Twice as nice: why bunnies need a friend
They’re smart, curious and entertaining. But did you know rabbits are also true comrades at heart?
Unlike many other companion animal species who can live happily as an only pet – rabbits are quite different. Here we look at why life is certainly better with a best friend for a bunny.
As an increasingly popular companion choice for New Zealanders, we’re more aware than ever how fascinating rabbits are. Just a few years ago the New Zealand Companion Animal council (NZCAC) estimated a big increase in ownership of companion rabbits, and since then SPCAs across the country have been busy adopting out 1000s of rabbits to Kiwi families each year.
Written in history
Just like their ancestors, domesticated rabbits have retained their disposition to thrive in the company of their own kind. In the wild across the world, rabbits create warrens, which are tunnels underground where they nest and sleep together. They live in large groups called colonies. If you have ever seen rabbits in the wild, you’ll spot that there are often other rabbits close by. Being sociable is ingrained in their genetics.
Now that doesn’t mean that rabbits don’t also enjoy human company. Rabbits are all-round sociable creatures and enjoy spending time with people, but they do thrive in the right rabbit company too. At SPCA we recommend homing rabbits in bonding pairs and giving them lots of space with plenty of activities – such as having access to plenty of toys and making time to sit down with your rabbits so they can explore while enjoying your company.
This is because even if you were to spend a few hours a day with a lone rabbit, there’s still many hours left in the day where they would be alone. Fundamentally rabbits need a best friend of their own kind who they can spend time with all day and night.
A bond for life
You may have heard the phrase ‘bonding’ before. If not, this is the term coined to describe the process where two or more rabbits build the foundations for their friendship and get used to one another. Although sociable, rabbits can be territorial, so need to be introduced to one another carefully. In the wild rabbits live with those that they know and are comfortable with and may fight with those they don’t know from a different area. Domestic rabbits are the same, they need to build the bond of trust with a new friend.
The close bond that rabbits can build is incredible and highlights how fascinating they are as a species. Rabbits need to be slowly introduced to one another. However, once rabbits have bonded, they will remain so for life. They’ll always need to be with each other to keep the bond and reassurance, even on trips to the vets! Male and female pairs are only recommended when both rabbits are desexed before attempting to bond. Not only can rabbits breed very quickly but desexing also helps settle hormones and lower the chance of the bonding process not working.
If you are looking at bonding two rabbits, there are a few simple but important steps to follow.
Steps for bonding:
- Get the two rabbits acquainted by sight and smell by setting them up near each other - ideally in two separate pens or large hutches. This way they slowly become accustomed to the other’s scent without being close enough to cause each other harm (this can happen if rabbits are uncomfortable and paired with another rabbit too quickly).
- When they are both showing signs of being relaxed (smelling or lying near one another) start putting them together in a large but enclosed pen for short periods – it's important this is a place which is neutral territory for both rabbits, and they must be carefully monitored during this time. There’s a fine line between love and hate for rabbits at the beginning, and the bonding process needs to be taken slowly.
- Each day continue to increase the amount of time they spend together – be careful to watch for any territorial behaviour such as stomping their feet or lunging at the other. Always separate the rabbits at the first sign of a fight, and if this happens, you’ll need to start the process again.
- Remember that this process takes time and commitment, so be patient. It is very rewarding to see the bond will form. Rabbits form such powerful bonds that the loss of a bonded friend can cause illness, depression or loneliness. If one of your bonded rabbits dies, leaving one rabbit alone, it’s important to consider adopting a new friend for your other rabbit.
Love isn’t all they need
It’s undeniable that rabbits make wonderful family pets. They have distinct personalities, form close bonds, are smart, and love to explore and can be affectionate and playful. But, like any pet, they are a big responsibility. While they may not need regular walks in the same way a dog does, rabbits do need lots of space to exercise and play and thrive when they have lots to do and discover.
If you have two or more bonded rabbits, they’ll not only be able to keep each other company, but it stops them from becoming bored, as they have a partner in crime – literally! In addition to this, they will need enough space to live a happy and healthy life, and plenty of enrichment too. You can check out information about rabbit enrichment, the best-suited accommodation for two rabbits, and much more on our website here.