Easy Bonding

Despite the title, this is not a Fifty Shades of Grey blog post!

Owners will know that despite rabbits being sociable animals, introducing them to each other (bonding) needs to be done carefully. If bonding goes wrong you can end up with injured and stressed rabbits rather the loving pair or group you’d hoped for.

Bonding is therefore often attempted with great trepidation from owners, me included. However, being fully prepared before you introduce rabbits helps a great deal. As does knowing the ‘personality’ of the bunnies involved.

Never attempt to introduce rabbits unless:

a)      Both rabbits are neutered, no matter what sex they are

b)      You introduce the rabbits on neutral territory (where neither rabbit has been before)

I’ve just bonded Hazel and my new rabbit Dobby (he’s gorgeous!). Hazel lost her partner George about 6 weeks ago and I gave her this time to come to terms with his loss. She’s a very timid rabbit and I was fairly confident that she would not ‘fight’ Dobby and things would be fairly easy. I was right. Dobby mounted Hazel a few times during the first five minutes (this is totally normal but you should intervene if the male tries to mount the wrong way around as his genitals can get bitten) and she was so scared she just froze. She nipped him a couple of times but soon learnt that if she hopped away he wouldn’t chase her. They’re both very greedy rabbits so lots of tasty food was put into the bonding pen with them and they quite quickly started eating together. This progressed to lying near each other, then lying next to each other and grooming.

All in all, it has been the easiest and least stressful bond I’ve ever done! However, it will take several months to fully be sure they are happy. In the meantime I’ve washed down Hazel’s shed and run with a 50:50 water and white vinegar solution to neutralise any smells and once it’s dry they will go to their permanent home (about 5 days after starting the bond).


Hazel (brown) and Dobby (white)

Losing a pet

I don’t think I fully understood the term heartbroken until the death of my first dog, Spencer. He wasn’t even 9 years old when he was diagnosed with a carcinoma in his throat – too close to his jugular vein to be removed. A slight cough was the only original symptom and then a little choking when he ate. Diagnosed on the 3rd October 2011 and put the sleep on the 2nd of December that same year. It was so quick and he went downhill so fast. For two years it was just me and him after I split up from my ex and moved house.  He was my first dog, my ‘baby’ and losing him truly broke my heart.

Since then I’ve lost rabbits too, including most recently George in December 2015. But with George I was almost relieved when he went. Of course I was sad but he’d been through so much. If you’ve read my blog about sneezing you’ll know that he had been ill since November 2013. Since that last blog he’d started to go downhill again and I was nebulising him twice a day. Another nasal swab showed signs of Aspergillosis, a fungal infection which unless induced in laboratories it’s unheard of in pet rabbits. We had some treatment for this but it was always likely to be a secondary infection. At one point he was getting the fungal medication, anti-inflammatories, gut motility medication, Penicillin injections and I was syringe feeding him, poor thing. His ears also became infected again and I was cleaning them daily. George was such as good patient and loved his extra syringed food but it was a lot for him to deal with. We managed to get him stable and I decided that enough was enough and it was now time to make him comfortable for his remaining few weeks or months. He’d had enough investigatory procedures.

Shortly after making this decision I came home one evening to find him unable to use his hind legs properly. As soon as I saw him I knew it would be a one way trip for him to the vets. The vet was fantastic, so careful with him and very understanding. She said it was possibly a spinal tumour (nothing to do with his respiratory problems) and we had to let him go.

I’ve had George cremated and his ashes are back to scatter in the garden when the weather is a bit nicer. It’s always hard to see a pet go but I felt I waited a day or two too long with Spencer and I vowed never to do that again. I always try and remember;

‘It’s better for them to go a week too early than a day too late’


‘George’ April 2008 – December 2015

Water bowls or bottles?


In 2011 a study (Tschudin et al)  was published showing that most rabbits actually prefer to drink from water bowls than from bottles and I’ve certainly found that to be true.

With all of my rabbits I’ve initially given them a choice, providing them with bottles and bowls in different areas and at different heights around their living space. However, eventually I have removed all the bottles as they just weren’t being used at all.

