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Rabbit Bonding Technique: Easiest and Fastest Method That Works For Us


"Microspace" coupled with "Marathon" Rabbit Bonding - easiest and fastest method in 1 week!

 

**Please note: with this method (and pretty much any other rabbit bonding method)  you must supervise at all times, even at night! Be prepared to sleep near them in a sleeping bag or on the couch!  Rabbits can do SERIOUS damage to one another when they are not bonded so we always want to prevent injuries! You cannot leave rabbits unsupervised (not even for 5 seconds) until they are fully bonded! Also, you cannot try to bond rabbits until ALL rabbits involved have been neutered/spayed!!!

I think it's important for you to go into rabbit bonding with the mindset that rabbit bonding is simply about letting the rabbits establish hierarchy - nothing more, nothing less.  I suggest googling rabbit bonding and reading numerous other blogs/articles besides this one to help you get an overall idea of the bonding process because different methods work for different rabbits and situations. Other blogs may also cover bits of information not mentioned in this blog that might help you as well.  The duration and difficulty of your bonding process is going to vary, there is no "set timeframe" but with this method I have had several successful rabbit bonds in 1 week or less.  It's important to note that rabbit personalities play a huge role (given that the bonding set up is done correctly).  So when you hear some people say their rabbits had "love at first sight" and bonded right away, I believe they just happened to match rabbits that are more "easy going" compared to others.  I have used this method for successful male/male and female/female and male/female bonds, as well as a trio of 2 males/1 female and 2 females/1male.  I strongly believe the difficulty level with the bonding process has more to do with rabbit personalities, instead of the sex of the rabbits.  

LET'S START WITH THE BONDING PROCESS:

Again, you CANNOT start the bonding process until ALL rabbits involved have been neutered/spayed and at least a month must have passed since their surgery to allow hormones to subside!

Basically, this method is bonding rabbits in a very small neutral space over a length of time and slowly increasing their space 2-4 inches per day every 2-3 days, while still keeping them together until they are fully bonded.  (To confirm they are "fully bonded" I like to see the rabbits grooming one another - NOT just one rabbit grooming the other. It has to be mutual and they must be grooming each other/snuggled up in their bonding area with no fights/disagreements for several days to a full week before they go home to their permanent area).  Get ready to take your rabbits with you in a carrier everyday IF things start to escalate beyond tiffs!  If you'd like to try this bonding method, I recommend planning it during a long weekend or a time when you'll be home to monitor the rabbits AT ALL TIMES because once you put the rabbits together, the goal is to NOT separate them at all until they are bonded, even at night! But you have to supervise at all times!! Oh, and have heavy duty gloves nearby in case you need to stop a fight!  

Today we'll be using the bonding example between Mochi (9 years old) who lost her husbun and Arthur (2 years old) who never had a partner before.  Since Mochi was free-roam in my place, she knows every corner and smell of the house, even the bathrooms!  Since I do not have a single inch of "neutral territory" in my place, I will be going to a family member's house for the bonding process as neutral territory is CRUCIAL!  (Tip: as long as you have areas of your house that your rabbit hasn't been to or familiar with, you can use those areas for bonding.  My female rabbit happens to have a personality that is VERY territorial that even in our bathtub or kitchen tiles she still gets fussy and knows she's at home!)

