The pros and cons of having a pair of bonded rabbits, the long term aspects to consider and how to provide enough companionship for a single rabbit...
If you are wondering whether to get one rabbit or two, or whether to get a companion for your existing rabbit, this article aims to give you an idea of what to expect, and the pros and cons of single versus bonded rabbits.
Rabbits are gregarious by nature and need almost constant companionship to avoid emotional suffering. If you have outdoor rabbits, they must be kept in pairs or groups, or at the very least within sight and sound of another rabbit. House rabbits, on the other hand, can be kept as singles in the right conditions.
Single house rabbits
A house rabbit is one which has no restrictions on its freedom and is not confined to a cage at any time i.e. it should be thought of in the same terms as a house cat or dog. In this scenario your rabbit is very likely to form a bond with you, following you around, lying down at your feet, perhaps even sleeping in your bed. If you work from home and/or are at home most evenings and weekends, this is enough companionship for your rabbit and being the sole recipient of a rabbit's love is very fulfilling and heart warming. For those who cannot afford more than one or are unsure about committing to two rabbits, this is ideal.
The downside of single rabbits is the question of whether they will pine for you when you go on holiday or even away for a weekend. The best thing is to ask a friend or family member to stay in your house while you are away in order to provide the same level of companionship that the rabbit is used to.
Bonded pair house rabbits
Watching two rabbits fall in love and form a deeper bond with every passing day is a truly wonderful experience. Bonded rabbits sleep together, eat together, groom each other, play with toys together etc and have 'rabbit chats'. As much as we try, human companionship can never fully replicate this bond. This is not to say that you will be excluded; from a rabbit's viewpoint, the more the merrier as they are designed to live in large communities and a pair of bonded house rabbits will include the humans in their 'warren'.
However, two rabbits are more of a commitment and not just in terms of cost; it is important to think about the long term implications. At some point, one of the rabbits will die and leave a grieving partner. Most bonded rabbits do not adjust well to becoming a single rabbit again, so you are effectively committing to having bonded rabbits in your life for the foreseeable future. You have to be prepared to go through the bonding process again and again, with all the stress this can entail.
All rabbits are individuals and it takes experience and judgement to know what is the right thing to do for them. Some may move on quickly from a death, accepting a new partner within weeks or even days. Others may take months to get over it and will fiercely reject a new rabbit at first. Bonding rabbits takes time and patience and you must be prepared for any possibility and have suitable seperate long term accommodation in place.
On the flipside, you may be quite happy to have two rabbits forever but your rabbits may have different ideas. In some cases, a rabbit may grieve its partner so deeply that it will never accept another rabbit. This can also be difficult if you are used to having two rabbits in the house and may leave you feeling deprived and sad for your remaining rabbit.
Obviously two rabbits will cost more than one in terms of food, litter, veterinary costs etc. Rabbits can develop serious long term health problems such as dental disease and of course the risk of encountering this increases with the more rabbits you have. Rabbits may sometimes fight on reintroduction after a period of separation, so it is advisable to check with your vets that they have the facilities to keep both rabbits in overnight if necessary.
Making the right decision
In general, living in a bonded pair as free range house rabbits is probably the most ideal way for rabbits to live as they have companionship both from you and from another rabbit. It takes more work than you might think as all rabbits are different and their relationships (like our humans ones!) are often complex. However, if you are able to make the commitment and are prepared for the extra cost and time involved, it is a very rewarding experience. Please refer to the links below for more information on bonded rabbits, the bonding process, rabbit bereavement and companionship.