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I need some inspiration and ideas here guys.
Sometimes I feel like I’m torturing my poor rabbits with bonding sessions.
I have one incredibly submissive rabbit, Gracie, and one incredibly dominant rabbit, Winston. You would think that would make bonding easy (I sure did when I adopted the Gracie so Winston would have a friend) but it couldn’t be farther than that. My poor little Gracie has put up with way more aggression than she deserves, never fighting back, and I’m starting to worry she is going to become too frightened of Winston to let him near her.
Things have certainly gotten better since I began bonding, but I feel like we’re hitting a wall. They can eat together in the bathtub or x pen or hallway, Winston will flop over near Gracie, and Winston often approaches Gracie to groom her. The issue lies here: he will groom her for awhile but almost always ends it with a nip. Here is a video of it:
Has anyone else experienced this? How did you stop it? This can occasionally turn into a chase, although Gracie never becomes aggressive. She often stops to show she’s displeased and will run away from Winston every time he approaches her for the next while. I also need some tips about litter box aggression if you have.
I’m coming into my 5th month of bonding soon and I need your help!
Thanks a million,
Emma, Gracie and Winston
I didn’t see any aggression in the video. Winston is the white one? He was grooming her normally and the “nip” at the end looked more like a nibble that bunnies (and cats and dogs) do when grooming. Mine do it to themselves and each other all the time. I don’t know if it is to loosen something or to scratch an itchy spot. Wooly has even done it to my arm when he is “grooming” me.
Now it seems that Gracie just doesn’t want to be there for one reason or another. Winston was leaning behind her and she saw her opening. Winston did not follow though, so to me it seems like Gracie was like “I’ve had enough grooming” and Winston was like “what just happened?”. But this is what I see when I watch the video. Maybe Gracie does other things that would make you think she is afraid of Winston. She doesn’t appear to be afraid here though.
That’s good news I agree this wasn’t a particularly aggressive occasion, but Winston often starts to really nip into her… I’ll try to get a video of it because its hard to explain! Its like he starts to totally focus on one spot and then starts biting. From what you’re saying I could almost see Winston not really being aware of it if he is hurting Gracie? The issue with that is that he will sometimes go to chase her when she runs, which frightens her. I’m trying very hard no to intervene at these moments where its not true aggression, but its hard to know what is dangerous and what isn’t.
In the mean time, where do you think I could stand to improve the bond? Is it time for a marathon session? I finally have a couple days off work in a row so I’m hoping I can make a decent attempt at it.
Awww the white bunny’s face when the other jumped away haha. so confused.
I totally agree with LBJ10, she has just has enough and went away. They are super cute and fluffy btw!
It sounds like he wants to be meticulous with his grooming, hence the really getting in there and nipping with his teeth. So in that respect, I don’t think he’s being aggressive. I think he just doesn’t realize that Gracie doesn’t like it. Hehe, I wonder what would happen if you squealed when he did that. You know, like a person would if their rabbit was biting them to tell them in bunny language they are hurting you. I can just see his confused look!
I think a marathon session is a good idea. You will have time to force them to deal with each other. You will definitely want to wait to step in. A little bit of nipping and chasing are okay. You really only want to step in if it starts escalating. You want them to work things out on their own, but you don’t want them to seriously fight either.
I’ve been marathon bonding for about 5 hours now and its going decently well… they both seem comfortable but Gracie still bolts as soon as Winston comes near her. They are bonding on the bottom level of their someday home, which is 5 NIC cubes by 2 NIC cubes. You wouldn’t consider that too big, would you? I’ve sectioned off the upper levels so they have to at least stay in sight of each other. There hasn’t been a ton of litter box aggression (one of my main concerns), but Winston was not super impressed that the banana treat wasn’t only for him.
Am I doing the right thing here? Will they start cuddling and grooming each other without my interference?
Also here is a video of baby Winston!
Aww, how cute!
Gracie running away is okay. She ultimately needs to accept him on her own terms. The cage sounds pretty big to me, especially if it has more than one level. Haha, my rabbits get wicked jealous when banana is involved!
I wouldn’t be too worried if they aren’t grooming or cuddling yet. As long as they are tolerating each other, that is the important part.
Where is your favorite place to marathon bond? I’ve done the bathtub but its not my favorite because they have managed to jump out of it and I’m scared they could get hurt if they slip while trying. I have an x-pen but I’m currently using it as Winston’s cage. When can I move onto non-neutral territory like the buns play area?
Also, do you have any tips and tricks for litter box aggression? I’ve found very little advice about this!
Sorry for all the questions I really appreciate the advice!!
Sorry, I did not see your post. I’ve been a bit out of the loop the last couple of days.
How are things going?
Marathon bonding can take place in a pen. Put the pen in a “neutral” area. If you need to make the area smaller, then you can tie the sides of the pen together to omit a couple panels (hopefully I’m making sense). You can try moving to a non-neutral area once they seem to be getting along okay.