8AM: I like to start the bonding early in the morning because that gives me the entire day to monitor - which is especially important on the first day to see how the rabbits interact with each other.  (Note that after you get past a full day and night of no fighting/disagreements, then the rest of the bonding days are usually pretty uneventful - however if you increase their space too much too soon, they will get territorial and have fights!) I take Mochi and Arthur from their enclosures and place them both into a small sized carrier and immediately go on a minimum 10-15 minute car ride. I do not put them in separate carriers, the whole point of going on a car ride in the same carrier is to jump start the bonding process. (Tip: the smaller the carrier, the better, so that they have physical body to body contact during the car ride - that way they're leaning into each other for support and comfort.  I've used a medium sized dog/cat carrier before and it wasn't that effective since the rabbits ended up on opposite ends of the carrier during the car ride - which is pretty much the same thing as putting them in separate carriers, so it defeats the purpose).  It's important that you don't spend time putting on your shoes or have a quick bite to eat after you've put them in the carrier!  Do all these things BEFORE you put them in the carrier - you want to go on the car ride ASAP so that you don't allow any fights to occur in the carrier.  I've tried the bonding method without a car ride and half the time the bonding process got off to a bad start so I swear by the initial car ride!  This also gives them the opportunity to huddle up to each other as their first interaction together.  If you're the one driving, make sure there's another person with you to separate the rabbits in the carrier in case they start fighting. Or if you want to be the one to separate, then have someone else drive. (In my experience, rabbits haven't fought during these car rides. But of course, every rabbit is different so better be prepared and safe while driving!)

stress rabbit bonding with car ride

 

8:30AM: Once I arrived at the new house, I stacked about 8-9 puppy pee pads on top of each other, made a very small space - about 1.5ft by 1.5ft (15inches x 15 inches) with their pen and put both rabbits inside. (Tip: Anything used during the bonding process should be free of any rabbit scents/marking so that no one has a territory issue. Remember, rabbits recognize scents better than us!  Wipe everything down with vinegar, even the pen!  In a previous bonding I even had to replace a big rug in my house to get 2 rabbits bonded!)  Now I understand tons of people will say this is torture to keep rabbits in this tight space, but the whole point of this method is to temporarily keep the rabbits together and in contact yet at the same time not allowing for any rabbit to claim a certain area as theirs - during bonding you don't want anyone claiming something as theirs, which is why I don't have anything else inside this set up such as a hidey house or litterbox, and I will not introduce these items until day 3 or 4 of bonding.  This current starting set up is a small enough space so that rabbits don't lunge/attack from afar. 

Now the hardest part is sit back and watch, don't interfere because all they're going to try to do is establish dominance and figure out who's who in the new relationship. However, you must always supervise and be ready to interfere (wear thick gloves!) and know the signs that differentiate between an acceptable "tiff" which you want to leave alone and an unacceptable fight which you need to interfere (because it can lead to serious injury, really fast).  The difference are outlined below. You must always be supervising them because things can go south really quick and serious injury can happen!! I kept a distance, staying at least 6-7 ft away.  I allowed them to focus on each other instead of me, yet I'd be close enough so that if something escalates, I can interfere. The first 10 minutes was them being curious about the new environment.  Arthur groomed himself followed by Mochi grooming herself - I was relieved to see either one of them grooming themselves because I see it as a sign that they must be comfortable enough with the other new rabbit in their space.  Then Arthur started trying to mount Mochi.  When he tried to mount, she tried to get away so for the next few hours it was pretty much him on and off trying to mount her and them staying in opposite ends of the set up - during this time I did not interfere at all because although I saw some of her fur flying, I saw he wasn't viciously attacking her and not biting to draw blood. She also wasn't attacking him back to lead to a fight.

If something escalates to an actual fight, first try turning on the vacuum or making a loud noise to distract them.  If that doesn't work, put them back into the carrier and walk around the neighborhood (or use a pet stroller) or go for another car ride and come back and put them back in the pen.  Don't separate them if things start to escalate!  It will teach them that bad behavior gets rewarded by separation and rabbits catch on very quick because they're very smart.  In a previous bonding, I had to take the rabbits with me everywhere: to the grocery store, to run to the bank and everywhere else I was going for the first 3 days before the rabbits could learn to get along together in their pen! (Tip: when you're trying to stop a fight/pick them up, make sure you're wearing heavy duty gloves!  When they're fighting they won't be able to tell the difference between your hand and the other rabbit.  Trust me, a rabbit bite hurts and can penetrate the skin!)

