BY DIANA KRONENBERG
Sometimes people wonder if their pet rabbit is lonely or if they would be happier with a bunny friend. Rabbits can live happily in pairs, but you cannot just put any two together. They will often fight viciously if they are not slowly introduced during what is called “bonding.” The best way to test your rabbit with a friend is by trying a “meet and greet” first. It’s risky to just bring another rabbit home and hope for the best. Bonding requires your time every day and can often take months to achieve.
Both your rabbit and their potential new friend must be spayed or neutered. Waiting a couple of months after surgery allows their hormones to dissipate before introducing them. Hormones are very powerful in rabbits and can ruin the bonding process.
The bunnies will live in side by side cages with three inches of space between the cage bars. They should never be able to touch noses through the cages before they are safely bonded.
The breed, size, and age of the rabbit do not matter. But hormones do, and puberty changes everything for rabbits. Even juveniles from the same litter may fight and not be compatible after they are spayed and neutered.
The two rabbits need to be at least civil upon first meeting, and a slow process follows before the rabbits can live “happily ever after” on their own. Rescue groups often offer “speed dating” to test for compatibility. The Long Island Rabbit Rescue Group will match owners’ rabbits with one of their adoptables and get the bonding process started. Getting the experts’ advice and detailed instruction will help assure success – and prevent injury.
It is best to do bonding sessions in a neutral room with no furniture to hide (and fight) under. Rugs for traction and two litterboxes for time-outs and pee breaks should be present. You, the caretaker, should wear sneakers on your hands to quickly plunge in-between a fight to stop it cold before it starts.
At home, you will need to create three distinct spaces:
1. A bonding arena – a small room, hallway or exercise pen – containing two litter boxes. It should be a neutral area your rabbit has not been in much before, so it won’t smell like either of them yet. If space is tight, you can always put down a new rug or blanket in the pen instead, to create a sense of neutrality.
2. Living quarters–usually either two dog crates or two pens, but they should be right next to each other to help the rabbits get used to one another and simulate that they are already living together. Have precisely three inches of space between them to prevent through-cage biting.
3. Area for the rabbits to separately exercise away from the other rabbit.
The process begins with short sessions every day to get the rabbits comfortable with one another. A responsible adult must always supervise this in case a fight breaks out. Sessions should last two minutes and then increase every day or so, based on the rabbits’ behavior. You want the rabbits to get used to each other very gradually.
The rabbits will look to you during bonding, so the calmer you are, the calmer they will be. It can be very nerve-wracking for us, but it is okay to take things slow and to break up any hint of a fight before it starts. The rabbit rescue experts can teach you how to detect trouble, how to create helpful distractions and remind you that it’s always better to end on a good note than to wait for it to turn bad.
How long the bonding process takes depends on the rabbits. It may be frustrating at times, and sometimes you may need to go back a step to regain progress. But people with bonded rabbits will assure you it’s worth it!