Socialize Rabbits: a New Animal in the Group

Rabbit lovers know: It is not good for a bum to be alone. Social animals need at least one conspecific in order to be able to lead a rabbit-friendly life. If the group is to grow or a new partner animal is added after death, your sensitivity is required to successfully integrate the newcomer. Read here what you should pay particular attention to.

Why Does a Rabbit Need Company?

Rabbits are extremely social animals. In contrast to natural loners such as hamsters, rabbits live in nature in large colonies, within which family groups play a major role: related animals recognize each other by their smell. Their sociability and high fertility mean that the colonies can grow very large under favorable conditions. Rabbits need group protection, even if they are in human care – keeping them alone is not appropriate to the species.

Which Animals Can I Socialize?

The myth persists that a rabbit is happy even in the company of a guinea pig. This assumption is wrong, however, and is primarily due to the more practical thinking of humans: rabbits and guinea pigs have very similar demands when it comes to their keeping and care. In addition, many believe that the smaller body size of the guinea pig justifies less space. But that’s the wrong approach. Rabbits and guinea pigs can be kept together in a larger outdoor enclosure, but at best this is a peaceful coexistence – this is by no means an ideal keeping.

Rabbits and guinea pigs are completely different species, each with its own repertoire of social behavior and body language. The animals cannot communicate adequately with one another, misunderstandings and conflicts are programmed and, depending on their temperament, can lead to arguments or harassment of the weaker animal. Keeping a single rabbit with a guinea pig would roughly correspond to the living community of a person with a gorilla. Socialization with rodents such as chinchillas, hamsters, or gerbils is of course out of the question. Rabbits need other rabbits.

What Do I Have to Consider If I Want to Bring Rabbits Together?

Reuniting rabbits is one of the most delicate issues in rabbit keeping. With a little sure instinct and good preparation, it is not that difficult to create a harmonious relationship between the animals.

How Do I Prepare to Socialize the Rabbits?

If you want to add a single new rabbit to an existing group or partner, make sure the newcomer is neutered and vaccinated. As a precaution, keep a two to four-week quarantine period before you let the animals together. Avoid simply putting the newcomer in the enclosure with the long-established residents: The territory owners could seriously attack the newcomer when trying to defend their area. Especially females are very careful to defend territorial claims and to use their home advantage to the detriment of the newcomer. The animals should also have no visual or olfactory contact before their first contact: rabbits have an urgent need to clarify questions of ranking. If this is not possible due to spatial separation, these instincts run nowhere and can build up into serious aggression. The first contact should take place on neutral terrain so that none of the animals defends territorial claims. Set up a social enclosure in which each animal has its own food bowl and shelter so that there are no disputes about resources. In preparation, you can try alternately rubbing the two rabbits with the same cloth so that the stable odor of the existing rabbit passes over to the newcomer.

The first encounter between the rabbits can lead to disturbing scenes. Prepare for the rabbits to attack, chase, pluck, and fight each other. This is normal, natural behavior: As group animals, the rabbits must immediately clarify which position they hold in the hierarchy. Do not intervene unless a serious injury occurs. In this case, you should stop the experiment and repeat it after fourteen days. Apart from such emergencies, it pays to be patient: socializations often fail because the keepers intervene too early and thus rob the rabbits of the chance to sound out their relationship with one another. Let the animals fight for their position. The merging is successful as soon as the animals eat peacefully next to each other and, in the best case, even seek physical contact with each other. However, this can take a few days.

Social Methods

  • Stable smell: When you bring rabbits into the house for the first time, it is advisable to choose littermates in the case of young animals or a mother with offspring.
  • Old acquaintances: With older animals, you should ideally choose animals that are already known to each other. For example, shelter animals that are adopted from there with a conspecific are a good choice.
  • Gender pairing: If you don’t plan to breed rabbits, socializing with an opposite-sex couple has proven to be the best option. Both animals should be neutered: This will prevent unwanted offspring and the males from being harassed by females in heat.
  • Separate groups: A tried and tested means of preventing offspring is also the socialization of same-sex animals. Here, too, the rammers should be castrated in order to prevent overly brutal arguments in disputes about the hierarchy.
  • Character animals: Try to choose rabbits whose nature matches the animals you already have.
  • A hyperactive hop can cause too much unrest in a group of rather cozy rabbits, while an overly dominant animal can put too much pressure on peace-loving conspecifics.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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