Thursday, November 13, 2008

Question from the Audience: To Bond or Not to Bond?

A question from Judi G. in Naperville, IL:
Q: We have a bonded pair of bunnies (2 1/2 yr, spayed female and 1 1/2 yr, neutered male). My son recently was given a baby bunny - she is about 8 weeks old. Should we try to bond them as a threesome? If so, now? Or after the baby is spayed? Are we better off considering a fourth bunny for baby?
The older female is very laid back, so we have allowed her and the baby to be out for playtime together. The first 2 times, she basically ignored the baby, but last time, she attempted to "hump" baby. We separated them and have not let them out together since. Our boy seems very curious about baby and likes to investigate around her cage when he is out. He sometimes tries to nip at her through the cage and sometimes backs away to the corner. I try to keep her from the big bunnies' cage as I realize this is their territory and they will guard it, but she is quick and every now and then gets over there!

A: While bunny bonding is unfortunately not my area of expertise, I can offer some general guidelines about introducing rabbits. Most literature would advise waiting until the the baby has been spayed before allowing her to interact with the grownups. At eight weeks, the baby is nearing sexual maturity (usually at 3.5-4 months for females) which may cause fights to break out between her and the adults, as her increasing hormones make her more of a threat. Besides wanting to avoid injuries, you don't want the rabbits to associate negative memories with each other, as rabbits can, and often do, hold grudges.

You can keep the baby's cage in the same room as the adults so that they get used to each other's smells, as long as no one is getting stressed out by the others' presence and no territorial conflicts ensue. However, since it will still be about four months before the baby can be spayed, it might be wise to keep them separate to avoid confusion and stress. I'd make this judgment call based upon how the adults and baby seem to be reacting.

As you well know, an intact rabbit is less likely to bond with other rabbits, be more aggressive and territorial, and have all sorts of annoying sexual behaviors, so you'll want to spay the baby as soon as safely possible, at around six months. Make sure the baby (or by then "teenager") is completely healed before an introduction. Note that it takes about 3-4 weeks for the sex hormones to filter out of the system, so you'll need to allow time for this to happen. After about a month of healing, you can allow them to interact in a neutral setting.

Personally, I think it's a good idea to take the time to bond the three of them and make sure they all get along, so that everyone is able to be out at all times, and you don't have to keep certain ones caged, while others run around. If you were interested in introducing a fourth to the mix, same sex babies are really easy to put together. (Male-female baby pairings are dangerous, as you are risking a chance for pregnancy.) If you'd like to know more about bonding, the House Rabbit Network has a great and thorough article on bonding rabbits.

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