To be successful at rabbit bonding, there are 3 rules which need be followed:
1. The best bonding pair is male and female
Out in the wild, rabbits will live in pairs of male/female and will at times remain with the same partner for their entire life. Every female (doe) will have her very own nesting burrow and the male (buck) will usually sleep with her there. This is the natural pairing for house rabbits also. Baby rabbits not yet established in a bonded pair tend to be solitary, hanging around the outskirts of the warren.
Of course same sex pairings are possible but they tend to be a little trickier. The best way to success is to have 2 brothers or 2 sisters from the same litter and have them fixed as quickly as possible.
2. Males need to be neutered and females spayed
This is critical for several reasons, besides removing the chance of unwanted babies. Sex is very serious to rabbits and is the cause of most arguments. A male that is not neutered will always be frustrated and will aggrevate the doe. An unspayed female will be territorial and aggressive, may suffer from fake pregnancies and, most important, has somewhere near an 80% chance of uterine cancer before the age of five if left unspayed.
3. Introductions must go slowly
A pair that is put together too quickly may have a serious fight and never quite recover from the drama.
The process of rabbit bonding introductions
Rabbit Bonding Stage 1 – Prepare
If one or both of the rabbits has been recently fixed, you'll need to wait until the hormones have completely subsided. This can take up to four to six weeks.
In the beginning, the bunnies need to be kept apart. Put them in different rooms with a baby gate seperating them. Alternatively, you could keep 1 or both of them in seperate dog crates. The best thing is that the rabbits can see and smell each other as well as touch noses without being able to bite.
It is easier to introduce a doe into a buck's living space than the reverse. Females are more territorial and usually wind up being "the boss". So, when introducing a new buck to your doe, it's a great idea to put him into the doe's space and move her somewhere else.
Give the bunnies plenty of time to settle down. They will be curious about one another and will spend a lot of time at the barrier, sniffing each other out. It helps to have a solid understanding of bunny body language – i.e., rabbits will turn their backs to signify disapproval, or will flop on their sides when feeling relaxed. If there is any biting through the bars, or growling and lunging, do not try a face to face meeting. It helps to feed them at the barrier so they get used to the idea of eating together. When the bunnies choose to sit or lie down together at the barrier than you know you are making progress..
This part of the rabbit bonding process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes it can take months! A lot depends on the rabbit's personalities, what they have experienced in the past and how comfortable they feel in your home.
Rabbit Bonding Stage 2 – Introductions
Once you feel confident that the bunnies are used to each other and not showing any aggressive behavior, you can proceed to face to face introductions. It is important this happens in a neutral area, somewhere that doesn't "belong" to either of the rabbits.
Put both rabbits in the space and kneel down with them, petting both of them for a couple of minutes. When you let them go, some of the following may happen:
1. One bunny immediately attacks the other. This is rare but you won't be able to mistake an attach if it happens. The rabbit being attacked may get bitten or scratched and you will need to seperate the rabbits quickly. It is a good idea to wear thick gloves during the first introduction. If one rabbit attacks, start again at Stage 1.
2. One rabbit will start chasing the other rabbit and try to mount him/her. In neutered rabbits, mounting is a display of dominance rather than for sex. A female may mount a male and vice versa. They might also mount at the wrong end – this can be dangerous for the buck if the doe decides to bite so it is best to gently separate them. Chasing and mounting may go on for some time during the first several meetings and is the rabbits' way working out who the boss is. If the rabbit being persued becomes too scared, separate the two of them.
3. In the best case scenario, the rabbits will approach the other as equals and with due respect. They will most likely smell each other all over and may chase a bit but both are clearly having fun. This is "love at first sight" and is very rare so don't fret if it doesn't happen for your bunnies.
Assuming your bunnies follow the most likely path of point 2., give them ten minutes or so together during first meeting. Repeat this process on a daily basis, gradually increasing the amount of time spent together. Always keep them supervised. Every pair is different and some may bond in a matter of days while others can take weeks. If possible, provide a tunnel or house for the rabbit that is being chased, that he/she can escape to and the other rabbit can't reach into. The biggest sign to look out for is when the bunnies stop noticing each other and start to check out their surroundings instead, nibble on some bunny food or use the litter box. You can now give them more time together but make sure you continue to supervise.
As soon as the bunnies start lying down together, munching together, grooming each other, etc, the bond is made and will continue to get deeper with time. Now it is safe to let the rabbits back into their usual living areas but keep an eye out for territorial or aggressive behavior. Continue to watch over them until you are sure they are relaxed and happy together.
Rabbit Bonding tips
- Bunnies that are being stressed by an environmental influence are more likely to turn to each other for comfort. It can sometimes help to take your rabbits for a car ride together to encourage them to seek each others solace.
- Sometimes you can encourage a rabbit to groom another bunny by petting it or by putting mashed up banana or apple on the other bunny's head or back
Finally, remember that rabbit bonding is probably a scarier situation for us than for the bunnies. It is hard to watch a seemingly stressed rabbit being harassed by another, however, this is their natural process and the way rabbits do things. If you follow the rabbit bonding tips above, you will be more likely to make it through the process successfully!
Hannah Davis is the author of http://www.bunnyhugga.com, a UK based website of rabbit information from A to Z. Featuring a guide for beginners, in-depth articles on health, diet, behaviour, housing, breeds and more, plus some fun articles on house rabbits.
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