How to Introduce Two Rabbits (Bonding Rabbits)

To successfully introduce two rabbits, there are three key rules which must be followed:

1. The best pairing is male and female

In the wild, rabbits tend to live in pairs of male/female and will sometimes remain with the same partner for life. Each female (doe) will have her own nesting burrow and the male (buck) will often sleep there with her. This is therefore the most natural pairing for domestic rabbits also. Young rabbits not yet established in a pair tend to be relatively solitary, hanging around the margins of the warren.

This is not to say that same sex pairings are impossible but they tend to be a bit trickier. The best chance of success is to have two brothers or two sisters from the same litter and de-sex them as soon as possible.

2. Males must be neutered and females spayed

Apart from the obvious reason of avoiding pregnancy, this is critical for several reasons. Sex is very important to rabbits and is the cause of most serious arguments. A buck that is not neutered will be constantly frustrated and will harrass the doe. An unspayed doe will be more territorial and aggressive, may suffer from phantom pregnancies and, most important, has an approximately 80% of uterine cancer before the age of 5 if left unspayed.

3. Introductions must be taken slowly

Slow and steady wins the race. A pair that is put together prematurely may have a scrap and never quite recover from the trauma of it.

The process of introducing two rabbits (known as "bonding")

Stage 1 - Preparation

If one or both of the rabbits has been recently de-sexed, you need to wait until the hormones have completely reduced. This can take as long as 4 to 6 weeks.

To start with, the rabbits need to be kept separate. If you have hutch rabbits, give them a hutch each facing each other or, if large enough, divide the hutch with a secure wire partition. If you have house rabbits, put them in separate rooms with a baby gate or similar dividing them. Alternatively, you could confine one or both of them in dog crate(s). The important thing is that the rabbits can see and smell each other and can touch noses without being able to bite.

Note: it is easier to introduce a female into a male's living space than vice versa. Does are more territorial by nature and usually end up being "the boss". So, when introducing a new male rabbit to your doe, it's a good idea to put him into the doe's living space and move her elsewhere.

Give the rabbits plenty of time to settle down. They will be very curious about each other and will spend much time at the barrier, checking each other out. It helps to have a good understanding of rabbit body language - for example, rabbits will turn their back to signify disinterest or disapproval, or will roll on their sides when relaxed. If there is any attempted biting through the bars, or any growling and lunging, do not attempt a face to face meeting. It helps to feed them both at the barrier so they get used to eating together. A good sign will be when the rabbits choose to sit or lie down together at the barrier.

This part of the process can take anything from a few days to a few weeks or even months. Much depends on each rabbit's personality, what they have been through in their past and how comfortable they feel in their home.

Stage 2 - Introductions

Once you are confident the rabbits are used to each other and not displaying any aggressive behaviour, you can move on to face to face introductions. It is important this takes place in a neutral area i.e. somewhere that doesn't belong to either rabbit. For outdoor rabbits, you could use a garage or section off an area of the garden. For house rabbits, a bathroom or kitchen is usually a good choice. The space needs to be big enough that the rabbits can move around freely and it helps to provide a cardboard box or similar bolthole that a stressed rabbit can retire to. Make sure there is nothing in the space that could harm the rabbits if they collide with it.

When you are ready, put both rabbits in the space and crouch down with them, stroking both of them for a minute or two. When you release them, the following scenarios may happen: