EVERY BUNNY NEEDS SOME BUNNY TO LOVE
The decision to share your life and home with a house rabbit is not one to be taken lightly. The decision to take on a second companion house bunny should be approached with equal gravity and planning. Of course my husband and I did not take this sound advice when we bought our first bunny, an Orange Rex called Kellogg, from a local pet shop. Our preparatory work was just as lacking when we took on a second rabbit a year later, this time courtesy of Cottontails. This article charts our progress to provide a happy and secure home for our house bunnies, focusing on the introduction of the two rabbits.
From the moment we got Kellogg home our knowledge of house rabbits rose rapidly as we read books, looked at internet sites and made contact with other house rabbit exponents like Lulu James. Kellogg settled into our one bedroom flat very well and I even won a prize for “the most imaginative house rabbit environment” in a competition! There was one problem however. Whenever my husband and I went away for the weekend Kellogg would get very lonely and depressed, often ignoring us for a few days on our return, as “punishment”. Getting Kellogg some rabbity company seemed the obvious solution and this did indeed prove to be the perfect answer to his loneliness.
I approached Lulu to ask if she had any suitable companions for Kellogg and she suggested a foster bunny called Juliet. An initial introduction at Lulu’s seemed to go smoothly, Kellogg being particularly enthusiastic, so Juliet came home with us. However, their first introduction at home that night did not go as well. The two bunnies had a big fight in the lounge, with Kellogg very much on the receiving end. I became very upset and poor Juliet had to be returned to Lulu the next day.
It was clear I had to be far more prepared if Kellogg was to have a friend. I had to be ready for fighting and for the possibility that Kellogg, our gorgeous bunny, might be toppled from his position as top rabbit. I also needed to plan far more carefully exactly where and when introductions would occur and where the newcomer would live while the introduction process was proceeding.
After a couple of months gap to ensure I was really ready this time, we adopted Jeanine, a white Netherland Dwarf rabbit who was terrified of the mere sight of Kellogg. She also proved that not all rabbits are destined to be companions however patient you are, as Kellogg simply ignored her. With the other rabbits Kellogg always showed interest, whether it was hostile or not, but poor Jeanine was completely blanked. We set up a pen in the lounge for her and Kellogg never investigated it once. During their introduction sessions it was as if Jeanine did not exist to Kellogg. After eight days fruitless trial Jeanine was returned too. We could not introduce the rabbits when one would not even admit the existence of the other! We needed a candidate that Kellogg would at least acknowledge, whether he liked the bunny or not, and one bunny he certainly did not like the look of was the next one we brought home, beautiful Miss Daisy.
When Kellogg met Daisy
Daisy is a French Lop, slightly younger than Kellogg, and we were her fifth home. When I initially met Daisy she had already been reserved but various fates conspired meaning she was still at Lulu’s two weeks later. After a rather shaky introduction at Lulu’s (Daisy only bit Kellogg once) Daisy was duly installed in the pen in our lounge. From the very first evening Kellogg and her regularly did battle through the caging.
The neutral territory for their introductions was going to be our hallway and bathroom. The pattern for their first couple of encounters was similar. Kellogg and Daisy would meet, Daisy would bite Kellogg, Kellogg would hide shaking behind the bathroom door and Daisy would then have an uninterrupted run around the hall. This I found quite upsetting, seeing Kellogg unhappy and once more on the receiving end of bites, but I realised that this was the only way they would eventually become friends. Unfortunately Kellogg was not feeling in a friendly mood after these initial meetings. He seemed to realise that merely hiding was not making the other rabbit go away. This now made him angry and the problems really began as Kellogg made a stand for his territory and his position as top rabbit.
So the fighting began. The two rabbits were quite vicious towards each other and the idea of using a water pistol to stop them became completely ineffective. We took to throwing pint glasses of water over them both as the only way to make them desist. Or rather my husband did as I found it far too stressful to take part in these sessions. I took over from Kellogg in hiding behind the door. It was little comfort reading what the books said on rabbit introductions that it was normal for them to fight or for my husband to remind me they had to sort out who was the boss, etc. Both rabbits (and my husband) ended up with bite and scratch marks. Kellogg also sported a rather large bald patch on his back where Daisy had been especially successful in grabbing a mouthful of hair. These bruising encounters probably lasted about two weeks. The rabbits were being introduced on average every two days, as my nerves could not take any more! By this time I was in despair, would these two adversaries ever be friends?
