SPCA New Zealand

Twice as nice: why bunnies need a friend

11 August 2021
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.

Written in history

Just like their ancestors, domesticated rabbits thrive in the company of their own kind. In the wild across the world, rabbits live in large groups called colonies and create warrens, which are tunnels underground where they nest and sleep together. If you have ever seen rabbits in the wild, you’ll spot that there’s often other rabbits close by. Being sociable isingrained 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 have an innate need to be kept in the company of other rabbits too. At SPCA we adopt our rabbits out in bonded pairs, or rehome single rabbits to a home with an existing rabbit looking for a companion. 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, and form life-long bonds.

Austen and Lara's story

When Sandy’s rabbit Austen lost his rabbit companion, he was overwhelmed with grief and stopped eating. After Austen was given time to mourn and come to terms with his loss, Sandy adopted Lara from SPCA so Austen could still have a friend to share his life with.

You’ll be pleased to hear that Lara has settled in perfectly and quickly. The bond between her and Austen was instant, they decided two days apart was long enough and they’ve been inseparable since. I am loving everything about Lara – she has a gentle soul and is a special link in our team and I think Austen thinks so too,” Sandy says.

A bond for life

You may have heard the phrase ‘bonding’ before. This term is used to describe the process where two or more rabbits build the foundations of their friendship and get used to one another. Although sociable, rabbits can be territorial, so they 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 -it is paramount that they build the bond of trust with a new friend first.

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. It can take time, 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 a trip 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.

Harley and Humphrey's story

Harley was found wandering lost and alone by a member of the public. After contacting everyone in the area and having no luck locating anyone who knew him, Harley was brought into SPCA’s care. Despite being in good health, Harley was desperately lonely.

Harley was shortly made available for adoption and one keen adopter brought her own single rabbit in, to see if the two got on. It’s important that rabbits are introduced with caution, as they can fight readily if they do not match. Thankfully, it was absolutely love at first sight for Harley and Humphrey.

“Right from the start, they got along famously: nosing each other through the bars, following the other if they went up the enclosure, and sitting forlornly and waiting if they couldn’t see the other one. They follow each other religiously, and it’s always heartwarming to see them flop down next to each other.”

Steps for bonding

If you are looking at bonding two rabbits, there are a few simple but important steps to follow.

  1. 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). Ensure there is enough space between the pens or hutches so the rabbits cannot injure each other through the barrier.
  2. 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. Proceed with caution if rabbits are not showing much interest in each other, as this could indicate they have not yet worked out their relationship and may possibly fight if put together.
  3. Continue to increase the amount of time they spend together each day – be careful to watch for any territorial or aggressive 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.
  4. 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.
Many of the rabbits available from adoption at SPCA are already in bonded pairs, so the delicate introduction process is already done for you! To view some of our bonded rabbits looking for homes, click here.

Snowy and George's story

Snowy and George were born in SPCA's care with one of our foster parents. In their time with us, they transformed from tiny, vulnerable baby rabbits into happy and healthy bunnies. We were especially thrilled to see them become firm friends and find their forever home together with their new mum Judith.

"Snowy and George have settled in beautifully! They are just adorable and now very much part of the family. I never thought I would have two rabbits hopping around my living room, I particularly enjoy the workout I get trying to get them back into their hutch at night! They're so good-natured and relaxed and I put that down to them being looked after so well in foster care. I'm also very thankful that SPCA desexed them, it really made getting them and settling them in very easy. I say to anyone now who would like a rabbit, to go through SPCA," Judith says.

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 blossom 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. For more information on rabbit care, click here.

Poppy and Peach's story

Happily chomping away on fresh hay, you would never know how difficult Poppy and Peach’s start to life was. They arrived at SPCA underweight and with matted fur that caused them significant discomfort. As Angora rabbits, Poppy and Peach weren't getting the care and regular grooming they needed.

After months of rehabilitation, it was clear that Poppy and Peach were life-long partners and our team couldn’t bear to separate them. However, despite making a full recovery no one applied to adopt this loving duo, and Poppy and Peach waited over eight months for a family to come through SPCA’s doors.

SPCA operates a ‘no time limit’ policy and we will look after animals for as long as it takes to find them a forever home. We were thrilled when Poppy and Peach found their second chance at happiness - they were recently adopted by Irene who was so excited to meet them that she couldn’t sleep the night before!

“Poppy and Peach have settled in really well. They are adorable and I am very happy to have them, they are a lovely addition to the two rabbits I already have.”

You can check out information about rabbit enrichment, the best suited accommodation for two rabbits, and much more on our website here: www.spca.nz/rabbitadvice. To view our rabbits available for adoption, click here.

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