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Forum BONDING Mixed Signals: Mutual Grooming and Aggression

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    • fluffybunzy
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      Are your bunnies spayed/neutered? Yes
      If so, for how long (for each)? 1 month for male (Milo), almost 1 year for female (Maisie). Maisie is 1.5 years old, Milo is 8 months.

      Please describe your bunnies’ current housing set-up: One free-roams the bedroom, one free-roams the living room. I switch them everyday after their bonding session. They can’t see each other because the rooms are far away but I keep the litter box/toys/bedding the same. There have been poop wars. I tried putting Milo in an ex-pen in the bedroom with Maisie but it was awful, they both kept spraying and trying to fight through the bars, and their next bonding session was VERY TENSE. Maisie hates being in an ex-pen/is used to free-roaming so I’m switching rooms for now.

      Bonding background
      Did you allow the bunnies to “settle-in”? Maisie has spent a year as princess of the home. I adopted Milo a week ago and he seems adjusting well when he’s free-roaming – eating lots, loves treats, gives kisses to humans, follows me around.

      How would you describe your bunnies reactions towards each other (answer for each bunny):

      Maisie: she is naturally anxious and fearful over noises/everything in general. So for example, she sometimes sploots near Milo, but if Milo touches her she springs up and gets aggressive. She flicks her foot/honks/turns her back on him every time they have a tiny tiff and when I separate them after they circle (she’s very expressive lol.) She usually is the first to groom him when they both lower their head. She wants more affection and gets VERY impatient and lunges at him if she goes up to him/puts her head down/wants attention and he doesn’t respond. He’s usually the one who leaves the grooming session first/steps over her because he’s busy looking around. If she lowers her head and Milo’s busy eating, she’ll flick her foot at him or nip him and they start fighting. Whenever he goes near her, she is SUPER jumpy and grunts loudly and lunges, but if I quickly pet her, she calms down and even licks him. She has very little chill (like her owner lmfao).

      Q: Is flicking her feet constantly going to be a detriment to their relationship? Do bonded rabbits still flick? She also just flicks at me a lot in general LOL like when I put her in the carrier to transport her, or if she’s chewing on a floorboard and I push her away she’ll flick. Girl loves being massaged and has serious bunnyitude <3

      Milo: He is a calm and chill bunny, SUPER food motivated. Once he smells a whiff of snacks or pellets he investigates for 10 minutes, and Maisie gets mad because he’s not paying attention to her, so I only feed him pellets by placing it on Maisie’s head/near her lol. He shoves his head under hers very forcefully to establish dominance when they’re nose to nose, and she’s the one who grooms him more. He rarely grooms her after the first day, but he’ll groom humans.

      Have you done any “pre-bonding” (cage or litter box swaps, etc.)? I physically swap them in their rooms everyday for past week.

      Have you started sessions yet? Yes, in the bathroom, which I worry isn’t neutral enough since Maisie when she was totally free-roam, has walked in before, but I used vinegar to clean and we don’t have a better space in our small apartment except maybe a small closet neither has been in?

      How long have you been working on bonding your bunnies? 9 days, which I know is short but I would love advice on how to go forward!!!

      How frequently do you have bonding sessions, and how long are they? Every afternoon when they’re sleepy, except yesterday (they tried to fight multiple times in an evening bond and I was so stressed and couldn’t sleep, so I took a one-day break lol) They were doing pretty well the first few days so I sit in the bathroom w/ them and pee pads/hay for 1-3 hours each day. But recently they started squabbling a lot more 🙁

      Have you tried any stressing techniques? The first time they met, I brought Maisie to Milo’s foster home, she was super stressed-out and he actually groomed her several times, which made me hopeful that they could work out. I haven’t stress bonded them since, because I’m afraid they’ll immediately start fighting if I put them in the carrier? Does anybody have tips for stress bonding?


      So here’s where we’re at: They were doing well the first few days (Maisie even flopped under him!), but then they got a HUGE FIGHT the next day that resulted in a bit of Maise’s fur being pulled out before I managed to separate them. After that, they’ve been VERY tense. In the bathroom, they both eat hay together, drink, explore, and groom themselves, and loaf so I know they’re not super stressed out.

      Now they seem to be at a standoff, where everytime they meet, they sniff each other’s bellies (??)/tail area and then immediately start circling/aggressively lunging, so I use something to separate them, and they keep trying to fight until I physically sit between them, then they calm down. Sometimes they even nap together.

      If I don’t pet them right away each time they touch, they’ll usually start circling, but once I pet them, they’ll usually calm down, then sometimes Maisie will lick Milo (so far, almost every session she has groomed him at least once). Sometimes they calm down after grooming, sometimes they start circling. Milo has licked Maisie a few times then afterwards starts eating and Maisie will remain there tensely with her head down and nip at him because she wants more attention and then they’ll start fighting. There has been one time, Milo is eating and I petted Maisie until she started grooming his back while he’s eating. She loves attention from both humans and rabbits and gets really mad if no one responds. :/ I don’t know how to bond them without me petting to intervene/heavily intervening because they just start circling and attacking.

