This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
Unless you’ve kept/are interested in rabbits, you were probably blissfully unaware of what scrappy little fighters they are. They certainly didn’t mention it in Peter Rabbit (though Watership Down got it right).
Fighting is normal in rabbits, especially if they’ve not been properly introduced.
You can’t just decide to buy your rabbit a friend and put them together and expect that be the end of the story. They needed to be introduced properly, and cannot be left alone together until you’re pretty sure they’re not going to hurt one another.
So, why do rabbits fight?
They’ve reached sexual maturity
You’d think that once rabbits reached sexual maturity they’d start being a bit nicer to each other, but apparently, the opposite happens.
I mean, they’re pretty mean to each other when they’re of the opposite sex (though quite happy to actually have sex, and don’t think being siblings will stop them) but they can be really, really mean to each other if you have two rabbits of the same sex.
You’ll find that males will start fighting and peeing up the walls.
Females are less about the peeing (though some are just as bad as boys) but ALL about the fighting.
As I mentioned in this article, two females is the worst configuration of rabbits you can have, though I must stress that this is a generalisation. I have two females and they don’t fight.
Not only is it super important for their health, but it’ll soften some of the urges to beat the crap out of each other too.
Their bond has broken
In my experience, the bond being totally severed between two rabbit’s is pretty rare.
But it can happen.
If you suspect the bond is broken, then I highly recommend you go right back to the beginning of the bonding process and start from scratch.
You might find you can proceed through the steps in a few hours, but it’s always best to go back to basics.
The thing most likely to break a bond between a pair is being separated. We thought Holly and Daisy unbonded when Daisy had to be in the vets for a few days, but they’re fine now.
Just because this is A way that rabbits can unbond doesn’t mean that it automatically will. Usually, a period of time apart won’t make that much difference.
Rabbits don’t have the same concept of time as humans do (because they live pretty much exclusively in the present), so they’re most likely to just be happy that their friend is back.
They’re trying to establish dominance
I personally think this is the no. 1 answer to the ‘why are you fighting?’ question, and it’s most likely to happen in rabbits that are newly bonded.
Though, as I’ve said before, my tiny little Netherland Dwarf with SEVERE head tilt (she can’t walk in a straight line – she just goes in circles) STILL insists on trying to establish her dominance by trying to hump Holly.
It’s one of the reasons they have to be separated – Holly is so, so chill with her tiny daughter trying to hump her, but I couldn’t blame her if she nipped Daisy.
Fighting can be part of the bonding process
This is just an extension of the dominance point, but I just wanted to stress that rabbits fighting is totally normal and expected. It’s highly unlikely that your rabbits are just going to snuggle together and be bonded.
It does happen – I’m in a lot of rabbit Facebook groups, so I’ve seen it happen – but it’s rare.
Maybe you’ll be lucky!
Always keep a distraction on hand though – some people like a spray bottle, but I’ve always found a big pile of watercress or herbs between them calms the atmosphere right down.
New pets can cause rabbits to fight
A new rabbit being introduced will likely cause some kind of behaviour dynamic.
I’ve heard reports that adding a third rabbit to pair isn’t as difficult as introducing two single rabbits, but I’ve never tried it.
It will depend a lot on the strength of the bond between the two rabbits and the personality of the rabbit you’re introducing.
I would consider adding a third rabbit to my pair, mainly because I have to keep them separate (they’re next to each other though, and Holly grooms Daisy’s eyeballs, which Daisy is a bit unsure of).
At the moment, Holly is waaaay too timid. She’s scared of EVERYTHING, but she’s coming round.
She’s now very selective of what she’s scared of.
She’s terrified of us UNLESS we have food, in which case she’s nudging us and running round us. I want to wait until she’s more comfortable with us.
It is happening – she allows me to stroke her now, provided I don’t look at her, or acknowledge her in any way. I’ll take it.
Health issues/issue can cause fights
Again, I’ve not experienced this, but there are reports that rabbits can start fighting if one of them is sick.
There isn’t a lot of information on this, but if a previously submissive rabbit gets wind that the dominant bun is sick, they may try to make a bid for the boss position.
There was also a theory that an ill bunny smells different, causing inter-bond issues.
I’ve never seen this. When Daisy was ill, Holly didn’t even seem to notice – she was just annoyed that Daisy kept rolling over and startling her. She also enjoyed eating all the pellets, since Daisy could only manage veggies and hay. Ever the doting mother!
Can rabbits kill each other?
They’re very strong, have sharp claws and teeth, and they’re not playing – they’re vying for dominance.
Most of the time though, your rabbits aren’t out to kill each other – they’re just showing who’s strongest.
The issue arises when they’re pretty evenly matched and neither will give in.
In general, domestic rabbits are much calmer than wild ones, so it doesn’t often go that far, but they can seriously damage each other.
For those that don’t know domestic rabbits and wild rabbits in the USA are different species that can’t interbreed. Here in the UK though, our wild rabbits are the same species and they can interbreed.
The years of breeding domestic rabbits has changed their brains though, so domestic rabbits are less timid and much calmer than wild ones.
They’re genetically the same, but are still, you know, different.
How to break up fights
I’ve mentioned before that I break rabbit fights up early since I don’t think it helps to keep them going for long.
To break them up, I issue a loud ‘OI!’ to make them jump, and then grab whichever I think is least likely to bite me.
If you think they’ll bite you, chuck a box or towel over one of them.
Undignified, but it works.
Make sure you have a plan to split them up BEFORE you put them together.
I don’t know if this is true for all rabbit,s but mine tend to go for each other’s ears, and ears bleed A LOT, even if there’s only a tiny knick.
When we introduced Isobel and George she got his ear, and the aftermath was like something from CSI.
We’re very lucky that our vet is five minutes away. Whilst I don’t expect you to move closer to the vet, it does help to minimise other barriers to get vet help.
For example, try to bond rabbits during your vets opening hours – it’s easier to get an emergency vet appointment when the vets are actually opening – especially if it’s not an actual emergency, but you want to be reassured.
If there’s a bit of bleeding but no other issues, cornflour helps to stem the bleeding. it’s worth keeping some in your rabbit first aid kit.
In my experience, rabbits don’t fight that often once they’re bonded. Fighting risks injury, and injured rabbits don’t survive (in the wild anyway, and domestic rabbits are unlikely to think ‘it doesn’t matter if i get bitten, I can just go to the vet).
If the idea of bonding scares you (I HATE it), then do what we did and get a bonded pair from a rescue.
There are many, many benefits to rescuing a pair (bonded AND spayed? the dream) but one of them I rarely see mentioned (because it’s silly) is that you can get a comical pair, like a really big one and a little one.
Holly and Daisy were a similar size when we got them but Holly grew and now they’re the classic big-bunny-little-bunny combo.
Holly was actually two when we got her, so it wasn’t like she grew much, but she got more muscular and filled out, but because Daisy is lazier (and a dwarf breed) she didn’t.
I know being disabled would obviously stop the muscle development, but even before the head tilt, Holly would spend hours running laps around the living room and Daisy would chase her for a minute or two and then head off for a nap (same tbh).
I’m going to stop now because I’m waffling. Did I start a website just so I could talk freely about my rabbits? I did.