Rabbits are misleadingly complex pets, even more so than a dog or a cat. While some of us embrace rabbit ownership, others struggle (indeed this is why there are so many rabbits in shelters). If you really get to know these amazing animals you may have decided that just one bunny is not enough! Understandably some owners have concerns about taking on a second rabbit and it’s these concerns we’d like to address today.
Giving a rabbit a friend of its own species is beneficial for health and well-being. Wild rabbits live in large social groups called colonies and pet rabbits also crave companionship. A bonded pair of rabbits will groom each other, eat and play together and cuddle next to each other for warmth.
Do house rabbits need a companion?
Not necessarily. In some circumstances, a single rabbit can be quite happy without a bunny friend, for example, if it is kept as a house rabbit. ‘House rabbit’ is a term used to describe rabbits that are given complete free roam of the home without restriction. Just like cats and dogs house rabbits can be good companions for humans inside the home (however they will require a period of litter training to minimize accidents).
Although keeping a house rabbit will certainly improve your relationship with your pet, a bond between human and rabbit will normally not be as strong as the bond between two rabbits (there are of course exceptions). Nevertheless, house rabbits made to feel ‘part of the family’ through regular interaction will be happier in human company than those that are confined to a garden hutch with little human contact.
If you live alone with a house rabbit and get to spend plenty of time in the house it may be that your rabbit will build a strong bond with you. Having a rabbit that loves you is very satisfying. It may hop up on the settee to lie next to you (just like a cat) and follow you everywhere, even to bed!
If you’re lucky enough to share this kind of relationship then a second rabbit is not essential, however, while rabbits do enjoy human company (even the company of other family pets) when it comes to communication and understanding of each other’s body language there will obviously be limited.
Bonded rabbit pairs, on the other hand, understand each other perfectly, they will look after each other in a way that no other cross-species pairing will be able to replicate.
Do outdoor rabbits need a companion?
A lot of owners think it’s fine to keep a rabbit confined to a small hutch in a garden and although we disagree and believe that rabbits should be kept in large spacious homes which allow them to exhibit their natural rabbit behaviors, hutches don’t seem to be going away. Unfortunately, hutch rabbits that lack human contact will unlikely be able to develop and display their unique personalities to the full.
Rabbits confined to outdoor hutches certainly need some form of companionship to prevent loneliness and will also make use of each other’s body heat to keep warm when the temperature takes a dip. These rabbits will at the very least need the sight and smell of another rabbit. Without this, the rabbit will most likely live a very short and unhappy life.
Reasons why two or more rabbits is a good idea
Rabbits are highly social animals and just like humans they also need friends. In the wild rabbits live in large groups (called colonies) with up to a hundred bunnies sharing and maintaining a burrow and its associated tunnel system.
Wild rabbits help each other survive by acting as eyes and ears for other members of the colony, finding and sharing food, and looking after young, and although domestic rabbits don’t share the same struggles as their wild relatives they still share these centuries-old instincts.
While they are mostly silent apart from the occasional grunt, rabbits communicate with each other constantly and although we humans might have trouble deciphering this secret rabbit language, other rabbits will get these messages loud and clear.
Subtle movements such as a delicate nose twitch might not seem like much to us but to a rabbit could be the equivalent of the complete works of Shakespeare! As mentioned a second rabbit will also help to bring out the true personality of an existing bunny, and having a second (or even a third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth if you follow my example) will bring you as owner, hours of entertainment.
Does bringing another rabbit into the fold affect your relationship with your existing rabbit?
Maybe, but this should not be seen as a negative thing and you shouldn’t let it put you off getting another rabbit. Although it’s natural to be a little jealous when your little friend chooses to cuddle up on the floor with a new companion over you, we bunny owners should always have the health and well-being of our pets as our first priority and a second bunny will certainly add to the quality of your rabbit’s life.
Of course, your pet will still rely on you for strokes will still come running to you when it hears the familiar sound of the fridge door open or a treat bag rustle (in fact you’ll have two bunnies charging through the house!).
Advantages of two rabbits over one
While there will of course be a slight cost increase if you decide to get a second rabbit, there are certain advantages that may not be obvious.
The first of these advantages is a reduction in bunny bad behavior and/or destructiveness. If you live at home with a single house bunny, it’s unlikely that you will be able to keep an eye on your pet for 24 hours a day, perhaps you may go out and see your (human) friends occasionally or perhaps you work several hours a day?
During this alone time, your rabbit may suffer from boredom and a bored rabbit is often the one that decides to chew a hole in your favourite piece of furniture! Bringing a second rabbit into the home is one way you might change this behavior.
Your pet will be happier, it will be able to play and converse with its companion, groom and snuggle against each other and generally less mischief equals less damage (and no need to replace those phone cables that got chewed !) as an example my own rabbits spend large parts of the day asleep under the bed together![spacer height=”20px”]
Another advantage of getting a companion for your existing rabbit is that holidays will become a lot easier. If you worry about your pet when you are away (for me even a couple of days away gives me a cold sweat!) a companion rabbit might be the perfect answer. You can rest assured that your bunny will have company to keep its mind active while you aren’t around.
