The Art of Bunny Dating: Tips for Bonding Bunnies

If you have been working on bonding two of your bunnies for a while, or you would like to know more about what it takes to bond two bunnies, one of OHRR’s Bonding Experts, Amy Shears has created a handy list of tips and tricks for bonding bunnies.

  • Both rabbits should be spayed/neutered. The strong hormones in unaltered bunnies can cause aggressive and/or sexual behavior. After they are spayed/neutered you will want to wait a few weeks before starting the bonding process because it can take some time for the hormones to get out of their systems.
  • It is always best to let your rabbit choose who they want to live with. The bonding process will be a lot easier if you let them pick their own bunny buddy!
  • You should let your bunny meet 2-3 rabbits during the dating process. This will allow you to compare how all the dates went. You may think the first date was great, but then see that the second or third date actually was more successful. Although male-female bonding is usually the easiest, female-female and male-male could also work. It’s good to remember that bonding is about personality and not about the size or breed of the potential friend!
  • When you take your new bunny home, set their x-pens next to each other about 3-inches apart. You don’t want them to be able to bite and injure one another because the pens are too close.
  • Place their food on the sides of the pen closest to the other bunny. It is good for them to see each other while they are eating.
  • In the beginning, you should always start in a neutral area to do the dates. I like to start in the bathtub because it is slippery so it is hard for them to get good footing to fight. It is also easy to slide one away if they start nipping. You don’t want to put them into a place where they can start fighting and you can’t get to them. For example, you can use the bathroom as neutral territory, but if they get behind the toilet it can be hard for you to try to break up a fight.
  • When you put the bunnies together, always have something on hand to stop a fight. A broom, a spray bottle filled with water, something that will make a loud noise, or gloves for your hands. Never reach in to stop a fight without protecting your hands. Fights can happen very quickly and a bunny may not mean to bite you, but in the midst of a fight it may happen accidentally.
  • Nipping will most likely happen at some point during the bonding process. It is normal and isn’t always a negative action. Sometimes a rabbit will nip the other because they want him/her to groom them.
  • Petting both bunnies during the bonding process helps to keep them calm. This will also help to prevent them from nipping, and, if they do nip, your hands are right there to pull them away. Keep your hands on the top of their heads and not near their mouths so you don’t get nipped yourself!
  • You don’t want to give the bunnies anything “territorial” during their dates such as a litter box, hidey boxes or food. As you move forward in the process, you can slowly start to add these items. Always add two litter boxes, two hidey boxes, and two food bowls (or spread the food out on the floor). When you add hidey boxes, make sure there are separate entrances and exits so one bunny doesn’t go in and the other follows pushing the first into a corner without a way out if a fight happens in the box.
  • Bonding sessions may only last about 10-15 minutes at first. That is okay. Don’t stress about it; you can slowly increase the time until they can spend hours together.
  • At first, you should always be with the bonding pair. Then you will start to feel comfortable leaving them for a few minutes, and then a little longer. It can sometimes take a while before you feel you can leave them. You always want to stay in earshot and you don’t ever want to leave them if they are still having issues when you are there.
  • Bunnies have bad days too. You may feel like everything is progressing great and then you have a bad date. That is normal.
  • Sometimes when you move them to the next stage, it may seem like you are taking a step backwards. For example they get along great in the bathtub and you move them to an x-pen in the living room and you have to be more hands on to keep them from nipping. Hang in there!
  • The amount of time it takes to bond each pair is different because every bunny is different. It can take months before you have them living together. That doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong; some rabbits figure out who is going to be dominant quickly and others take more time. Some don’t have setbacks moving on to the next stage and some do.
  • Mounting can sometimes be an issue. Mounting is one way bunnies establish dominance. It isn’t always the male that mounts either. When one rabbit mounts the other, I will pet the submissive (bottom) rabbit to try to keep him/her calm. I wait a few seconds and then gently pull the dominant (top) bunny off. If the submissive bunny is not upset when he/she is being mounted, allowing it to happen for a few seconds lets the dominant bunny know he can be dominant. Hopefully he/she will stop feeling the need to mount. If the submissive bunny will not tolerate it for even a few seconds, I pull the dominant bunny off immediately as it could lead to a fight. Mounting may happen a lot in the initial bonding stage, but should subside.
  • It is normal for rabbits to mark during the bonding process. You may notice they will poop along the pen closest to the other bunny. That is their way of saying “This is mine”. Once they are bonded, marking will stop. They are not forgetting their litter box habits, they are marking that area as their own.
  • Trust your instincts. You will know when they’re ready to move to the next bonding stage, be it adding territorial items, moving into a larger area, or leaving them alone for a longer period of time when you can start to trust them not to fight in the current situation.

Help! My bunnies are fighting and I don’t know what to do!
Suggestions for a difficult bonding process:

1. Stress bonding is done when you want to get the rabbits to learn to trust each other and/or to stop them from fighting. When you put two bunnies in a stressful situation, they will lean on each other for comfort. Below are some stress bonding techniques. After a stress bonding, you can also try to put them back into the place where you normally do your dates to see how they do.

  • Take the bunnies for a car ride. Take them out in separate carriers and then when you are in the car, put them together in a place where you can still get to both of them in case they do fight. You can use a laundry basket or a box. If the top comes off your carrier, you can also use that. You will need two people: a driver and someone to watch the bunnies who is comfortable stopping a fight if it happens.
  •  Do laundry. Turn your washing machine to the spin cycle and put the bunnies in a laundry basket or box on top of the washing machine.
  •  Clean the house. Turn the vacuum cleaner on near the bunnies.
  • Carry them around. Put them in a laundry basket or box and carry them around the house.
  • Take them for a walk in a pet stroller. Either outside if it is nice or around your house.

2. Try a different bonding area. If you are using the bathtub, try the kitchen. Try smaller areas and bigger areas.

3. Rub banana on their noses. They will lick it off and the other bunny will think they are grooming them.

4. You can switch the bunnies’ enclosures. This will get them use to each others’ smells and also help them to understand that a certain enclosures is not “theirs”. If you don’t want to switch enclosures, you can switch out litter boxes, toys, food and water bowls, and hidey boxes.

5. Give both bunnies separate time out to run around before doing a date. The goal here is that they are both so tired when you do the date they will relax and will not be interested in fighting.

Feel free to contact OHRR at contact@ohiohouserabbitrescue.org if you need help with bonding!