As always, today’s pictures come from the Georgia House Rabbit Society’s list of adoptable rabbits, and today I’ve chosen to include a couple of “bonded pairs.” But what does this term even mean? How does it happen? And why is it a good thing for our house rabbits?
‘Til Death Do Us Part
An easy way to think of “bonded” rabbits is as “Bun & Wife,” even though bonding isn’t exclusive to mating pairs. Fixing your rabbits does nothing to stop the bonding process, and actually it isn’t exclusive to pairs at all. All of our bonded rabbits have been male-female pairs, and from what I gather that’s the most common arrangement. Male-male and female-female pairs also happen, especially in siblings, but bonded rabbits can come in groups of three, four, or even more.
The bonding process, when successful, results in nearly inseparable bunnies. They keep each other company, they play and explore together, and they snuggle up together at naptime. Where one goes, the other eventually follows. Bonded bunnies take up very little extra space compared to a single rabbit, and so a pair is less alone during those times when they’re stuck in the cage waiting for their next runabout.
When our rabbits Ling-Ling and Percy bonded, the result was a much happier, more confident Ling-Ling, and an even happier Percy. (It’s hard to be sure with Percy - he’s pretty happy about life no matter what, mostly.) When we'd pick one of them up, the other would be at our feet instantly: “What are you doing up there?” When they'd lie down next to each other, they were like the stones of the Pyramids: you couldn’t get so much as a piece of paper between them, let alone a hand.
The pair was so close we'd take them both to the vet, even if only one needed the trip. Apart, the rabbit at home would hop around in concern looking for its friend, while the rabbit in the office would hunch up in fear over the goings on. Being together in the vets’ office had a real calming effect, and the vets never failed to remark on what wonderful patients they were, despite the strange animals and surroundings.
I’m the Boss!
Being social creatures, rabbits prefer being with others to being alone, though you’d never know this to see two strangers meeting for the first time. Without a little supervision and the right circumstances, you can end up with a serious brawl! This process is supposedly left over from their time in the wild, where rabbits and hares generally live in close quarters such as a warren or den.
Now hang on a minute, I hear you thinking: if they prefer large numbers and close quarters, what’s with all the scuffles?? Good question! The answer is that everyone has to live by the same rules in such a tightly packed community. “Good manners,” if you like, are important, because otherwise things can get ugly.
But what are “good manners” to a rabbit? In two-legged society, we say things like “Please” and “Thank you,” and “Afternoon, Ma’am,” and so forth. This shows that we respect the other person as an individual, defuses mistrust and builds a feeling of mutual worth and connection. As social rank increases, so does the degree of politeness given, generally. Rabbits do something very similar, but it’s based upon the pecking order established in these initial scuffles.
Also, there’s no such thing as “equality” in Lapin society: when two rabbits meet, one is the boss and the other is the lackey. Otherwise, what if I want the carrot at the same time he does? What if she wants to be groomed at the same time I do? What if we want to play different games?? These are the political crises of the house rabbit world, but pecking order solves all of it.
When bonding two new rabbits, neutral ground is a MUST. If one rabbit already “owns” the space, the other is “intruding” – and knows it! Even fixed rabbits are territorial enough (though less so than unfixed) that this often can’t be solved without a serious fight.
Close supervision is also important. Tussling, nipping and chasing are normal, but if they flip over belly to belly separate them at once! Those hind feet are powerful and can cause serious injury. Keeping towels and squirt guns handy can be a good idea for a bonding session, since a scrap bordering on a real fight can quickly turn into a mutual grooming session if both rabbits suddenly end up wet. Towels can help save your own paws from scrapes and cuts if things get too rowdy and you have to manually separate them.
Two very easy-going rabbits may barely tussle at all, while two very opinionated ones may scrap repeatedly. It often takes multiple exposures to get two rabbits on the same page, so patience is a virtue. But unlike human society, there is no left-over resentment or bitterness on the part of Rabbit #2 being put in his or her place. It isn’t so much the “loser” of the scuffle(s) that gets relegated to second place anyway. It’s all just about settling who gets the “say-so” in the relationship, and once that’s sorted out, the roles are natural.
Percy is super laid-back, while Ling-Ling HAD to be the boss: they bonded almost instantly, with almost no fuss.
The #1 bun gets certain privileges, like that first sprig of cilantro, or the right to claim a favorite napping place. She may decide that two-legs should ask permission first before petting her partner, to the point of even hopping right in between and shoving that hand out of the way. It’s very funny being given the “what’s what” from an animal 20 to 40 times smaller than you are, but never doubt that she means it!
When they groom each other, #1 Bun generally has the right to be groomed first. Claiming this right involves taking a submissive pose, nose to nose with her partner, pressed as flat to the ground as possible. A partner with good manners will then immediately begin grooming. He’ll groom for a while, then after a bit it will be his turn. #2 Bun assumes the posture #1 did at first, and the roles reverse.
This turn-taking shows that both bunnies have accepted each other’s roles completely. They may not agree on everything, but there aren’t any real arguments. What #1 Bun says goes, and #2 Bun is really okay with that. Both are happier together with roles and partners they clearly understand.
It may seem like a truly bonded pair will often ignore others in favor of their partner. Well, it’s not your imagination - you’re talking about their favorite companion in the whole wide world. But watch how they interact with each other, and give it time. A bonded pair can teach you pretty quickly how to behave properly in their polite society, and they’ll happily reward your efforts.
Do you have any questions about owning a bonded pair of rabbits, as opposed to a single bunny? Curious about what it would take to introduce your bun to a new BFF? Have you ever tried bonding rabbits before? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!