What's the next step in bonding my male rabbits?

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Mariam+Theo

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Hello everyone! I'm sure most of y'all do not know me or remember me since it has been months since I have been on the forum, but hopefully, you can help me. So much has happened since I last posted, one of which is I adopted a new bunny!
I posted back in May asking if I should attempt to bond my current rabbit Theo with a family friends bunny Jack (who is now named Will). Long story short, my parents did not want me to get another rabbit, but the family that owned Will was doing an awful job taking care of him - to the point that it was almost animal abuse/neglect - so I was allowed to take him on one condition. That condition was that Theo and Will had to bond, and if they did not bond Will would have to be re-homed.

I took all the necessary precautions before adopting Will because I was determined that this was going to work. Theo went to visit Will to make sure they got along, and the meeting went great! When we got home from the visit Theo was confined in a playpen in my room for several weeks before bringing Will home so there would be somewhat neutral territory in my room. I cleaned my entire room with vinegar, replaced all the rugs and carpets I could, washed all the blankets and pillows, and bought lots of new stuff for Will so he wouldn't feel threatened entering Theo's territory. I set up bonding pens in my room and after giving Will some time to settle in I begin swapping the bunnies from pen to pen every day. Swapping the bunnies went well until Theo got territorial of his pen and after being moved he would start running back and forth in his pen chasing Will who was in the opposite pen (he was never actually able to get to him because of the playpens). Another thing that concerned me was whenever I would clean their playpens Theo would bite Will through the cage bars. Normally, the playpens were separated by 3 inches, but when I was cleaning, the bunny whose pen was being cleaned would free-roam in my room.

I swapped the bunnies every day for 3 weeks before putting them together in a laundry basket in neutral territory. BTW I was always watching them, ready to split up a fight and prevent them from hurting one another. First, it was just constant nipping from Theo. He was never breaking the skin, but constantly nipping Will! They would be sitting there quietly and calm and then suddenly Theo would turn on him and bite him. Will wouldn't react, and I would use a gloved hand to block the bites. After 5 bonding sessions of this, Will started getting annoyed and would thump and try to nip Theo back, which of course I would not allow. To finish every bonding session on a good note I would force them to cuddle and once they were in their playpens they would receive a treat. At this point, I decided to take a break from the bonding sessions for a week because it was stressing me out and I had a lot of school.

After the break, I tried another bonding session and this time nothing happened. They sat there for 15 minutes not moving! I shook the basket lightly to see what they would do and they looked and hopped around, but completely ignored each other. That was my last bonding session because I honestly don't know what to do next! I think they want to be friends because they are always looking at each other and flopping by each other, but the nipping is what scares me. I really don't want either of them to get hurt and I know one of them will if I continue the bonding process. Since they have been doing good should I go the next step and give them more room? And I read that as long as they are not hurting each other it is ok for them to nip each other since it will just pull out a little fur? I don't know about that though, that just seems wrong.
Hopefully, someone with experience with this can just tell me what to do since I can't make up my mind?

Sorry this is so long! I've included some pictures of the bunnies to apologize (ignore the crazy molt patterns! Theo is a mini rex and after trying more brushes than I can count he still sheds like crazy😅) Thanks in advance!
-Mariam, Theo, and Will
 

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Mariam+Theo

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And I'm back with another question :rolleyes:
Since my last post I have done a ton of research and my bunnies are now in a playpen together, getting along mostly fine (there are some behavioral issues, but I'll ask about those in a minute). Yesterday they were together from 9:00 PM - 6:00 AM and there was no fighting. I had to separate them this morning because I had an appointment and no one was home to watch them, but they were put back in the playpen right when I got home. They have now been together for 6 hours and once again, no fighting.

I was planning on letting them stay in the playpen all night (again), but I have work tomorrow. I will be gone for over 12 hours which means I need to separate them back into their side-by-side playpens. Will this undo all the progress I have made? I plan on putting them back in the pen together when I get home.

They have a litter box, toys, hay, water, and a blanket in their playpen. They each have a "side" of the playpen, but they are not aggressive if the other rabbit comes to their "side" of the pen. I have been swapping where the litter box, blanket, hay, and water is throughout the day so nothing stays the same. They have both been laying down/flopping, binkying, grooming themselves, eating, etc. so they are definitely comfortable around each other. They have been left alone several times for 45 minutes (or more) with no issues.

