Rabbits/Post Vet Fight
Hello. I currently have 3 rabbits, a father, mother, and daughter (I should also mention that I believe all 3 are neutered/spayed due to the original 2 becoming a total of 5 at one point). The mother and father are 5 years and the daughter is 4 years old. They are all in great health and are always active in the two rooms of my house that they've always had. A week ago, we noticed a strange build-up of sorts underneath the mothers tail where she would dedicate from. We assumed it was "wet tail" and made a trip to see the vet as soon as possible. Their first available appointment was today, so I took the mother to get her checked out.
We were gone for only an hour and once I got her back to the "rabbit territory" in my house as I refer to it, she and the daughter started chasing each other a little bit...and not in a playful way like they occasionally would. I stopped it and it started up again a couple minutes later. I had to leave the house for a few hours and the mother was content laying down under a landing in the cage, so I made sure there was plenty of food and water and then closed the gate (which is open 99% of the time). The father and daughter remained outside the cage, open to the rest of their environment.
Upon returning a couple hours ago, I open the cage door and she quickly rushed out in anticipation of treats (they all know that they get a treat twice a day---once in the early morning and once late at night). All three of them ate near one another as they always do. I stood there for a minute, to see if anything would happen again, but nothing did, so I briefly pet each one and went to the other room in their territory, which contains the two computers we have. The father, who follows me around on a regular basis, came out for some more attention and was sitting by my foot as I sat down in my chair (none of them like being held). No sooner did I turn the monitor on and open up an internet browser, did I see the daughter bolt into the office, shortly followed by the mother.
I did the first thing I thought of, which was to give a couple quick squirts of a water bottle to the daughter, because I believed it was her that was starting things. I ended up corralling all of them back into the other room where their cage and multi-floor den is at. The daughter turned towards her mother and sat there, staring, so I snapped my fingers to try to break the apparent tension. That seemed to work as the daughter then turned to the father, asking to be groomed (which he briefly did). The mother then hopped over next to both of them and began cleaning herself. The daughter, then practically army crawling, seemed to ask for grooming from the mother. After a couple very patient minutes, the mother then groomed the daughter. The daughter in turn groomed the mother some. The father happily flopped onto his side next to them and they all laid down where they were. So at this point, I presumed whatever was going on between the two females was done. I remained sitting on the floor motionless and as silent as could be for a while longer. I was dead tired, so I even briefly nodded off a couple times. Each time I looked back over to them, they were all still in their same positions. So, after 20 or so minutes, I then got up to go back to my computer to give it one final test before I could retire for the evening. No dice.
Just like last time, the two came tearing out into the office, where I was at, and were circling each other, chasing, and flopping over one another a time or two. I stopped the commotion as quickly as I could by scaring the daughter off again (she is far more jumpy than the other two). I corralled the daughter into the office and placed a baby gate between the two rooms. I'd say it's been nearly 45 minutes at this point and the father and mother are snuggling in the other room while the daughter is in the office with me. Neither of the two took any injury, aside from a few tufts of fur was removed from each one during their scuffle (which is distressing enough for me).
When the other children the father and mother had (two boys) would have similar interactions with the father, that ended up creating a slew of problems, ending up in us having to find a good, trustworthy home for the two brothers. I don't want to see the daughter have to be re-homed. None of this makes sense to me. I've read online that it's typically not a good idea to take one rabbit from a group to the vet by themselves and instead, to take the whole group if possible. But, this isn't the first time we've only had to take one rabbit to the vet. There has been at least one instance with both the father and the daughter, each, taking a solo vet trip. Nothing ever happened then, so why would something bad like this happen now, after 4 years of getting along well? If one of the potential reasons is true (new odor now on the rabbit from being at the vets) is the cause, shouldn't they all be back to normal within a day then? For multiple reasons, I cannot keep them separated. It'll break my heart, for one, but for two, I just got rid of the doubles and triples of each type of supply I had for them (ex: cages, water dispensers, etc). I'm going to try to rig up something tonight for water for the daughter, but during the weekdays, I'm gone for 10-12 hours and I know the daughter obviously cannot go without water for that long. Please give any advice you can. I would really hate to see the daughter, who is already a very timid rabbit, be separated from the only other rabbits and other things in the environment (home, people, etc) the she knows.
My first thought would indeed be a scent change. I imagine that your vet used a cleaner to remove feces from under the tail (if thats what was built up), and that may be the cause. The daughter may be more sensitive to changes in her enviornment being younger and also a doe. Does tend to be much more territorial.
I would suggest trying one of three possible solutions:
1) Rebonding the trio using short positively reinforced sessions.
2) Using something like a dry shampoo on all three rabbits to clean them, remove the strange scent from the mother, and allow the three to smell the same.
3) Using a brush, brush fur from the younger doe. Rub the shed fur all over the older doe, especially around her tail. Brush the older doe and take the shed hair and introduce it to the younger does bedding and cage area. Give them a few days to settle down and then reintroduce them. I believe this option has the most chance of success.
Try to relax and let them work it out. They may need to reestablish the pecking order. Unless you see a lot of fur flying, kicking of the underbelly or blood, id let them chase each other and even bicker a little bit for short periods. Id not use punishment such as a water spray. The daughter is fighting because she feels threatened, she feels like she needs to defend her territory against some danger. By spraying her and punishing her for doing so you are confirming her anxiety ("aha! Something bad happened! I was right to be anxious!") You will only reinforce her fear by punishing her. If the fighting becomes too much, I would quickly step in and physically remove one rabbit but without punishment.
Have patience, harmony is usually resolved quickly. And in the future, I would probably take the entire herd to the vet at the same time :)