Should we give up on this bond?

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LisaP&T

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Hi everyone,

I have come on here looking for some advice in a difficult situation. I have 2 rabbits: Phil is a 14 month old female, Tony is a 9 month old female. Both are similar size - both dwarf crosses I think, 1.5kg each. They have been bonded and living together since mid-March (it is now early June) but to be honest, we are at a loss. Some background to begin..

Phil arrived first. She was very calm and friendly and chilled until she hit 6 months old and Tony arrived. When Tony arrived, (and I went back to working full time, having been home with her 5 days a week until then). She became outrageously aggressive. If we smelled of Tony (we kept her in another room) she would lunge and growl at our feet and chase us. We had to change clothes between rooms. She also attacked my boyfriend twice, like jumped at his face to attack him. To be fair, she was only just spayed and she could smell an invader so we managed it by reducing her territory to a pen (she had always had the run of the apartment). She also became very food aggressive toward us. Anyway, we got Tony spayed at 5 months and waited 6 weeks to get them professionally bonded. By contrast, Tony was (also thought to be a boy!) a more nervous little gal but would honk when we would come in and see her and would sit up beside you for rubs and just loved to be in your company. In fairness, she was alone so much of the time, she was starved for attention.

They bonded pretty easily, much to our surprise. The bonder commented that that was likely to their opposite personalities, Phil being dominant and Tony being submissive. We were THRILLED!!!

Since the initial good weeks, things have not been smooth sailing. Phil has been every bit the bully we feared. Most days, there will be a chunk of Tony's fur somewhere in their room (so they have their own room for when we aren't home. When we are home they can come into us in the rest of the apartment). If Phil wants Tony to move, she nips her on the bum. She's mouthy with us too, but less so. In the last 10 or 12 weeks especially, the aggression has escalated significantly. It's 90% food related. It got to the point where we would only have to open their door and Phil would anticipate food and go for Tony. By 'go for', I mean lunge, growl, chase (and not chase away for 1 second, I mean chase persistently trying to bite her). As it escalated, Tony got more and more scared, she began to squeal when Phil would bite her and jump out of the way even at the noise of the food bag or even if she thought Phil might be annoyed. She also became very skittish to our touch, and would jump out of the way at an unexpected touch and stopped coming out of the room as much. We took steps to prevent it. We used a water spray bottle to spray Phil in the face to discourage the aggression. We moved the food out of the room and tried feeding separately and at random times. This worked somewhat..

Over the last 10 weeks I should also point out, Phil has had a chronic pasturella bug. Tony had it for 2 weeks initially, but rallied well. Phil was on antibiotics for the guts of 10 weeks. She's off them now.

Sorry, almost finished now! I just want to give lots of details because ending this bond is not a decision that if it is made, will be easily made.

Last week, we went away for 3 days and our vet looked after the two rabbits so that Phil could continue to get her twice daily medication. We warned the vet about the aggression but none was displayed in a new territory. Two days after we returned, so yesterday, I heard an early scuffle in their room. I didn't really think anything of it for a minute but it continued. So I checked their pet camera to be sure. I saw them kind of locked together, Phil was biting Tony on the bum and Tony wasn't running away, but was definitely trying to avoid it. I had a bad feeling so I shouted through the microphone to shock them into stopping, and then rushed in. What I saw when I walked in gave me such a fright. There was fur EVERYWHERE. Clumps of it. It looked like a stuffed animal had been split open. It was all over the room. I can upload a photo if it helps. But it was horrifying. What was surprising was there seemed to be some white clumps (Phil's fur), which made me think that Tony fought back, or maybe instigated..? It was 80% Tony at least though, which is unsurprising. Tony was hiding when I got in there. Neither were bleeding, but I do think it may have escalated had I not intervened.

We are absolutely shaken by this. We have separated them now (still in the same room. They have been together for a few minutes at a time. Yesterday, it was fine. This morning, Tony stamped and Phil nipped her. But this is just par for the course. Tony has gotten into the habit of stamping when they have been separated briefly, eg Phil goes to the vet for 20 minutes for a check up, and when she gets back and out of the carrier, Tony flees.

We are at a loss. 90% of the time, it's peaceful. They groom each other (Tony often battles for grooms from Phil, so she can assert herself when she wants to but that's the height of it), they snuggle, they sleep together... It was just the food thing and kind of general heavy handedness by Phil, but we were trying to manage it, but this full on fight has really scared us. We are wondering whether it is fair to Tony to keep her in this dynamic. Is Phil just too territorial for a companion? Is it massively unfair to even consider separating them? By separating them, I mean rehoming Tony. Phil would be too much for anyone we think.

So, after that big long description, I wonder does anyone have any advice? Be it how to re-bond, if re-bonding even necessary, does this seem like a bond that won't work, is this normal... What do people think? Any help would be appreciated.

Lisa
 

MiloTheBunny101

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I’m not a professional with this subject but I definitely think some measures will have to be taken to re-bond. The situation seems horrible and I’m so very sorry of all the incidents as it must have been quite traumatising! Could you please refine when the trouble takes place? Meaning in the 10% of fights what actually happens : what triggers it, what after effects there are, who is mainly fighting, what does it look like, who gets hurt. 😞
 

peanutdabunny

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I dont know if you have done this but heres some things you can do to help with territorilness, You can scatter feed the pellets, most rabbits get food aggressive around other rabbits. Have 2 water bowls on oppisote sides of the setup. Have 2 giant litter boxes on oppisote sides of the set up. Have 2 veggie bowls, and try to bond them first in a small space and see how that goes, I would marthon bond them NOT STRESS BOND. Stress bonds do not last in my research. And is not a strong base for bonds.
 