Behavioral Problems:
1. Nipping. Theo still nips Will if he is in the way or if he is bugging Theo. At the beginning this was often but now it is less common. I have punished Theo for nipping by spraying him with a water bottle or putting a grease splatter guard between them, and it has seemed to have worked. However, since Will has been nipped several times he is too scared to be by Theo. If Theo comes near Will, he runs away. Sometimes Will goes up to Theo, but if Theo steps towards Will at all, Will gets scared and runs off. How do I encourage them to be near one another when Will is scared of Theo?
Example: Just a minute ago Will was sleeping and Theo ran up to him and sniffed him. Will got nervous and ran off, even though Theo did nothing to hurt him

2. Chasing. Sometimes Theo will chase Will. It never last for more than 3 seconds, and the bunnies are never hurt in the process, but it does happen. To stop this I will spray Theo with a spray bottle, or once again use the grease splatter guard to split them up. I read that chasing is common, it is just one rabbits way of establishing dominance. Should I continue to allow Theo to chase Will or should I stop it as soon as it begins?
- The Bunny Lady says, "A chase is part of the bonding process and should be allowed to continue, while you should break up a fight as soon as it starts... Normal chasing behavior is when one rabbit runs after the other. There will be one rabbit running away and one chasing. Typically, you will start to see a pattern in the relationship where one rabbit (the dominant rabbit) is always doing the chasing. Chasing might be accompanied by a nip that can pull a small tuft of fur but should not include any seriously aggressive biting or lunging where one rabbit is trying to hurt the other rabbit".

3. There is NO Grooming or Laying near each other. It doesn't make sense because they used to lick each other through the cage bars and would flop next to each other, but now that they are in a playpen together they stay far apart when they are resting. I have tried the "banana on one rabbits face" trick and it just resulted in Theo nipping Will. I have done several forced-cuddle sessions, and they went well. Should I continue with the forced cuddles? I've read that some rabbits will never even groom each other until weeks after they are bonded, is that normal? I also ready that sometimes rabbits will never become cuddly and instead be like "roommates". Could that be what's happening?

Thanks for your time! Sorry again for this being so long!
 

WhiteBunnyEcho

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I would recommend more stress bonding along with sharing the playpen. This way they are still strengthening their bond. Either in a carrier, bathtub or on a short car ride. Just so they seek each other’s comfort. Also maybe try swapping stuffed toys while they aren’t in the same pen. Are they neutered?

I bonded my boys before they were fixed and it was super easy with no biting or issues and then after they were reintroduced once healed, it took a year of re-bonding them. Males are definitely a tricky pairing but just be patient! Don’t rush just because you’re scared of having to rehome Will. Just keep at it at their pace. Good luck :)
 

Blue eyes

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It sounds like they are making some excellent progress. Ignoring each other is a positive! No need to force cuddles. If they lay down apart from each other when sharing the pen, that is part of the bonding. They are considered to be "getting along" when they sit relaxed even if they aren't snuggling or too close to each other. That gap between them will gradually get smaller as they remain in that state of seeming to ignore each other.

On that note, I'd skip the banana "trick" too. Let them continue on their positive track. So far they've been together for 9 hours yesterday and 6 hours today -- no fights. That's great! Having them in side by side pens while you're gone shouldn't be an issue. Hopefully they'll pick up right where they left off.

Even though Will is a bit nervous, he's still sitting comfortably in the same area as Theo. Eventually he should start seeing that Theo isn't always aggressive (for ex. what you just described of Theo coming over just to sniff but nervous Will hopped away.) If Theo is not then chasing him down, then Will will start to get the idea.

There is no one way when it comes to bonding a pair of rabbits. You know your rabbits best so lean upon what your gut tells you. If something feels wrong, don't feel compelled to do it.

I am not of the thought that chasing and even some nipping is fine. I imagine others have had a measure of success if they promote this. The bonding attempts I've seen that escalated to too much chasing did not end well. I'm also not a fan of stress bonding. I think it gives the human a false sense that the rabbits are getting along when that truce lasts only as long as they feel that stress. Then it can go right back to "oh, fellow rabbit, I still hate you."

Be patient. From what you've described, you seem to be on the right track. They are making progress. Continue on. No fighting is progress. Ignoring each other is progress too.
 

Mariam+Theo

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I would recommend more stress bonding along with sharing the playpen. This way they are still strengthening their bond. Either in a carrier, bathtub or on a short car ride. Just so they seek each other’s comfort. Also maybe try swapping stuffed toys while they aren’t in the same pen. Are they neutered?

