Secrets of Bonding Rabbits:
Matchmaking for Bunnies, Part 1
Finding a friend for your altered (spayed or neutered) rabbit is one of the most rewarding things you can do for both of you. In the wild, rabbits mate for life and in captivity, the same applies. A pair of bonded rabbits are endearing to watch and care for. Care must be taken in the process of matching one bunny to another or serious injury or worse can result. In this article, I'll detail my experience as a veteran rabbit rescuer who has done dozens of successful introductions (bunny matches) and bondings.
Bugsy, the silver Dutch, was highly aggressive toward all other rabbits. He fell head over heels in love at first sight with Juliette, the golden Palomino.All content and images © Running Bun Magazine. Use without permission prohibited.
The Purpose of Finding a
Friend for Your Rabbit
Too many times I have had prospective adopters, people who have had house rabbits for many years, want to adopt a companion for their rabbit and they have no concern for whether or not their rabbit actually likes the other rabbit! They just have to have a certain rabbit and if their rabbit doesn't like the other rabbit, they want me to force the bonding. I no longer do this because of the trend I notice with these bondings which I'll mention later. What's the point of getting your rabbit a friend if...well...they don't even like each other?
Your goal in finding a friend for your rabbit should be to find the one rabbit whom your rabbit wants to be with. I have lived and live with rabbits who took a long time to find a friend because they were very selective. It's not that hard to understand the basics of what your rabbit's preferences might be if we remember a few simple rules of thumb.
1. Rabbits are heterosexual. After all the expression 'breeding like rabbits' isn't meaningless. Rabbits are characterized in mythologies all over the world as being a little too interested in procreation. So make sure both your rabbits are spayed and neutered before attempting any matchmaking!
(-update 7/4/14: we now believe rabbits can be whatever sexual, depending on their upbringing and history of treatment and altering. Regardless, it still makes sense to pursue the traditional avenues of lagomorph sexual behavior in these articles. Perhaps a Part 4 will look at the aforementioned issue, besides, I contradict myself in item 4 anyway!)
2. Rabbits mate for life. This means that your rabbit's preferences in other rabbits are probably not going to change much over their lifetime.
3. Female rabbits like male rabbits that are bigger than them. Rabbits are like humans in many ways and this is one of them. Sure there will be the occasional rabbit version of Prince (diminutive) whom all the rabbit girls will swoon over, but generally, the girls will go for a male who is larger than them.
4. Male rabbits will sometimes like other males for a friend. It's true. Sometimes male rabbits can be paired together without too much effort. Usually, though, this is true only for very young males, and of course, both males must be neutered. At other times, it's true for two male rabbits who have an omega (submissive) personality. Some people insist that their male rabbits actually prefer other male rabbits over female rabbits but this is usually because of poor socialization as a baby. That nervous, high-strung male rabbit should be with an experienced female rabbit who knows how to reassure a nervous boy.
5. Rabbits of the same breed or markings tend not to get along. Oddly enough, in my experience, when introducing a male and female of the same breed, it tends not to work out. Rabbits seem to be attracted to other rabbits who do not look like themselves - I suspect they think different looking rabbits are 'exotic' - kind of like how I think Prince is exotic (and therefore hot).
6. Rabbits who appear to be aggressive with other rabbits are highly selective. The rabbit who is highly selective is simply waiting for Mr. or Miss Right. When that magic rabbit is found, the seemingly aggressive rabbit will usually end up being the submissive one of the pair! The trick is finding the one rabbit that this highly selective one will fall head over heels in love with.
7. Love at first sight is rare. Yes it is rare and with some rabbits, you could look for years and not find another rabbit that your rabbit will fall head over heels in love with. It just means your rabbit is coy and wants to be courted; your rabbit has a Victorian sense of choosing a mate.
Teesa (white w/brown spots) snagged the highly desirable Cisero. Every female rabbit who ever laid eyes on him swooned over this little Netherland dwarf boy.All content and images © Running Bun Magazine. Use without permission prohibited.
In preparation for introducing your rabbit to potential mates, be sure you take him to the vet first. Make sure your vet is a qualified rabbit veterinarian. Have your rabbit tested for common rabbit parasites and evaluated for any symptoms of infection. Common parasites to look for are giardia and coccidia. Some vets will tell you that giardia is not found in rabbits, but it is now and being seen more commonly.
