At least a month, longer is better
Male and Female pair easier but male/male or female/female can also work
A pair is easier to bond than a trio or quad (or more).
An area neither rabbit has been before. If you have a free range house rabbit try a room the rabbit doesn’t/ rarely goes in to. You can always block off a room for some time before bonding.
Small but not too small
I typically use an area around 7ftx3ft (1mx2m) which works well, sometimes I reduce the size a little but it depends how the bond is going (will discuss later).
As the bond progresses and you see more positive signs and less negative signs you can slowly increase the space.
I start out with a big pile of hay in the middle and water bowl. Rabbits must never be deprived of food or water. If a rabbit seems unwilling to go near hay/water because of the presence of the other rabbit then I will add another bowl/pile of hay nearby.
I don’t have anything else in the enclosure to start with, some rabbits will become territorial even over a litter tray, while others would be fine. Hidey houses/ carriers are very easy for a rabbit to become territorial over, they can sit in them and guard them, attacking if the other rabbits comes near. Additionally if two rabbits do start a fight inside a hide its difficult for you to intervene and injuries might be worse as they cannot get away from each other. As the bond progresses you can add in litter trays, then hides, then toys etc.
I always scatter feed pellets/fresh food especially in the early days of a bond. Ideally you would wait a few hours and for things to settle until you introduce a high quality food. This is because its very easy for them to become aggressive fighting over tasty food, scattering helps rabbits feel less threatened and ensures they both get their share.
Accessible but secure
Its important that you can get into the bonding enclosure quickly in case a fight does happen.
Explaining this part may be a bit more difficult as I change my strategies depending on how the bond is going and on the individual rabbits. Will try and give a general overview and then some things I try if it gets tricky.
Put both rabbits in the neutral enclosure around the same time, not leaving any carriers in. I would be inside the enclosure at this time as it can be the most likely time for fights to occur. I would have a towel and/or gloves to hand.
Keep rabbits together unless they need to be separated due to fighting or bullying which I will discuss. Continuously separating then putting back together will just prolong and sometimes prevent the rabbits from establishing a bond. Every time they are put back together they have to ‘restart’ getting to know each other, they need prolonged time together to allow their behaviours to play out so they can learn about each other.
Ideally you would start a bond early in the day, watch them for the whole day and hopefully by the time you go to bed you can ‘trust’ them that they probably wont do any more behaviours that would require you to intervene. If you don’t trust them then you will have to separate them while you sleep and start again tomorrow. The same applies to leaving them alone, so its better if you free up a couple of days. The more you have to separate, the longer and more difficult the bond will be.
Eventually you will start seeing more great behaviours and less normal bonding behaviours/behaviours where you would intervene. You can then start to gradually increase the enclosure space/move them back to their normal living area (which should be fully cleaned out/ empty and space still restricted). Each time you increase the space/move the rabbits you will see an increase in chasing, nipping etc for a short time as it’s a new territory for them. This should calm down a lot quicker than when they were first put together.
-ignoring each other
-fur pulling (no blood)
-putting head underneath other rabbits chin (demanding to be groomed)
-sitting near each other/touching each other
-flopping near/touching each other
-eating together happily
-relaxed behaviour in each others presence
Behaviours where I would intervene
-biting (skin pierced, blood drawn)
-rabbit stops eating
-rabbit seems depressed
I will define some of these behaviours and what intervention I would carry out
Its important to be able to recognise the difference between chasing and fighting. If you stop a bond every time there is some chasing then the bond just wont be able to continue. The rabbits will not be able to learn who should be ‘boss’ and the chasing will never subside. Chasing is when the rabbits run around after each other, often very fast. Typically a chasing bout will end with some mounting, a nip, fur pulling, or it will just fizzle out. The rabbits usually calm down, do some other behaviours, and then another chasing bout begins etc. Sometimes chasing leads to a fight.
A fight is when the two rabbits attack each other while lying on their sides, they sometimes lock on to each other and kick their back legs at the other rabbits bellies. It can look like a giant ball of fur moving around very fast. If there is a fight (or I think there is about to be a fight) I will intervene by grabbing one of the rabbits with the towel (or while wearing gloves). I will hold this rabbit and give a quick check over for any wounds, then pick up the other rabbit and do the same. Then depending on if there are no wounds they seem calm/no longer on edge I will put them both back down again in the neutral area pretty much straight after if possible. I will then be very close and extra ready to grab a bunny again if I think they will fight again. A lot of the time that fight does it and there will not be another one we will see some ‘normal’ behaviours again but it wont escalate to a fight. Perhaps they have learned the hard way how to ‘behave’?
