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Rabbits/introducing two rabbits tomorrow

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QUESTION: We have a 1 1/2 year old female named Mei. She lives in a two story hutch in our bedroom. Tomorrow we are adopting another female rabbit named Bon Bon. Neither is spayed. Not sure how old Bon Bon is. I'm wondering what steps I should take to ensure that their first meeting goes well. I hope to eventually have them living in the same hutch together. But we do have a smaller cage as well that Mei lived in when she was little, that Bon Bon can stay in until they've bonded. Any advice on this introductory process Will be greatly appreciated!

ANSWER: Hi Joanna

Congratulations on the impending new arrival!

Unfortunately I cannot recommend introducing them without having both spayed. Hormones in females can be just as big a problem as hormones in males. Wild females can fight to the death over a good burrow spot! Spaying will also improve their long term health as many older females will develop tumours in their uterus and are prone to serious womb infections. It will take about a month of healing time before they're ready to be bonded post spay.

Bonding same sex rabbits is always a bit more tricky than a male/female (neutered and spayed) pair. Not impossible, but can be more tricky!

There are many different bonding methods and what works for these two is entirely down to them. The one constant is that the introduction space must be -completely- neutral.

Some people use a small confined space and introduce there (with blankets, brooms and gloves in case a fight breaks out!), that can include a bathtub, small cage or a washing basket. Sometimes that works brilliantly, or sometimes as soon as you increase the space, the newly forming bond breaks apart and they start to fight so the space needs to be reduced again. Sometimes they'll be put in a carrier together and taken for a car ride - the idea that the fear of the car ride makes them seek comfort in one another. Some bunnies bond better whilst roaming freely in a larger space, getting to know each other without the pressure, others will just use that opportunity to relentlessly chase and hump the other rabbit! No two bonds are the same and there's no guarantee these two will like each other at all so have a back up plan in place!

I recommend reading this site so you're up to speed on reading subtle bunny body language:
http://language.rabbitspeak.com/

This forum can help with bonding tips too:
http://forums.rabbitrehome.org.uk/

Good luck!
Cat

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So should I keep them far apart until they get spayed? Or can their cages still be side by side? How much does that procedure usually cost per rabbit? Is it a bad idea to let the new rabbit explore spaces that Mei has already been?

Answer
Hi Joanna

They can be kept as neighbours, but make sure they can't physically get to one another and bite noses! Watch behaviour and make sure they can get out of each other's eyeline with places to hide.

The cost for the procedure varies vastly vet to vet, best to find a vet experienced with rabbits first and worry about cost later.

You can let the two rabbits explore places the other has been but keep the new one in at least a 2-3 week "quarantine" and it would be a good idea to worm them for 28 days on Panacur just to be sure they don't have anything like the nasty EC parasite to pass on to your existing bun. As well as monitoring for other contagious sickness like mites, snuffles or coccidiosis.

I hope that helps?
Cat

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Expertise

I can answer questions around the welfare of pet rabbits, basic health queries including gut stasis, diet worries, bonding questions and the proper welfare standards around housing rabbits (i.e. no wire floors, no small cages and they should be kept in properly bonded de-sexed pairs in very large enclosures). I cannot answer showing questions nor complex breeding issues as I do not agree with either, seeing the other end of the story in the world of rabbit rescue.

Experience

I have two 7 year old rescue rabbits and volunteer for a well established rabbit rescue here in the UK, both physically doing cleaning out etc and I am also their events and awareness co-oordinator, helping educate the general public on proper rabbit keeping, this means I have to ensure all information I give is correct and matches current welfare standards.

Organizations
I belong to the RWAF (Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund) and volunteer for a major rabbit rescue.

Education/Credentials
I have no formal education on this subject, however read everything I can to keep up to date with current welfare standards and health problems. Both my rabbits have sensitive guts and constantly keep me on my toes.

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