When your rabbits are ready, the next stage is your rabbits meeting face to face.
- Set up your meeting ground: The first face-to-face meeting should take place in an area neither of your rabbits has been before, i.e. ‘neutral territory’. This will make them less likely to be protective of their own space and more likely to want to be sociable. Give them lots of hiding places like tubes, tunnels and cardboard boxes so if one of the rabbits feels stressed out they’ll have somewhere to hide. Make sure these hiding places are open at both ends so it’s harder for one rabbit to guard the entrance and stop the other from getting out. Scatter some tasty hay and your bunnies’ favourite treats around the area so your rabbits associate getting along together with a delicious feast!
- Let them loose: Put both rabbits into opposite ends of the area you’ve set up for them. They’ll have a choice to meet straight away or size up their new bunny buddy from afar. Sit with them and keep an eye on them at all times. Don’t worry if they begin to chase, circle or mount each other – this is normal behaviour for rabbits who’ve just met - but end the session if either rabbit looks stressed or starts a fight.
What if I don’t have space for neutral territory?
Ideally you would use a neutral space that neither rabbit has ever been. If you don’t have this, you could use a friend’s house, but this might not always be possible. If you’re struggling for space, then using two runs next to each other which the rabbits are swapped between may also work.
- Put each rabbit in separate runs next to each other but with a barrier between them - or two rooms separated by a baby gate for indoor buns.
- Keeping them apart but swap each rabbit over into the other run several times each day. This helps to stop the rabbit’s deciding a run is their own territory.
Watch the rabbits to see if they lie down near each other by their barrier. If they seem to be getting along, try putting them together in the same run, which both rabbits will now think of as “neutral ground”.
Signs to look out for when bonding rabbits
Your rabbits probably won’t know what to make of each other at first. It’ll take a couple of introductions before they’re happy and confident in each other’s company. When you first introduce them, they might react by:
- Ignoring each other: This is quite common especially when you first let them out into neutral territory. They’ll usually spend a few minutes exploring and getting their bearings before approaching the other rabbits. Bunny bonding can’t be rushed! Just be patient and wait to see how they interact.
- Nuzzling, sniffing and grooming each other: Congratulations! These are great signs that your bunnies are getting on well. Move onto the final step in their bonding journey – putting them together in the home they’ll share. Keep a close eye on them in the first few days. If their behaviour changes, you might need to separate them again and give them a bit more time to bond.
- Mounting each other: This is really common when you first introduce two rabbits. Mounting – or ‘humping’ – is one way that rabbits sort out who’s the boss in a pair or group. They might nip or pull each other’s fur. This is normal, so don’t separate them unless they start fighting in earnest. Supervise, but leave them together for a short time (less than half an hour) before separating them again. Introduce them again every day and slowly build up the length of time they spend together. It might take a few days or even weeks before they are relaxed around each other and move onto the cuddling up stage.
- Fighting: If you rabbits start scuffling, separate them quickly by sliding a solid piece of cardboard between them or covering them with a towel and carefully removing them from the situation. Be careful – you don’t want to get bitten or accidentally hurt either rabbit by grabbing them. Fighting probably means they weren’t quite ready for their first face-to-face meeting. Go back a step and separate them with a barrier so they can spend a bit longer getting to know one another safely. Wait a few days before trying to introduce them again.
Moving your rabbits into the same home
Once your rabbits are showing signs that they’re becoming best friends – like sniffing, grooming and nuzzling each other – they’re ready to move in together.
Put them together in the home they’ll share. That might be a bunny-proofed room, or an outdoor run and enclosure. Keep a close eye on them for any signs that they’re not getting on. It’s normal to see a bit more mounting or chasing again while they work things out. But if they start getting into fights, separate them and go back a step in the bonding process. If you want your rabbits to eventually have free run of the house or garden, it’s best to introduce them in a smaller area at first and gradually expand the area they have access to.
If your rabbits seem happy and relaxed, give yourself a big pat on the back – you now have a happy pair of bonded rabbits!
Once rabbits are bonded, they should be always kept together. For example, if one bunny has to go to the vet, take their companion along to reduce their stress levels.
A broken bond
Bonded rabbits usually get on well over long periods of time. It’s not uncommon for rabbits to occasionally scuffle, even in bonded pairs, but if they are having proper fights and pulling fur out that’s usually a sign that their bond has broken.
Usually, something has happened to break the bond two rabbits have. This might be a period of separation, a change in environment, if one bunny is unwell, a stressful event, or it might happen for seemingly no reason (usually there is one, but we can’t always figure out exactly what happened). If you’re not sure why it started, get both bunnies a vet check to make sure there’s no medical issues causing the problem.
If two previously bonded bunnies stop getting along, the best thing to do is to separate and restart the bonding process. For most bunnies, this will go much quicker than the first time because they do already know each other, but be prepared that it might still take a little time before they’re best friends again.