If a fight does occur again straight away I will separate and give them a rest for at least half an hour in different enclosures and try again later. However if you are new to bunny bonding I wouldn’t recommended you putting them back together if this occurs. It may be best that you seek a rabbit bonder as they will be able to read rabbit behaviour better, also it may be that your neutral space is not neutral enough and they would benefit from going somewhere totally different. If there are any injuries to the rabbits after a fight they should be kept separated until the wound has been treated/ healed (and they have hopefully forgotten about) until you try again.
Remember that not all rabbits will like all other rabbits, and you need to take into careful consideration how many times you will try a bond/ how much stress you will put your rabbit under and if its fair to continue. To date I have only had one fight during bonding that has lead to an injury and that was the tip of a rabbit ear being bitten off… and a nice bite to my ankle. During some circling I have had a rabbit bite a hole through another’s ear but that is pretty much it, I am usually able to intervene before there is an injury.
Its pretty similar to fighting in that I will grab the rabbit and check over for a wound/ its seriousness. Biting is a lot harder to predict as the behaviour before hand (ears back, head/ front feet thrust forward) can be just a warning or can lead to just a nip.
This is a tricky one to explain. As I said earlier chasing usually subsides after a short amount of time, if the chasing is continual for a long amount of time then I intervene. Describing what I feel is a short or long time is difficult. Basically If I feel the chasing is getting worse and worse and the rabbits just keep going round and round with no let up then I will put my hand/towel in between the rabbits, maybe turn one around, to break it up as it could escalate to a fight. Also if its very once sided excessive chasing and one rabbit is always running away its important that the chased rabbit can get a break to rest and eat/drink if it wants too.
Bullying/rabbit stops eating/rabbit seems depressed
These behaviours can all be related. Bullying is when one rabbit prevents the other from behaving normally. Typically one will nip/jump at/chase the other rabbit if it moves, moves out of a certain area, moves towards food or water. This lasts a while and can cause the rabbit to become depressed. The stress of bonding can also cause some rabbits to stop eating and go into stasis. In both these cases I would separate the rabbits and give them a break to make sure they can rest and eat/drink. If these were reoccurring problems I would consider doing a split bonding approach to help the stressed/depressed rabbit feel safer and get used to the other rabbit being near but not able to get too close. Again these are problems that might make you consider are these the right rabbits to be putting together.
Common situations and possible solutions
I have talked a lot about what to do if there is a lot of fighting/ a depressed rabbit, however there are a few other situations that might occur.
Rabbits who ignore each other
These are rabbits who are not fighting a lot, don’t seem terrified of each other, but just don’t want to be near each other. You will find them at opposite ends of the enclosure and it can go on for days. For these rabbits you want to encourage them to actually try and ‘talk’ to each other and to show them its not so bad and can be a nice experience. In these cases I will put pellets/ yummy foods in the middle of the pen to encourage them to eat together.
So your bunnies have been bonded happily for a while, however one day you find fur everywhere and possibly an injury. There are a few reasons why a bond might break down so its important to consider each one as they will have different solutions.
Your rabbits were bonded while young and are now starting to reach sexual maturity. Both rabbits need to be neutered as soon as possible, wait for hormones to settle and then re bonded following the same steps.
Time of year
A really common issue is ‘spring fever’. As spring arrives the rabbits body is getting ready for breeding which can lead to lots of chasing and fur pulling, especially with females. Again neutering will help reduce this, however it can happen even if the rabbits are neutered. If the aggression is mild and rabbits aren’t being injured or become depressed then hopefully it may settle down after a bit of chasing. Alternatively you might have to try going through the bonding steps again.
When rabbits see/smell other rabbits they are not bonded with they will sometimes become aggressive towards their partner. The easiest way to prevent this is to house other rabbits away and out of sight. Also washing your hands and changing your clothes between visits may help reduce the other rabbits smell on you.
Separated for vet visit
Its important to keep bonded rabbits together at all times, especially if one has to go to the vets as they may smell different when they get back, which can cause fights. Sometimes rabbits do need to be separated at the vets, to ensure the ill one is eating/pooing. In this case its still important that the rabbits partner is still at the vets, to keep the same smell. Once put back together if there are some fights/ chasing you can go back the start of the bonding process.