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As the title implies I am after some help with bonding. I’ll tell you my rabbit story then ask my questions…
I got my first house rabbit, Benny (male neutered and unsure “type” however he’s an average sized rabbit with a flat coat), when he was 18 months old, just over a year ago. I got him from a woman who couldn’t look after him and keep him company as she was working too much. He was friendly and fun however he showed signs of boredom and loneliness. After reading up about his behaviour I decided to get him a partner in crime. I got him a dwarf lionhead (approx 1 year old, female, spayed) called Mathilda from the RSPCA who came in as a stray. They bonded within about a month and other than one fight in the beginning where Mathilda ended up bleeding, they got on very well. This was 6 months ago and unfortunately Mathilda died 2 weeks ago today.
Benny was with Mathilda when she died and she stayed in the hutch with him for a couple of hours post mortem, so (as I understand it) Benny knows that she’s gone. It was a very sad time, but Benny bounced back better than I did, however he quickly started to seem lonely again, so I had been looking for a new partner for him. The RSPCA didn’t have any females and all I could find otherwise were babies, which I was told wouldn’t be good to bond with an adult rabbit, so I waited and then Harriet came along. She was from a private seller, 18 months old, black and white dutch. She wasn’t being looked after by the children that she was bought for as a baby, so the dad decided to sell her. I think he had been feeling sorry for her and had been overfeeding her as she seems a little overweight, she hasn’t been spayed and never had her injections. She is booked in for the injections tomorrow and a general heath check at the vets, but my vet doesn’t spay female rabbits…
I brought her home the day before yesterday and she is a really delightful rabbit. She is so inquisitive about everything, and brave in squeezing into spaces that Benny and Mathilda never did, just to see what’s in there and she clambers all over me to get some attention. She is so inquisitive that when she’s out to play, she goes to see what Benny is doing in his cage and he will then nip her nose, making her run away and cower. She hasn’t been put off by this (or she’s stupid…) as she keeps going back and the same thing happens and when Benny is out, she will go to the edge of her cage and he will nip her again. They are both living and exercising in the hallway and have separate hutch/cages which I swap them over (so they get used to each other’s scent) every time they are out and I push their cages almost together when they are in them. I put them in the bath last night to introduce them to each other properly and almost straight away they started pushing their noses against each other to decide who would be the more dominant and who was on grooming duties. Neither won and Benny started eating the hay that was there. When Harriet started to join in he nipped her, I separated them to either ends of the bath and said no. This happened again and again to the point where Harriet just turned away from him. I took them out after 10 minutes and returned them to their homes.
I would like some advice on what’s going on. I am not asking for them to bond instantly although it would be nice, I am in this for as long as it takes however I don’t want to make any mistakes/correct any behaviour that’s normal and I definitely don’t want to allow behaviour that’s going to push them further apart.
Should I tell Benny off when he nips at Harriet?
Should I exercise them in different areas to their hutches (so that they can’t get at each other through the bars of the cages when I’m not with them)?
If the bonding time is full of Benny nipping Harriet should I end it, or is it normal behaviour?
Thank you in advance