Rabbits are the 3rd most popular pet in the UK, behind cats and dogs, and it’s easy to see why. They are intelligent and inquisitive animals, making them an extremely rewarding pet choice. However, before getting a rabbit it’s important to plan ahead and make sure you are prepared to meet all their needs, just as you would for a cat or dog. One important thing to consider is companionship; does your rabbit need a companion?
In the wild, rabbits live in large, complex social groups and enjoy having company from their own species. Our pet rabbits are no different; they too need company from at least one other rabbit in order to be happy. Rabbits that are kept alone are much more likely to develop unwanted behaviours and habits that could harm their health. Many people think that other pets such as guinea pigs or even the family cat and dog may get on with their rabbit. Although they may get on, they should never be left unsupervised as they could harm each other. However, nothing beats the company of another rabbit.
It is easiest to get two rabbits that have been kept together from birth; however, rabbits less than 12 weeks old will usually get along together. A neutered male and a neutered female are an ideal pairing, but two females or two males from the same litter should get along if both are neutered.
Neutering your rabbit has numerous benefits, but includes preventing unwanted babies and reducing aggressive behaviour that may lead to fighting. We would always recommend neutering your rabbits and you can come and speak to one of our vets about neutering at any time.
Introducing two older rabbits should be done more carefully but is often successful. As for younger rabbits, we recommend that older rabbits are also neutered regardless of sex. We also suggest that, when choosing rabbits to introduce, you select rabbits of a similar age and size if possible. Personalities may also influence a rabbit’s ability to be introduced to companions, so choosing compatible personality types can make the process smoother.
When introducing older rabbits the key is to do it slowly and supervised at all times. Scent and smells are very important to rabbits, so a good first step can be to swap furniture and bedding so the rabbits get used to each other’s smells. It can also be a good idea to introduce rabbits early in the day so you have the rest of the day to supervise their behaviour.
One option for introduction is to use neutral territory. Use a large but secure area that is unfamiliar to both rabbits. Make sure you provide plenty of hiding places and positive distractions such as treats. The rabbits should be placed at far ends of the space and allowed to move together in their own time. Some chasing is normal but any signs of stress or aggression should be treated with extreme caution and the interaction stopped. Fighting can be very harmful to your rabbit as they have very thin skin that tears easily. Rabbits that get on well together may be able to be housed in a neutral hutch overnight. However, if you have any doubts, its best to be cautious and continue to gradually introduce them in the same manner over the course of a few days until confident.
Another option for the introduction of older rabbits is separate runs. This method is good if you are not around to supervise all interactions, or there is no neutral space available. Place the rabbits in separate runs, arranged so they are next to each other. Swap the rabbits over occasionally to prevent them establishing territory, and keep up positive reinforcement such as treats. The rabbits will gradually get to each other this way. Once they appear friendly with each other (e.g. lying next to each other against wire) then they may be introduced in a joint run. Take care not to rush the introduction in the joint run as this can take many days to achieve.
Regardless of when you introduce two rabbits, in order to live happily together, they will need a suitable living arrangement. This may be indoors as house rabbits, or outside between a hutch and run. If living indoors, the rabbits should be provided with plenty of space to roam as well as protection from wires and other hazards. If housing in a run and hutch, then both areas should have plenty of space and be tall enough for your rabbits to stand on their hind legs. Whether housed outdoors or indoors, your rabbits’ living spaces should have multiple food bowls and water drinkers, as well as litter trays, so the rabbits do not have to share. There should also be quiet spaces such as igloos or tunnels for rabbits to hide from people as well as each other if they wish. Providing toys such as tunnels, balls and chews can help alleviate boredom and reduce the chance of fights occurring.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and some rabbits may dislike company from other rabbits. However, in these cases, it is recommended that you discuss this with one of our vets to rule out any other problems. If your rabbit does need to be kept alone then it is important to spend time interacting with them daily, as you will be their companion. Even if rabbits have other rabbits as companions daily interaction is a great way to create a bond with your rabbit.
So, now your rabbit has a companion, what happens when you go on holiday? Although your rabbits may not rely on you for companionship they still need daily care and attention. Unpredictable factors such as adverse weather or illness could happen at any time and so it is always worth having a trustworthy person to care for your rabbits when you are away. A reliable family member, friend, or even hired pet sitters are all great options for pet care when you are away. Ideally, they should visit your rabbits at least once or twice a day. They should be given clear instructions to carry out each day as well as your contact numbers if they are unsure about anything. Our vet’s contact details should also be provided for emergencies.
Company and daily care are both essential parts of keeping your rabbits healthy and happy. If you have any concerns or need any advice for your bunnies then remember our knowledgeable vets are available to talk.