Over the years I've come to know that tiffs are acceptable and we should not interfere: 

Acceptable "tiffs":

  1. Lunging or light boxing, then retreating. No pursuit follows. These behaviors are usually one bunny giving the other a warning. It is body language – a type of nonverbal communication of displeasure.
  2. Nipping that does not produce a full bite or appear to be harmful. Again, this is typically body language indicating “back off”, “stop doing that” or some other warning.
  3. Mounting. This behavior is often misunderstood. While mounting (aka humping) is often a display of dominance, it can also mean that one rabbit accepts the other one as a partner.
  4. Nose-bumping. Rabbits often use their noses to “bump” their partners to get attention.

Signs of unacceptable fighting (you need intervene to prevent injury): 

  1. Chasing. One rabbit is pursuing the other one with intention. Chasing will happen during bonding process and you don't want to interfere UNLESS the chasing leads to the rabbits fighting.  Otherwise, one rabbit will usually chase/follow/pursue the other rabbit to try to mount - this is okay as long as the rabbit being followed doesn't attack back and lead to a fight.
  2. Biting. Bites don’t always break the skin, but often they do. They can be very serious and cause severe damage, depending upon several factors. The fur might be missing in the area of a bite, and there will either be a tear (very bad!) or teeth marks in the skin of the rabbit that has been bitten.
  3. Circling. This is when rabbits are literally chasing each other in a circle – going round and round. It is often called the “tornado”.  You want to monitor the circling because half of the time the rabbits will circle as one rabbit is trying to mount the other and after about 5-20 seconds they stop circling on their own and figure it out amongst themselves which is fine.  If the circling goes on for too long and they end up fighting, this is when you want to stop them.
  4. Rough mounting or mounting that is upsetting the submissive (bottom) rabbit. Also, mounting where the submissive rabbit is getting bitten, is trying to escape or starts thrashing.  (Again, you want to let them mount because mounting is one of the main behaviors that let them figure out their hierarchy.  As long as the mounting isn't leading to full on fights and tornados, then you need to let them mount.)
  5. Grunting (a rabbit growl-type noise). This typically indicates severe displeasure – often the sign of an angry rabbit.

(Here is a link to a youtube video of a rabbit bonding journey that someone uploaded. As you closely watch this video from beginning to end, you can see that  towards the end on August 26th, she had the most successful bonding session when she reduced the bonding area to a much smaller space!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxk4ZEA2i4k

Back to my blog: 

In the afternoon I placed a handful of hay in the middle of the pen and later that night I scattered some pellets on the floor, which they ate fine together and also let them drink from separate water bowls.  While a friend was slightly lifting up the pen, I gently pulled the soiled pee pad from under them so that they can spend the night on a fresh pee pad (you want to keep doing this until you introduce a litterbox).  Again, I placed a handful of hay in their pen and I slept next to them in a sleeping bag so that I can interfere if necessary to prevent injuries at night.  During bonding you do not want to feed them from one bowl because they can get territorial and this will cause a fight. 

The next day Arthur occasionally mounted Mochi but it had significantly decreased  from day 1 and Mochi was calm about it.  They were requesting grooms from each other and neither of them were giving in.

In the morning of the 3rd day I saw that they were still doing good so I increased their space.  They weren't snuggle buddies but they weren't having any tiffs either.  When I increased their space, Arthur mounted Mochi a few times and then calmed down.  You want to slowly increase this space depending on your rabbits interactions with each other!  If increasing space causes a fight, make the space smaller again - they are not ready for this next step!  If you want to play it safe, you can increase their space 2-4 inches every 2-3 days and keep increasing in these increments until you reach a space that is about 6ft by 6ft. Your rabbits will let you know if you gave them too much space too soon by nipping and tiffs.

Towards the evening of that 3rd day, Mochi finally groomed Arthur!  This is when I decided to feed them pellets from one bowl and they did fine!  However, just because one rabbit is grooming the other doesn't mean the bond is established!  I like to see mutual grooming from both rabbits and see this for a couple days before moving them to their permanent space!! This means at day 3, these 2 rabbits are still not fully bonded.

