Rabbits are naturally very social animals who thrive in pairs or groups. Paired rabbits are far less likely to display any abnormal behaviours like overgrooming or destructive behaviour
Know that rabbits can be just as territorial as they are social. So it is important that introductions are conducted carefully and the rabbits are given the time and space to establish a social hierarchy.
Jump to the sections below to learn more:
What rabbits should be bonded together?
The most natural and successful pairing is a male and female, but rabbits can happily live in same-sex pairs as long as they are introduced carefully and both are desexed.
Within each rabbit relationship there is a hierarchy where one rabbit is dominant and the other is submissive. The process of introducing the rabbits and establishing this hierarchy is called ‘bonding’. Although ‘love at first sight’ is possible, the bonding process typically takes weeks to months, depending on the rabbits’ unique personalities.
How to bond rabbits
First meet and greet
Your resident and new rabbit should meet on neutral ground to begin with.
When you adopt from the RSPCA Victoria, we conduct the initial meet and greet at the shelter. This first interaction can sometimes tell you whether or not they will be friends. Usually, one of four things will happen:
- True Love – the rabbits will approach each other, sniff and then gently nuzzle. This is sometimes accompanied by mutual grooming and laying together side by side. This is very rare, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see this!
- Indifference – the rabbits may just ignore each other and explore their surroundings. This is often a good sign as it means they are communicating in their own rabbit way and don’t see each other as a threat. If the rabbits are laying outstretched, eating and grooming themselves, this is a positive meeting.
- Communication – this is the most common scenario. One rabbit will make the first move by approaching the other and sniffing, circling and possibly mounting them. These are normal behaviours in establishing the hierarchy and should only be interrupted if the interaction becomes negative or aggressive.
- Fighting – one or both of the rabbits will immediately attack each other. This is uncommon, but not entirely unheard of. If this does happen, the rabbits should be separated immediately and it is unlikely this will be a good match.
- Once home, place the rabbits in separate enclosures side-by-side with about a 10cm gap in between. This allows them to get used to each other’s presence without any direct contact, making it safer whilst unsupervised.
- Place their litter trays at opposite ends of the enclosures and their food and water bowls facing the shared wall to encourage social behaviour.
- After a couple of days, swap their toys, blankets, hay and/or litter tray or rub a cloth over one rabbit and place it in the other enclosure, allowing them to get used to each other’s scents.
- Once both rabbits become comfortable in each other’s company (like showing relaxed behaviours such as reclining next to the shared wall and happily chattering to each other) we can move on to step one. This may take several days to a week, sometimes longer if one rabbit is particularly dominant or underconfident.
Step one – set up
- Set up a small neutral space to conduct playdates. It’s important to pick a space neither rabbit visits regularly and haven’t had a chance to scent-mark. A bathroom, laundry or spare bedroom are usually good options.
- Make the space inviting by placing several distractions like piles of hay or herbs, toys, cardboard boxes filled with treats and/or tunnels (avoid any closed ended hides or carriers). Ensure you place at least two of each distraction to eliminate any potential tension or competition for resources.
- It’s a good idea to have safety gear on hand, wear thick gardening gloves and have a thick towel to safely separate any scuffles or fights.
Step two – first playdate
- Bring them together in this space. As soon as you set them down where they can see each other, give both a high value treat. This will help positively associate the other with receiving a reward.
- They will likely attempt to establish their hierarchy, with one rabbit being more dominant and therefore displaying dominant behaviours. It’s important to allow them to express normal behaviours and to only intervene if the behaviours become excessive or aggressive (ie. aggressive chasing or circling, rough mounting or biting). Intervening too early can disrupt the hierarchal process which can cause frustration and negative association with the other rabbit and sometimes even you! See below ‘Reading Rabbit Behaviour’ section for more detail.
- If a scuffle or a fight breaks out, end the playdate immediately using your safety gear. Attempt another playdate the next day.
- Keep the initial playdate short, about 5-10 minutes, monitoring their behaviour throughout.
Step three – regular playdates
- Start conducting playdates daily. For the first week, complete one 10-15 minute playdate a day. Then move onto two playdates a day, gradually increasing the time spent together.
- Always supervise these playdates and be ready to separate the rabbits at the first sign of a scuffle.
- Between dates, swap the rabbits’ enclosures. This will require them to use each other’s items and will prevent territorial behaviour in the future.
- After several successful play dates where all interactions are positive and both rabbits are looking relaxed and comfortable in the others presence (i.e. lying together, happily grooming each other, following each other around) they can safely be left together unsupervised and live in the same enclosure.
Unfortunately, sometimes the tension between the pair may never ease and they continue to fight. This can be a difficult outcome to face, however feuding rabbits can live happily side by side in separate enclosures which still provides the important social aspect of your rabbits’ life.
Reading rabbit body language and behaviour
Rabbit body language and behaviour is often very subtle and can be difficult to distinguish between normal appropriate behaviour and unacceptable, aggressive behaviour. If any unacceptable, aggressive behaviour is noted the rabbits should be separated immediately for their own safety.
|Acceptable Behaviour||Unacceptable Behaviour|
|Nose-bumping: Rabbits often use their noses to “bump” their partners to get attention.||Grunting: A warning. If it leads to any other unacceptable behaviour then separate immediately.|
|Following one another across the room:
Different from chasing, submissive bunnies will often follow the dominant rabbit.
|Chasing: One rabbit is pursuing the other one with intention, the other is running or may be even jumping to get out of the way.|
|Mounting: Commonly known as humping. Often this behaviour is a display of dominance, reiterating the hierarchy of the relationship. Sometimes the dominant rabbit latches onto the fur of the submissive rabbit which may cause some light hair pulling.||Rough mounting: Mounting that continues too long and/or is upsetting the submissive rabbit. This also includes mounting where the submissive rabbit is getting bitten, is trying to escape or starts thrashing.|
|Lunging and retreating without further pursuit:
A warning sign for the other rabbit to stay away.
|Circling: When both rabbits are chasing each other in a tight circle, oftentimes lunging and grunting at each other. Sometimes called ‘The Tornado’.|
|Nipping and retreating without further pursuit:
A small nip, without hair pulling or breaking of the skin. Typically another warning sign to tell the other rabbit to back off or ‘stop doing that’.
|Biting and/or hair pulling: Bites can cause serious damage and often draw blood.|