One more rabbit? (or two?)
While bonding of rabbits can take some time, when two rabbits do become friends they become very devoted to each other. As an owner, watching two rabbits as they get to know each other is very satisfying but these unbreakable bonds can also be quite upsetting as an owner when one of those bunnies passes away. Fortunately rabbits can be bonded again to new companions, in fact they may more readily accept them when they are grieving for a lost friend.
To prevent these heart breaking situations, one possible option is to bond a third rabbit to a pair, this will mean that in the event of one rabbit passing away, the two remaining rabbits will be able to get over their loss together.
This solution will of course mean extra cost, in particular medical spaying and neutering costs, and will also tie you into a continuous cycle of rabbit ownership and bonding. We find that the more bunnies we have, the more entertaining they are (but that’s just us!).
Which rabbit pairing is the best?
The very best pairing of rabbits is a male and a female but males/males, and female/female pairings can also be successful. All bunnies cohabiting with another rabbit should be neutered or spayed. These procedures will not only to prevent unplanned pregnancies in male and female pairings but also help to relax rabbits and prevent medical issues such as cancer.
Can I put my rabbit in with a guinea pig instead?
Guinea pigs have been known to live with rabbits and if you have this pairing currently with no problems then you should not separate them. However, you should never intentionally choose a guinea pig for the sole purpose of being a rabbit companion.
Rabbits will never understand a guinea pigs strange squeaks just as a guinea pig won’t understand why this floppy-eared animal keeps twitching its nose! Both of these pets have a different language and needs which can only be met by spending time with their own species. Fights could also break out and these usually don’t end well for the guinea pig.
The cost of a second rabbit
The cost of bringing an extra rabbit into your home isn’t quite as expensive as you may think. You will of course pay a little extra for groceries and fresh vegetables but you probably won’t notice especially as a pair of bonded bunnies will share everything. Straw, veggies, pellets, toys, housing – everything!
Where you may incur a little extra cost is veterinary fees. Spaying or neutering is an essential procedure before putting a new pair of rabbits together, not just to prevent unwanted litters but the more relaxed manner of bonded rabbits will help with the bonding process, especially in same-sex pairings.
Rabbits will also require regular health checks and yearly injections but some of these costs can be avoided by adopting a second bunny rather than buying. Adopted rabbits are often neutered or spayed and inoculated before being re-homed.
It’s becoming more widely understood that rabbits need companions and although there will be some extra cost with two rabbits the overall benefits and improvement in health and well-being your rabbit will get when it has a friend of its own species will far outweigh those costs.
Find out more about the cost of keeping a rabbit here.
Bonding new rabbits
You may ask yourself why bonding two rabbits together can be difficult? After all, rabbits are highly social! aren’t they? Well, the answer again lies with a rabbit’s nature and evolution. As prey animals, rabbits are naturally distrusting of other animals, even their own kind.
In normal circumstances, once trust is established most rabbit pairs can be bonded, however, there are always exceptions and you might find you have a rabbit who’s just not interested. This can be an issue, after all, how would you know if your rabbit will be happy with your choice of companion or even if it will bond with a new rabbit at all?
This is another reason that adoption rather than buying is a wiser choice. Rather than picking your new companion yourself, why not take your spayed/neutered rabbit to the shelter and make a few introductions.
If your rabbit does show a keen interest in certain bunnies you can pick your favorite, alternatively, he might not show any at all! The only disadvantage to this approach is that potentially you might end up going home with several bunnies!
If you would like to read more on how to bond your bunny to a new companion, check out our guide here.
Should I buy or adopt a second rabbit?
Here at bunnyadvice.com we recognise that rabbits make the cutest babies of all animal species (of course!) however we also see the huge amount of neglected bunnies as a problem. For these reasons we believe that when you’ve decided to get a companion for your rabbit, adoption is the best way to go.
Adoption has many advantages to bringing a brand new baby bunny into your home. For a start you can learn more about a personality before committing to adoption. A rabbit shelter will be able to give you a good idea and this will enable you to make a decision on compatibility of any potential pairing. As cute as baby rabbits are there is no real way to tell how a young rabbits personality will develop (puberty can do funny things to a rabbit).
Another advantage over adopting a new rabbit is that you can more closely match it to the age of your current rabbit. If you are not planning to have rabbits for the rest of your life, this at least ensures that once one rabbit passes the remaining one won’t have to grieve for many years if you decide not to go ahead and get another one.
Aside from these reasons for considering adoption we think the best reason is the happiness you can bring to a bunny in need, especially if they have not been very well treated in the past.
A second rabbit is a great idea, and although you may be sacrificing a bit of the attention you get from your bunny friend. Its happiness will be is well worth it. Rabbits in pairs are hugely entertaining to be around and there’s nothing quite like having a couple of well-trained house rabbits to welcome you home after a hard day at work!
Housing and Companionship for Your Rabbits bluecross.org.uk
Should I Get My Rabbit a Friend? rabbitrehome.org.uk
Does Your Bunny Need a Friend? petplace.com