The morning of the 4th day, I decided to take the plunge and introduce a fresh litterbox since they were getting along well.  Bringing in a litterbox and/or hideouts are tricky because one rabbit can get territorial over it and bring you back to day 1 of bonding all over again, slowing down the process.  Please note, in the picture it looks like I moved them to a new spot but it was really just a few inches from where they were (their initial area was blocking a doorway).  (Tip: as long as the bonding is going smooth, you want to keep them in the same spot until they're fully bonded!  Changing their location before their bond has solidified can spark a new territorial tiff and bring you back to day 1 of bonding!)  

With the new litterbox, Arthur mounted Mochi again a few times and calmed down again.  After this, he didn't mount her again!

Evening of the 4th day, they were all snuggled up and Arthur groomed Mochi back!  All evening they were grooming each other.  Usually, this mutual grooming signals the bond has established - but I like to see this mutual grooming behavior along with snuggling for several days to a week before moving them to their permanent area.  Since I was off that whole week, I kept Arthur and Mochi in this exact spot on the 5th and 6th day just to "solidify" the bond.  When I took them back home, I placed them in the general area where their litterbox will permanently be placed, but I closed if off to a small area since their bond is fairly new and I didn't want Mochi getting triggered with territorial behavior over her old area.

After a few days like this, I slowly increased their space every day to where now they're completely free-roam and a great bonded duo!  The key is to SLOWLY increase their space in their permanent area because they're still "newlyweds" with a fresh bond.  You don't want to just set them free in an entire room. Remember, they can have tiffs over new territory!  As a guide, you can increase their space 1/2 to 1ft per every 2-3 days.

Over the past several years I've had different rabbits with different personalities - and had numerous bonding trials/errors throughout the years which has helped me introduce a new rabbit to a bonded duo or trio, bond a new rabbit to a rabbit who has lost his/her partner, or re-bond a bonded pair after they've had a fall out over new territory.   This technique has also worked for male/male or female/female or male/female bonds and more importantly, it has helped achieve rabbit bonds in 1 week or less! Although I'm not a professional, I've been through many different scenarios with different rabbits and have found this bonding method to be the quickest, easiest and least stressful (for both my rabbits and myself).  Although it might not work for everyone, it's a method that is worth trying.  

27 comments

  • Reply to Sam

    Hi Sam,

    When they’re going good in the neutral space, you’ll want to keep them in that neutral space 24/7 for at least a couple days (I prefer to keep them there for a full week). This timeframe allows them to “cement” their bond (in other words it helps them solidify their bond). After this when you put them in their old territory, you MUST make those spaces as neutral as possible even though you’ve spent time solidifying their bond in the completely neutral space. The thing is, if one of them is nipping when they’re back in their territory, it’s usually because you have a territorial rabbit (which is solely based on personality. Some rabbits aren’t as territorial or not territorial at all so some people don’t have these issues). How far you have to go to neutralize their old territory will be based on how territorial your rabbit is. I’ve had a very territorial rabbit so I had to buy a completely new rug, re-arrange all furniture and if there was a piece of furniture that the rabbit always laid on, I had to get rid of it as well. Use 50/50 vinegar water mix to wipe everything down – every corner. Even the pen you use, you have wipe it down completely top to bottom on both sides. Please note: with territorial rabbits, just vacuuming your carpet is not enough. You may need to consider getting a new rug and laying it over your carpet to “create a new place”. Goodluck!

  • Reply to Mel M

    Hi Mel M,

    During the entire phase of the bonding process, you must provide them with food and water. Even though the initial space is small, you need to scatter handfuls of hay on the floor so that they can eat throughout the day. As far as water, you can hook up a water bottle to the side of the cage. Or you can give them water every couple of hours in a bowl (I usually don’t keep the water bowl in there 24/7 because they usually step into it and get wet). As far as pellets, you also want to scatter them on the floor for them to eat. You do not want to feed the pellets in a bowl because they may get aggressive with each other.

