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Does Your Bunny Need a Friend?

By: Margie Wilson

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You have your dear bunny at home, completely litter box trained, spayed, and "owns" your house, so to speak. You work 8 hours a day and think how sad for her to be alone, so you promptly go out to find her a friend. A trip to the humane society brings home a neutered male. How pleased she will be you think. But a terrible fight ensues, and you panic. What went wrong?

This is a scenario we hear all the time. Sometimes the bunny introduction works, but not usually that easily. In the above situation, the female felt the house was her castle, or burrow, with her smells, her toys, her owner. Bringing the male into her territory disrupted her entire world. A bunny's sense of familiar smells, and comfort of a safe, "owned" place, is very important to her happy existence. She was used to her master's total devotion and the routine of her owner being gone all day. That is not a bad thing. Rabbits are "crepuscular," meaning they are most active morning and night, much like deer, so during the sunny part of the day, they like to sleep. Solo, spoiled bunnies, not living in a cage, are often very difficult to match with a companion.

Tips to Getting the Rabbits to Bond

  • First, NEVER ever put a new rabbit into the cage or room of the existing bunny, or a very serious fight will ensue.

  • You may need to have a separate room, so they can have a friend nearby if they just won't get along with another bunny.

  • Do not allow one bunny the entire run of the house and cage the newcomer. This will bring resentment.

  • Use a screen between two rooms so both have their freedom.

  • Make sure both bunnies are spayed and neutered for at least two weeks before introductions. Bunnies can be safely spayed or neutered around 4 months of age by a good rabbit veterinarian.

  • Young babies will often get along well with an adult for a time, but when the babies mature, fighting usually starts and it is time to separate them.

  • The best pair is a male with a female. Same sex pairs rarely work well, but it has been done. If introductions are rushed, or either is not spayed or neutered, serious injury may occur. If your rabbit is bitten by another, please get her to a good rabbit vet. Rabbits have extremely delicate skin, and one bite can inflict significant damage.

  • A better way is to have the bunny choose his or her companion. Do this by contacting a rescue group such as The House Rabbit Society and ask them to bring over a few of their adoptable rabbits for your bunny to meet. Again use the neutral territory. Often, to your surprise, your bunny may find "the one." Regardless, patience is the key and lots of it.

    Time for the First Meeting

    Let's say you have taken all precautions; both are spayed or neutered for at least two weeks. Now find a room that neither rabbit has been in – neutral territory – where neither can claim his or her own area. This is important. Prepare yourself with a towel and a spray water bottle, and make the room look very normal, with two litterboxes, hay, etc. Sit in the room with a calming radio on. Let both animals out of their carriers, and close the carriers, so they both cannot go into one together. Watch and be prepared. You will find one rabbit will be the dominant one. He or she will try and mount the other, not as a sexual act, but an act of dominance, much like dogs will do. This is okay IF the other one will submit to it. If circling and biting starts, throw a towel over them, or spray them - just do not let them bite. Separate and return them to their cages/rooms next to each other – enough for the night You may need to do this for 10 minutes each day for months before they accept each other, or just a few days. Each rabbit is unique. Some, like people, just do not get along; some do, right from the start.

    What if They Don't Bond

    We advise never getting a second rabbit UNLESS you are sure you have a separate room or cage if they will not get along. A sad thing is to be in a shelter and have an adopted rabbit returned while the owner says, "He just wouldn't get along with mine at home." That returned bunny will probably never leave the shelter again. There are some who go to more extreme measures to force rabbits to get along; i.e., car rides together in a basket to force them to endure the ride and cling to one another for safety. Sometimes this does work. But many do not want to add extra stress to their rabbits in the hope that it "may" work. If they don't get along in a month, or even sooner, we suggest keeping them separated and trying later on down the road. There is nothing wrong with their being next to each other in a cage or room. Again, just do not put the newcomer in a cage, and place him in the room where your existing bunny has free reign. That will cause major resentment in the newcomer. But a sturdy gate or screen between rooms works well. They can enjoy each other's company just knowing he or she is there nearby.

    How Will I Know if They are Bonding?

    When both bunnies are in the room, mounting only, not biting, lying next to each other, and finally grooming one another...you have arrived. But don't move too quickly and put them in one cage/room yet. Expand their time together and watch, and be careful. Perhaps move them to an area in your home with an indoor fenced pen, as you would for a dog, instead of a cage. They have more freedom that way, and you can get in and stop any fight faster than you can in a cage.

    The best thing before considering a second bunny is to talk to bunny owners or visit the House Rabbit Society at www.rabbit.org. You may find that a guinea pig or a cat may work if another bunny will not, or you may find, as Sadie's owner did, that a solo bunny is best for your household if that bunny has plenty of love and attention from you.

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