I bonded my boys before they were fixed and it was super easy with no biting or issues and then after they were reintroduced once healed, it took a year of re-bonding them. Males are definitely a tricky pairing but just be patient! Don’t rush just because you’re scared of having to rehome Will. Just keep at it at their pace. Good luck :)
Thanks for your response! I really hate stress bonding and have avoided it for this whole bonding process, but I have nothing against going back to the laundry basket so they are closer together. They are both neutered, and I have been swapping them from side-by-side playpens every day for the past several months so nothing feels like their toy anymore. They both have stuffed animals but have never been interested in them. Maybe since they've never been cuddly with the stuffed animals they have no interest in cuddling with each other?

It sounds like they are making some excellent progress. Ignoring each other is a positive! No need to force cuddles. If they lay down apart from each other when sharing the pen, that is part of the bonding. They are considered to be "getting along" when they sit relaxed even if they aren't snuggling or too close to each other. That gap between them will gradually get smaller as they remain in that state of seeming to ignore each other.

On that note, I'd skip the banana "trick" too. Let them continue on their positive track. So far they've been together for 9 hours yesterday and 6 hours today -- no fights. That's great! Having them in side by side pens while you're gone shouldn't be an issue. Hopefully they'll pick up right where they left off.

Even though Will is a bit nervous, he's still sitting comfortably in the same area as Theo. Eventually he should start seeing that Theo isn't always aggressive (for ex. what you just described of Theo coming over just to sniff but nervous Will hopped away.) If Theo is not then chasing him down, then Will will start to get the idea.

There is no one way when it comes to bonding a pair of rabbits. You know your rabbits best so lean upon what your gut tells you. If something feels wrong, don't feel compelled to do it.

I am not of the thought that chasing and even some nipping is fine. I imagine others have had a measure of success if they promote this. The bonding attempts I've seen that escalated to too much chasing did not end well. I'm also not a fan of stress bonding. I think it gives the human a false sense that the rabbits are getting along when that truce lasts only as long as they feel that stress. Then it can go right back to "oh, fellow rabbit, I still hate you."

Be patient. From what you've described, you seem to be on the right track. They are making progress. Continue on. No fighting is progress. Ignoring each other is progress too.
Thank you! This is SO helpful! I don't want to rush them into anything, I know it takes time for them to trust one another.
I will make sure Theo is stopped any time he chases/nips Will.


Edit: Just wondering, is it risky for me to leave the room for 30 minutes-1 hour?
 

Blue eyes

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I'd try to stay within earshot of them if possible, but go with what feels right. The answer will change as they progress.
 

DoubleTrouble

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Personally, for me I did marathon bonding, riskier I believe but faster and what I have read results in a strong bond, It is the way I bonded my rabbits, took about 2 weeks in a 2 by 5 pen. They were forced to be near each other which I think strengthened their bond. I did do it over summer break however so I was able to stay home most of the time. Spring break is coming up, so if you would like you could attempt it then. The longer they stay together in my experience the better.
 

Tercar88

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Hello everyone! I'm sure most of y'all do not know me or remember me since it has been months since I have been on the forum, but hopefully, you can help me. So much has happened since I last posted, one of which is I adopted a new bunny!
I posted back in May asking if I should attempt to bond my current rabbit Theo with a family friends bunny Jack (who is now named Will). Long story short, my parents did not want me to get another rabbit, but the family that owned Will was doing an awful job taking care of him - to the point that it was almost animal abuse/neglect - so I was allowed to take him on one condition. That condition was that Theo and Will had to bond, and if they did not bond Will would have to be re-homed.

I took all the necessary precautions before adopting Will because I was determined that this was going to work. Theo went to visit Will to make sure they got along, and the meeting went great! When we got home from the visit Theo was confined in a playpen in my room for several weeks before bringing Will home so there would be somewhat neutral territory in my room. I cleaned my entire room with vinegar, replaced all the rugs and carpets I could, washed all the blankets and pillows, and bought lots of new stuff for Will so he wouldn't feel threatened entering Theo's territory. I set up bonding pens in my room and after giving Will some time to settle in I begin swapping the bunnies from pen to pen every day. Swapping the bunnies went well until Theo got territorial of his pen and after being moved he would start running back and forth in his pen chasing Will who was in the opposite pen (he was never actually able to get to him because of the playpens). Another thing that concerned me was whenever I would clean their playpens Theo would bite Will through the cage bars. Normally, the playpens were separated by 3 inches, but when I was cleaning, the bunny whose pen was being cleaned would free-roam in my room.

