Help with late bonding giant rabbits?

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Morchall

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My roommate and I have two 2 year old giant rabbits. We have had them since they were around 3-4 months old.
We originally brought our female home with another litter mate and they got along really well. Unfortunately, the male passed away after a few weeks. For about a month, our female did not have another rabbit and mostly bonded very closely with my roommate.
We later brought home their brother from the same litter. Because it had been a little over a month that they had been apart, they did not get along very well. They kept fighting very violently, and after our male ended up taking a chunk out of our female's lip, we decided we needed to keep them separated until they were both fixed.
We ran into some unexpected financial difficulties, and it ended up taking a much longer time to get funds for spaying/neutering than we thought it would. They were not fixed until they were about 8 months old, so they had been in separate enclosures for quite a while. We tried several times since then to bond them, for several weeks at a time, but every time it has ended with them getting into really violent fights. They don't seem to get angry at each other when they're in their separate enclosures, but they always do if we try to put them in the same playpen, etc.
Our house is very small. We do not have really any places where the rabbits are not in very often. We usually play with and exercise them separately (often at the same time but in separate rooms). We do take them out to free-roam-play together in the same room often, and they seem to get along mostly, but if we have their litter boxes in the same room, they always start pouncing on and biting each other. They also start doing this a lot if we leave them together longer than an hour or so.
We have tried getting all new litter boxes so that their scent is not in them and that didn't seem to help. We swap their enclosures every few days too. They don't seem to even have a problem changing or having the other one in their enclosure separately, but if they are in the same enclosure or room with a litter box they will always fight.
Another thing I want to note is that our female, who I previously mentioned bonded very closely with my roommate, seems to get jealous when he tries to play with or pet our male rabbit. She tries to butt in and take attention away from him, and if he tries to come back and get pets she will nip at him and try to scare him away.
We tried to keep it up every time we attempted bonding, but after several weeks each time it just became too much for us, with being scared that they are going to injure each other. We really can't afford to have a lot of vet visits if they keep wounding each other and obviously we don't want our rabbits to get hurt.
It just breaks our hearts because they seem to like playing and cuddling otherwise. They do seem relatively content just having their own areas, but it would be so much easier for us if they could be in the same enclosure, because then they could have a larger shared area for exercising and playing, and we wouldn't worry about them being lonely when we're not home.

Does anyone have some bonding advice that would keep chances of an emergency vet visit low?
To summarize the main points:
-2 year old rabbits who have been close their whole lives but are not fully bonded and are in separate enclosures
-get along while playing, but viciously attack each other over litter boxes or any shared items like toys, making it impossible to keep them in the same enclosure
-attacks have resulted in rabbits having to get stitches before
-house is not big enough for any "neutral" territory they haven't both been in often
-have tried swapping enclosures, eliminating scents, etc.
-suspected jealousy from female rabbit over her human parent interacting with male rabbit we are trying to bond her with
 

odyssey~

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For the neutural territorry you can take the room they've been in least and clean it as well as you can. So vaccum, mop, wipe down the walls and furniture to the best of your ability. Bathtubs can work too.

I suggest having at least 1 litterbox per bunny in a shared habitat so they can each have one they call their own.

Do they live right next to each other? If not I'd reocmmend doing that. It will get them more used to living close together. Then if they don't bond then they can at least see and smell each other.

I generally don't recommend stress bonding but for this scenario it could work, but I wouldn't do it unless a last resort since sometimes it doesn't work out and/or causes extra stress to the bunnies.
 

Morchall

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For the neutural territorry you can take the room they've been in least and clean it as well as you can. So vaccum, mop, wipe down the walls and furniture to the best of your ability. Bathtubs can work too.

I suggest having at least 1 litterbox per bunny in a shared habitat so they can each have one they call their own.

Do they live right next to each other? If not I'd reocmmend doing that. It will get them more used to living close together. Then if they don't bond then they can at least see and smell each other.

