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Question
My 2 year old lionhead dwarf, Treacle, has been showing aggression to the new female companion I rescued.

I have had Treacle since he was born, as when I purchased a friend for his mother, the breeder had sexed the rabbit wrong. After returning the male to the breeder, a month later I had a litter. Treacle was born was an eye defect, where he is blind in one eye, hence the reason we kept him. He lived with his mother until she passed away at the age of eight, December last year.

I have waited for a bit before trying to find Treacle a companion, but last week got in contact with a rescue close to me and rescued a mini rex about 13-weeks old. She has a very placid temperament but is still alittle lively.

I tried to introduce them, in a neutral area of the house, which isnít dominated by either rabbit, and he lunged for her and growled. I have never heard him growl before or show that much aggression. The female was not hurt, as I had grabbed him before he could reach her.

I have another bonded pair of rabbits that didn't need any lengthy introduction, they bonded straight away.

I need some help with understanding why my male is so aggressive lately and how to safely introduce them because none of my older techniques are working.

Btw, my male is neutered.

Answer
Hello Hannah!

Bonding is a tricky thing and doesn't always go as smoothly as your previous experience. First things first, you should understand that not all bunnies are going to get along, regardless of sex. The other thing I would mention is that even though this room is not a room Treacle normally stays in, he didn't have to be "uprooted" to meet his new friend, so these parts of your home are not necessarily neutral territory (a bathtub is probably as neutral as you can get for a meeting space). Another thing to keep in mind is that he has a damaged eye. Not only is he a prey animal - meaning his instinct is always defensive - but he's also got even more reduced vision capabilities, so he's on super-high alert all the time. He may take a while to settle into the idea of a friend. That being said, this is also not a hopeless situation. In addition, I applaud you for going to a rescue for a companion.

A few questions - is your mini-rex fixed? At 13 weeks she might be a little too young to do something like that, but that could be playing a part in why Treacle is so aggressive. Also, how did you select this particular new bun for Treacle? Did the rescue offer any type of "speed dating" to help you pick out a good bun-panion for him?

Getting to your main issue, here are a few things you can do to introduce them:

1) Bathtub meetings! As I mentioned above, the bathtub is the MOST neutral place in your home. Try lining the tub with some towels (so they don't slip) and introducing them there - start them on opposite sides, not right next to each other. I must stress here that this must ALWAYS be supervised.

2) Separate living areas where the bunnies can see and smell each other. From a distance they can watch and learn about their new friend. It's helpful with this method to go between areas and pet each bun, making sure to rub along the jaw line to pick up bunny scent, then move to the other bunny and repeat - go back and forth with this to start blending their scents. As they become more comfortable, you can move their areas closer and closer together until they're right up against each other. Look for the flop, and you'll know they're good to go.

3) Stress pairings - as backwards as it sounds, sometimes stressing bunnies out together works wonders to bond them. If they're seriously aggressive, get two separate small carriers and butt them up against each other on top of the dryer so they're seeing and smelling each other. Put some shoes in the dryer and run it for 20 minutes. Repeat until you can put them in the same carrier. You can also try taking them for a ride in the car in a carrier, though I'm concerned that Treacle might do damage in a small space if he's shoved in there - you know him better than I do though.

Hope this helps, and best of luck. Keep me posted!

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Christine Whetstone

Expertise

I am not an expert on wild rabbits, only domesticated rabbits. I can answer questions regarding habitats, behavior, diet, health, pairing/bonding - pretty much anything having to do with owning a rabbit.

Experience

I've owned indoor rabbits for the last 10 years. During that time I've gained experience in areas like bonding exercises, understanding behavior, warning signs of sick bunnies, how to handle more serious illnesses (GI stasis, abscesses, eye problems, etc.) and more. It's rare that I come across an inquiry that I do not already know the answer to.

Organizations
House Rabbit Society, supporter of local rabbit rescues

Publications
http://ilovemyhouserabbit.com/

Education/Credentials
Personal experience beats the pants off of a degree, in my opinion.

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