For the litter box, have you tried switching litter boxes at all? That way Winston is being presented with a litter box that already smells like Gracie. You can also have more than one litter box available during the bonding sessions.
I’ve switched the litter boxes but not for awhile, Gracie likes to dig in hers so she needs one with high sides, and Winston has a large corner litter box. Gracie has two litter boxes in her cage but the second one is small and more of a just in case box, so its the one I always use during bonding sessions. They are getting much better at sharing though!
Bonding is going better than it was! They are always together for their veggies at the end of the night now at the very least, but they usually spend a couple hours in a sectioned off area of Gracie’s cage together. Gracie is not territorial at all but Winston is a little more tentative in her cage because he knows its not his space, so it has been working pretty well!
I did what you suggested with the x-pen and sectioned it off so that its only 6 panels instead of 8. Gracie still moves/runs away when Winston moves towards her though… I’m hoping this is just a time thing. I’m trying to step in less and less but I am confident that no one is going to get hurt if I step out of the room for a minute or two, so that’s progress Winston still goes to nip at her occasionally but nothing serious. Its nice to see that neither of them look nervous at all… both of them have their ears up and are comfortable enough exploring.
Another small victory: Winston has actually let Gracie come out of her cage when he’s out! I’ve been super super careful when this is happening, but Winston has a perch on one of my shelves that he LOVES to lay on, and he will happily sit up there and let her run around on the carpet. Gracie has even gone in and out of his cage, used his litter box, drank his water and even occasionally flopped down in it, and he just watches without getting aggressive at all.
Is there anything you have done to help a tentative rabbit become more comfortable with a dominant rabbit? Gracie is from a shelter and I have no idea what her situation was like before she came to me… I know she came in with another rabbit but I’m not sure if they lived together or not, and I’m not sure what kind of attention she got from her previous owner. When I met her in the shelter she was terrified… wouldn’t come out of corners and all the voulnteers said she was an extremely shy and nervous rabbit. She spent about 20 minutes cuddling in my lap and I knew she was the one… and as soon as she came home a huge, amazing personality came out! Proof that you can’t judge a nervous bunny in a shelter.
It sounds like things are going pretty well. Every bunny is going to be different. It sounds like Gracie is shy, but it also sounds like she is slowly coming around. She may just need more time. I’m sure she will get there.
Okay well thank you for all the help and advice! I am going to keep doing what you’ve suggested for awhile and hope that Gracie gets more comfortable. Unfortunately I usually work during the day so I’m always home in the mid-afternoon/evenings for them, but it seems like Winston is more riled up at that point in the day. Bonding sessions almost always go better if they are in the early afternoon!
The bonding has been going well but I have a couple questions. My buns have been quite good together lately and rarely show aggressive behavior. Winston still grooms Gracie when she will stay still for it (she often moves away from him), but Gracie still refuses to groom Winston. Do I have to wait for their relationship to seem perfect before housing them together? Or will the bond continue to grow only after I take this larger step? Do some bunny bonds never turn into the ‘true love’ kind?
If they get along okay with no fighting, then the mutual grooming is not that important. A normal bunny relationship doesn’t mean there is always cuddling and grooming. Some bunny pairs are just more lovey than others. So as long as they are accepting each other and there is no fighting, then you can try an overnight in the same enclosure. Just remember to stay close so you can break up a scuffle. If they can share a space for an extended period of time with no problems, then you’re pretty much home free at that point.
I think I had another break through tonight!!
Over the last while, I felt both the bunnies and myself needed a break. I needed a chance to re-think my strategies. I’m SO glad I decided to do this. I was worried that taking a break from ‘dates’ would put their bonding right back to the beginning, but I actually found they got along better after the break. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Who knew that applied to rabbits.
What I’ve been doing with the two of them lately is grooming them together (which they both love) and then snuggling them together. I groom them, Winston grooms Gracie. Seems like a good deal. But tonight, for the very first time…. Gracie groomed Winston!!!! I thought this day would never come.
I’ve also had very positive results bonding the rabbits in my dogs crate. I used to put the two of them in their crate together but its very small. My dog is a bichon frise, so still a small crate, but the buns have space to move away from eachother if they like. The crate has been great because they can’t see me very well at all (its the plastic kind with the metal swing door), but it is very portable. Plus, a plastic bottom with a towel on top is super easy to clean. I’ve found bonding taxing when I’m stuck in the bathroom while they’re in the tub all day, but the crate allows me to take them anywhere.
It can’t be long till they’re fully bonded, right?
Hey, welcome back! Thanks for the update! Things sound like they’re going pretty good. Keep it up, it sounds like they are getting there.
Thanks This site has been such a great resource!
I just wanted to come to some sort of conclusion after a two year hiatus.
So after some progress but a lot of “brick walls,” I finally decided it was time to give the rabbits (and myself) a real break from the bonding ordeal. I re-read the posts I submitted before, and they really do not do the frustration of their bonding justice. It felt like any little positive step was overshadowed by the negatives; mainly Winstons nipping and aggression towards Gracie.
Despite all that, I am here with some good news!
