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How rabbits relate to each other, their hierarchy and behaviour towards each other and common bonded rabbit behaviour...

The way in which rabbits relate to each other is complex and very interesting to observe.  They establish a kind of pecking order even if  there is only two of them and this pecking order may also include the humans in the house.  Relationships vary according to the age, sex and personality of the rabbits involved.

Rabbits are predisposed to living in groups and usually get along fine.  However, it is crucial that all rabbits are de-sexed i.e. either neutered males or spayed females.  Courtship and territorial behaviour are by far the biggest reasons for problems in rabbit bonding.  Introductions should be carried out gradually at least a month after de-sexing to allow the hormones time to reduce.

The most straightforward relationship by far is neutered male and spayed female.  In the wild, rabbits tend to pair up and live in couples within the larger hierarchy of the warren so this is the most natural pairing for domestic rabbits also.

Copying behaviour

A new rabbit introduced into a pair or group will quickly pick up the other rabbit(s) behaviour.  This makes it almost unnecessary to litter train a new rabbit as the existing rabbit(s) will show it what to do.  Similarly, the new rabbit will learn when feeding times are and where to sleep.  To a certain extent, it will also "learn" its relationship with us.  For example, if an existing rabbit has been used to being allowed to jump on the sofa, the new rabbit will assume it can do so also.

Interaction between rabbits

Bonded rabbits spend the majority of their days and nights together.  They tend to visit the litter tray at the same time, eat together and groom together.  A lot of time is spent simply snuggled up together sleeping.  They can become competitive with each other over food and attention from us.  For example, if one of them suspects that the other is being given food it will rush over to ensure it is not being left out.  The rabbits may play together; racing up and down and jumping in the air, dig at the same hole in the garden, or rip up some old newspapers together.

Bonded rabbits often groom each other as a sign of affection and this is a useful indicator of the hierarchy.  Generally speaking, the "top" rabbit will get the most grooming from its rabbit partner(s) and/or its human owners.  Rabbits request grooming by putting their head on the ground or nudging in under the other rabbit's chin.


There are subtle (or not so subtle!) hierarchies in any rabbit relationship.  In the wild, this hierachy is important to keep the peace in a large warren.  House rabbits tend to draw their human owners into this hierarchy also and females in particular can be surprisingly bossy, nipping your feet if they are in her way or jumping on your lap to request food or attention.

As the homemakers, female rabbits are more territorial by nature than male rabbits.  It is much easier to introduce a female rabbit into a male rabbit's living space as he is unlikely to be territorial about it.  However, once settled in she is quite likely to establish herself at the top of the pecking order.  A male rabbit introduced into a female's living space will almost certainly be submissive to her or at least equal.

The importance of "time out"

Even the best of rabbit friends may still sometimes need a break from each other.  House rabbits often spend a couple of hours apart a day sleeping or playing in different areas.  The ability to do this reduces the likelihood of two rabbits fighting.  Caged or hutch rabbits should have enough space, tunnels and boxes that they can choose to be apart when necessary.

Bonded house rabbits with total freedom live in the most natural way possible for a domestic rabbit.  The pleasure of watching rabbits interact and trying to work out what they are "saying" to each other greatly enriches your experience as a rabbit owner.

Tags: behaviour

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