I generally don't recommend stress bonding but for this scenario it could work, but I wouldn't do it unless a last resort since sometimes it doesn't work out and/or causes extra stress to the bunnies.
We usually do have both litterboxes out when they are together, they still fought over them. We could try getting two entirely new litterboxes to see if that helps. We were just worried they wouldn't use the litterboxes if they didn't smell their scent in them, but if it would help them bond, I could deal with that for a little while.
They live next to each other and can see each other and sometimes lie right next to each other with a barrier in between (another reason I feel bad they're separated)
Our rabbits are EXTREMELY calm and generally have very stress-free days. They are constantly flopped over and content. People have described them as the chillest rabbits they've ever seen. For this reason, I do not think stress bonding would freak them out to the point of over-stressing them, but I agree that I would feel a little bad scaring them.
We did try just putting them in hatchback and turning the car on before, and they seemed slightly stressed, but not so much that they were cowering/hiding or stomping or anything. Maybe that would be a good place to try if other areas in the house won't work?
Thank you for the advice, I will try scrubbing the floor and walls in my bedroom and using 2 new litterboxes and see if that helps. Might try the bathtub, as well but they usually do better in a more open area.
 

Blue eyes

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and sometimes lie right next to each other with a barrier in between (another reason I feel bad they're separated)
This behavior doesn't necessarily mean they are trying to cuddle with each other. It depends on their personalities/relationship. It could just as well be them "guarding" their respective territory lines. In other words, they lay down on that border as if to say "this is my space and don't think about crossing into it."

@odyssey~ already mentioned a few things you could try to see if they might bond. My interpretation of the situation you describe is that they may not ever bond truly. That they've fought hard enough to have caused physical injury is not encouraging. Sometimes 2 rabbits simply don't have compatible personalities. If this is the case, then it sounds like you've already adapted to keeping them separate. If they stop showing promise of bonding (or continue to attack each other given the opportunity) it may be best to let them remain separate.
 

Morchall

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This behavior doesn't necessarily mean they are trying to cuddle with each other. It depends on their personalities/relationship. It could just as well be them "guarding" their respective territory lines. In other words, they lay down on that border as if to say "this is my space and don't think about crossing into it."

@odyssey~ already mentioned a few things you could try to see if they might bond. My interpretation of the situation you describe is that they may not ever bond truly. That they've fought hard enough to have caused physical injury is not encouraging. Sometimes 2 rabbits simply don't have compatible personalities. If this is the case, then it sounds like you've already adapted to keeping them separate. If they stop showing promise of bonding (or continue to attack each other given the opportunity) it may be best to let them remain separate.
the reason I interpreted it as cuddling is because when they're together they do often cuddle and groom each other. but you may be right, it might not necessarily be that.
I have considered that they might not be truly compatible. we may just have to always supervise them while they're together. thank you for suggesting that though, I thought it was entirely because of what we did. they do seem pretty content just being in their own areas so if it doesn't work out I guess it's not the end of the world.
 

Bunzy

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The best way to bond rabbits is Introducing them a little bit at a time to see if they get along, and don’t fight! Also it may help getting them fixed.
 

Morchall

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The best way to bond rabbits is Introducing them a little bit at a time to see if they get along, and don’t fight! Also it may help getting them fixed.
oh they are both fixed now! I do think I'm going to try bonding sessions for short periods and increase by a little bit each time and see if that works
 

JBun

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I think part of the problem is some unintentional mistakes are being made in your bonding process. You mention not having a neutral area to use, but are you picking as neutral an area as possible(one they are least in) and neutralizing everything possible with vinegar/water, and covering up what you can't neutralize with things like tarps to cover their scent, and even using sheets and other things to make it seem different and like a 'new' area? Everything has to be as neutral as possible in a bonding area, including litter boxes if they're being used(which sometimes it can be better if they aren't). You can't use anything that any rabbit will consider theirs or their territory, or it cancels out the whole concept of using a neutral space.

