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Rabbits/Brother rabbits increasing bouts of fighting

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Fidget and Foibles
Fidget and Foibles  
Hi Dana,

I have 4x Flemish mixes, all neutered (2x females unrelated, hutched side-by-side) and 2x brothers (sons of my fave girl who I bred from purposefully to create my bunny empire!) they are all toilet trained and although hutched outside take turns spending evenings inside with me.  I'm a confident and proudly responsible bunny owner.

That being said I've never been the best at bunny bonding (a difficult area at the best of times!) and my question is around my two 3 year old boys (brothers) who bonded very early on and stayed bonded while the rest of the litter went their seperate ways.  They have never been apart, physically, for more than a day and are always kept in close proximity even when at the vets (because my vet is very understanding of rabbit, if one has to go, they both have to go!) =:)

As boys/brothers/rabbits do, they have always had the odd minor scuffle.  This seemed cyclical, somehow, although I never managed to link it to any one thing.  Over the last year the "cycles" of skuffling have escalated both in frequency and violence, to the point where I had to take the bigger/seemingly dominent one (Fidget) in to have a cut eye sutured.

It seems now to be related to food and/or space with also jealousy over the toilet area AND the possibility of tooth malloclusion complicating the mix.  They have a one metre deep by 1.5 m wide by 2m high hutch (with 2x seperate shelves) connected by a rabbit-hole-sized entrance to a 2.5m long, 0.5 m wide by 2 m high fully sheltered run (with 1x sleeping shelf above).  

They are fed/watered and have their "bunny dunny" in the hutch and I use the high (long) shelf for food and water and they use the medium (short) shelf for cuddling/sleeping/cleaning (see image).

At breakfast they appear to be snuggled together on their shelf but when I come out the back door with the breakfast tray Fidget turns on Foibles, biting him.  Foibles jumps off the shelf to the bottom of the hutch and either waits at the door or heads for the bunny dunny. If I delay tipping breakfast onto the shelf for too long Fidget jumps down and attacks Foibles again, sending him fleeing into the run area - once there he needs to be physically taken back through to eat with his brother as he appears too shook up to voluntarily re-join.

I know that eating together (along with grooming) is one of the main social bonding events in the bunny world, so have been trying to encourage this.  If I get the food up fast, Fidget bounces up and Foibles follows and they both munch happily away until Fidget decides again to chase Foibles off (the latter is a seemingly random occurance, certainly not daily).

Lately the food shelf has been used as a toilet, which indicates issues for a start and makes a quick morning delivery difficult also as I have to clean first.  

Space-wise I have used cramping them as a bonding tool - I have a long-since dis-used guinea pig hutch 1m long, 0.5m wide and 0.5m high 2/3rds open 1/3rd closed - and if things gets way bad fighting-wise, I put them in that as it is big enough for them to be comfortable in for short durations but small enough to contain any really damaging fighting.

They do seem to get along better if I block off the sheltered run, although I am loathe to do this long-term because it is their only shelter and where they both go to sleep at night, also where Foibles can escape to if the bullying gets too much.  I have toyed with the idea of swapping hutches around but fear swapping them into one of the girls hutches would increase the fighting with "girl smell" being around and also then one of my girls would have to be isolated in a large hutch alone - not ideal!

Foibles also has maloccluded molars on his right, one of which was successfully removed but another that has snapped twice now on attempted removal so we are doing on-going regular grinding.  When he comes back from the vet after grinding I have them both inside and put them in aforementioned guinea hutch at night and only re-introduce them to their "big boy hutch" when I am sure the anaesthetic has worn off.

Inside they are usually fine - I think because they know I am there watching and will stomp them if there's any scuffling, however the last time Fidget came back from a grinding I noticed that even when still groggy he was trying to bite at Foibles.  foibles is also very flighty/spooky (probably as a result of on-going bullying) and now approaches with great caution and ears very forward, which doesn't help.  If Fidget comes bouncing over to him, even in a friendly manner he often spooks, thumps and runs which provokes a bullying response, so it seems to be a vicious cycle.

They used to get along so well, joined at the hip from day dot and very affectionate with grooming (both ways) and I soooo don't want to seperate them so any advice/help would be gratefully accepted and much appreciated.

Oh PS yes (soz, so much info!) the toilet thing is that Foibles often takes refuge on the bunny dunny and refuses to move, meaning Fidget either soils elsewhere (and you know bunnys don't like doing that) or has to bully him off the toilet.  But is this Foibles trying to assert some kind of dominance?  

Many thanks and hopeful smileys ....

XXXX h :)

Answer
Dear Helen,

Oh, man.  I *hate* situations like this.  

Like you, I'm not all that good at force-bonding.  I prefer to let the bunnies choose their own social networks, and when things get rough, you really can't force it.

We recently had an unbonding between two boys who were BEST friends, and now Bips wants to KILL Fuzz whenever he sees him.  We have had to separate them at night so Bips doesn't destroy poor, toothless Fuzz.  

I wonder if your boy senses the weakness in the maloccluded bun and is behaving as rabbits often do:  driving off the perceived "weak/sick" bunny who might attract predators.  This is what we suspect triggers the attacks, though the bunnies are not consciously thinking it.  It is probably hardwired.  :(

That said, there are some things you can try.  The articles here offer some very good tips:

http://search.atomz.com/search/?sp-a=00062824-sp00000000&sp-q=bonding

But none of these will work miracles.  If the dominant one has decided to become a pest, there might be no permanent fix.  

While you can't watch them, you might consider keeping them in the same vicinity, but separated by a puppy-pen fence that they can use to lie side-by-side, but not physically contact each other.  This will help prevent the fighting, and you can see whether the "marriage" can be saved.

I hope the articles above will help.  Good luck,

Dana

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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

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I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:
THE INTERNET IS NOT THE PLACE TO SEEK HELP IN AN EMERGENCY.

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Find a rabbit vet at www.rabbit.org/vet for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.


RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.

Experience

I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Organizations
Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

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Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

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Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology
(http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare)

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