Monday, September 3, 2012

I Now Pronounce You Husbun and Wife

Do you have a single bunny?  Do you worry that he or she is lonely while you're at work?  Perhaps you  have wondered if maybe you should find a friend for your bunny.  Our answer is yes!  Most bunnies benefit from having a friend of the same species to play with, snuggle, groom, and keep company.  There is a plethora of information on bunny bonding out there, and I don't think there's any way to cover it in one blog post, so I will be including some helpful links at the end.

I dare you not to say, "Awwwwwwwwww!"

Getting Started
So where do you start?  Well, if you don't yet have bunnies, the easiest thing to do is adopt an already bonded pair!  For this, we'll go on the assumption that you already have a bunny companion, and are looking for a friend.

First - are you prepared?  Is your bunny spayed/neutered?  BOTH bunnies need to be fixed before being introduced (and must be given time for hormones to wear down).  Bonding takes work on your part.  While "love at first sight" does happen on occasion, it is rare.  Expect to work on your bunnies' relationship with bonding sessions.  Successful bonding can happen in as quickly as a week, and can take as long as several months.  You will need separate housing for each bunny until they are fully bonded, as well as lots of patience.  Expect setbacks, but don't get discouraged when they happen.

If you've decided to make the commitment, the next step is to look for a local rescue to take your bunny on a "bunny date".  If you've already adopted your first bunny from the rescue, all the better!  You have a head start.  The rescue can help match your bunny to some candidate bunnies.  It is important to let your bunny do the choosing.  Maybe you really want to adopt the cute little lop, but maybe your bunny would prefer to be with the plain brown bunny or red-eyed white bunny.  And all bunnies are cute!
Calypso & Coco - a bonded pair adopted from us
What to Expect on a First Date
 You'll want to introduce the bunnies on neutral territory - a place that neither has previously claimed as his/her own.  Always make sure you have something readily available to break up a fight.  Do NOT stick your hands into the middle of a rabbit fight!  You might end up with stitches!  I use a big fluffy towel that I can throw over the buns if I need to.  You can also wear heavy gloves.

While we always hope for the love at first sight scenario, don't expect it.  A good sign of success is if the bunnies ignore one another.  This is what I always hope to see.  There may be a bit of chasing or mounting.  This is okay as long as it doesn't get out of hand.  If they immediately lunge at one another to fight, separate them...and probably try a different candidate bunny!

Okay, I Found a Successful Candidate Bunny...
Congratulations!  You now have two bunnies who didn't hate each other right away!  They're not bonded yet - this is where the real work begins!  An initial step you can take is to switch litter boxes back and forth.  This helps get each bunny used to the other bunny's scent in their area. 

For bonding sessions, you need to find neutral territory in your home.  A bathroom might be a good place if your bunny rarely visits it.  You want to keep the initial sessions short - a few minutes to start, then gradually increase the time as the bunnies grow more comfortable with one another.

You need to expect some chasing, mounting, and disagreements.  Unless it is (or is very close to) an all-out fight, don't separate them.  They need to work out who is in charge.  It may be unnerving to see your precious bunny being mounted by this outsider bunny, but this is necessary!  If they start to actively circle one another, you can interrupt to stop it, but don't separate yet. 

Here is a great guide from the House Rabbit Society about aggressive behavior:
Warning Signs
Watch for aggressive behaviors: tail up, ears back, growling, boxing, circling, chasing and biting. If one of these behavior occurs several times in a row; if neither rabbit backs down; if it leads to further aggressive behaviors, it should be interrupted. A spray of water, aimed at the rabbits' heads, may interrupt a fight about to happen but has no effect once anger is aroused. If a fight advances to a clench, use a towel to separate the rabbits. Or, pour water from a water bowl on them. Using your hands is asking for a skin-breaking bite. Take a break and revise your strategy. To accomplish the match, you must prevent the fight from happening in the first place.
 You never want to end a bonding session on a bad note.  Bunnies remember!  If they have a bit of a tussle at the end of the session, I sit on the floor with them and calmly pet them to get everybody to settle down.  Once they are relaxed while sitting close to one another, then I will end the session.