I'm a little confused about the behaviors you're describing and when they're happening. What circumstances is the cuddling and grooming occurring in? Is this during an actual bonding session when they're together? And the fights are also occurring during these bonding sessions? Have you tried bonding without litter boxes being present, and if so, what is their behavior then?

Rabbits don't really casually free roam play unless they have actually been bonded. Anytime you put two rabbits in the same area together, it becomes a bonding attempt or a territory dispute/fight. Rabbits are herd animals that have to determine who is where in the hierarchy. It becomes all about who's territory it is and who the boss is going to be. So this free roam play, is this bonding you're trying to do in an open area, different than other bonding you're trying in a separate area? When you've done this free roam play, do they avoid contact with each other? And what is their reaction when they do come in contact?

I think it could help for you to explain in detail your bonding area set up. Even better would be posting a photo, and/or if you've taken any videos of the bonding attempts. It can help give us a better idea of what's going on in your bonding and the reactions of your rabbits to one another. This can then give us a better idea of what you can do to try and make this work.

With your girl bun being jealous of your roommate showing attention to the other rabbit, this is because your female rabbit sees herself as higher in the hierarchy than your roommate or your other rabbit. So she is essentially saying that she's in charge and that your roommate shouldn't be grooming the subordinate bunny, but should be giving her(your girl bun) attention instead. To fix this, your roommate would need to establish himself as the boss or 'top bun', essentially using bunny body language to establish this.
 

Morchall

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I think part of the problem is some unintentional mistakes are being made in your bonding process. You mention not having a neutral area to use, but are you picking as neutral an area as possible(one they are least in) and neutralizing everything possible with vinegar/water, and covering up what you can't neutralize with things like tarps to cover their scent, and even using sheets and other things to make it seem different and like a 'new' area? Everything has to be as neutral as possible in a bonding area, including litter boxes if they're being used(which sometimes it can be better if they aren't). You can't use anything that any rabbit will consider theirs or their territory, or it cancels out the whole concept of using a neutral space.

I'm a little confused about the behaviors you're describing and when they're happening. What circumstances is the cuddling and grooming occurring in? Is this during an actual bonding session when they're together? And the fights are also occurring during these bonding sessions? Have you tried bonding without litter boxes being present, and if so, what is their behavior then?

Rabbits don't really casually free roam play unless they have actually been bonded. Anytime you put two rabbits in the same area together, it becomes a bonding attempt or a territory dispute/fight. Rabbits are herd animals that have to determine who is where in the hierarchy. It becomes all about who's territory it is and who the boss is going to be. So this free roam play, is this bonding you're trying to do in an open area, different than other bonding you're trying in a separate area? When you've done this free roam play, do they avoid contact with each other? And what is their reaction when they do come in contact?

I think it could help for you to explain in detail your bonding area set up. Even better would be posting a photo, and/or if you've taken any videos of the bonding attempts. It can help give us a better idea of what's going on in your bonding and the reactions of your rabbits to one another. This can then give us a better idea of what you can do to try and make this work.

With your girl bun being jealous of your roommate showing attention to the other rabbit, this is because your female rabbit sees herself as higher in the hierarchy than your roommate or your other rabbit. So she is essentially saying that she's in charge and that your roommate shouldn't be grooming the subordinate bunny, but should be giving her(your girl bun) attention instead. To fix this, your roommate would need to establish himself as the boss or 'top bun', essentially using bunny body language to establish this.
thank you for all the helpful stuff. I agree that we have probably made a lot of mistakes. the sudden and unexpected financial difficulties we faced shortly after getting them definitely contributed to this and has made it difficult, but I know that we will probably need to try a lot harder and really commit to this if we want it to happen, regardless of our situation.

