second rabbit. There are of course a number of situations and reasons why it isn't possible for some individuals, whether that be personal reasons related to space or finances or for example medical reasons that prevent you bonding your original rabbit to another rabbit. Above all - providing a loving home for one rabbit as best as you can is far better than none at all. Moreover, not having a friend for your rabbit definitely does NOT mean your rabbit will be unhappy, rather, it just means that having a friend for them will make them even happier if you are able to do so.
So now that you know why you should consider getting a friend for your rabbit, let's get into some of the steps and considerations you should take when bonding two rabbits.
Do your research
If you're able to - when attempting to bring home a second rabbit, I would really recommend asking if you can organise a supervised meet/play date with your current bunny and the new prospective bunny. A number of shelters and rescues offer this option and can even help suggest suitable pairings based on temperaments etc, so enquire to see if this is an option you can take advantage of. If this isn't something you're able to do, especially now due to limitations because of the pandemic, I would at least recommend enquiring about different bunnies' temperaments and trying to find the best possible match that way. For example, if your original rabbit is particularly dominant and independent, I would recommend avoiding bringing home a bunny of a similar nature and trying to find a bunny that is more calm and submissive so that the two personalities won't clash and rather, will complement each other.
Prepare prepare prepare. As magical as it is when you finally have a bonded pair, getting there can be quite a difficult and stressful process. You may get lucky and find a love at first sight pair who are extremely easy to bond and don't require much work, however in most cases bonding requires a number of steps and a fair amount of time invested.
So what things should you consider before bringing home a second rabbit?
Will your new bunny be living in an ex-pen in the original bunnies space or will the new bunny be living in a separate room at first? Do you have enough space to house two bunnies in the same space separately? Have you made necessary separations e.g. putting up fencing if they are going to be free-roaming in the same room? Do you have a neutral space for bonding sessions down the line?
Even if you intend to share items when your pair is hopefully bonded, you will still need to have individual items at first for both bunnies. This will prevent any clashes over territory and possessions and includes things such as litter boxes, food bowls and toys etc.
Is at least one of the rabbits spayed/neutered?
Please make sure that at least one of your rabbits is spayed/neutered before attempting to bond two new rabbits. Otherwise you are likely to end up with many baby bunnies in a very short period of time (and as cute as that may sound - there are already plenty of bunnies in shelters needing good homes). If you are planning on bonding the pair after one of them has the procedure - please allow time for healing before introducing them.
What if I can't bond my pair?
While this is hopefully not a scenario you'll have to face, there is a small chance that this could happen. Some bunnies are simply not compatible and there are situations where bonding is nearly impossible. You must always consider this small chance and know in the back of your mind that if this ends up being a scenario that you are unfortunately faced with, you will be able to home both bunnies separately and suitably in your home. Please do not end up with a second rabbit that you have to give away or leave in a rescue because you couldn't bond it with your original rabbit 😔.
Considering your original rabbit
You could read endless posts or watch plenty of YouTube videos on how to bond two rabbits and still struggle if you don't consider your own rabbit first and foremost. While generalised advice can be very helpful, it's important to take this advice in the context of your rabbit. Think about different factors such as their age, temperament, gender and living arrangements and think about how bringing a new bunny may affect this. For example, female bunnies tend to be more territorial than male bunnies, so introducing a new bunny to a female bunny might take more time than with a male original bunny. Bringing home another dominant adult bunny to an original dominant adult bunny could cause clashes and fights over dominance while baby bunnies may be more submissive at first and not threaten the original rabbit too much. On the flip side - older dominant rabbits could overwhelm a small baby bunny. If they are fully free roam - separating your original bunny's space in half may upset them more than say, letting the new bunny have a smaller portion of their space in an ex-pen.
The idea is to compromise as best as you can on pairing options and to try to bring home a second bunny with your first in mind. However, there are no set rules and you can never truly predict how two bunnies will react to one other. Try your best, but know that you can adjust your approach as you go along and don't give up!