LisaP&T

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Hi MiloTheBunny,

Thanks so much for your reply. Yes, it has been very difficult. I'll definitely try to clarify now..

So in the 10%, it's nearly always food related. If Phil sees or even thinks there's food up for grabs, she will immediately dart at Tony, growling, biting, lunging, chasing. She will chase Tony around the room, through hiding places, and continually biting her on the bum, tearing clumps of fur out. Tony will sometimes run first, to get out of the way. Regardless, Phil will chase her. Once the food is down, there's no issue. They can shar. Tony will mostly eat right next to her, but will sometimes dart to and fro from the food. She will snatch food from Phil's mouth sometimes, so it's only in the heat of the moment, in the anticipation of food that Phil gets very aggressive. Also, this 99% occurs in their room. If we feed them in the kitchen or living room, like a bit of carrot or anything like that, Phil will bully her way to the front but we always make sure to give her the treat first. One time, Tony got something in the kitchen and Phil didn't, and Phil chased her down. But generally, the high level aggression is only in their shared territory.

Other incidents are mostly just a quick nip if Tony gets in her way, or she's somewhere Phil wants to be. But Phil will often bite hard enough and with intention to pull fur out of Tony. So often we will find a clump of fur in their room but we won't know what's sparked it.

Is that clearer..?
 

MiloTheBunny101

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Hi MiloTheBunny,

Thanks so much for your reply. Yes, it has been very difficult. I'll definitely try to clarify now..

So in the 10%, it's nearly always food related. If Phil sees or even thinks there's food up for grabs, she will immediately dart at Tony, growling, biting, lunging, chasing. She will chase Tony around the room, through hiding places, and continually biting her on the bum, tearing clumps of fur out. Tony will sometimes run first, to get out of the way. Regardless, Phil will chase her. Once the food is down, there's no issue. They can shar. Tony will mostly eat right next to her, but will sometimes dart to and fro from the food. She will snatch food from Phil's mouth sometimes, so it's only in the heat of the moment, in the anticipation of food that Phil gets very aggressive. Also, this 99% occurs in their room. If we feed them in the kitchen or living room, like a bit of carrot or anything like that, Phil will bully her way to the front but we always make sure to give her the treat first. One time, Tony got something in the kitchen and Phil didn't, and Phil chased her down. But generally, the high level aggression is only in their shared territory.

Other incidents are mostly just a quick nip if Tony gets in her way, or she's somewhere Phil wants to be. But Phil will often bite hard enough and with intention to pull fur out of Tony. So often we will find a clump of fur in their room but we won't know what's sparked it.

Is that clearer..?
Oh no! Sounds horrible! Must be so stressful for you and the bunnies! Are they free roam? Some advice is to not put food in a specific area so that the rabbit cant process it as their territory. Some people scatter it in their hay. I think the best thing to do right now is to give them a break from eachother and maybe have different bowls to each other in different areas. ❤❤
 

LisaP&T

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I dont know if you have done this but heres some things you can do to help with territorilness, You can scatter feed the pellets, most rabbits get food aggressive around other rabbits. Have 2 water bowls on oppisote sides of the setup. Have 2 giant litter boxes on oppisote sides of the set up. Have 2 veggie bowls, and try to bond them first in a small space and see how that goes, I would marthon bond them NOT STRESS BOND. Stress bonds do not last in my research. And is not a strong base for bonds.
Hi Peanutdabunny,

Thanks for replying!

Great suggestions! So in the beginning, we did separate everything. Over time, we progressed to one bowl but then when the aggression started, we scattered the pellets. We did that for weeks but still the aggression persisted. It's good to hear that food aggression is common but I'm not sure if the level Phil displays is..? What do you think? When I mean she goes after her, she goes after her like she wants to kill her.
 

MiloTheBunny101

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Hi Peanutdabunny,

Thanks for replying!

Great suggestions! So in the beginning, we did separate everything. Over time, we progressed to one bowl but then when the aggression started, we scattered the pellets. We did that for weeks but still the aggression persisted. It's good to hear that food aggression is common but I'm not sure if the level Phil displays is..? What do you think? When I mean she goes after her, she goes after her like she wants to kill her.
Oops read this too late! Maybe just give them a break from eachother? Can anyone look after Tony?
 

LisaP&T

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Oh no! Sounds horrible! Must be so stressful for you and the bunnies! Are they free roam? Some advice is to not put food in a specific area so that the rabbit cant process it as their territory. Some people scatter it in their hay. I think the best thing to do right now is to give them a break from eachother and maybe have different bowls to each other in different areas. ❤❤
Thanks a lot, it has been pretty awful. We mostly feel sorry for Tony. She's blatantly frightened of her. I mean, not all the time. They spend lots of time together in harmony. We were trying to manage the food aggression and had started having some success. But this blow out yesterday was just so terrifying. My fear is that they can't come back from it. My fear is that Phil is just a hyper territorial bun who would be better off alone than with a companion. I'm terrified that she will badly injure Tony, even if we re-bond, because she has been consistently aggressive. I agree that maybe taking food out of the room could be helpful. Unfortunately, that huge fight yesterday happened without food, it was just early morning and they were in there alone. So that's what's really frightened me. Plus, it looks like Tony fought back and at least when Phil bullied and Tony tolerated it, it was easily resolved. But now if Tony has lost her patience, is that more dangerous..? I'm probably going around in circles sorry, I just feel quite hopeless. And I don't mean to demonise poor Phil. I love her very much and she is a good girl. She's just such an alpha that it is sometimes (I fear) unsafe for Tony.
 
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