  • sam

    Hi we have 2 brother rabbits who were very bonded until their hormones kicked in and there was a biting incident, we had to them separate them to monitor the bitten rabbit but kept their cages next to each other the whole time. We then got them neutered and have waited months and now started little neutral area meetings which go well, they both groom each other and flop next to each other snuggled up, as they did before this, but then we tried putting them in the pen and there was a little tiff, in hindsight we might have separated them to quick as I worry I don’t know the difference between acceptable tiff and fight? but also think I hadn’t neutralised it enough, how do you recommend doing this as they have both had time with one of them in the run and one roaming the living room taking turns, and generally they groom through the bars and sit next to each other sometimes, just don’t know how to progress from small meets that go seemingly great to getting them back in the same cage. Also how will I neutralise their cage as they have been in half of a two storey cage each whilst recouping from neutering and allowing the hormones to level? Thanks sam

  • Mel M

    Hi, for the intial 1st stage do you leave them without food and water? If so, can you please detail the length of time as being from a hot country I don’t think we could do this without ending up with stasis.

    Thanks

  • Reply to Maria

    Hi Maria,

    Based on what you’ve written, it seems they are not 100% bonded, especially when it has already been 3 weeks. I am wondering if the current space you have for them is being recognized by the male rabbit and therefore he’s not 100% “accepting her”. We’ve been in your situation where we were nervous taking the next step of moving the newly bonded rabbits into an older territory – the only way to know is to try putting them in their permanent space and CLOSELY monitor their behavior! The thing is, if your male rabbit happens to have a very territorial personality overall, then no matter where or how you bond them, if he smells his old territory, he may still get nippy! That is how it was with one of our very territorial females. This is why we literally had to throw out the old rug and replace the couch (we’ve had this couch for YEARS so she definitely knew our couch smell) because she was perfectly bonded in a group elsewhere with no problems and then when she came home, she would start to nip everyone and get territorial over the litter box and certain corners even though their space was limited!

  • maria

    Hi,
    I have a male/female pair. They are kind of bonded in the sense that they now share a play pen and free roam in a limited space i.e together 24/7 and can be left alone.. The male can get a little nippy (he can be jealous) with the female and the female requests grooming with little success most of the time. The male will on occasion groom her and I have seen the female groom him very briefly. They are sometimes snuggly but most times either sleep near one another but not very close.. They do play a little together and binky around in the morning when I let them out of the playpen. I am not sure if I should just keep things as is and see how it progresses over time (it is now 3 weeks like this). There is no fighting and oftentimes the male now nudges instead of nips.

    I want to move them into the living room which was originally the male’s territory. I am cleaning (vinegar etc) and rearranging, but he got into every nook and cranny. Am concerned if I move them into the living, and he remembers or gets whiffs of his smell that might destroy what they do have.

    any comments welcome.

  • Reply to Lady

    Hello,

    We had a similar situation in the past where some bondings didn’t seem to be going anywhere as days went on – we were losing sleep and the rabbits were having prolonged stress without any bonding progress. In these situations we like to COMPLETELY RESET by housing the rabbits in different rooms, so that they’re away from each other: this means they can’t see each other or smell each other (they shouldn’t even be able to smell each other’s litterboxes, so for this reason we like to house them in different rooms, not side by side with a barrier in between). I like to house them this way for at least 2 weeks so they have a chance to calm down and forget the tension between each other. Then, when I try the bonding process again, I wipe down everything with vinegar/water solution – wipe down EVERYTHING that will be involved in the bonding process, even the carrier. The morning of Day 1 bonding, I immediately place rabbits into one carrier and go for a car ride. Then we proceed with our “microspace marathon bonding” technique described in the article. We don’t like using bathtubs because 1. we prefer not to sleep in the bathroom floor at night while we monitor them and 2. it’s still a big space so we run into problems of one or more rabbits claiming a corner as theirs and when another rabbit wants to explore their guarded space, a tiff starts. The tricky thing about bonding is figuring out the difference between a dangerous fight and a “tiff”. Please note that some tiffs need to happen between some rabbits in order for them to get over “the hump” so that they can establish hierarchy amongst themselves. I know… it’s very hard for us humans to just sit and back and observe because we care for the well being of our fur babies and we don’t want any serious injuries to occur. Unfortunately there’s not a set rule on how long or to what extent the tiffs will occur because this is based on rabbit personality. I’d highly recommend looking at youtube videos and read other good bonding articles to get a good idea on what the “acceptable tiffs” are so that you know when to intervene and when to just let them figure out their hierarchy. But always remember, in order for them to establish their hierarchy, they need to be in a completely neutral space, otherwise if one rabbit feels as though the general area of your house is their territory, proper bonding will never happen. For this reason alone, we’ve done a few bonding at a friend’s house because a few of our rabbits have been very territorial – not even the bathtub or kitchen worked at all because they knew they were still home in their own turf!

