Care of a Pair
by Kathleen Wilsbach
from the Clover Leaf, Fall 1998

The biggest advantage to getting a second rabbit is emotional support for your first rabbit when you are not around to provide it. Most people having seen two rabbits snuggling and kissing, never want to have only one rabbit again.

In Fall of 1997, we published an article on our ChapterÕs rabbit matchmaking service, the process we usually follow when someone wants to adopt a companion for their rabbit. Copies of this article are availble if you send an SASE to HRS, P.O. Box 50311, Baltimore, MD 21211. It is also available on our web site www.houserabbit.org/BaltWashDC. We encourage you to read it over and if you have the resources, consider enhancing your rabbitÕs life with a buddy.

In this article, we will focus on important considerations AFTER adopting a second rabbit.

Now you have a pair. Your HRS representative has sent you home with a pair of rabbits and instructions for the first week. After the first week, once they are bonded, it is rare, but possible, for the two rabbits to fight. If you find piles of fur after being away, separate the rabbits and contact your HRS representative. Bringing additional rabbits into your household (even if they cannot interact directly with your rabbits) is the number one reason a bonded pair will fight. If the pair is physically separated for any length of time, fighting may also occur. An additional factor can be that one rabbit may smell strangely after surgery or a stay at the animal hospital.

You are used to your rabbit's habits, and she or he is used to yours. Your new rabbit has a different personality, and may need some adjustments to the environment: an extra litter-box, more (or less) confinement, or additional bunny-proofing. It isnÕt realistic to expect to add a new member to your household and have everything stay exactly the same. If a new human came to live with you, you know there would be some adjustments required. Each rabbit who has entered my household has required some adjustments. Clover was an unusual rabbit who didnÕt chew very much and electrical tape around the cords was enough to deter her. Bramble chomped through that in seconds. Both Clover and Bramble were pretty much ground dwelling creatures. Rowan had to be up on top of everything. I was forced to raise my bunny-proofing to new heights.

To monitor the health of both your rabbits, you need to know about how much each rabbit is eating and drinking, and whose poops are whose. If you find this difficult, you may have to separate the rabbits for 12 - 24 hours periodically, for a poop check. ItÕs best to do this so they can still see each other, maybe with a pet gate of by putting one of them in a cage. Do this if you notice a change in the amount the two eat, drink, or poop as a pair. I know that if one of mine doesnÕt come running when I give them their greens at dinner time, there may be cause for concern.

A pair of rabbits grooms each other as well as themselves. Love me, love my hair. A properly working digestive system will be able to handle this extra amount of fur, as long as you help out with grooming, and feed a diet low in pellets and high in hay and vegetables. If one of the rabbits is an angora or other long haired breed, special attention needs to be paid and period haircuts may be in order to cut down on problems.

Once your rabbits are bonded, separation usually causes them anxiety. Try to keep them together in times of stress: during trips to the vet, car rides, moving and other life changes. In the case of illness, your vet should rarely recommend separating them. Staying together provides great psychological benefit and can aid healing. If monitoring food intake and poop output are a concern, a set-up where they can at least interact through a wire barrier should be considered. Even contagious diseases are rarely a big concern since by the time you have noticed one rabbit is ill, exposure of the other has almost certainly already occurred. The stress of separation may weaken the response of their immune systems and do more harm than good.

Now we must address the saddest separation. Rabbits form very strong emotional bonds with one anther. When they lose a companion through death or any other permanent separation, the survivor grieves. This grief may be expressed in ways that we expect such as loss of appetite and acting withdrawn. However, it may also manifest itself in ways that seem strange to us. An increase in destructive behavior, aggression or a deterioration in litterbox habits are sometimes observed in the surviving rabbit.

Because rabbits communicate in non-verbal ways, it is difficult if not impossible to explain to them what happened to their friend. The mourning period is often greatly reduced if the survivor can spend a few hours with the body of her partner. This is the only way that they can learn and come to terms with the reality of death, by sniffing, seeing, and touching. If one rabbit dies while hospitalized, request the body to show the surviving rabbit. The bereaved rabbit will accept consolation more readily, knowing where his or her mate has gone. There have even been reports of rabbits who continued to search the house or wait expectantly for their missing partner to return for several weeks.

Although your first impulse may be to rush to adopt a new friend for your rabbit to spare him the pain of loneliness, most rabbits need at least 7-10 days of mourning before they will be ready to accept a new companion. It may be as much as a month if they did not see their partnerÕs body. On the other hand, your rabbit may be emotionally ready for another rabbit long before you are yourself. Rabbits when they recognize death (see above) are often able to recover faster than their human caretakers. This is one example why having a trio or larger group of rabbits can be beneficial. When one dies, there is less pressure to adopt a new one immediately. The surviving two are there to comfort one another.

If catastrophe strikes and you can no longer keep your pair of bonded rabbits, you need to do everything in your power to see that they stay together. While HRS is obligated to take back only rabbits adopted from us, if a rabbit was adopted from us and has a partner who was not adopted from us, we take both rabbits because it is in the best interest of the rabbits to stay together.