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Two (or more) is Company - Rabbit Welfare Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund

Rabbits evolved to live in groups. Bonding your rabbit with a partner will greatly increase its quality of life, but there are benefits for the owner too: once you have witnessed your bonded pair or group grooming each other, eating and lying down together, it's unlikely you would ever want to return to keeping a solitary rabbit. This section explains the importance of companionship and how you can successfully pair up your rabbit and make everyone's lives better.
For simplicity, we will refer to pairs throughout this section, but groups are also suited to rabbits' natural behaviours.

Rabbits may be sociable, but they're also territorial.

Rabbits are sociable but also terrirorial

Warmth: In the winter they share body warmth to keep out the cold.
Company: Rabbits are hard-wired to be sociable, and when kept in pairs will spend most of their time together. Studies have shown that will seek company even above food.
Grooming: Mutual grooming is a joy to watch, and it's a vital natural behaviour for rabbits.
Health: Rabbits kept in pairs are healthier than those kept alone. Rabbits do a great job of cleaning themselves but a partner will be able to get to the parts they cannot reach themselves, the eyes for example. Many owners have reported that when one rabbit has died, the remaining bun starts to suffer from eye infections because his partner is no longer keeping his eyes clean. This shows the importance of mutual grooming.
Emotional Health: Particularly in times of stress, they rely on each other and they should not be deprived of a companion to turn to and to share their lives with. Depression-type behaviour has been observed in widowed rabbits, that then improves when the survivor finds a new companion. In the wild, rabbits naturally rely on each other for "safety in numbers" and that instinct is still present in domestic rabbits - they'll feel more confident if they are living with other rabbits.

The basics of bonding
Introductions have to be conducted carefully. Rabbits may be sociable, but they're also territorial. Your resident rabbit will be naturally wary of a stranger being brought into its home. Both rabbits must be neutered if they are old enough. If you already have a rabbit, arrange for him/her to be neutered and wait a few weeks before adopting the second rabbit. It's never too late to get a friend for your existing rabbit - there are many cases where older rabbits have spent their twilight years happily with a new companion.

Think about it...
Single rabbits often put their head down in front of their owner in the hope of a head-rub. This is the equivalent of being socially groomed by another rabbit – one of its natural behaviours. Owners can only do this for short periods whereas a bonded companion bunny will always be on hand.

What combination?
The easiest pairing is castrated male/spayed female. So if you already have one rabbit, choose a companion of the opposite sex.

Same-sex pairs can be tricky, but it is possible to keep two males or two females if they have grown up together. You'll need to find either a pair of siblings, or two rabbits from different litters both between 8 and 10 weeks of age. It's vital that both rabbits are neutered as soon as possible, before any fighting has occurred. Same-sex pairs must never be separated, even for short periods of time. Even then, many will have occasional squabbles. Any visiting rabbits may upset the balance and trigger fighting.

With same-sex introductions, if one or both of the rabbits is already adult, introductions should only be undertaken with great caution and expert advice. Such introductions are possible, but success is not guaranteed. There is a lot more potential for serious fighting than when introducing oppositesex pairs.

We do not recommend keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together

Where do I get my second rabbit?
The best place to go to is a rescue shelter; you'll be giving a home to a rabbit in need, and a rescue rabbit is likely to be already neutered.

Many rescue centres have some expertise in pairing up rabbits, and will often allow you to bring your own rabbit along to the centre to meet potential partners on neutral territory. Some rescues have facilities to board rabbits and will supervise the introduction process for you. With a bit of luck, you'll find a "love at first sight" match for your rabbit, but you can't count on this. If you are about to obtain your first rabbit, please consider adopting a bonded pair from a rescue centre, because then the hard work has been done.

Love at first sight
Some rabbits will establish an instant bond. You can recognise this by an initial lack of interest when first introduced followed by individual grooming. This will soon progress to mutual grooming and the rabbits sitting together. Do keep a careful eye on a "love at first sight" couple for any possible aggression, but if all goes well, don't separate them.

What if this method doesn't work?
There are a number of different ways to bond your rabbits. If the method described doesn't do the trick then talk to your local rescue shelter for advice or look on the RWAF website.

Guinea pigs are not the same company as rabbits for company

What about a guinea pig?
We do not recommend keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together: a guinea pig should not be seen as a cheaper, easier friend for your rabbit than another rabbit. Although some rabbit/guinea pig pairs get on well, many more end in disaster, often with injuries to one or both animals.

Guinea pigs and rabbits have different diets - for example guinea pigs need daily vitamin C, whereas rabbits don't. A rabbit is likely to 'bully' the guinea pig and take its food. The guinea pig may spend most of its life hiding from its larger, more powerful housemate.

A guinea pig cannot perform the natural sociable function of another rabbit. It will not groom the rabbit, for example, and will not provide the same level of warmth because of the difference in size.

As discussed elsewhere in this leaflet, rabbit-keeping is all about allowing them to behave as they would in their natural environment as much as possible. Rabbits do not live with guinea pigs in the wild, and guinea-pigs don't behave like rabbits either.

If you already have a rabbit and guinea pig living together happily, let them stay together but make sure the rabbit is neutered, or the guinea pig is likely to be sexually harassed. Male guinea pigs may also need to be castrated. You must always provide a hidey-hole where the guinea pig can escape from the rabbit. Please do not start out with this combination. A rabbit needs the company of its own species.

If there is a sign of tension, separate the rabbits

How do I introduce two rabbits?
Two baby rabbits (under 10-12 weeks of age); or a "love at first sight" couple, can live with each other immediately. All other combinations will need to be carefully and gradually introduced. There are many different ways to introduce two rabbits, all of which have their devotees. The scheme outlined below isn't the quickest, but it is easy to follow and it nearly always works.

  1. Both rabbits need to be neutered, if they're old enough.
  2. Put the rabbits in nearby cages, where they can sniff each other through wire. If your existing rabbit is free-range, put the new rabbit in a cage inside this area. The rabbits will start to get used to each others' scent. To help this you can also swap their litter trays over, or rub a cloth over one bunny and then the other.
  3. Introducing rabbits
  4. Once the rabbits are used to the sight and smell of each other, start putting them together for very short periods of time in strictly neutral territory (where neither has been before - try the bathroom!). Alternatively, you may have taken your existing rabbit(s) with you to the rescue centre to choose a new friend, in which case, bring them home together in the same carry case. Because this is a stressful situation, the rabbits are likely to stick together for comfort and security rather than trying to squabble. You can go straight to putting them on neutral territory if this is the case.
    If there is a sign of tension, separate the rabbits. Try again next day, gradually increasing the time the rabbits spend together.
    A little bit of chasing and nipping is normal, but it's better to separate the rabbits at this point than risk an all-out fight.
  5. Repeat this until the rabbits are relaxed together. You can assist this process by feeding the rabbits together, and providing lots of cardboard boxes and hidey holes so that they don't have to stare at each other.
  6. When the rabbits are happy to groom each other and lie together, they can be left together unsupervised.
    The whole process can take anything from a couple of hours to a couple of months. The better the rabbits get on at their first meeting, the quicker they will bond. And if you are able to put the rabbits together for very brief periods, many times a day, they'll get used to each other far more quickly than if you can only do so once per day.

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