  • Lady

    I could use your advice with these two males. I’ve done my research on other sites and was/am hoping this way will work out. Brought second male home in late December and housed him with about 1" space between his and the other bunny’s cage. Waited 6 weeks while 2nd bunny’s hormones calmed down and thought they had done decent pre-bonding (swapping cages and toys, plushies with each other’s scents, etc). Thursday I decided to have the ovaries to start the process and put them in the pet carrier on top of the dryer for 10-15 min and then put them in the bathtub. At first they seemed okay near each other and the first day I was almost congratulating myself on doing the pre-bonding and having patience as they were doing well. Days 2 and 3 were okay, but I did notice they were each setting up ‘camp’ on the sides if the tub and scuffling when the other came near. Also, personalities, as you mentioned, play a big role. One is seemingly innocent but is tired of the other one and won’t take his garbage. The other was my first bunny and acted like the aggressor, even from his cage looking into the other’s. Now he seems more curious but every time he moves toward the ‘innocent one’ that guy doesn’t believe him and boxes him. I did make a mistake and on day 3 brought them to the kitchen with the x-pen at the smallest box and they circled and attacked more. Brought them back up to the tub but last night was at least 12 boxing or circling attacks…things seem worse. Today is day 5 and I decided to stress bond them on top of the dryer again and they are in the smallest cube ~15". Still some circling so now they have a dustpan between them. Should I even bother trying to bond them at this point? I haven’t seen them grooming each other or even being close to cuddling at this point. How long should I keep them in the small cube before ‘upgrading’ them back to the tub? Should I wait for signs of tolerance or cuddling/grooming (because at this point, it feels like that will Never happen ha). I guess I’m even just looking for hope. Sleep-deprivation can do much to a ‘rabbit parent’s. Thanks for any advice.

  • Reply to Adriana

    Hi Adriana,

    I was in a similar situation to yours – where both rabbits were free-roam in their own areas and I didn’t have neutral territory to start the bonding process (not even the kitchen or bathroom). This is why there were several times when I had to go to a family or friend’s house to do the bonding process! If you want to do the bonding process at home, you can get away with “rearranging” furniture and blocking off certain areas to make the rabbits think they’re somewhere totally new, but this will depend on if your rabbit falls for it or not. Some of our rabbits weren’t really territorial so they bonded fine at home, but other rabbits were extremely territorial and always knew they were home! So we had absolutely no choice but to do the bonding process in someone else’s house and then bring them back home after a week or two. (Your other option is to find rabbit shelters that have rabbit bonding services where you simply leave your rabbits with them for a week or two and let them do the bonding for you for a fee). When you go back home though, make sure you clean EVERYTHING down with vinegar and keep them enclosed in a small space – gradually increase their space weekly – otherwise they may have territorial tiffs if you just let them loose immediately and/or don’t remove all their previous scents!

  • Adriana

    I have two females that I’ve failed to bond over the last year, because bonding is much more stressful than I imagined! Currently, one girl lives in our bedroom while the other lives in our living room. Ultimately, I’d like them both to live in the living room, but our girls are so smart. How could I introduce them to a space that’s already been lived in by one of our bunnies?

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