Like most ‘prey-species’, rabbits evolved as social animals who thrive in groups and rely on company. In the wild, they live together in big groups, so a domestic bunny who lives alone is being deprived of a fundamental need for companionship.
Fortunately, most rabbit owners are aware of this need and keep their bunnies in a pair or larger group. Yet that doesn’t prevent issues arising if the rabbits don’t get on, or if one out of the pair should die.
Why do rabbits need company?
Rabbits who live in big groups, or in bonded pairs, are generally a lot happier than rabbits who are kept alone. They enjoy having other rabbits they can groom, eat with and play with. As a result, it’s not uncommon for rabbits who live alone to become bored, lonely and even subdued.
When deciding how many rabbits to keep, you’ll need to take your own personal circumstances into account. The more rabbits you have, the more they will cost, the more space they will need, and the more of your time you’ll need to dedicate to them.
Having said that, keeping a pair of rabbits is not necessarily more expensive, harder to accommodate, or more time-consuming than keeping a single rabbit. This is because they will share shelter, food, water and toys. The only area where you may notice a difference is the occasional cost of an extra vaccination.
Which rabbits work best together?
Generally speaking, a male and a female make for the best pairing. They are more likely to bond if they come from the same litter – but this is far from a given. Just ensure you have them neutered as they will breed, despite being siblings. Alternatively, you could choose two rabbits who are from different litters, but are around the same age – between 8 and 10 weeks old.
Two female rabbits may be equally aggressive towards each other as a male and a female rabbit might not be. Similarly, two male rabbits may live relatively harmoniously together for most of the time, but fight during the breeding season if they have not been castrated. Neutering can help to reduce aggression between rabbits in same-sex pairings, as well as prevent reproduction in opposite-sex pairings.
Ideally, rabbits are best paired with companions of around the same age and size. So, if your elderly rabbit loses a companion, it might be a good idea to look for a rescue rabbit rather than buy a young rabbit from a litter.
Once rabbits have bonded, they tend to remain companions. They will groom each other and eat and sleep together. If you need to take one of your rabbits to the vet, always take them together since bunnies seek comfort in each other when they are feeling stressed.
As rabbits form powerful bonds, they can grieve if a companion passes away. Owning more than two rabbits can help your pets to cope with a loss, as long as you are still able to give all your pets the care and attention they need.
If you already have a rabbit, some rescue centres will let you take your bunny in with you to choose their new pal. This will allow you to see which rabbit they get along with to avoid any mismatches. Check with the rescue centre first, however, to check whether this is possible in light of any restrictions that might be in place.
Should you keep a rabbit with a guinea pig?
Some people say yes, some say no. Try keeping your rabbit with another rabbit in the first instance, but if your rabbit isn’t socialising with other rabbits, you could try introducing them to a guinea pig. In many cases, rabbits and guinea pigs get along fine – and often better than some rabbits get on with each other. Nevertheless, it is important to make sure the specific personalities of any particular pairing are compatible. While guinea pigs require more vitamin C than rabbits, it is possible to create an enclosure in a way that means only the guinea pig can access their food – and separate themselves from the rabbit should they wish to do so.
How can you introduce a new rabbit?
Introducing a new rabbit to an existing pet or pets can take a lot of time and patience. If possible, it’s a good idea to swap your existing rabbit’s toys and bedding with some of your new rabbit’s toys and bedding ahead of the first meeting so that they can get used to each other’s scent. Then, when you first bring your new rabbit home, place it in a cage adjoining your existing rabbit’s hutch so that they can get to know each other gradually by touching noses through the bars.
Once you feel they’re ready to meet each other face to face – which may take days or even weeks – introduce them in neutral, unfamiliar territory such as a bathroom or a clean garage. This first meeting should only last for around 10-20 minutes. Wear gardening gloves so that you can separate them if they fight and make sure they have hiding places into which they can retreat – such as cardboard boxes – in case they start to feel stressed. Don’t worry if one rabbit asserts itself by trying to mount the other one – that’s an entirely normal part of the bonding process.
Once this first initial introductory stage has been completed, extend the meeting time by a little more each day. You’ll know your rabbits have bonded once they start to groom each other and lie down side-by-side. That’s the point when they can move in together permanently.
What if your rabbits fight?
On rare occasions, even bonded rabbits may have a serious bust-up. This may be due to a period of separation, the onset of the breeding season, a change in environment or one of the pair or group feeling ill or stressed. In this situation, take your rabbits for a vet check-up to make sure that a medical issue hasn’t arisen.
What if there are no medical issues, and your rabbits still aren’t getting on? Try restarting the bonding process by moving your rabbits into separate hutches and reintroducing them to each other again.
Finally, remember it’s important to your bunnies’ health that they don’t just bond with each other – they also need to bond with you. By spending lots of quality time with your pets, you’ll learn to recognise the signs of a healthy, happy bunny – and have lots of fun and pleasure along the way!
Are your bunnies the best of friends? Tell us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the tag #PethoodStories and we might share on our channel (@petplan_uk).