Rabbit Socialization: The Step By Step Guide
Even though rabbits are very social animals, this does not mean that all animals automatically get along with each other.
Quite the opposite!
To create a homogeneous group of rabbits, you should properly accustom the animals to each other.
In this article you will learn how a socialization of rabbits ideally works, which common mistakes are made and how you can structure the individual steps correctly.
Why is planned socialization so important for rabbits?
Rabbits should always be kept at least in pairs, better in threes.
If one of the animals dies, you must therefore socialize a new rabbit. This should be done step by step to avoid aggression and injuries.
In addition, you can determine whether the animals fit together.
Not every rabbit feels comfortable in every composition of a group or a pair. In addition, the animals are territorial and feel easily threatened. This can lead to fights, which carry the risk of serious injury and add stress to the rabbits.
Even if these conflicts do not occur, a lack of socialization can lead to stress.
This in turn can have a detrimental effect on the immune system and increases the risk of disease.
Therefore, proceed with caution both in selecting a suitable rabbit and in getting them used to each other!
The following guide can help you make everything as comfortable and calm as possible.
Preparations for socializing rabbits
If you want to socialize rabbits to keep them species-appropriate, you should already create optimal conditions before the first bringing together.
You will need separate cages so that the animals can initially observe each other from a distance and secured and can smell each other. Think of a double equipment of drinking bottles, hayrack and sleeping house as well as the initially larger need for bedding.
In addition, the reunion should take place in as quiet a neutral place as possible.
This way the animals will not behave territorially and stress will be reduced. So it is best to use a room or area in the garden that is still unfamiliar to your existing animals or is rarely visited.
Size and weight
When choosing new rabbits, consider whether they will be a good match for your animals.
For example, if you have a color dwarf and want to add a German giant, the risk of injury is increased.
German Giants, while quiet and peaceful in themselves, are physically far superior to Color Dwarfs simply because of their size and weight.
Females and males as a pair usually get along better and faster than same-sex animals.
In any case, rabbits should be neutered so they cannot produce unwanted offspring and are calmer.
Another factor in selection is age.
Rabbits of the same age often get along faster and better. The younger they are when socializing, the easier it will be. If a baby is placed with an older animal, it is often well accepted as well.
A potential problem, however, is when the younger rabbit becomes sexually mature and thus more active and dominant. Aggression can occur.
In addition, animals with a very large age difference often do not get along well in the long run.
Therefore, it is better to choose for your senior rabbit a similarly aged animal from a shelter or an individual that has been surrendered.
A breeder can also help you, for example, if there are animals that should not produce any more offspring and are therefore taken out of the breeding program.
Last but not least the character plays a role. Very active and dominant animals can quickly stress calmer rabbits so much that they no longer eat and drink, become ill or behave very shy.
In the case of baby rabbits, it is of course not yet possible to assess how they will develop.
In case of older animals you should ask the previous owner if possible or observe the rabbit well before socialization.
Where should the socialization take place?
When keeping rabbits indoors, you should choose a room that your rabbits do not yet know well. For example, if they always run free in the living room and the cage is also located there, the kitchen, bathroom or study are suitable.
This way, the existing animals do not consider the area their territory and do not defend it. This relaxes the situation.
In the garden you should proceed similarly: Again, choose a section that your animals have not yet marked and thus indicated ownership.
Our tip: If this is not possible because there is not enough space in the apartment or your animals are free to roam everywhere, you can first place the cages next to each other for a longer period of time. This way they will get used to each other.
Socializing rabbits – step by step
Once you have made the appropriate arrangements, the socialization begins.
Take small steps to minimize the risk of injury and stress.
Step 1: Getting to know each other
To get to know each other, the animals should initially be able to see, hear and smell each other, but not touch each other.
This is best achieved with two separate cages or else with demarcated areas in the garden.
For very young animals, a few days is usually sufficient. With older rabbits, you should wait at least a week before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: The scent test
If the animals are observing each other, and are curious but neither aggressive nor stressed, you can make the contact a little more direct.
Either move the cages closer together or exchange toys, bedding and sleeping houses.
This allows the rabbits to sniff each other and get used to each other more directly. They are no longer complete strangers.
Step 3: First free run together
If you do not observe any aggression among the animals, it is time for the first free run.
Give your rabbits as much space as possible, provide sleeping houses or boxes, toys, food and water in different places.
