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The answer to this question is both as long as it takes, and longer than you might think.
Rabbits are far more aggressive to one another than you might think, and think nothing of fighting to the death for no apparent reason. You need to be patient when it comes to bonding – it’s definitely worth it. The majority of rabbits will be a lot of happier if they have a mate.
When to pick a mate for your rabbit
Ok, I highly recommend you do what I do, and cheat. I got a bonded, spayed pair from a rescue, and it’s a great way to go. However I get that it’s not much use to those of you with a single bun already.
It’s important that you wait until your rabbit has been spayed/neutered before attempting to introduce a mate. In fact, it can be easier to wait about 6 months after the operation, because not only do you not have to worry about injuring the wound, but most of the residual hormones will have gone.
In terms of age, that isn’t really an issue. If your rabbit is old enough to be fixed, they’re old enough to have be bonded.
How to pick a mate for your rabbit
Some rescues allow you to take your bunny to the centre and have them pick out a mate.
That’s the best-case scenario – I’m not saying that it’ll make bonding faster or easier, but at least you don’t run the risk of having two bunnies that loathe one another right from the start.
If that’s not an option for you, I’d definitely still go for a rescue.
If you pick a bunny that’s already been neutered, you can get on with bonding quicker than if you had to keep them separate until both bunnies are fixed.
Where to keep your rabbits before they’re bonded
It depends. At one point we had an old lady bunny and a baby bunny (he was a foster that wasn’t going to be bonded with her) and we kept them in X-pens side by side.
This can be a great setup, because the rabbits can get used to one another, but you must be certain that they’re safe from each other. Bruce could jump into Isobel’s pen (he was OBSESSED with her) but she was too old and slow to be able to hurt him.
Make sure that you cover the pens so they can’t get to each other. A sheet secured with pegs is sufficient for all but the most determined rabbits.
Sometimes it’s necessary to keep your rabbits in separate rooms, especially if they just wind each other up all day. You can get them used to each other’s scent by switching their litterboxes every couple of days.
How to introduce your rabbits to each other
Introduce your rabbits on neutral territory (somewhere where neither of them have been) so they won’t fight to defend their territory. This also makes each of them a little nervous, which can help with bonding.
Some people like to take their rabbits on car rides, as a form of stress bonding, but I’m too scared that they’ll end stuck in the car somewhere. I’m a chronic overthinker.
I like to do initial introductions in the (empty) bath. It’s weird and scary for them, but not inherently dangerous. Most importantly, the sides of the bath don’t give them any grip. so they won’t be able to move that fast.
I also like to put a big pile of high value food between them to act as a delicious buffer. A big watercress and herb salad works a treat.
Once they’re no longer fighting in the bath, I move the whole situation to their living area, and try the whole big salad buffer again. I’ve tried sprays, and intercepting wearing over gloves, but the best way to break up fights, in my experience, is to shout ‘oi’ or a really harsh ‘aa aa aa’.
Rabbits don’t like loud noises, and they tend to break up at this.
I like to intercept in fights earlier than a lot of other people, because rabbits often go for each others ears, and GOD ears bleed. It’s terrifying, but there’s usually not much harm done. Although George’s ear nick was for life.
How to tell that your rabbits have bonded
Don’t assume that your rabbits have bonded after one session, and don’t assume they’ll never fight again once bonded.
There’s no concrete way to tell if rabbits have bonded. I like to keep them together when I’m there, and then separate them at night until the fights are pretty much minimal.
Good signs are things like mutual grooming, lying down together, and eating together.
Why rabbits might unbond
It’s pretty rare that rabbits become unbonded, but it does happen. Common reasons are bringing another rabbit into the house or an extended separation, maybe if one of them had to go to the vets.
How to re-bond unbonded rabbits
Like litter training, it can actually be quickest if you go right back to square one. Keep them in separate pens, bath introductions etc.
How to keep the bond between rabbits strong
Holly and Daisy started to fight quite a bit when we brought them home. We made sure not to give them treats (they fought over food) and to make sure they were each getting enough. (you can hand feed one, and have the other eat out of the bowl if necessary).
Fights are usually about dominance, so you just have to let them get on with it. If they start getting nasty, sitting down with them is usually distracting enough to stop them.
I’ve found that giving them lots of pets will often inspire mutual grooming, but when Daisy started getting too big for her boots, I would definitely consider smearing banana on her head to put her back in her place.
The mother-daughter dynamic is definitely different to other relationships. When Holly grooms Daisy it isn’t a sign of submission like it would be normally.
Daisy looks more like a kid that’s been forced to have a bath – like that bit in the Lion King when Sarabi is grooming Simba when he wants to go and play.
Tips for bonding rabbits
- It’s usually easiest to bond a male and female, or two males. Females tend to be more territorial and are usually more aggressive. If you’re set on two females, you’ll probably be looking at getting litter mates or mother/daughter. Definitely don’t attempt until both are spayed
- Before bonding, keep switching your rabbit’s litterboxes so they get used to both their smell, and having another rabbit around.
- It’s normal for rabbits to become less affectionate towards humans once their bonded. Still hurts though.
- If you’re struggling, ask for advice from a rescue. They have experience bonding rabbits, and may even know someone that has a tonne of experience.