Unfortunately, it can be more difficult to monitor water consumption when offering bowls of water instead of bottles. Water can evaporate and bowls can get tipped over or become contaminated with hay (or even the odd poop) but I find the benefits outweigh the negatives.  The benefits of bowls over bottles are:

  • Bowls are much easier to clean!
  • Rabbits seem to prefer them and can get more water more quickly from them, useful in the summer when they need to keep hydrated.
  • Large bowls have a bigger surface area than bottles and are kept inside the shed/hutch so take longer before they freeze.
  • You can easily stop them freezing by using a Snugglesafe® microwave heat pad under the bowl. Although, ideally a properly insulated hutch/shed should stop this from happening to a bowl of water anyway.
  • Lapping water from a bowl is more natural than drinking from a bottle.
  • There is NOTHING cuter than watching a rabbit lapping at water!

Warm water

Several years ago when I collected my first rabbit as an adult owner I was advised by the rescue to offer a bowl of warm water to my new bunny once home. In my experience this does encourage drinking and I’ve since offered warm water to rabbits recovering from surgery and also to my rabbits on a cold day. It was a really useful tip.

frog in water bowl

One of the more unusual things I’ve found in their water bowl!



Reference: Tschudin, A., Clauss, M., Codron, D., Liesegang, A., Hatt, J.M. (2011) ‘Water intake in domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) from open dishes and nipple drinkers under different water and feeding regimes.’, Journal of animal physiology and animal nutrition,95(4), pp. 499-511.

Wild strawberries

It’s November and wild strawberry plants (Fragaria vesca) are still growing in abundance along hedgerows here in Wiltshire. Although there are no actual strawberries, my rabbits love the delicious leaves. Strawberry plants are quite hardy and can survive year to year but very cold weather will damage the leaves. It’s very mild at the moment so my rabbits are continuing to enjoy this treat a few times a week.

Wild strawberries produce white flowers between April and June. The flowers are followed by the fruit which starts off green and ripens into a red colour. Yellow ‘dots’ can be seen on the surface of the fruit which are the seeds. Wild strawberry fruits are miniature versions (about 1 cm diameter) of the strawberries you see in the shops or grow in your garden but they can also be eaten by human and rabbit alike. The plants spread across ground using runners (stolons) and they have the same characteristic shaped leaves as cultivated strawberry plants, comprising of three ‘leaflets’.

Strawberry leaves have been used in teas as traditional remedies for digestive problems and for the treatment of arthritis in people but I’ve no idea whether they would have the same benefit for rabbits!

wild strawberry

A guide to bunny poo

Rabbits produce two types of poo.  The first type are called caecotrophs and they are soft, sticky dark coloured poops (covered in mucus and sometimes with a greenish tinge). Rabbits actually eat their caecotrophs but this usually happens at night so often owners never witness this. They eat the caecotrophs straight from their anus. This type of poo is rich in nutrients and rabbits must consume them in order to remain healthy. Too many caecotrophs (often caused by a starchy/carbohydrate based diet instead of a high fibre diet) can mean the rabbit does not eat them all and they can get stuck in the fur around the anus.

The second type of rabbit poo is the type you see in their litter tray, around the garden and in fields where wild rabbits live. In comparison to caecotrophs these harder droppings are larger, rounder and much drier. They have a fibrous quality and you should see fibre particles in them. Rabbits can produce over 300 of these droppings per day!

The size, shape and amount of poo your rabbits produce can be a very useful guide into understanding how healthy they are. Problems to watch out for include:

  1. Rabbit not producing enough poo (or suddenly pooping less than usual).
  2. Small or misshapen droppings.
  3. Not eating caecotrophs (finding them in the litter tray or stuck around the anus).
  4. ‘String of pearl’ droppings (where several poops are joined together with fur).

Plentiful, large, evenly shaped, round poops are what you should be aiming for. Any deviation from this should be considered as serious and a veterinary check-up sought as soon as possible. A reduction in number, size or a change in dropping shape could mean your rabbit is not eating or the digestive system has slowed down or stopped for some reason. This can indicate illness, stress, dehydration or blockages. Some medications can also affect the digestive system this way.