Driving Miss Daisy (and Kellogg)
At this time we were renting a cottage in Gloucestershire. Most weekends and holidays we would drive there with Kellogg in his travelling box. Now there were two rabbits off to the countryside. I had read about introductions in the car so I decided to try it. Both rabbits were placed on the car’s back seat in their own separate travelling box, facing each other end on. I started the car engine and then took off the wire frontage of each cage. At the time I had the idea the rabbits could look at each other, while safely in the confines of their own box. To my horror Kellogg at once hopped from his box into Daisy’s. These were the rabbits that only the day before had ripped fur and flesh from each other! However, the terror of being in the car overcame any recent animosity and Kellogg found Daisy to be far more useful as a barricade to hide behind. Daisy was left to face the open end of the box alone. So the journey started. About twenty minutes later I checked on them. The initial terror had worn off and now Kellogg found Daisy not only a useful barrier but also doubling rather nicely as a warm, soft cushion. If I explain that Kellogg is the larger of the two rabbits and let’s say “big for his frame size” you will see the picture of a rather squashed Daisy peering out from under a mass of orange fur. But she wasn’t complaining so I left them to it, knowing we finally had a breakthrough in the rabbity affair.
A second breakthrough came while we were staying in Gloucestershire, with the arrival of my husband’s parents and their two dogs. One of the dogs was not really interested in the rabbits and preferred eating the rabbit droppings to looking at the bunnies. However, the other dog, Cathy, found them fascinating and greatly enjoyed “rabbit watching”. The presence of a mutual enemy united the rabbits. They found great comfort in the security of huddling together inside their pen. Fighting was forgotten at these times.
By now Daisy had been with us for about a month. The car journeys and change of location had really helped the rabbity relationship. Back in London their introductions developed into a regular pattern. There would be a daily car ride followed by an introduction session in our hallway. Kellogg would tolerate Daisy for a little while. He would wash himself while sitting next to her, or wash Daisy. This would last a few harmonious minutes then Kellogg would bite Daisy again. Kellogg clearly still had some way to go to conquer his fear and jealousy of having another rabbit in his territory, but Daisy by this time was smitten and just took it all. I still found the encounters upsetting at times. I really wanted them to be friends but Kellogg still seemed very unsure of himself, even though he was emerging as top rabbit. It was also sometimes hard to find the daily time and patience that was still needed while Kellogg overcame his doubts. And yes, I did still sometimes wonder if he would ever be really settled and happy with Daisy around.
The final phase of Daisy and Kellogg becoming friends was really initiated and paced by Daisy herself. She was still living in her lounge pen but escaping from it with increasing regularity. This was obviously in part to gain her freedom, but she also used her freedom to gain access to Kellogg. Once out from her pen she would get as near to Kellogg as she dared. If she got too close for his comfort he gave her a warning nip and she would back off a little. Yet she was never frightened off by Kellogg’s unfriendly gestures. She did not hide or run to the other side of the room. She just moved a shade distant and then slowly manoeuvred closer again. I left her pen erected in case she needed a place of escape and refuge, but once free, she never willingly went in there again. In fact the only one to go into the pen after this was Kellogg, who was thrilled to find the location of another food bowl. So the pen was dismantled and Daisy persevered with her own introduction process. Gradually she gained her way into all aspects of Kellogg’s life. This is certainly not an introductory process advocated by the books, but it suited Daisy. If she had ever shown fear in the face of Kellogg’s nips or avoided Kellogg once she was free, then we would have persevered with the more conventional introductory means. But once out, Daisy never wanted to leave Kellogg’s side again. Kellogg’s jealousy and uncertainty was won over bit by bit in the following month, until Daisy and he could be found cuddling up together under his favourite chair. Daisy had finally made it!
Was it all worth it? Absolutely. Our initial goal of finding Kellogg a friend worked better than we could have imagined. Kellogg gets more than bunny friendship with Daisy, he gets bunny hero worship. He now has no problem with us going away and is generally a far more contented and confident rabbit. Daisy follows him around faithfully, copying everything he does. Kellogg meanwhile will always come back to look for her if for some reason she has not followed him on his latest adventure. He also finds it necessary to ensure that Daisy gets regularly and thoroughly cleaned (Kellogg finds inside her ears particularly dirty).
The whole process from the day I brought Daisy home to inseparable loving companions took about three months. The fighting lasted about two weeks. After about one month I could leave them alone loose together with the confidence they would not harm each other, even if Daisy was not allowed free access to all parts of Kellogg’s territory. I would certainly recommend getting a companion bunny because I can see Kellogg is far happier now, but I would also urge planning and thought about any additions to a rabbity family. The fighting I found particularly upsetting and it was lucky my husband was willing to referee those bouts. Determination, patience and a faith that the rabbits will eventually be friends are needed. Of course, not all introductions are so fraught and sometimes no fighting occurs or just the occasional scuffle. I hope our experience will help if the worst happens and your bunny takes a strong dislike to his new friend. The rewards are great when bunny love finally blossoms, as Kellogg and Daisy have proved.