This will allow the animals to avoid each other and keep busy at first, but also to interact with each other.
During the first free runs together, you must remain present throughout. Do not let the rabbits out of the cages unobserved and all at the same time.
In addition, you should wear work gloves to be on the safe side. If there is a fight, you must immediately separate the rabbits from each other. However, their teeth and claws can cause injuries to you as well.
If such a conflict occurs, separate the animals immediately and put them back into separate areas or cages. Try not to let them see each other again until a day later at the earliest.
Step 4: Visit cages
If interacting together works well, you may leave the cages open. At best, the rabbits will each look at each other’s quarters without conflict.
However, you should continue to keep them separated for the next few days overnight or when you can’t watch them. This will reduce the risk of fights and injuries.
Tip: If you want to socialize several animals together, the situation can quickly become confusing and different rabbits can start fighting. It is therefore best to have at least one other helper available who can also intervene immediately.
Step 5: The new home
Since you certainly don’t want to keep your animals separate in the long run, the final step is to move them in together.
This is different for each socialization in terms of duration: Some rabbits get used to each other quickly and use of their own accord only a common cage when they are finished in the free run. Others, on the other hand, need several weeks to sniff each other outdoors and get used to each other.
In both cases, you should give the cage a thorough cleaning and keep in mind that more food and water must be available in different places.
When is the socialization successful?
In the first attempts at socialization, the animals should sniff each other and show interest in each other.
They will chase each other, but should not chase each other.
It is perfectly normal for an animal to duck or press flat to the floor at first. It is afraid and insecure, signaling submissiveness and protecting itself.
However, this should not be the case permanently.
The reunion is successful when all rabbits move freely and without fear, eat and drink next to each other.If, on the other hand, there is still growling, chasing or even fighting, habituation is not yet complete and the rabbits must not be placed in a shared cage or hutch under any circumstances. Because in the limited space, the inferior animal can no longer escape or retreat.
5 important tips for successful socialization
When socializing rabbits, you need to consider many different factors.
This is due in part to the fact that an animal must first get used to you and the new home.
1: Do not rush
Therefore, proceed really slowly and give each rabbit time to first get used to the new environment before it meets other conspecifics.
For this it needs:
a quiet place
Opportunity to experience normal everyday life with you
2: Give time
Do not press the animal, but lure it to you.
This works for example with special treats like single berries or apple pieces. Allow the rabbit individual and secured free run from the beginning, so that he can settle in and not only lack of movement is stressed.
3: Approach feeding areas
Our next tip is to gradually place the feeders near each other in the animal’s home.
You can offer green food or hay separately at first. This way the animals can avoid each other.
However, as the food is offered closer and closer together and the rabbits become accustomed to eating together, competition often decreases.
4: Playing and learning together
When you lure the rabbits to you with treats, you draw focus.
By doing this, the existing animals realize that they are not neglected and still have you as a caregiver.
The new rabbits can get used to you even better and are directly introduced as part of the group. So it bonds both you and the animals.
5: Do not neglect individual time
Last but not least, spend some one-on-one time with the rabbits.
Petting, grooming and keeping them busy are important for any animal. The better they are exercised, the more compatible they will be.
Frequently asked questions
What happens during socialization at night?
In the beginning, you should continue to have separate cages at night or when you can’t keep an eye on them. This will help prevent injuries.
However, once the rabbits are obviously seeking each other’s closeness, they may also sleep in one shelter.
How long does the socialization take?
There is no blanket answer to this question.
Some rabbits are well tolerated from day one and seek each other’s closeness. With others you have to reckon with several weeks.
What to do if the socialization does not work out?
In this case you have only three options. You can either keep the animals separated, which in the long run is quite an effort, or you can place the new rabbit in another home.
Alternatively, you can bring in a helper who is experienced in handling rabbits. In some cases, slight changes or more patience are enough to improve the situation for all animals.
How old should rabbits be for socialization?
It is best if the rabbits are all already vaccinated and neutered. However, there are no exact age limits for this. With younger animals it can go a little faster than with older rabbits. However, there is no guarantee for this.
How many rabbits can be kept together?
The minimum is two, better still three animals. However, some factors should not be neglected. These are:
enough space for each rabbit
enough time for care and occupation
adequate financial resources for food, water, bedding, shelter and medical care.
If you consider all these criteria, the chances for a successful socialization and a happy cohabitation are very good. However, there is no guarantee.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
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