Some tips and tricks:
  • Try smearing a bit of banana or plain canned pumpkin on each bunny's forehead to encourage grooming.
  • Try an uncomfortable situation.  A car ride can be scary!  Try putting the bunnies in a carrier and going for a car ride.  Ideally, they will look to one another for comfort.  Best done with someone else in the car to help.
  • Try a session in an empty bathtub.  Bunnies don't like slick floors (this is another "uncomfortable situation" example.
  • Try giving them a nice plate of greens during the bonding session - this will give them something else to concentrate on.  I had great success with this.

Snowflake and Hershel.  Snow was adopted from us first, and her adoptive mom successfully bonded her with Hershel, whom she also adopted from us.
 When can I trust them?
This all depends on your own observations.  Have they started to groom one another?  Do they seem very comfortable with one another during bonding sessions?  Has the chasing and mounting mostly stopped?  If you think it might be time to start housing together, try it out while you're home and can observe them for a while.  When I bonded my current pair, I would put them in the pen together when I got home from work and keep an eye on them for a couple of hours.  Do they coexist peacefully?  Do they snuggle?  Do they groom one another?  Once I felt that I could trust them, I left them in the pen together while I went out to do some errands.  All was well when I came home.  Soon, I was able to leave them while I was gone all day at work.  Once fully bonded, a pair of rabbits should never be separated.

Yeah, that sounds great, but my two keep squabbling!
This is where the patience comes in.  Some pairs just take more work than others.  Try to figure out what works and what doesn't.  Maybe the space you're using for bonding sessions just isn't working out for your bunnies.  Try a different space.  Try the tips listed above again.  If each session is going poorly, you can try giving the rabbits (and yourself) a little break, then try again.  There are many places to find support online:
This is just a small sampling of helpful places to turn to.  A Google search for "rabbit bonding" will turn up more!  These are just a few of my favorites.

In summary:
  1. Make sure both bunnies are spayed/neutered and that you are ready for the commitment that bonding takes.
  2. Contact a rescue organization to take your bunny on a "bunny date".  Let your bunny do the choosing.  Indifference to one another is good!
  3. Start with short bonding sessions at home on neutral territory.  Don't separate the bunnies while they are figuring out who is in charge, but watch for escalating aggressiveness.  DO separate if a bad fight is imminent or does occur.
  4. Try "uncomfortable situations" to encourage the bunnies to find comfort in one another.  Try food to bring them together.
  5. When things are consistently going well, try putting them together in their pen/condo while supervising.
  6. Once they do well with that and you feel comfortable with it, trust them to be on their own.  Snuggling, grooming, and peaceful coexistence are good indicators!

Because two are better than one...and you get photo ops like this.
 Case Study: Chloe and Kahlua (the bunnies in the above photo)
Chloe lost her bonded mate Milhouse.  She went on a "bunny date" at 4 Lil Pigs n Buns.  They were a classic example of "indifference".  They mostly ignored one another.  Chloe was a bit freaked out at the situation.  Once home and in more familiar territory, she was more confident.  Short bonding sessions were conducted in a hallway that is normally blocked off to bunny access.  At first, there was plenty of circling, butt-sniffing, mounting, and the occasional scuffle.  A couple of fur tufts were pulled out by each bunny.  All sessions were ended with calm petting.  During the bonding process, the buns were housed in an NIC condo separated by wire grids.  Litter boxes were switched back and forth.

As bonding progressed, the buns were allowed sessions in a larger area.  Canned pumpkin was rubbed on their foreheads to encourage grooming.  They peacefully shared plates of greens.  Once comfortable with that, the buns were allowed supervised time together in the pen.  They progressed to the point of being trusted enough to be left alone.  The whole process took a little over 2 weeks.

As bonded bunnies, they do not groom one another as much as some pairs do (and they both demand it!), but they do some grooming.  They snuggle quite a bit.  They also get into mischief together.  They do occasionally mount one another and have small scuffles.  Typically a clap of the hands will distract them enough to interrupt them.  They live together successfully!  Just remember, each bunny pair is different!

Interested in finding a friend for your lonely rabbit?  Our adoption fee for finding a friend for your bunny will be $30 in September!  (Your bunny must be spayed/neutered)

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