Housing the two rabbits closely
If it is an option for you - I definitely recommend housing the two rabbits as closely as you can. Whether this means placing two ex-pens side by side, or placing the new rabbit's ex-pen in the original rabbits free-roam environment, this allows the two bunnies to be very close by and to get used to each other's presence and scents. Whatever option you choose - just ensure that it's secure so your bunnies are safe and protected from one another in case there's a risk of fighting.
Swapping litter boxes & belongings
Since bunnies are very territorial and will mark areas to claim as theirs - switching litter boxes is another great way to get two bunnies used to each others scents and speed up the bonding process. Some sources will tell you to do this every few days or weekly; I personally opted to swap litter boxes and toys nearly every single day to get Peanut & Butter used to each other's smells as soon as possible. By swapping litter boxes, bunnies will immediately go to do their business in the swapped litter box and leave their scent. Doing this back and forth will mix the scents and get the bunnies used to one another. By swapping toys and blankets etc, you're just adding to this and further speeding up the process. I personally believe this was key to Peanut & Butter bonding so quickly. However, not all bunnies may respond well to this, especially if your original bunny is extremely territorial. Pay attention to how your original bunny responds to such changes, and adjust the frequency at which you do this based on how they respond.
Sharing meal times
Another way to speed up the bonding process is to socialise bunnies during positive experiences. Most bunny owners will realise that once food is involved, bunnies don't tend to care about much else and you can get away with a lot during meal times. I would recommend feeding the two bunnies side by side - e.g. if the new bunny is in an ex-pen and the original bunny is free-roam, place separate food plates next to each other on either sides of the ex-pen and do this everyday for as long as necessary. Once you start to see positive signs you might wish to open the ex-pen door and feed them next to each other at the entrance of the ex-pen. Like this the bunnies will get used to being close together during positive moments and this distracts them from any dominance or territorial issues during the early meeting days.
Avoid creating jealousy
This is really important and can easily be overlooked. If you've had a single bunny for a while, it's likely you have formed quite a strong bond and they are used to getting all of your attention. Naturally, bringing home a new bunny is likely to stress your original rabbit, simply because another bunny is invading their territory. However, your bunny may also start to feel jealous watching you give another bunny attention instead of them. If you can, in the early days (as mean as it sounds) try to focus your attention on your original bunny. This will prevent your original bunny from getting upset or jealous and potentially feeling resentful to or threatened by the new bunny. Secondly, this will actually help the new bunny focus on bonding with the original bunny, as they will seek affection and comfort from them rather than you. You'll be sacrificing a little here but you can still work on bonding with your new rabbit down the line once your buns are happily bonded 😊.
Look out for positive signs
What you really want to see during the bonding process is 'positive signs'. These can be seen in a number of ways and here are some examples:
✨ The two new bunnies sniffing each other out
✨ Flopping or resting near one another (even if this is through ex-pens)
✨ Poking their noses through separations & calmly trying to get close to each other
✨ Attempting to groom one another through separations
✨ Being curious of one another
✨ Being able to turn their backs to one another without seeming cautious
✨ Playfulness (I caught B doing zoomies in her ex-pen one night and then saw P started doing the same beside her, almost like he was trying to play with her).
These positive signs will help you decide when it's right to take next steps, whether that means meetings in neutral territories, supervised play time sessions or even letting the bunnies roam freely together. You'll be able to observe their bond develop and recognise when they are starting to feel more comfortable with each other versus when they are feeling threatened by one another.
Have meetings in neutral territories
When you feel that your bunnies have begun to show positive signs to one another you can aim to have one on one meetings in more neutral territories. This could be anywhere that neither bunny has been before e.g. the bathroom, another room in your house, the landing etc etc. The ideal situation is that there will be no prior scent of either bunnies there. If you can't do this however, you might want to consider sectioning off a small area in the room housing your original bunnies space. If you do this a few weeks leading up to bringing home your new rabbit and clean this area thoroughly, it will hopefully act as a semi-neutral space in your room that neither bunnies have full ownership over.
