So you have a new rabbit in your life! This is an exciting time for your family. Bonding your current rabbit friend to the new one can be process. But it is so worth the effort!
Rabbits by nature seek companionship, and in the wild they live in large communities and have a complex social hierarchy. Companionship for domestic rabbits is vital to their well-being, and this can be provided either by another rabbit, their human companions, or best of all, both.
Pre-Requisites to Introduction
Before attempting an introduction, the rabbits should be spayed or neutered. It is advisable to wait two weeks after their surgeries before introduction. This will ensure proper healing and gives the hormones a chance to dissipate. This delay is especially important with a newly neutered male, as a male bunny can still be fertile for two weeks after fixing.
There is a process to making introductions to your two rabbits. Go in too hastily, and your rabbits may cause serious harm or injury from biting, chasing, or other forms of attack.
In addition, rabbits are not quick to forget, so a bad fight could hinder future bonding success. Taking the time, reading up, and waiting for two spayed or neutered rabbits to be introduced will ensure you the best possible chance at a loving, bonded relationship.
What are the possible types of introductions?
Boy and girl: one of the easiest, often fall in love at first sight, but not always
Girl and girl: sometimes easy, often fighting
Boy and boy: sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, usually fighting at first, but not at all impossible
Two babies: extremely easy
Three or more rabbits: Difficulty varies, depending on sexes, personalities, and whether or not two of the rabbits are already bonded
Baby and adult: Sometimes difficult, but goes well if adult is very tolerant
Bringing home a rabbit to an existing rabbit. Much easier if you bring a girl home to a boy than if you bring a rabbit home to a girl.
Bringing two rabbits home at the same time. Quite easy, even if they’re same sex. Usually the new space is enough to make them become friends quite quickly on their own.
What are the possible scenarios after first introduction?
Love at first sight. If this occurs, you can try them in the space they’re going to live in. If it’s still good, then they’re fine, you have nothing else to do.
Tentative friendship: If this occurs, just watch them when they’re together, keep them separate when you’re not around, and if no fighting occurs, they’ll eventually become friends.
Amorous behavior: If the (neutered) male mounts the female, and the female does not mind, then this is usually a sign that the relationship will go well. If she does mind, and runs, it is still not usually a problem. If she minds, and becomes aggressive towards him, then you must prepare for a lengthier introduction period.
One chasing, one running. If this occurs, just make sure the one running doesn’t fight back and doesn’t get hurt. If neither of these things occurs, then just watch and wait. If one gets hurt, then separate them and go slower and if one fights back, then you must prepare for a lengthier introduction period.
Fighting. When two new rabbits (or, for that matter, two existing rabbits) fight, then you must prepare for a full introduction period.
Working With Your Space
Rabbits can be territorial. So when introducing new rabbits, territory must be considered and used to your advantage. It is ideal to eliminate the possibility for there to develop any territorial behavior in the rabbits. So you choose introductory spaces that are as different from your bunny’s territory as possible. Try a kitchen area, or bathroom that you haven't previously placed them in often. These spaces don't need to be huge, just wide enough for them to explore, see each other, hopefully cuddle, but if needed, can distance themselves a little over time.
Coerced closeness based on common neutral territory will form a bond over time. They are positive in the sense that they don’t associate the other bun with the stress (of the car ride, for example), they associate the other rabbit with the feelings of security that they receive. If they fight, then they will carry THOSE bad memories around with them, and will remember that they fought together.
Create a Neutral Space
Always introduce rabbits, regardless of sex or age, in neutral space first. (Obviously, if you’re bringing home two bunnies together, then any space in your home is neutral space.) Possible neutral spaces might be: a room that your rabbit has never been in, a friend’s home or apartment, the seat of a car, the bathtub, etc.
Try to bring your current rabbit with you to pick up your new rabbit, so that they can share that first car ride together.
Work with the rabbits for at least 20 minutes per day. Make sure to spend some time with the rabbits in one or more neutral spaces every day. When you’re not actively working with them, they should be apart if they fight when together. If they do not fight, then they can be left alone if you’re not working with them, but not when you’re not home at all.
Every day, try using two different situations, one relatively stressful (like a car ride), followed by one relatively normal (the floor of a new room, the top of the bed). That way, you can try to gradually transition them from strange to normal situations, without them fighting. If you immediately attempt to let them run around on the floor together, without first having taken them for a car ride, they may forget that the space is neutral and fight anyway.
Use a water bottle (with the nozzle set on “stream”) to break up any fights if they occur. It’s best to spray the instigator before a fight actually occurs (watch for aggressive body language) rather than work on breaking up an existing fight.
None of these suggestions will work by themselves, and none will work immediately (usually). Work with your rabbits every day, for at least twenty minutes or so a day, and when you’re not working with them, keep them in eye contact of each other. For example, if you bring home a new rabbit and your current rabbit is free roaming or has a pen or a room, place the new rabbit in their own cage in that space. This will keep them close without endangering them when left alone. A caged rabbit is a safe rabbit until a bond is formed. The new rabbit may enjoy the safety of the cage in the new environment while they get acclimated.
The more time you spend watching your rabbits interact together, the better progress you will make.
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