To answer some of your questions:

We have them in our bedrooms separately when we want to have one on one bunny-human bonding time. We really only have a bathroom, living room (where the bunnies' areas are), and our bedrooms, so the only other option would probably be the bathroom or maybe our small hallway. Usually when we take them out to play they are in my bedroom because it has the most space. I clean rabbit hair off the floor but I probably have not been cleaning well enough to get the scent out from when I have them in there one-on-one.

We have been putting them in my room for about 30 minutes to an hour at a time, and a lot of the time they do well as long as there are no litter boxes or anything else they might fight over. (We have tried with and without and they definitely do better with no items they can "claim"). These have been the bonding attempts, usually for regular play time we take them out separately.
However, they usually get into fights if we keep them in the room together much longer than that.

When I let them play in my room together, they run around with each other and binky a lot. I assumed this was playing behavior. When they are tired out, they flop down next to each other and lie side by side, one usually goes out of their way to be touching the other one after the first one lies down. Sometimes one will lay their head on the other one, or lie across from the other and touch faces, and often one or both will be purring. I assumed this was cuddly behavior.

Now that I think about it, a lot of their fights break out when they start grooming each other. I'm not sure why I didn't mention that because I remember my roommate bringing it up and it's definitely important to note. They usually take nice turns grooming each other, but will occasionally get into a "grooming stalemate" where they both put their heads down to be groomed, so they both want to be the one receiving grooming and not giving it. They also (very rarely) try to hump each other and that also causes fights. They are both fixed, so maybe this could also be them trying to establish dominance.

I believe you're right about our female believing she is the top rabbit of the household. She does not get jealous when I pet our male, but my roommate always babies her and gives her lots of one-on-one attention, so she may think of him as her subordinate. She definitely demands grooming from our male more than he does from her, and seems to be the aggressor most of the time when the fights happen.

I'm realizing this is most likely a social hierarchy issue as you said, combined with being territorial over belongings such as litter boxes, blankets, and toys. It seems like they still can't establish which one is dominant. If that's the case, is there anything I can do to help them with this? They do seem to get along fairly well otherwise, just chilling together.
 

JBun

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Based on the photos of them laying head to head in your other thread, and that they groom each other and have moments of getting along during bonding, there's a good chance they'll successfully bond. It's just giving them time to sort out their hierarchy issues, and removing the litter box and other items of theirs they could get territorial over. So new or thoroughly scrubbed and neutralized litter boxes and everything else they are going to share in common. And a neutralized bonding area(as much as is possible in your situation).

I would do a smaller bonding area like the bathroom, blocked off hallway, or set up a pet exercise pen. You want a smaller area usually, so that you're right there to quickly intervene if needed. The smaller area also makes it so they have to interact more and have more opportunity to work out their issues, where in a larger space they can wander off and do their own thing without having to interact as often. Now some rabbits don't respond well to a smaller area, so a larger area may be best in these instances. You have to be able to read their behaviors and warning signs, and be flexible and ready to make changes if needed. Bonding is never one fixed way, as rabbits vary with what works best for them. So large space/small space, faster bonding/slower bonding, it's all flexible depending on the individual rabbits and how they react and how things are progressing.

The pen usually works best because then you can put it anywhere and lay sheets over the sides to change things up if you're in a room they're used to, and a tarp on the floor if you need to do that also. But if you don't have a pen, the bathroom or blocked hallway can work too if properly prepared and set up for bonding. You may be good with just eliminating litter boxes and other things, or using neutral litter boxes, and may not need to cover the floors and walls. But do remove things that are causing any escalation of aggression.