Also be sure that any rabbit your rabbit is being introduced to has also been vetted and tested for these parasites. If you are working with a rabbit rescue, make sure they are a legitimate rescue and ask if they test their rabbits for parasites prior to introducing them to other rabbits. It's not worth the risk of exposing your rabbit to sick rabbits in order to find him a mate. You could end up losing your little friend this way.
Also check any rabbits you may introduce your rabbit to for signs of nasal or respiratory infection. This includes wet fur around the nostrils or nasal discharge of either clear or white color. Many rabbit diseases are airborne and thus very easily spread. Regardless of where you obtain a friend for your rabbit, these are concerns to be aware of. All rabbits everywhere are very susceptible to these diseases.
Choosing a Bunny Marriage Broker
Try to enlist the aid of the most experienced rabbit bonder you can find. This person will most often be a rabbit rescuer who will help you with the bonding of the two rabbits. Beware of anyone who claims that any two rabbits can be bonded. While it may be true and possible that any two rabbits can be forced to coexist, the stress involved with that process can impair the immune system of the rabbits and often the rabbit who assumes the omega, or submissive, role will develop stress-related illness and not live very long. Your goal should be to find a bunny that your bunny wants to be with and doesn't need to much coercion. I always say the best bonding is a non-bonding. Your concern should be for the welfare and happiness of both rabbits.
Picking an experienced person to match and bond your rabbits is a process in itself. You should talk with this person and try to assess if they seem to have a natural affinity for animals. Does this person seem to place concern for the happiness and well-being of both rabbits above all? Or is this person trying to find out what you want? "Animal people" are often not "people people" so try to excuse any boorish personality traits which you may find annoying about this person. The important thing is that they properly assess the behavior and personalities of rabbits. I can tell just from the personalities of two rabbits who haven't yet met if they can be friends. This is because I've done so many matches and introductions that I recognize which types of personalities go together well. But as with any skill, I am still always learning and there is always a rabbit whose personality and life experience is so unique that I learn something new.
Another factor that should be important to you in choosing a bunny marriage broker for your rabbit is if the person is willing to do the match and bonding for you regardless of whether you are adopting from them or not. Some rabbit rescues will not take kindly to your adopting from another rabbit rescue but if you are adopting from a shelter and saving a bunny, they will be happy with that. However, most experienced rabbit bonders are rescue people and will not be interested in helping you bond your rabbit with a rabbit from a breeder or pet store. The idea behind the matchmaking of two altered (spayed or neutered) rabbits is to help the rescue organization save another life. If you are a member of a rabbit rescue, they should be happy to help you meet all of their bunnies but it might not work out with any of them. You might have to keep looking beyond their rescue to another rescue. Hopefully these rescues are both interested in serving your rabbit's needs. It can be a tricky situation to work with more than one rescue this way but a little tact and diplomacy go a long way.
Jenni (brown sable) violently rejected all suitors until the strapping Jar Jar came along. She charged at him intending to box him with her paws and he sat on her head. She fell in love instantly.All content and images © Running Bun Magazine. Use without permission prohibited.
Pairs, Trios and Quartets
Rabbit rescues are wonderful organizations whose mission it is to save the lives of rabbits. Rabbits are the third most abandoned companion animal after cats and dogs and so are found well represented in animal shelters and rescues throughout the US and many other countries, especially the UK. They are also euthanized in these shelters. A good strategy for these rescues is to encourage matching up multiple rabbits in pairs and trios and even quartets. More lives are saved this way. Matching and bonding trios and quartets is an entire article in itself and so will be the last part of this series. There are advantages and pitfalls of matching your rabbit into a trio or quartet and I will cover these later.
What About Your Grieving Rabbit?
A very common scenario with rabbit matchmaking is when one of a pair has died and the caretaker is seeking a new mate for the survivor. Rabbits grieve in different ways. Often when one rabbit dies, the other one may die, literally, of a broken heart if a new mate isn't found soon enough. Grieving symptoms include aimlessly staring out windows or off into space, lack of appetite or listlessness. Some rabbits need time to grieve, others will suffer if they have to wait too long for a new friend. You should know your rabbit and be able to assess when it is time. It is important too if you are grieving very hard and you need your rabbit to find a new friend sooner rather than later for your own happiness. Both of you are important and have needs. Just try to leave the matchmaking to the pro and let your rabbit choose his or her new love.
In Part II of this series, I will cover very specifically what actually happens at the match and how to recognize if your rabbit likes another rabbit. In Part III, we will discuss how to actually conduct the bonding (bunny moon) for those who do not have an experienced rabbit bonder in their area to help them. Stay tuned!