Rabbits love company. But they are fussy about what friends they keep and fights (causing severe injuries) can break out if you don’t introduce rabbits properly. This introduction is known as bonding. There are many different methods and techniques used to bond rabbits. This is just how I did it. However, there are three golden rules to any bond:
- All rabbits – yes both males and females MUST be neutered. Castrating the male only will stop unwanted pregnancies but hormonal, territorial females can be very angry and they usually need to be neutered too for a bond to be successful.
- Introductions must be done on neutral territory (somewhere neither rabbit has been).
- Be prepared!
My book ‘Bonding Rabbits’ explains how I bonded my very first pair. However, today I’m going to talk about bonding a trio. This is only the second attempt I had at a trio (the first was also a success). It should be noted that, if you already had a neutered pair which have a close relationship, you should think very carefully before adding a third rabbit. The introduction of the third can sometimes upset the current pair and may even cause the original bond to break down. I already had a pair; George (neutered male) and Hazel (neutered female). However, the relationship was not as close as I’d seen in some of my previous bunnies and George could be a bit of a bully towards Hazel. I decided to try adding in another rabbit to see if this would change and improve the dynamics of the group. I could have chosen a male or a female. At this point it is the personality that matters most (whereas a male-female pair is best when bonding two rabbits). I decided on a neutered female (Daisy).
STEP 1. Preparation. Before bonding I made sure I was fully prepared. I’ve learnt from experience to have everything ready BEFORE you put the rabbits together. It is much less stressful. So a bonding run is prepared – not too big or rabbits can sit in corners and make the corners their ‘territory’ and not too small so they can’t sit apart either. To start with, no litter trays or toys or anything that may smell of one or another rabbit and again the reason for no trays initially is so no-one can claim territory. No water bowl for first 30 mins so it doesn’t get knocked flying in the initial fighting chasing but you can put a few bottles around the pen. Big gloves at the ready in case you need to separate fighting buns. I have big welding gloves that I use for messing around with the fire so they can’t bite through them. And a water sprayer – some people don’t advocate this (as it is not very pleasant for the rabbit) but it can be useful to squirt a bit of water in the face of a rabbit which seems to be repeatedly starting scuffles. It stops them in their tracks and makes them stop and groom their face which is a calming behaviour. The timing of the squirt of water must be exact for this to work. If unsure – don’t use it. And the ‘squirt’ should be a light spray/mist from the same sort of bottle as you would mist plants with (clean and unused obviously). I did not need to use the sprayer when bonding this trio.
My bonding pen is usually in the livingroom (neutral territory). I put newspapers down to protect the floor but I prefer it in the lounge because I can watch TV and keep an eye on them. Also if the bonding seems to be taking a while, I can choose to sleep on the sofa next to them in case a fight starts. For this reason you should always leave yourself a spare weekend to bond rabbits. It cannot be done in a rush.
The bonding pen
STEP 2. Car journey. I got my husband to drive the car and I sat in the back. I put my pair in an open topped cardboard box and after starting the 10 minute journey I popped the single bunny in. You don’t have to do this stage you can go straight to the bonding pen but my personal previous experience shows this works really well. The bunnies don’t like the car much and huddle down – the third bunny then huddles into the pair. A few minutes is enough. For very nervous or elderly rabbits this step (known by some as stressing) is probably not suitable.
STEP 3. The bonding pen. Put all three rabbits into the pen, get the gloves on and stand by. Some chasing, fur-pulling, humping, nipping and ignoring is normal. But full on fighting (eyes shut, kicking, rolling around together biting) is a very bad sign and rabbits should be separated immediately.
Initial meeting between Daisy (white & grey), George (Brown lop) and Hazel.
After a while they settled down and George and Hazel ignored Daisy.
As things progressed I added in a litter tray, more hay and a water bowl and Daisy squeezed herself in between George and Hazel.
Eating together is a very good sign that things are going well.
The Outcome Introducing Daisy to George and Hazel was my easiest bond yet! I think by being prepared for the worst it made things seem very easy. There were some initial scuffles. Chasing and fur nipping but only by the new-comer Daisy and George my existing male. Poor Hazel just hid in the corner and froze but after a few hours the three of them were soon eating and lying together. One and a half years on and they are all still great together.