The grooming stalemate is them still sorting out hierarchy. Fixed or not, rabbits have to establish dominance and hierarchy in the herd. So there will always be a 'top bun' then subordinate rabbits. It's a pecking order. This sorting of dominance is normal, but you always need to be right there during bonding sessions to quickly break up any start of escalation like circling, tails raised, ears pinned, excessive chasing, nipping, or humping. There will usually be some chasing, nipping, and humping as they sort the hierarchy, but it's stopping it after the first bit, so it doesn't escalate further. Particularly if you see your other rabbit getting irritated or upset. Be ready with a broom and gloves/oven mitt, so you don't accidentally get bit when breaking them up if needed. Definitely do not allow any circling. And tails raised, ears pinned, tense body posturing, or leaping over the other rabbit, is a sign for immediate intervention.

It can take some time for them to work this out. They need time for one rabbit to decide they don't care to be top bun anymore. But if they're inclined to get in a scuffle while they work this out, then you need to be right there to quickly break it up before it can escalate into serious fighting. Because once that occurs, it diminishes the chances of them successfully bonding.

I would suggest reading through these links and looking at some of the videos, to give you a better idea of rabbit body language, and what to expect and watch for in bad and good bonding behavior.




 
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Morchall

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Based on the photos of them laying head to head in your other thread, and that they groom each other and have moments of getting along during bonding, there's a good chance they'll successfully bond. It's just giving them time to sort out their hierarchy issues, and removing the litter box and other items of theirs they could get territorial over. So new or thoroughly scrubbed and neutralized litter boxes and everything else they are going to share in common. And a neutralized bonding area(as much as is possible in your situation).

I would do smaller bonding area like the bathroom, blocked off hallway, or set up a pet exercise pen. You want a smaller area usually, so that you're right there to quickly intervene if needed. The smaller area also makes it so they have to interact more and have more opportunity to work out their issues, where in a larger space they can wander off and do their own thing without having to interact as often. Now some rabbits don't respond well to a smaller area, so a larger area may be best in these instances. You have to be able to read their behaviors and warning signs, and be flexible and ready to make changes if needed. Bonding is never one fixed way, as rabbits vary with what works best for them. So large space/small space, faster bonding/slower bonding, it's all flexible depending on the individual rabbits and how they react and how things are progressing.

The pen usually works best because then you can put it anywhere and lay sheets over the sides to change things up if you're in a room they're used to, and a tarp on the floor if you need to do that also. But if you don't have a pen, the bathroom or blocked hallway can work to if properly prepared and set up for bonding. You may be good with just eliminating litter boxes and other things, or using neutral litter boxes, and may not need to cover the floors and walls. But do remove things that are causing any escalation of aggression.

The grooming stalemate is them still sorting out hierarchy. Fixed or not, rabbits have to establish dominance and hierarchy in the herd. So there will always be a 'top bun' then subordinate rabbits. It's a pecking order. This sorting of dominance is normal, but you always need to be right there during bonding sessions to quickly break up any start of escalation like circling, tails raised, ears pinned, excessive chasing, nipping, or humping. There will usually be some chasing, nipping, and humping as they sort the hierarchy, but it's stopping it after the first bit, so it doesn't escalate further. Particularly if you see your other rabbit getting irritated or upset. Be ready with a broom and gloves/oven mitt, so you don't accidentally get bit when breaking them up if needed. Definitely do not allow any circling. And tails raised, ears pinned, tense body posturing, or leaping over the other rabbit, is a sign for immediate intervention.

It can take some time for them to work this out. They need time for one rabbit to decide they don't care to be top bun anymore. But if they're inclined to get in a scuffle while they work this out, then you need to be right there to quickly break it up before it can escalate into serious fighting. Because once that occurs, it diminishes the chances of them successfully bonding.

I would suggest reading through these links and looking at some of the videos, to give you a better idea of rabbit body language, and what to expect and watch for in bad and good bonding behavior.




thank you so much, you've been really helpful. I'll definitely read these and use your advice as we go forward.
 

Morchall

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UPDATE:
we have been putting them in the back of our SUV and they've been getting along really well. No fighting whatsoever. they just cuddle the whole time.
Gus did try to hump Pokey once but she just kinda laid down and he gave up and snuggled with her instead.
 

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