Carry out supervised playtime/bonding sessions
If after meeting in a neutral space, your bunnies were calm towards each other and didn't show any or much aggression towards each other and instead showed positive signs, you can try to have more informal play time/bonding sessions in their soon to be shared living space. This includes letting them run around freely together or giving them the chance to snuggle up together.
What about negative signs?
These include more aggressive displays of behaviour such as nipping (i.e. biting), trying to pull out fur, circling (where bunnies chase each other in circles), digging behaviours, thumping, and in the more extreme cases - fighting and attacking one another. This isn't to scare you, but you also have to be prepared for the potential of the bonding process to get messy, as some pairs are more difficult and some rabbits are extremely territorial. If you sense that your two rabbits are tense together, do not rush into the meeting steps, and instead persist with swapping their belongings daily, feeding side by side and letting them get used to each others presence through ex-pens. If one meeting doesn't go too well, do not rush into the next and give your bunnies more time.
Before having the first meet, try to have another person present to sort of hold one of the bunnies while you hold the other just incase they try to lunge at each other. In more extreme cases - you may need to wear protective gloves or have an object to place in between the bunnies in case a fight suddenly breaks out. These fights can get bloody and vicious (for both you and them) and need to be stopped as soon as possible to prevent harm coming to your rabbits.
I've left this point till last as I feel it's more of a last resort for more difficult bonding pairs. Stress bonding involves putting both bunnies into stressful situations together to force them to seek comfort in one another. This can include placing bunnies together in a carrier and taking them on a car ride, placing the carrier on top of a washing machine while it's on or placing bunnies in a slippery bath tub together etc. The nature of these situations are unfamiliar to bunnies and may make them feel scared or threatened, hence will hopefully push them to seek each other out to feel safe. If I was in this situation I personally would opt for a short car ride as you will likely have to do this in the future e.g. to take your bunnies to vet appointments, so it will indirectly get them used to this experience. I don't personally enjoy seeing my bunnies stressed out (and was lucky enough not to have to resort to this), but there are of course some pairs that are more difficult and require harder work to bond. Try not to extend the time your bunnies are in these stressful situations, and instead do this in more shorter intervals and see if you hopefully make some progress that way.
Once your rabbits have bonded
Once you feel as though your rabbit's have successfully bonded or are ready to be left alone together, you may be wondering how to approach this final step of sharing a space together. The most important thing here is to make this area, whatever it is, as neutral as possible for both rabbits. Wash any rugs/blankets etc to remove any existing scent, clean food bowls and ensure that the litter tray you intend to use for both rabbits has been thoroughly cleaned so that there is no scent remaining on it. If you are using an enclosure, make sure it is large enough for two rabbits to prevent any tension due to a restricted amount of space. If you are free roaming, try to create an open enclosure in a different area to where either bunnies previous dedicated spaces were before, so it doesn't feel like one rabbit's territory. Oh and... once you leave both rabbit's together in this neutral space, do expect a fair amount of marking to take place 😅. I remember the first day I left P&B alone after I'd cleaned my entire room, I came back home after a few hours and please believe me when I tell you I have never seen so much rabbit poop in my entire life 😂.
Take your time with bonding. It's much better to take thing's slowly, even if you feel like your bunnies are ready to be together. Fight's can really really damage a bond and can leave bad blood between rabbit's making it really difficult to bond them down the line. Hence, taking your time with the bonding process helps you avoid risking the bond in the early days. Moreover, even if it seems like it is taking forever, don't necessarily give up. I received a message from a lovely follower on Instagram the other day who told me how she'd almost given up after 7 months of her bunnies being unable to bond and trying to fight each other. However, after some intense stress bonding they finally were able to bond and are now inseparable. Continue to do your research, ask people for advice on their own experiences and try different things!
Wow - that was a lot of information! Hopefully that's helped you out a bit and given you some insight into the considerations and steps to take when bonding two rabbits. I wish any of you attempting to bond two rabbits all the luck in the world, and I really can't wait for you to enjoy the beauty of witnessing a bonded pair completely loved up together.
As always, lots of love from Tamara, Peanut, Butter & all of the Plants xoxo