Fur in the poo causing the string of pearl effect usually occurs when the rabbit (or his/her friend) is moulting. Daily brushing to remove loose fur can reduce how much fur is ingested. Carpet or fabric fibres may also be seen in the dropping so it is important to keep chewable things out of reach and regularly check household items for evidence of chewing.

Finding regular uneaten caecotrophs usually suggests that a dietary change is needed.

In this photo the first set of poops at the top are from a young, healthy female that eats a lot of hay. The middle poops are from an elderly male rabbit that is on a lot of medication. Veterinary advice was sought on this. These poops are NOT normal and this should be investigated by a vet ASAP. The bottom poops are also from an elderly male rabbit who has no known health issues but has been on a poor diet up until the last few months. His digestive system is gradually getting better and the hope is that he will also produce larger poops soon!

In this photo the first set of poops at the top are from a young, healthy female that eats a lot of hay.
The middle poops are from an elderly male rabbit that is on a lot of medication. Veterinary advice was sought on this. These poops are NOT normal and this should be investigated by a vet ASAP.
The bottom poops are also from an elderly male rabbit who has no known health issues but has been on a poor diet up until the last few months. His digestive system is gradually getting better and the hope is that he will also produce larger poops soon!

Uneaten caecotrophs

Uneaten caecotrophs

Bonding a trio of rabbits

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Introductions must be done on neutral territory (somewhere neither rabbit has been).
  3. 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

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.

Initial meeting between Daisy (white & grey), George (Brown lop) and Hazel.

After a while they settled down and George and Hazel ignored Daisy.

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.

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.

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.

Introducing dogs to rabbits

I’ve introduced dogs to different rabbits  a few times now and luckily it has always gone well. However, the first 3 dogs were collies or collie crosses. Theo has been the first terrier I’ve tried this with. But as a friend said to me…staffies are terriers with a small ‘t’ unlike other terriers which have a high chase and kill instinct.

Breed and individual temperament is crucial when looking for a dog to live with rabbits. There are always exceptions to the rule but generally sight hounds (greyhounds etc.), spaniels and terriers don’t make the best companions for rabbits and other small furries.

I was prepared to try with Theo and was fairly confident as he was so young when we got him and because I know a few staffie owners that also have rabbits and guinea pigs.

Introductions happened in 4 stages:

Stage 1. With the rabbits in their run we let Theo out into the garden. He was initially very excited and ran around the run barking. My rabbits are used to dogs and therefore ignored him and did not run away. To stop him barking and chasing them I fed them so they stayed in one place and I scattered food for Theo around the outside of the run so that he could associate the rabbits with yummy treats (and they associated him with yummy food too). After a few days he got bored with them and ignored them completely when he went into the garden.

Yogi at Stage 1. Meeting the rabbits safely through the run. The rabbits have been rewarded with tasty food to encourage a positive association with the dog for them.

Yogi at Stage 1. Meeting the rabbits safely through the run. The rabbits have been rewarded with tasty food to encourage a positive association with the dog for them.

Stage 2. With Theo, stage 2 lasted about 7 weeks and will depend totally on each individual dog. With our other dog Yogi this stage never even happened as he has no chase instinct at all. With Theo this stage involved the rabbits being free range in the garden (they get a lot of free range time every day) with Theo on the lead. Every time Theo needed the toilet we took him out on the lead. That way, the rabbits could run around him and he could get used to them without chasing. If he showed interest in chasing them we gave him the command ‘leave it’ and as soon as he turned his head towards us he was rewarded. (We used clicker training so that we were more precise with his training and the ‘leave it’ command).  He was also rewarded for ‘good’ interactions such as sniffing them gently (or them sniffing him) or ignoring them when they hopped passed him.

Stage 3. This stage occurred simultaneously with stage 2. We took Theo to puppy training classes and learnt how to teach him ‘leave it’. This was practiced every day asking him to either leave a tasty treat or even to leave the cat!

Stage 4. After weeks of being in the garden on the lead, Theo was allowed off to roam around the garden free with the rabbits. We always go outside with him and initially I always took treats so that if I needed him to come back he would get rewarded. Now we are in May (we got him in January) he can go out to the garden with the rabbits and although he is always supervised by us, we don’t need treats all the time to get him to come back.  He is now more interested in the rabbit food or rabbit poo to take notice of what they are doing and likewise they aren’t bothered by him.