I swapped the bunnies every day for 3 weeks before putting them together in a laundry basket in neutral territory. BTW I was always watching them, ready to split up a fight and prevent them from hurting one another. First, it was just constant nipping from Theo. He was never breaking the skin, but constantly nipping Will! They would be sitting there quietly and calm and then suddenly Theo would turn on him and bite him. Will wouldn't react, and I would use a gloved hand to block the bites. After 5 bonding sessions of this, Will started getting annoyed and would thump and try to nip Theo back, which of course I would not allow. To finish every bonding session on a good note I would force them to cuddle and once they were in their playpens they would receive a treat. At this point, I decided to take a break from the bonding sessions for a week because it was stressing me out and I had a lot of school.

After the break, I tried another bonding session and this time nothing happened. They sat there for 15 minutes not moving! I shook the basket lightly to see what they would do and they looked and hopped around, but completely ignored each other. That was my last bonding session because I honestly don't know what to do next! I think they want to be friends because they are always looking at each other and flopping by each other, but the nipping is what scares me. I really don't want either of them to get hurt and I know one of them will if I continue the bonding process. Since they have been doing good should I go the next step and give them more room? And I read that as long as they are not hurting each other it is ok for them to nip each other since it will just pull out a little fur? I don't know about that though, that just seems wrong.
Hopefully, someone with experience with this can just tell me what to do since I can't make up my mind?

Sorry this is so long! I've included some pictures of the bunnies to apologize (ignore the crazy molt patterns! Theo is a mini rex and after trying more brushes than I can count he still sheds like crazy😅) Thanks in advance!
-Mariam, Theo, and Will
I give you HUGE credit for all this effort and hope you have eventual success. We have 2 neutered males and their cages with 1/4" wire added are side by side so at least they have been known to lean against each other. Our one attempt to bring them together briefly was scary with the smaller aggressive bun getting a nasty bite out of his leg by the larger docile bun who had enough of him mounting his face. We are retirees with grandkids so somewhat resigned to this setup. Looking into hiring a socializing service person from our local rabbit rescue maybe (?). Good luck!!
 

Mariam+Theo

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Personally, for me I did marathon bonding, riskier I believe but faster and what I have read results in a strong bond, It is the way I bonded my rabbits, took about 2 weeks in a 2 by 5 pen. They were forced to be near each other which I think strengthened their bond. I did do it over summer break however so I was able to stay home most of the time. Spring break is coming up, so if you would like you could attempt it then. The longer they stay together in my experience the better.
I had wanted to do that but I have school every day from 7:30-3:00 and then have volleyball or work until 5. I also work every weekend, this week is spring break and I’m working 9 hours a day. The next time I will be home for 24 hours is gonna be in May because I work all the time :( I know they need to be together as much as possible, so right now I’m putting them together every afternoon when I get home from work/school and then separating them when I leave for work/school the next morning. Once they’ve done this for a while and they aren’t nipping/chasing each other anymore and I feel comfortable leaving them alone I’ll leave them together while I’m at school (my mom will still be home to check on them throughout the day). After that we’ll just see what happens! Thanks for the tip though! I love hearing successful bonding stories since it gives me hope🤞😂
 

Mariam+Theo

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I give you HUGE credit for all this effort and hope you have eventual success. We have 2 neutered males and their cages with 1/4" wire added are side by side so at least they have been known to lean against each other. Our one attempt to bring them together briefly was scary with the smaller aggressive bun getting a nasty bite out of his leg by the larger docile bun who had enough of him mounting his face. We are retirees with grandkids so somewhat resigned to this setup. Looking into hiring a socializing service person from our local rabbit rescue maybe (?). Good luck!!
Thank you! That’s so scary, are the rabbits ok now? Hopefully they will bond, I know from experience how awful housing two rabbits separately is.
So far my bunnies have only nipped and pulled fur. I’m really glad they still have their winter coats so they haven’t gotten hurt. Surprisingly there has been no mounting, but they have still figured out the dominance thing. I’m still terrified they’re gonna start fighting, I have read so many stories of rabbits being friends and then turning on one another 😬
 

