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It’s very normal for rabbits to fight. Even a bonded pair may have the odd little scuffle, and two rabbits meeting for the first time will probably have a fight (big or small) to sort out who’s dominant.
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Do rabbits fight in the wild?
Rabbit fights look (and can be) brutal – think fur flying and lot of chasing – but can be pretty harmless. As soon as fur starts to be pulled, separate them.
Rabbits in the wild are known to fight to the death, but in domestic situations, you can introduce two rabbits slowly, and avoid any harm coming to either bunny.
Wild rabbits fight for dominance within their family group, and with strange rabbits for territory.
Why your rabbits might be fighting
The reasons domestic rabbits fight are largely the same as the reasons wild rabbits fight – to assert dominance, to protect their territory, and to protect their supplies.
Rabbits fight to figure out who’s dominant
Some rabbit pairs have a clean dominant rabbit and submissive rabbit. The submissive bun will do the majority of the grooming, may be humped occasionally, and will be second in line for food.
I’ve had a pair like that – George would allow Izzy to take treats directly out of his mouth, just sat their as she humped him, and groomed her so frequently and thoroughly that she flat out refused (or forgot) to groom herself when he passed away.
She was a pretty independent bun who didn’t hold with cuddles but would sit patiently whilst I brushed her and cleaned her ears. After George died she made ME the submissive partner.
More commonly, each rabbit will think that they’re dominant, and occasionally have a little chasing sesh to determine who’s gonna be dominant that day. Holly is Daisy’s mum, and is clearly dominant, but every day Daisey chases her to try and assert dominance.
The mother-daughter dynamic ALWAYS kicks in though – Holly will groom Daisy in a motherly way, forcing Daisy to groom Holly in a submissive way. It really bugs Daisy, but that’s just the way it is.
Hormones cause a lot of rabbit fights
Having your bunny neutered dramatically reduces the number of bunny fights. The desire for dominance is still there, but only as a throwback from wild rabbit instincts. They’re no longer fighting for mating rights
Remember that hormones can still be present in your bunny for several months after they’re been neutered, so don’ worry if they’re still fighting for a bit after the operation.
For this reason, it’s best to keep your bunnies separated if you think there could be risk of injury (especially to the wound) until the rabbit is fully recovered.
Your rabbits may fight over territory
This is most likely if you already have a resident rabbit, and you introduce another rabbit.
First introductions are best done in neutral territory, since it removes the ‘fighting for territory’ instinct.
A lot of rabbit owners practise ‘stress bonding’ where you put the rabbits in a stressful situation and hope they bond out of fear, or at least don’t fight.
I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘stress bonding’ because it implies that the more stressed your buns are the more they’ll bond. I don’t want to stress my rabbit out – meeting another bun is stressful in itself.
The only forms of stress bonding I would consider are:
- Taking your rabbits on a car ride.
Make sure both rabbits are safe and secure (perhaps in two carriers, but so they can see one another) and that someone is close enough to that they can either separate them if needed or remove one of the rabbits.
I hope it’s obvious that this person IS NOT driving the car.
This would be a last resort for me I prefer this option:
- Put your rabbits in the EMPTY bath
It’s not that stressful for the rabbits, and the slippy sides mean it’s hard for them to get a grip and rush one another.
My preferred method is to put a BIG pile of watercress (or other high-value green, like herbs) in the middle of the bath. It has to be a BIG pile so that:
- The rabbits are overwhelmed, and more excited by the food than the other rabbit
- They don’t have to fight for the food – there should be enough food for them to eat as much as they can and have some left over
Put a rabbit at each end of the bath and hope they choose food over fighting. If this goes well, then I like to do the same think but in another space, but not the bath.
Maybe a bedroom they don’t go in (make sure they can’t get under the bed or anywhere where you can’t grab them)
If all’s going well, try in the space they’re going to be living in.
Your rabbits may fight over food and toys
If you’ve found mealtimes to be a source of stress, then consider feeding your rabbits separately. If they’re free roam, get a spare x-pen to corral one into at mealtimes. This is also handy if one fo your rabbit’s is overweight and you need to monitor their pellets.
I’ve never experienced rabbits resource guarding toys, but either removing the toys that cause conflict or adding more in should solve the problem.
Can rabbits start fighting for no reason?
No, but they can start fighting for reasons we can’t see. It’s quite common for established pairs to have little spats once in a while. There could be a change in hormones, one bunny may decide they want to be dominant.
Anything from shifting furniture to changing your perfume can have an impact on your bunny.
Separate them if you need to, and start again with rebonding. It’s a bit like litter training – going right back to square one is usually the quickest way to resolve these problems, even though it might seem like a huge step backwards.
When to intervene in a rabbit fight
I think rabbit fights always look worse than they are, so I probably intervene sooner than required. As soon as I see fur flying, or one rabbit biting another, I separate.
Rabbits, for some reason, like to bite each other’s bums when they fight, which is find for the biter, but it means that the bitee is perfectly positioned to bite the soft underside (and possibly the genitals) of their attacker.
And bite their soft underbelly they will, because if someone bites you, you bite them back no? (Just me?)
For that reason, I like to get in there early and separate them before any damage is done. Make sure you have a box or something ready to put one rabbit in, since they’ll be all doped up on adrenaline and very wriggly.
How can I stop my rabbits fighting?
My favourite method is to distract them. Some people advocate spraying them with water, but I fear my rabbits would be mortified and never forgive me. I prefer to shout ‘oi’ and go and sit between them.
Sometimes I extra cruel and brush them – I don’t know if they associate fighting with being brushed, but it might, and I need to brush them anyway.
If the fighting gets really bad, separate them. You may find that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
Tips on bonding two rabbits
- Don’t try to bond unneutered bunnies. Wait until they’re both fixed
- Ask your local rescue if you take your bunny to pick out a mate. A lot of people have had success with bunny speed dating
- Although in the wild male rabbits are more likely to fight, two females are the hardest configuration to bond, and tend to be more aggressive to one another than two males
- Best case scenario is a male and female, or two males. I’m not saying you can’t bond two females – you absolutely can – but it can take a while to bond two unrelated females.
- If you want to two females, adopt a pair
- Bonding is easiest in winter – even neutered rabbits produce hormones, but they’re strongest in spring and summer
- If you have two single bunnies you want to bond, let them sniff each other through the bars of their pens, and swap litterboxes so they get used to one another’s smell
- The best signs that your rabbits are bonded is mutual grooming and snuggling up together.
Final thoughts on rabbits fighting
The first time you see rabbits fighting it can be scary – they really go for it. Prey animals fight dirty (because otherwise, er, they die) and it can be quite unsettling for new owners.
Caring for a prey animal is significantly different than a predator like a cat or dog. Rabbits are far less likely to warn you if they’re going to bite you – if a rabbit bites a predator in the wild they’re not doing it to warn them – it’s to distract them so the can run away.
Thinking like your rabbit can make you more empathetic to what they’re going through and make you a better caregiver. Things like switching litter boxes and bonding bunnies over food let’s them get used to the idea of another rabbit slowly and reinforce that having a friend is a positive experience.
Hopefully, you can reduce amount your bunnies fight, but remember, it is totally natural behaviour. I personally like to step in quickly to nip biting and fur pulling in the bud, but I let the humping go on a bit longer. It should stop when the humpee either submits or runs off.