      Q: Does anyone know why they sniff each other’s bellies/put their heads down near the belly/tail area?

      I’ve only ever seen Maisie flop 10 times in the last year, but she’s flopped probably 20 times this past week in his presence lol, but usually very far away, They also share hay. Since Milo is more food-intensive, I give him a treat that Maisie doesn’t like, near Maisie, so he’ll calm down/stop searching for food and bond with her. After eating, he is usually more willing to be near her.

      Q: Does me sitting in the bathroom with them interfere or help their bonding process? I want them to get along without me, but if I don’t pet them in time whenever they touch, they immediately start fighting. Once I pet them, one will sometimes groom the other. Maisie also HATES ex-pens, she spends the whole time escaping and can easily jump over the top. I have a 36 inch ex-pen she can’t escape from, but if I’m outside the pen, I can’t lean down to touch them because it’s too high, so I’m not sure how to bond them in a space without me sitting there with them.

      Also, I think they get bored in the bathroom, especially Maisie, because she keeps looking around to escape, but I can’t put toys because they’ll get territorial/aggressive, so I just put hay and sometimes share pellets. Any ideas how to curb the bunny’s boredom during bonding/make it a more fun and happy time? Or is that not necessary lol. She sploots throughout the session but gets up every few minutes to look for something to do.

      TLDR: Constant circling and fighting when they touch, unless I pet them both, then usually Maisie grooms Milo, or Milo hops off peacefully while Maisie remains with her head down. If Milo leaves too soon, she will lunge at him unless I pet her to calm her down. Maisie needs WAY more attention from Milo and lunges if Milo is eating/ignores her. Today, they loafed next to each other, and Maisie even flopped next to him, with her foot on his face, and he groomed her butt, but after they woke up, they immediately started circling/chasing so aggressively, I had to end the session. They have some mutual grooming, but it seems too early and tense to cement?

      Maisie also gets upset being in a smaller space/gets bored in neutral bonding. Their relationship has pretty much been like this since their second session. How do you get them to stop circling/sniffing the belly, and to groom on their own? I tried the treat on the head with Milo, but he doesn’t groom her after, he just keeps searching for more, and she gets mad he’s not grooming. Zero humping lol

      Thank you for your help!!! Sorry this is so long, thanks for reading! I am new to this and very stressed lol.

    • DanaNM
      6051 posts Send Private Message

      So, my first impression is that I think more pre-bonding would help. And I think you should go back to side-by-side set ups. It will SUCK with the spraying, but that is all kind of part of the process. The idea is that you go with that set-up until they calm down.  Usually after a week or so things start to mellow. I think this may be especially important given you have one bun that is queen of the house. She will not be happy about this, but it’s part of her losing track of what is her territory and accepting a new bun into the picture.

      Usually it’s recommended to let the new bun settle in for a week at least with no pre-bonding or bonding sessions, and then start pre-bonding. So I would def do a bit more pre-bonding since things are tense between them.

      I won’t worry about answering the other questions now in detail, since I think things will be more calm between them after a couple more weeks of pre-bonding!

      But in general it’s important to prevent fighting, and if petting does that, then by all means keep petting. In early stages especially petting can help keep everyone calm and build a positive association between them. Swapping scents while petting can make them think the other is grooming them. 🙂

      . . . The answers provided in this discussion are for general guideline purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose or treat your pet. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.  

    • fluffybunzy
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      Thank you @DanaNM so much for the reply! By pre-bonding, do you mean just switching them without meeting? I can try the side-by-side setup again and maybe try to expand the ex-pen so the one inside has more room! I am worried since Maisie is used to free-roaming, putting in her pen might lead her to build resentment with the other bun? And do you know if I should clean up their spraying and poop marks or just leave them and let them build? LOL

      Thank you again for your help <3 the buns in ur profile photo are so cute and snuggly hahaha

    • DanaNM
      6051 posts Send Private Message

      You’re welcome!

      Yes, pre-bonding means living side by side and swapping sides, but no actual dates.

      Maisie will definitely be upset at first, but that is kind of the point! You want her to accept the fact that there is another bunny around (and realize the world isn’t ending because of it) before you actually start dates. It may take a week or more to start to see improvement, but in my experience they will start to relax around each other after a couple weeks.

      There are some cases where pre-bonding doesn’t help and can make the buns more aggressive towards each other, but those are pretty rare (and usually are in cases where the buns have already fought badly and need time to forget each other). Usually it really helps, especially when one bun is free-roam and very territorial.

      I would probably clean up the pee and poop wars.. just for my own sanity! But I do like to leave the litter box a little dirty when I do side swaps. Rabbits are very scent-oriented, so a big part of the pre-bonding is letting them get super used to each others’ scents.

      Do be sure with the side-by-side living that you create a buffer with 2 x-pens so they can’t nip each other through the fence (usually about 6 inches is good), or use “nose guards” instead ( Bunnies are also VERY good at jumping x-pens when there is another bunny on the other side, so be sure things are high enough that they can’t get to each other.

      . . . The answers provided in this discussion are for general guideline purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose or treat your pet. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.  

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Forum BONDING Mixed Signals: Mutual Grooming and Aggression