Why Rabbits Should Live In Pairs
When it comes to our fluffy bunnies, companionship is important. While single rabbits do well enough, a rabbit will be much happier and healthier when kept with another rabbit. According to a 2019 PDSA Animal Wellbeing report, 49% of the UK rabbit population live alone.
Nature of Rabbits
In the wild, most rabbit species live in colonies, digging interconnecting burrows with several entrances. These intricate underground labyrinths are called warrens. A warren consists of living and nesting areas, bolt runs, and emergency exits. Pregnant females will also build a ‘stop’ in a separate burrow.
Depending on the species, a rabbit colony can include as many as 20 bunnies! Within the social group there will be a dominant doe (female) and a dominant buck (male) who usually get the best sleeping spots within their burrow.
Living in a social group provides rabbits with safety. Whenever a rabbit spots danger such as predators they will thump a foot on the ground to warn their family and everyone heads for the protection of the warren.
Rabbits living in colder climates will sleep in small groups within their warren as a way of conserving body heat. For the first two weeks after birth, a mother will seal her nest with soil to trap heat and keep her kittens warm. Like most mammal litters, rabbit kittens sleep tightly curled with their littermates.
Benefits of a Bonded Pair
There are several benefits for rabbits’ that are part of a bonded pair including physical and mental health, behaviour, and overall happiness. Believe it or not, a lone rabbit can suffer from anxiety and depression due to a lack of companionship!
Safety is key to rabbits feeling content and having a rabbit pal is key to this. Rabbits in pairs or small groups will often watch for danger and alert their companion if they feel threatened.
Grooming is a sign of a well bonded pair. On initial meetings rabbits tend to stick to grooming themselves, but bonded rabbits will soon engage in mutual grooming.
Playtime is always better with a friend. Happy rabbits will binky, which is also referred to as popcorning. They will jump high, turning their bodies and kicking out with their hindlegs. Bonded rabbits have been observed to binky considerably more often than rabbits kept alone.
Health is the best benefit of a bonded pair. Single rabbits can quickly become stressed, which makes them more susceptible to illness. Bonded pairs feel safe and relaxed and so less likely to get sick. As bonded rabbits tend to be neutered, they are also expected to live longer than a single unneutered rabbit.
How To Pair Rabbits
Although there are several methods available to successfully introduce two rabbits, the following two methods are most common and the least likely to cause stress. Introductions are best started in the morning as this gives you the entire day to monitor their behaviour and you can give them time alone as well. Some rabbit pairings are ‘love at first sight’ while others may take several days to cement their bond.
- Choose a neutral area to introduce your rabbits. A large run or room in the house that neither rabbit is familiar with will work well for this method.
- Place lots of hiding spots within the space so both rabbits can get away from each other whenever they wish. Tubes or open-ended boxes work best.
- Scatter a variety of foods around the space such as hay, your current rabbit’s favourite veggies and fruit. Do not put it all in one spot as the rabbit may try to defend the food.
- Start the introduction by placing each rabbit at opposite ends of the neutral space and allow them to meet in their own time. Normal behaviour includes circling, chasing, mounting and licking. If the interaction becomes aggressive you should step in immediately to prevent injury.
- The dominant rabbit will mount the other and lower their head. The submissive rabbit will lick the other rabbit’s head as a signal of acceptance. Signs of a good bonding include mutual grooming, eating together or napping together.
- House them separately overnight and re-introduce them the following morning. If all goes well again you can house them together overnight. You will either need to thoroughly clean your hutch or use a new one. Your current rabbit sees the hutch as their territory so not cleaning it may cause territorial scuffles. A new hutch is neutral to both rabbits and the better option.
- For this method, position two runs directly next to each other. This keeps the rabbits separate but in constant sight of each other. They can always smell one another and will sniff through the mesh.
- Put one rabbit in each run and allow them to investigate each other and do as they wish. After an hour or so, swap the rabbits over. This will prevent them from establishing one run as their territory.
- Make sure both runs have hiding spots and scatter some tasty treats for the rabbits to graze on. Once you observe your rabbits sitting or lying together, you can introduce them. Follow the same guidelines as the first method, keeping an eye out for any aggression or fighting. House them separately overnight and continue the introduction in the morning.
The key thing to remember is that every rabbit pairing is different. Some rabbits may bond instantly while others may need introducing over several days before they accept one another. The best pairing is a neutered male and neutered female. You can keep same sex pairs, but the rabbits should ideally be the same age and size.
Bonded pairs should not be separated unless one rabbit passes away. If one rabbit needs to go to the vet, you should take both rabbits with you as this will reduce stress. Pairing rabbits can be done at any age, even if your single rabbit has lived most of their life alone. Provided you supervise the introductions and things are carefully managed, your rabbits should live happily ever after with their companion.
- Hannah Elizabeth
Animal Health and Behaviour Blogger