After a several month hiatus from writing, I finally sat down this weekend & wrote about bonding Moose & Hippo. It seems a lot of our followers are currently going through the stressful process of bonding their bunnies. This has reminded me of how frustrating and discouraging it was bonding our two bunnies.
Those who have asked me about how we bonded Moo and Hippo are always surprised when I tell them it was a slow and difficult process. After taking a look back at my Instagram posts during the first couple of months we had Hippo, I realized my posts were kind of misleading. The posts made bonding appear like it was an easy process, but in reality, it was extremely difficult.
Moose was nine-months-old, completely free-roam and already neutered when we brought home Hippo at 8-weeks-old. The first night with Hippo, we held him for awhile before putting him in what was previously Moose’s cage. All the while, Moose was just hanging out like usual. He didn’t even seem to notice there was another bunny just several feet from him. He honestly seemed much more interested in the Taco Bell we had than the tiny little fluff ball in our arms!
Eventually, Moose realized there was something in his cage, but he still didn’t seem to mind all that much. He watched Hippo for a little bit inside the cage until he got bored and was over it. He then went right back to being his fabulous, nonchalant self and ignoring everything around him.
The following morning, we moved Hippo from the cage to the kitchen where we blocked him in with some gates. I was working from home during this time due to recent wrist surgery, so this made it easy to transition Hippo from his cage to his pen each morning. I didn't have to worry about him escaping since I was able to keep a close eye on him during the day. Had I not been working from home during this time, we would have either left Hippo in his cage or put him in the bathroom with the door shut just to be on the safe side.
Over the next week, Moose became increasingly more intrigued by Hippo. He began to sit and stare at Hippo for hours from the other side of the pen. Although sometimes it seemed Moose was actually more interested in Hippo’s unlimited supply of food pellets than Hippo himself!
After about a week of them smelling each other through the gate, we decided to introduce them without a barrier. We had to find the most neutral spot we could since Moose already owned our home. We learned about putting them in the bathtub (no water obviously) to try bonding them from a fellow bunny Instagram account. She had learned about it from a rabbit bonding specialist (btw did anyone else besides me not know that was a thing?!).
To start the bathtub bonding process, we put a rug down in the tub, so they wouldn’t slip around. But mainly we did this for Moose since he hates any floor without carpet (such a #diva). The tub was a great place to introduce them. It was a neutral area where neither were territorial. My boyfriend and I both sat at the edge of the tub watching ready to intervene at any moment if necessary.
After about a week of putting them in the tub, they were doing really well with each other. So over the next couple of weeks, we let them be together in other areas of our home besides the tub while being supervised. Everything was going fabulous up until Hippo started hitting puberty. He began trying to assert his dominance over Moose by mounting him and nipping at his fluffy butt. Hippo did this every chance he could. Moose of course was NOT having any of this! Moo usually reacted by growling and lunging at Hippo.
Hippo was three months old when he started trying to hump Moose excessively. Our vet advised we wait to neuter him until he was roughly six months old, so we had another three months to go. They were still doing pretty well at this time besides the occasional nipping and growling, so we still let them have some supervised face-to-face time. We thought we could continue doing what we were doing since we hadn't had any major issues.
Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go as planned...we had done lots of research on bonding prior to getting Hippo, but nothing prepared us for how bad things were about to get.
On Thanksgiving morning, while we were getting ready for the day, Hippo escaped from his pen. I will say Hippo did become quite the escape artist and somehow managed to get out of the areas he was confined in. He built up exceptional neck strength from the many times he head-butted the gate halfway across the room (seriously though, it's a little ridiculous how strong his nudges and head-butts are).
Anyway, my boyfriend was in the living room when he snuck out. By the time he noticed Hippo escaped, Moose and Hippo were in a massive scuffle. They were growling and ripping fur out of each other. We had never seen anything like it. I didn’t even know bunnies could fight like that! My boyfriend was even bit while prying them off each other. It was horrible. I was crying and my boyfriend was just shocked at how ruthless our cute little babies were to each other. Luckily, the only blood drawn was from my boyfriend's finger. Besides each losing a good chunk of fur, they were otherwise unharmed. It was heartbreaking.
After this first big fight, we had a couple of other close calls, and each time it was just as upsetting as the first. Over the next three months, I was worried they would never bond and we would have to keep them separate for the rest of their lives. It sounds super dramatic, but they really seemed to hate each other!
Finally, it was time for Hippo to get neutered. We waited about three weeks after neutering him before starting the bonding process over again. This involved putting them in the tub together every night for at least 15 minutes as well as the occasional car ride on the weekends. Hippo was terrified of Moose and Moose was constantly on edge around Hippo ready to pounce at all times. It took us probably about three to four months after Hippo was neutered where we could confidently say they were bonded.
Up until that point though, we were too terrified to leave them unsupervised. We eventually started off slow with going into the other room and shutting the door whilst obsessively watching them from my phone via the pet camera I bought (I know, I know I'm a crazy bunny mom). Over the next few months, they continued to progress and eventually we got to the point where we knew we could trust them to be alone together. Seeing how obsessed they are with each other today, it's hard to believe just seven months ago they were at each other's throats.
For anyone who is currently bonding their bunnies, I would recommend waiting until two to four weeks after both rabbits have been spayed/neutered (if they aren’t already) before introducing them to one another. I would say my biggest regret when trying to bond Moose and Hippo was not waiting until Hippo had been neutered to introduce them face-to-face. In the end though, it all worked out!
So for anyone who is feeling discouraged and frustrated by trying to bond their bunnies, I hear ya! I never thought Moose and Hippo would bond, but here we are. I know it is frustrating and exhausting but just keep working at it!
See below for more pictures of Moo & Hippo and for additional bonding tips!
Moose was still getting to know Hippo in the photos below. He was not thrilled about Hippo chilling in his food bowls. You can just see the shock and disgust in his face!
Prerequisites for a successful introduction
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 success. 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.
What are the possible types of introductions?
Boy and girl: one of the easiest, often fall in love at first sight, but not always
Girl and girl: sometimes easy, often fighting
Boy and boy: sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, usually fighting at first, but not at all impossible
Two babies: extremely easy
Three or more rabbits: Difficulty varies, depending on sexes, personalities, and whether or not two of the rabbits are already bonded
Baby and adult: Sometimes difficult, but goes well if adult is very tolerant
Bringing home a rabbit to an existing rabbit. Much easier if you bring a girl home to a boy than if you bring a rabbit home to a girl
Bringing two rabbits home at the same time. Quite easy, even if they’re same sex. Usually the new space is enough to make them become friends quite on their own.
What are the possible scenarios after first introduction?
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 friends.
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 introduction period.
Fighting. When two new rabbits (or, for that matter, two existing rabbits) fight, then you must prepare for a full introduction period.
How To’s: Work with Space
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 together.
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 existing fight.
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.