Why are my rabbits fighting?

2 rabbits eating together

It’s completely normal to have the occasional disagreement in any household or relationship, but when these can’t be resolved or escalate into a full-blown domestic it’s a problem. The same goes for your pets and their relationships with each other. There can be many reasons why your rabbits might not be getting on. Their relationship can be influenced by their age, sex, neutering, and other stresses or changes in a household.

 

I have owned rescue rabbits for 9 years and successfully bonded four pairs during that time. Each bonding process has been different, ranging from 1 week to 6 months. I currently have a 9 year old neutered male and a 1 year old female (due to be spayed) who live very happily together after a long and slightly stressful (for me!) bonding process.

As in life, every ‘dating’ experience is different, not all will result in a successful long-term relationship! Some are ‘love at first sight’ and some take longer. Thankfully, most rabbits will stay happily committed once bonded, although the relationship can still be tested or break down.

 

Wouldn’t it be easier if they just lived on their own?

Well, it might be easier for us because we could avoid going through the bonding process – however it wouldn’t be best for our rabbits. They are very social animals and where possible should be kept in bonded pairs or groups. However, they can also be very territorial and introductions must be done slowly and with care to avoid fighting. There are lots of positives to keeping them with buddies: benefitting their welfare by lowering stress levels, assisting with grooming, providing entertainment and companionship. It’s lovely to see a bonded rabbits happily living together. I’ve personally always found my rabbits are cleaner when bonded as they seem to take more note of litter training!

 

Are there any factors to consider when trying to match make rabbits?

Sex of the rabbits

The ‘easiest’ pairing is often a neutered male and neutered female. That doesn’t mean to say that you can never have an all-male or all-female pair or group living happily together.  I always recommend neutering both sexes of rabbits for health and behavioural reasons but it is particularly important when bonding rabbits/housing them together.

 

Age:

Rabbits of any age can be bonded with each other. It might be worth considering your rabbit’s activity levels and any health conditions. For instance, bonding an older arthritic bunny with a young active one that bounces all over it might not be ideal. However each pair/group is different.

Do take into account the fact that rabbits reach sexual maturity around 4-6 months of age and hormones can change in their behaviour and cause issues in relationships (as in all areas of life – think grumpy teenagers!). You may find that a pair who originally got along as youngsters start to squabble as they reach a few months of age and this might be why. It’s sensible to have them neutered as soon as they’re old enough and before this happens (4-6 months depending on your vet). Once an argument has happened the damage may be done and it might not be possible to bond them again. However you can slowly and carefully introduce them again once they’re both healed post-surgery. During the recovery period they can be housed next to each other so that they can still see and smell each other but not cause any injury.

 

Similar size or breeds?

Rabbits of any size and breed can be bonded happily together. Obviously a larger, dominant rabbit has more chance of causing injury to a smaller rabbit in an argument… But we’re aiming to avoid any arguments at all and a small rabbit is just as capable of causing injury as a larger one.

 

How do I introduce a new rabbit?

This should always be done carefully, slowly and on neutral territory. Many rescue centres will offer a bonding service or insist on ‘speed dating’ for your bunny to try and help find a suitable match. If you are looking for a new rabbit I would always recommend considering this route. If you’re planning on bonding them yourselves then make sure you do your research first.

 

What do I do if there is a fight?

It’s really important to try and avoid this, however, occasionally fights can break out during the bonding process. Do NOT put your hands into a fight; I know that sounds basic but in the heat of the moment it’s easy to just ‘jump-in’ and try to break it up. However, if you get bitten I can guarantee it won’t improve any relationships! Be prepared – a dustpan used appropriately is a good prop, it can be gently placed between the rabbits and used to break up a scuffle so that they can then be safely separated. It is also always useful to have an extra pair of hands on stand-by to help referee. If a fight does break out, always check both rabbits over thoroughly and seek veterinary advice for any injuries.

 

My rabbits were bonded but have recently started fighting, why?

Have there been any changes in the home or between the rabbits? These could be:

  • Environmental (things around the rabbit): changes in the housing, new animals/people in the house, recent trips to the vet, a change in cleaning spray/litter, squabbles over a new food or toy.
  • Physiological (the rabbit itself): such as reaching sexual maturity or not feeling themselves (being ill).

If you’re worried that your rabbit might not be acting themselves then I recommend getting them checked by a vet. Pain or other issues can affect the way they behave. Just like us, if we’re feeling poorly we can get a bit grouchy with those around us.

 

What can we do to help:

  • Once your rabbits are bonded and getting on well, try not to separate them. If one has to go to the vets please take both, they will offer support to each other. It will reduce the chance of an argument breaking out when they’re re-introduced again!
  • Neutering: If your rabbits aren’t already neutered then I’d recommend speaking to your vet about booking them in for surgery. this may not only benefit their behaviour but will also reduce their risk of certain cancers or other health issues.
  • Housing: make sure there are no areas in your housing that rabbits can become cornered. All hiding areas/boxes should have an entrance and a separate exit.
  • Food: ensure there’s never any competition over food. Scatter feed (spread it out) so that it’s not all in a bowl for one rabbit and offer multiple hay stations.

 

Unfortunately, in some cases rabbits will not bond. It is safer for them to be separated from one another and consider bonding with a different rabbit.

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