Social behavior of rabbits: This is how living together works
Rabbits are extremely social creatures. Living in a group is not only possible due to your social behavior, but also necessary for species-appropriate husbandry. But there are a few things to know.
The sociable rabbits prefer to live in a group – Shutterstock / Rita Kochmarjova
Rabbits are very sociable animals and also live in groups in the wild at least part of the time, mainly for more security. A doe often stays together with a buck and shares a common den with him. It is therefore absolutely not advisable to keep pet rabbits alone. It is recommended to keep at least one pair, for example male and female or siblings.
The social behavior among each other is also somewhat different in house rabbits than in wild rabbits living in the wild, because the latter are adjusted to many factors such as weather, temperatures and natural enemies such as predators.
Rabbits among themselves: social behavior
How do domestic rabbits behave in relation to conflict, territory and hierarchy? Basically, the little animals when living together seek a lot of physical contact with each other – provided that all the circumstances in group housing are optimally designed, such as sufficient space and enough shelter for everyone.
Of course, as with humans, it depends on whether the rabbits are “green” with each other. The cute bunnies recognize each other by smell and appearance. Communication is via sounds and body language.
They often sleep or play together and groom each other – all of which strengthen the bond between the animals. With rabbits, it is also part of the story, especially in a larger group, that fights about hierarchy sometimes occur. In this way the hierarchy is established or renewed.
A hierarchy is important for a well-running group life. Power struggles are usually even independent of gender, so unlike many other animal species. If there are such ranking disputes or even fights over food, stay away at first, unless two rabbits fight again and again. It’s better to intervene before things get bloody bad – in this case, separate the two brawlers from each other for a while. High-ranking animals sometimes bang their fellows to make the balance of power clear.
Behavior when acclimating new group members
If a group of rabbits and a new journeyman are later brought together, friction can sometimes arise. Rabbits usually defend their territory first. It often works out later, however, with living together. In nature, a female looks for a burrow, drives away any conspecific who wants to move in at first, but then tolerates a certain number of animals in her home at a given time.
Within an existing group there is a fixed hierarchy. Therefore, acclimatizing a new adult group member is a lengthy process that requires patience. Many newcomers hunker down and gently nudge members of their new group to establish initial contact and assimilate. In that case, your new rabbit will adopt the existing hierarchy.
Or the cards are reshuffled based on ranking battles. However, if the newcomer and a group member fight again and again, your creativity is required if the merger is to be successful: expand the food supply and distribute it at different places in the enclosure; set up privacy screens so that the brawlers can avoid each other and provide sufficient opportunities for employment.
Or divide the enclosure into individual areas with specific functions and separate them from each other, such as separate retreats, feeding places and sleeping places. If it still doesn’t work out with both animals “under one roof” they may not be compatible with each other and a merger fails – this is also possible. Then the newcomer has to be placed in another, loving home.
marking behavior in rabbits
Rabbits have special equipment for marking their own territory: their scent glands on their chins. Rubbing objects, for example, now releases the scent mark. Rabbits also mark with their faeces. They often do this when a new group member joins them. Bucks in particular mark the boundaries of territories by urinating but also excrementing. In this case, this marking behavior temporarily creates some uncleanliness in the cage or enclosure.
Are your rabbits eating each other’s poop? Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal and even healthy among animals. The droppings that your rabbits eat are what is known as caecal droppings. It contains many essential minerals.
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