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Thread: Scared bunny during bonding - help/advice

  1. #1

    Default Scared bunny during bonding - help/advice

    Hi, I've been attempting to bond my female rabbit to a male friend (both neutered) for about a month now, but she is very scared during the bonding sessions. Neither of them has hurt the other one, but there have been a few scuffles between them (no proper fights, just a bit of chasing and the odd bit of defensive lunging from her and a bit of nipping from him). We intervened whenever it looked as though things could potentially escalate and distracted them momentarily until they calmed down.

    They had one really good session where she was more comfortable and he was a bit more scared for some reason, which made him a bit more respectful of her space, and she was happily exploring and even groomed him for a bit. He has also groomed her once before that (we did encourage that with the aid of banana on her head). Aside from that, most of their sessions have been pretty similar - she sits in a corner breathing really fast and shaking slightly, or looking really ****** off, he comes up to her and she either lunges or grunts at him (not trying to hurt him, just 'back off') or just sits there and then he gets frustrated at her not interacting with him/grooming him/playing with him and nips her or just hops around her as if she isn't there. He's quite keen to interact with her and is quite excited about the whole thing, but she's much less confident about him.

    They are both rescues and she was previously bonded to her daughter who recently passed away (so has definitely had some interaction with male rabbits before, but we don't know any more than that about her past experiences). He was abandoned in a park with a group of other bunnies when young, presumably his litter mates, and had been living on his own at the rescue for a couple of months.

    She is a bit more relaxed now than she was - she will eat with him in there most sessions and will move around a little bit more, so they are making progress, but it seems like her fear is what's holding them back. I'm honestly surprised she's acting this way as she was usually dominant and bossy with her daughter. However, as the one session she wasn't as scared went so much better, my question is does anyone have any advice about how I can help her feel calmer or more relaxed?

    We put hay and veggies in with them and a towel on the floor so she isn't slipping around. One of us is always in with them and providing strokes/reassurance when needed or distraction for him if he gets agitated. We've also tried tiring him out first so he isn't so excitable, by making sure he gets his exercise in the run before the session, which has helped a little (he's younger and faster than her and his sudden movements/binkies freak her out). We've tried increasing the space and making it smaller and settled on a middle ground (approx 2-3 ft x 2-3 ft). We've also added in hidey houses and a litter tray, plenty of toys etc. The hidey house and litter tray help her chill out, but cause more aggression between them as she sits in there and defends her 'spot' if he tries to come into it, which he sometimes respects and sometimes doesn't.

    Has anyone got any suggestions of other things we could try to calm her down? Would something like rescue remedy or calming herbs help, or maybe adding in a toy or something that smells like her? Or should we try to stress him out/tire him out more so they're both the same level of scared/tired? (I wouldn't normally suggest this, we've been deliberately avoiding stress bonding, but things did go better when he was a bit more nervous/scared). Having to get her into a carrier before each session isn't helping either - she hates this, but then she hates being picked up too and we have to get her to a neutral space somehow!

  2. #2
    Wise Old Thumper
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
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    IOW
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    It sounds to me that they need to sort themselves out and can't do that where they are. I have always used a biggish space and what always happens unless the 2 rabbits get along immediately, is the boy chases the girl, she runs away, and this carries on for 2 or 3 days until the girl gets more used to him. They then start to settle down together. The way you are doing it makes it impossible for her to begin to trust him and she is stuck in this fear position. Where will they be living when together?

  3. #3

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    Hi, thanks for the reply. When they are together they will be in a big shed and run set-up in the garden. This is where they both currently are as well, but we've set up a pen for him inside this area (there's a double layer of mesh with a gap between so neither can hurt the other through the bars). We've been giving him exercise time either in the run or shed (with her in the other area of course) and letting her explore his pen while he's in the run so they can get used to each others smells, and swapping toys, litter, etc between the areas. This is technically 'her' shed (this is where she's always lived with us), but I'm planning on sterilising it and changing a lot of the toys/general stuff in there before they move in together properly.

    We're currently bonding in a pen in the living room. We did try a slightly larger area for bonding when we realised she wanted some space from him - about 5ftx4ft I think, maybe a little larger, but that seemed to make him more dominant/aggressive towards her and she still hid in the corner, so we swapped back. Hidey houses/litter trays tend to result in her hiding in them and making that her own little 'territory'. He seems to either not be picking up on her signals or ignoring them and continues to approach her anyway. What size area would you recommend? Is bigger better or will it make them more territorial?

    I've also been wondering if stopping giving them food might help - I know she's pretty food possessive and lunges when I put food down for her and he was apparently pretty tiny and hadn't been getting his share of the food when they found him. She hasn't been attacking him for eating it or anything, but it might be making her more territorial. He carries on eating pretty much regardless of what she's doing, she will sometimes eat and sometimes not depending on how scared she is. Just a thought, what do you think?

  4. #4

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    Also, could you maybe let me know what your usual bonding process is tonibun? It seems like you have a lot of experience with these things, so that could be very helpful for me and any others having similar difficulties

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