Yogi & Theo with Daisy and George. May 2015

   Yogi & Theo with Daisy and George. May 2015

Chronic sneezing

George started sneezing in November 2013. It’s now April 2015 and he is still sneezing. His story was published in the Winter 2014 edition of Rabbiting On (an excellent magazine that you receive quarterly if you’re a member of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund). At the time of publishing we had tried several different types of antibiotics, changed his environment and the litter being used in the trays, had an x-ray and pulled some hay from his nose. However, nothing seemed to help.

sneezy 1 sneezy 2

In November 2014, I decided to take him to Great Western Exotics Vets (yes, rabbits are classed as exotic pets!) where he spent a day having a few procedures. I took Hazel and Daisy (as I always do) to keep him company and made sure they all had their favourite tasty food ready and that the staff knew they liked water out of bowls not bottles. Due to the fact he has a respiratory problem he was sedated as it was too risky to anaesthetise him properly. He had a CT scan (expensive! lesson learnt about getting insurance) and swabs of his nose were taken.

A few days later we had the results of the CT scan and swabs. His nose did show fluid but the swabs could not pinpoint any single pathogen so we were still none the wiser regarding what drugs to use. He had a mark in his lungs which possibly pointed to a previous issue such as pneumonia and a dental spur was also found but as George is still eating and not losing weight we just have to keep an eye on him. He is a poor hay eater in comparison to the girls so I have to be careful not to give him too many tasty things or he refuses to eat the hay. What I wasn’t prepared for was that he had infections in both his ears (poor man) and a polyp in one ear. The vet explained that lop eared rabbits are basically the Pug’s of the rabbit world (bred for looks rather than health) and their flat faces and floppy ears cause all sorts of problems. Lop eared rabbits many more problems because the air cannot circulate and dirt gets trapped inside them. We were given more antibiotics, a mucolytic (Biosolvon) to try and get him to sneeze out the stuff in his nose and some ear drops. The vet also advised ALL owners of lop eared rabbits should ear clean regularly (once or twice a week). A check up after two weeks showed his ears were clear again.

Lung CT scan

Lung CT scan

I was given other options to try and establish what was in his nose. This included more nasal swabs or a fine needle aspiration into his lung. Unfortunately, both meant risky anaesthesia and there was no guarantee that we would get a definitive answer. I opted not to put him through any more procedures.

CT scan right ear

CT scan right ear

CT scan nose

CT scan nose

Several months later (the sneezing never stopped) and I felt that his breathing sounded a bit ‘snotty’. We went back to the vets in March 2015 where he confirmed his lungs were clear (good news) but that he did still have issues with his nose. We got more antibiotics (penicillin this time) which I had to inject daily for 14 days and the vet suggested a nebuliser to manage the problem as at this stage it is a chronic condition. He gave me some F10 disinfectant mixed in distilled water and I bought a nebuliser from here. I highly recommend this company as I ordered Thursday morning and it arrived Friday morning (and was much cheaper than the website the vet suggested). You can also get nebulisers from Boots and other online chemists. Here is a video of George and his nebuliser, as you can see it doesn’t bother him much. To start with he was getting nebulised twice a day for 20 mins, then we reduced to once a day and now it’s a few times a week. Fingers crossed we can manage it and he will live a long life yet.

Dead -nettle – free food for rabbits

There’s some Purple Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) growing just outside our garden gate. It’s not something I’ve ever offered to the rabbits before because I’ve heard it has quite a bitter taste (especially once flowering). It is however, a safe wild plant for them to eat. Dead-nettle is also a favourite food for bees early in spring so I’m not keen to deprive them.

Dead-nettle can be found in red/purple or white (Lamium album) and does not sting like the common nettle. Like the stinging nettle it is however edible and can be used in salads, stir-fry and soups for humans.

Out of curiosity I picked a couple of stems and offered them to Daisy and Hazel. They must have decided they were delicious because this started a bit of a squabble and the Dead-nettle was gobbled up in seconds.

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