Rabbits are a popular pet, with many now being kept in the house as part of the family. This enables owners to interact with their pet more easily, so a strong owner-rabbit bond is formed. However, a rabbit is very different to a cat or a dog, so companionship from other rabbits is essential for their happiness.
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Rabbits are social animals
In the wild, rabbits are known to be very social animals. They live together in large groups and, as prey animals, they rely on safety in numbers for their survival. Our pet rabbits have the same prey instincts as wild rabbits. So they need the opportunity to interact with other rabbits to feel safe and to reduce their stress levels.
Will my pet rabbit benefit from a companion?
Even though humans can form a close bond with their rabbit, there is no substitute for the company of another rabbit. It is also difficult for most owners to spend sufficient time with their pet daily to prevent them from becoming lonely. Bonded rabbits (a rabbit living with another rabbit) will not only never be lonely, but they will also be able to enjoy all the other benefits that a companion provides.
The benefits of companionship include:
- Prevents loneliness – A bonded rabbit will always have a companion they can interact and play with, reducing boredom and increasing a rabbit’s activity.
- Provide warmth – During cold weather, rabbits can snuggle up together to keep warm.
- Mutual grooming – Bonded rabbits will often be seen grooming each other. This can be vital for a rabbit’s health if one rabbit has mobility issues e.g. an amputee rabbit who cannot clean their own ears.
- Reduces stress – Rabbits are prey animals, so having a companion can reduce their stress levels, as a solitary rabbit will need to be on the lookout for danger at all times.
- May prevent behavioural problems – Rabbits kept on their own will frequently develop behavioural problems due to boredom and stress.
The importance of bonding Rabbits
Rabbits are very territorial, so pet rabbits must be carefully introduced to each other (bonded) before letting them live together. Even then, some rabbits will need more time and patience spent on the bonding process before a successful relationship is established. And some individuals may never accept the partner you have chosen for them.
The best pairing match is usually a neutered male with a neutered female. But same-sex pairings can be successful if both rabbits are neutered. It is also important to be aware that even siblings can fight. So choosing litter mates does not guarantee a successful bond will be formed. Male and female littermates will still breed together; so they will also need to be neutered to prevent any unwanted litters; as well as to reduce the risk of fighting.
- Both rabbits should be neutered before starting the bonding process – Both rabbits will need time to recover from their surgery before starting the bonding process. Male rabbits may also still be fertile for approximately 6 weeks after surgery, so should not be introduced to females that have not been neutered during this time.
- Start with nose-to-nose contact through adjacent runs – Allow rabbits to sniff and get used to each other with restricted access by placing them in adjacent housing where they can have contact through wired mesh.
- Exchange bedding/litter trays between rabbits – This can help a rabbit become familiar with the smell of the other rabbit.
- Introduce rabbits in neutral territory – It is important that the room chosen to make the first introductions has never been used by either rabbit. Your rabbits will need to be constantly monitored for any signs of fighting, so try providing food and places to hide which will help your rabbits settle. If the first meeting is successful, gradually increase the time your rabbits spend together each day.
- Separate immediately if any fighting occurs – Rabbits can cause severe injuries to each other, so they need to be constantly monitored. This allows them to be quickly separated at the first sign of fighting.
The bonding process can be complicated. So, for the best success, you should speak to your rabbit-friendly vet or knowledgeable rabbit rescue centre for advice.
What is neutering?
Neutering is a surgical procedure that removes a rabbit’s reproductive organs to prevent them from having babies. You may be more familiar with the terms; castration for males or spaying for females. Both males and females can be neutered, though the procedures are very different. Your vet will be able to discuss neutering with you in more detail.
Benefits of neutering include:
- Prevention of unwanted litters
- Neutered rabbits are often calmer and less aggressive due to having lower levels of reproductive hormones – This enables many neutered rabbits to be successfully bonded with a companion.
- Prevention of some reproductive diseases – This includes testicular cancer for males and uterine disease or ovarian cancer for females – over 50%, and maybe as many as 79% of older unneutered female rabbits will develop uterine cancer!
Can rabbits live with guinea pigs?
Previously, it was common for owners to keep a guinea pig with their rabbit. However, this is not a recommended pairing. So it is better for your rabbit if you spend the time bonding them with a rabbit companion. Though if you do have a bonded rabbit and guinea pig, it is important that you do not distress them by separating them.
Why should you not keep guinea pigs with rabbits:
- Rabbits will often bully a guinea pig – This can result in nasty injuries to either the rabbit or guinea pig.
- Rabbits can carry Bordetella bronchiseptica – This bacteria is not usually harmful to rabbits but can cause severe respiratory disease in guinea pigs.
- Different dietary requirements – Guinea pigs need to get vitamin C from their diet, so require a specific guinea pig feed.
- Rabbits and guinea pigs are unable to communicate fully with each other – As they are different species, they behave differently, so cannot provide the same companionship that rabbits will get from other rabbits.
Companionship with another rabbit is essential to ensure that your rabbit is happy and that their welfare needs are met. However, bonding your rabbit can be difficult. So speak to your vet about any concerns or questions you may have before starting the process of finding your rabbit a companion.