PeanutsPlace

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I also used marathon bonding, as you can see in my profile picture they are bonded! (that's from day 5 of marathon bonding) Maybe you could try it over a weekend, or take off work for a few days? It will be tiring as you can't sleep too much as you will have to watch them but worth it in the end! As of now, (I bonded them back in august) they are inseparable. They follow each other around and love to flop near each other, it's too cute! For me, a few days off work and a little less sleep were worth all the time I save by not taking care of two separate rabbits.
Hope it goes well!
-Peanuts Place xx
 

Tercar88

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Thank you! That’s so scary, are the rabbits ok now? Hopefully they will bond, I know from experience how awful housing two rabbits separately is.
So far my bunnies have only nipped and pulled fur. I’m really glad they still have their winter coats so they haven’t gotten hurt. Surprisingly there has been no mounting, but they have still figured out the dominance thing. I’m still terrified they’re gonna start fighting, I have read so many stories of rabbits being friends and then turning on one another 😬
Yes they are great aside having their free range hours separate when they could be free range 24/7 when we are home. I just wonder if our bossy little netherland dwarf will ever change and appreciate a docile cuddy friend. He was Neutered 18 months the week we got him. He has never approached an adult human for affection only food. He will then "allow" 15-20 seconds of petting lowering his head a few time if you retreat but soon dashes off. He was orig owned by a 10 yr old girl who had no time for him (prob in a tiny cage with little free range). We were shocked after 18 months here when he approached our 4 yr old granddaughter in the living room with no food around! He seems bonded to human female child from young age perhaps? The marathon bonding may be our only hope.
 

Tercar88

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Adorable! Marathon bonding it is then. One question about where you did this? They say it must be an open area with neutral ground where they have no history Both have utilized every room in our home other than the basement bathroom and with small rooms with furniture we cannot access them easily. Where or how did you overcome this?
 

Tercar88

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I give you HUGE credit for all this effort and hope you have eventual success. We have 2 neutered males and their cages with 1/4" wire added are side by side so at least they have been known to lean against each other. Our one attempt to bring them together briefly was scary with the smaller aggressive bun getting a nasty bite out of his leg by the larger docile bun who had enough of him mounting his face. We are retirees with grandkids so somewhat resigned to this setup. Looking into hiring a socializing service person from our local rabbit rescue maybe (?). Good luck!!
Update: My bossy little netherland was seen today sticking his nose out through a space & repeatedly allowing our sweet larger bun to lick it. I have hope & excitement that bonding attempts may be different now. Woohoo!!🥰
 

Mariam+Theo

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I’ve got GREAT news! Theo and Will are bonded (hopefully it will stay this way)!!!!! I took the weekend off from work because I had prom and since they had already been doing great during bonding sessions I wasn’t worried about leaving them alone while I was away. They have been together for 3 days straight now, no fights or chasing. Some threats of nipping from Theo, but nothing too bad. And little disagreements are normal at the beginning! They still are not cuddling or grooming each other very much, but they have been following each other around and laying near one another so I have high hopes! I have moved them into a new playpen that they will stay in for a week or so. After that I will start freeroaming them slowly.
I’m a little nervous about freeroaming because Will was never freeroamed at his old home because he is very destructive (the complete opposite of Theo who is normally very good about leaving my stuff alone). I’ve bunny proofed before and most things in my room are already bunny proofed, but I guess I’m just gonna have to pick up after myself a little better than I have in the past 😅

Thanks so much for everyone’s tips! I couldn’t have bonded them without you!
 

Mariam+Theo

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Here is their space for now! Will was given to me with a small wire cage which I took apart and put back together to make a gate 😅 Playpens are too expensive!2CD48D76-148A-4468-82FA-CEA3462915A9.jpeg
 

PeanutsPlace

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here’s a little note id like to add, it is possible that theo had picked up destructivenesses trait from your second bun, or vise versa, my two rabbits had totally different personalities before meeting, then my new bunny learned some bad habits from my previous rabbit, but also taught him to not nip me and just to nudge me. The first rabbit has also come out of his shell and is less timid and scared by noise, it’s so cute to see them picking up habits from eachother. Another really funny one is my second rabbit is a very loud rabbit, she likes to make a lot of sounds when she’s mad, and happy sounds when she eating treats and being pet, recently i’ve seen my second rabbit start to make the same sounds, it’s utterly hilarious to me!
 
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