"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!)
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nose-bumping. Rabbits often use their noses to “bump” their partners to get attention.
Signs of unacceptable fighting (you need intervene to prevent injury):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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!)
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.