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How to socialise rabbits

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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Wednesday, 8 November 2023

Rabbits are beloved animals known for their charm and gentle nature. However, to ensure their overall well-being and happiness, it’s essential to prioritise their socialisation. Socialisation plays a crucial role in a rabbit’s life, allowing them to develop trusting relationships, boost their confidence, and foster a sense of belonging.

Read on for more information to help you create harmonious connections between your rabbits, humans, and other bunny companions.

Introductions with people

Understanding your rabbit’s behaviour is crucial when it comes to socialisation. As prey animals, rabbits can be easily startled or scared so it’s important to create a safe and supportive environment that acknowledges their keen senses and helps them feel secure. Being aware of this instinctual behavior will guide you in providing a safe and supportive atmosphere for their social development.

When it comes to interacting with rabbits, it’s essential to move slowly and calmly to avoid frightening them. A calm rabbit is generally easier to handle, and the less stressed your rabbit is the less likely they are to panic and potentially injure themselves.

Gentle handling is key to building trust. Start by allowing your rabbits to sniff your hand and get accustomed to your scent. Approach them slowly and stroke them gently, taking care to support their hindquarters when picking them up. By reinforcing positive experiences with treats and gentle praises, you create a positive association with human interaction.

If you’re introducing your rabbits to new people, it should be a gradual process. Begin by allowing your rabbits to observe individuals from a distance. Encourage visitors to move slowly and speak softly, helping your rabbits feel at ease. It's important to be patient and respect their boundaries, allowing them to approach when they feel comfortable.

Introductions with rabbits

Rabbits are social animals that can greatly benefit from the companionship of another rabbit. However, introducing them requires careful consideration. It’s a good idea to have both rabbits desexed before attempting to socilalise them. This reduces territorial behavior, increasing the chances of a successful bond.

When introducing rabbits, start by placing their cages near each other so that the presence of a new rabbit is established. Remember not to place the cages too close to each other as injuries can occur through the wire sides. Allow one rabbit out at a time into a rabbit-safe area. After some time, replace that rabbit in their cage and then let the other rabbit into the same area. This allows them to get used to each other’s scent.

Introductions should be made in neutral territory (a room that neither has been in before). This will decrease the need to defend an established territory. It may also make the rabbits more interested in the new environment, as well as feeling less secure and, therefore, more likely to need each other’s reassurance.

You could also try putting your rabbit on a harness and leash which will allow them to see each other without getting too close at first. After several times, and when they seem less hostile to each other, they can be allowed to get closer to each other, but be prepared to separate them if they fight. This may require the gentle and careful use of large towels to separate the bunnies and protect both rabbits and people from scratches and bites. Continue these visits in neutral territory. Eventually, the rabbits can be together in the neutral territory. When the rabbits are happy to groom each other and lie together, they can be left together unsupervised.

Understanding your rabbit is key

Remember, each rabbit is unique and the process of socialisation may vary. Respect their individual needs and progress at their pace. It's also important to remember that some rabbits never get along with each other. Owners should be prepared for this eventuality by understanding that a new rabbit to the household may need to have their own cage and space in the house if they never become bonded to the existing rabbit.

Socialising rabbits is a rewarding journey that requires patience, understanding, and consistent effort. By following these tips, you can confidently embark on the path of socialising your rabbits, nurturing their social bonds, and enriching their lives with love and companionship.

For more information you can visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase.

This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers.

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