Before attempting an introduction, the rabbits should be spayed or neutered, and you should wait for a full two weeks after the surgery before proceeding with the introduction. This delay both ensures proper healing and gives the hormones a chance to dissipate. This delay is especially important with a newly neutered male, as a male bunny can still be fertile for two weeks after fixing.
Many of the calls we receive are from well-meaning rabbit caregivers who bring a new rabbit home, put him with their existing
rabbit, and think all will be fine. Sadly, these hasty introductions often result in serious harm or injury from biting, chasing, or other forms of attack.
In addition, rabbits are not quick to forget, so a bad fight could hinder future bonding sucess. Taking the time, reading up, and waiting for two spayed or neutered rabbits to be introduced will ensure you the best possible chance at a loving, bonded relationship.
Love at first sight. If this occurs, you can try them in
the space they're going to live in. If it's still good,
then they're fine, you have nothing else to do.
Tentative friendship: If this occurs, just watch them when
they're together, keep them separate when you're not around,
and if no fighting occurs, they'll eventually become
Amorous behavior: If the (neutered) male mounts the female,
and the female does not mind, then this is usually a sign
that the relationship will go well. If she does mind, and
runs, it is still not usually a problem. If she minds, and
becomes aggressive towards him, then you must prepare for a
lengthier introduction period.
One chasing, one running. If this occurs, just make sure
the one running doesn't fight back and doesn't get hurt. If
neither of these things occurs, then just watch and wait.
If one gets hurt, then separate them and go slower and if
one fights back, then you must prepare for a lengthier
Fighting. When two new rabbits (or, for that matter, two
existing rabbits) fight, then you must prepare for a full
Rabbits are extremely territorial. In wild rabbits,
territorial behavior includes depositing marking pellets at
the boundaries of the territory, chinning, urinating, and
aggressive behavior such as digging, circling, and fighting.
Wild males tend to defend larger territories while females
concentrate on their nests. In our neutered domestic
companions, hormonal causes may be absent, but territorial
behavior still exists. Thus, when introducing new rabbits,
territory must be considered and used to your advantage.
What you are trying to do is eliminate the possibility for
there to develop any territorial behavior in the rabbits. So
you choose introductory spaces that are as different from your
bunny's territory as possible. You are also trying to mimic
positive feelings in your rabbits. By creating artificial
situations where your bunnies are snuggling, rubbing noses,
smelling each others' fur, etc., you are creating positive
memories, even if they are also stressful. I call this
"coerced closeness." They are positive in the sense that they
don't associate the other bun with the stress (of the car
ride, for example), they associate the other rabbit with the
feelings of security that they receive. If they fight, then
they will carry THOSE bad memories around with them, and will
remember that they fought together.
Always introduce rabbits, regardless of sex or age, in neutral
space first. (Obviously, if you're bringing home two bunnies
together, then any space in your home is neutral space.)
Possible neutral spaces might be: a room that your rabbit has
never been in, a friend's home or apartment, the seat of a
car, on top of the kitchen table, the garage, the bathtub, the
back yard, etc.
Try to bring your current rabbit with you to pick up your
new rabbit, so that they can share that first car ride
Work with the rabbits for at least 20 minutes per day. Make
sure to spend some time with the rabbits in one or more
neutral space every day. When you're not actively working
with them, they should be apart if they fight when together.
If they do not fight, then they can be left alone if you're
not working with them, but not when you're not home at all.
Every day, try using two different situations, one
relatively stressful (like a car ride), followed by one
relatively normal (the floor of a new room, the top of the
bed). That way, you can try to gradually transition them from
strange to normal situations, without them fighting. If you
immediately attempt to let them run around on the floor
together, without first having taken them for a car ride, they
may forget that the space is neutral and fight anyway.
Use a water bottle (with the nozzle set on "stream") to
break up any fights if they occur. It's best to spray the
instigator before a fight actually occurs (watch for
aggressive body language) rather than work on breaking up an
None of these suggestions will work by themselves, and none
will work immediately (usually). Work with your rabbits every
day, for at least twenty minutes or so a day, and when you're
not working with them, keep them in eye contact of each
other.. Start with extreme scenarios and gradually move to
less extreme. Do one extreme and one less extreme every day.
The more often you work with them, the quicker the progress.
If you want to move at a quicker pace, then you need to
arrange a large block of time (like a week's vacation) in an
extremely neutral space (like a friend's or relative's house).
If one rabbit is elderly or otherwise compromised, then go
slowly to minimize the stress.
Primary Author(s): Margo DeMello
Sources: HRH, various articles from the HRJ, RHN