Playing matchmaker takes time, but it’s worth it!
by Cyndi Tech
As much as we love our bunnies, we cannot be with them 24 hours a day. Nor are we well qualified to lick their ears in just the right way, or to play a good game of shred the newspaper. This is why getting your rabbit a friend of his/her own may be a good idea! Rabbits are extremely social animals. The European wild rabbits from which our domestic rabbits are derived live in groups, and our long-eared friends still retain this need for same-species companionship. Rabbits tend to be happier, more active, and as a consequence, healthier when they have a bonded companion. Bonded rabbits are also just as affectionate with their humans as single rabbits; just as adding another pet to your family would not diminish your love for the first animal, bunnies have plenty of room in their hearts for many loved ones.
What sort of bunny companion would be perfect for your existing rabbit? We at Zooh Corner have worked with many bunny matches and have found that opposite sex pairs of neutered rabbits generally work best. Similarity in age can also help the bonding process. Don’t lose hope, however, if you already have 2 bunnies who don’t meet these guidelines. The bonding process may require more time and patience on your part, but other combinations of rabbits can become bonded friends. Some people prefer to allow their rabbit to choose his/her partner by bringing their (health-checked) rabbit to the shelter and arranging a series of bunny dates. Allowing your bunny to choose its companion may facilitate the process of bonding the rabbits, but a rabbits need for same-species companionship is so strong that arranged marriages can also work quite well.
I went the arranged route myself, and picked out Pepper, an adorable lop from Zooh Corner, to be the companion of my Shadow. It was hate at first sight. Pepper seemed rather interested in Shadow, but poor Shadow was extremely upset at the presence of an intruder in her home. This is actually a common scenario. Although rabbits generally flourish when they have a companion, they are also quite territorial. Meeting a strange rabbit is usually a stressful experience, especially for the first rabbit who may see the intruder as a threat. To allow Shadow and Pepper to become accustomed to each others scent and presence, I placed their cages about 2 inches apart, just far enough apart to prevent them from fighting through the cage. During this period, my sweet Shadow became a little monster, rattling her cage bars whenever Pepper was out and leaving a circle of fecal pellets around his cage when it was her turn to play. She was expressing her outrage over his presence in the only way she could. The best way to treat all occurrences of bad behavior is with a firm (not angry) “no!” and extra attention for the insecure rabbit. When Shadow’s misbehavior began to subside, I decided that they were ready to be introduced.
I picked a friend’s bathroom as the neutral area in which to introduce Shadow and Pepper. It is small, has a slippery floor which makes fighting more difficult, and most importantly, it is an area in which neither had ever been. Using neutral territory for rabbit introductions is vital because rabbits will be much more likely to fight in an area they identify as their own. I worked with them every day and kept the first introductions extremely short, about 5 minutes at a time. During the first several introductions, it is normal to see a fair amount of chasing and mounting because the rabbits need to establish their dominance hierarchy. The submissive rabbit will put its head down for grooming and will groom the dominant rabbit in turn or get a little nip! I always kept a spray water bottle on hand during introductions so that aggressive interactions could be broken up before a fight occurred. True fights must be stopped immediately with a loud “No!” and human intervention.
As Shadow and Pepper became less tense in each others presence, I gradually increased the amount of time and space for the introductions. Eventually the introduction sessions took place in a large room and occurred for 2-6 hours at a time. When rabbits begin to groom each other and lay or play together for several hours at a time, they are well on their way to becoming good friends, and may be ready to move on to the next step. Shadow and Pepper now have bonding sessions in non-neutral territory, the room where both have their individual play time. At this stage, each bonding session can be as long as possible, providing there is no aggression. If the situation does become too tense, then the rabbits should be brought [back] to neutral territory so that each bonding session ends on a good note.
Only after the rabbits can spend many happy hours at a time together in non-neutral territory, as well as cuddle together in an open cage may they be housed together. At this point, they are bonded companions! They will share the rest of their lives together and should never be kept separate. [Most rabbit vets will allow a rabbit’s partner to come for tedious day-stays or over night visits. Ask your vet if this is possible. Ed.]
The bonding process may take a long time yet should never be rushed. It is sometimes hard to determine when to move on to the next stage: if you have any doubt, don’t. When I first tried to introduce Shadow and Pepper in non-neutral territory, their relationship was set back for several weeks because they got into a fight and I had to bring them back to neutral territory.
Because the bonding process may take a while, it is important that a person have good living accommodations and plenty of individual time and attention to offer both rabbits. Each rabbit requires his own special play and cuddle time throughout the bonding process; bonding is a stressful process, but extra attention from you will calm and reassure them.
It is possible that two rabbits simply will not become friends, however, most neutered, opposite sex rabbits will bond eventually. Bonding takes time, effort, and patience—but your rabbit will thank you! If you would you like a friend for your bunny please contact us for a visit!