When I started bonding the buns again, they really hadn’t spent any time together for almost a year. Now, that’s not to say they didn’t interact, their cages are right next to each other and they could see each other constantly. I recently noticed that Winston was spending more and more time sitting on top of his den so that he was eye to eye with Gracie (her cage is slightly off the ground), and would actually groom her through the bars! He seemed so fascinated with her, which had never happened before.
I finally bit the bullet and decided to start their bonding again. I was seeing so many positive signals from both of them, and Gracie, who was at first a very shy little bunny, had come out of her shell completely. I figured it was time.
It’s only been a couple days, but the rabbits are basically living together full time. Right now, I am keeping them in a small cage beside my bed, because it is totally neutral. Eventually they will move into the big hutch. I can’t believe this sudden transformation; Winston only nips at Gracie if he wants her to get out of his way (he’s SO bossy), and I’ve actually caught Gracie grooming Winston which only happened once up until this point! I woke up in the middle of the night last night and shined a light into their cage to check up on them, and they were totally cuddled up.
If anyone has a suggestion of when it’s officially time to move them into their actual hutch, I’d love to hear it. I already cleaned it out completely, wiped it down with vinegar and added new toys. They have been sharing a litterbox in the cage they are in now, so I will be putting that box in the hutch as well.
The main purpose of this incredibly long-winded post is to tell everyone “there is hope!!” I got to the point where I thought my bunnies would always be separated, but look at them now. Maybe the time isn’t right the first time you try, but if you keep at it, it will happen!
I’m glad to hear a positive outcome on long-term bonding issues.
We have 2 pair we’ve been doing bonding sessions on and off with long hiatuses due to human health/events.. It’s going on 7-8 months and the boys are okay most of the time with each other, but get jealous of the girls… And the girls both want to be alpha, which upsets the boys who want nothing to do with being alpha but don’t want to share either. We’ve had good times and bad times along the way but I haven’t given up yet.
Thank you for posting!
This is just lovely to hear! I haven’t been able to bond my two buns, so I gave up on the project, but as of late, I have been thinking about giving it a new try. My buns interact through a gate with double netting and they seem to like to hang out together, alongside the gate. Your post has given me hope, now I just need to muster the courage =)
I’m glad to hear you’re willing to give the bonding another go! I know the exhausted I was by it all… The break was probably more necessary for me than it was for the rabbits. I have a couple tips that worked really well for me this second time around:
1. The bathtub is, in my opinion, THE BEST neutral territory. My rabbits don’t have access to the bathroom otherwise, so it was completely new. My bath has a retractable shower-head attachment, so after I bonding session I would spray it down really well and, voila, it becomes a brand new area for the next bonding session.
2. I had an extra cage lying around that I used to use for Guinea Pigs. It was small enough that it forced the rabbits to interact, but big enough that they could lie down, even with a litter pan. This was perfect for their first overnight sessions because I could move it right beside my bed. I felt very confident that they would behave themselves, so I even moved it into my mothers office so she could watch them while I was at work.
3. The longer you can leave them together, the better. I separated them after their first overnight bonding because I had to go to work, but I regretted it. I only did it because there wasn’t someone to watch them. I found that when I put them back together, Winston was more nippy (although this didn’t last very long). They had to reassess eachother, which would have been better to avoid.
On a side note, does anyone have any tips about food aggression? Winston gets nippy with Gracie when he thinks food is coming, ie, anytime he hears me rustle a bag, or enter my room past 9pm (which is veggie time). Once the Hay/veggies are in their cage, he’s fine, but Winston has started to chase Gracie a few times and I would like to nip it in the bud (haha). Is this something that will go away with time? Is there anything I can do to prevent it?
How are your 2 doing now? It’s been about 2 months since your last post. Is Winston still nippy with food?
I am currently bonding my rabbits, but it’s only been 13 days and I have had them in together full time for the past 2 days. They’re not hugely cuddly together, and only occasionally sleep near each other, but as long as they’re not fighting/chasing that’s good enough for me, and hopefully the snuggles will come in time.
My only problem is at 6.45am when it starts to get light my boy starts to run around like mad and chase my girl until I drag myself out of bed to feed them. At dinner time he is fine though and will share a plate of greens no worries.
My situation is totally different to yours, but just curious if he is still nippy when the food is coming?
Sorry I didn’t respond sooner. Winston did get a lot better with Gracie, but unfortunately Gracie got very sick very quickly (a mass in her intestines) and there was nothing I could do. By the end of things, they were getting along perfectly. It’s comforting to know that Winston was there for Gracie when she needed him most, right up to the end.
I think all you need in your situation is time. It’s a tough spot to be in because your bun seems to be on a very strict schedule. He knows that the chasing behavior gets him the food that he wants, so why would he stop? Do you think there is any way to change up the schedule? I know it’s already early, but is it possible to beat him to the punch and feed the rabbits before the chasing begins?
It’s been awhile so maybe this situation is already resolved. I’d love to hear what you did and how things are going!