Monday, December 17, 2012

Bunny bonding take #2 ...let's just be neighbors.

I decided to attempt to get Simon and River back into the big cage again.  I'm doing this partly because they've both gotten into the habit of thumping for attention at night, which needs to stop (hopefully, the presence of another bunny to play with at night time will help).  The other reason is that for them to be a truly bonded pair, they need to live in the same quarters.
This time I wanted to be prepared for anything, so I took as many precautions as possible (as you can see from all the items I have listed).  It may not be a bad idea to also have whatever travel cage you use ready to go in case a major fight happens and you need to go to the vet.  I simply left their smaller cages as they were because they could be fit into the car if necessary.

The rest of this post will look a bit like a scientific notebook with my observations on how they were behaving etc.  This is a long post, so feel free to just scroll through the pictures and if you want to skip to their dominance disputes, read the red and blue captioned entries.  Don't worry, most of the action happened on day 1.
I'll state right now that I did not leave the bunnies unattended AT ALL during the entire 3 days this post covers.  If I needed to leave the room for even a bathroom break, I had my husband there to supervise them.  I also got to enjoy sleeping on the couch in our living room during this time period because they couldn't be left alone for fear of a major fight.   
For anyone considering bonding their bunnies, I'm seriously not kidding about this part:  They require constant supervision even if they got along just fine on every previous "play date" they've had before.  If you don't believe me, see my post entitled "A cage too far".
For those of you looking for info about bonding their bunnies and are planning to read everything, you may want to pay attention to the time stamps for how frequently bunnies can have dominance scuffles.  
I honestly didn't realize how many times I had to stop them before a major fight broke out until I wrote all of this down.  You should also note that Simon and River get along extremely well for all of the hours they spend together outside of their cages. (they only very rarely do any dominance displays like mounting or head humping--like once over the course of a few weeks, as an example).


Simon went into the big cage first because male bunnies are less territorial than female bunnies (note that I didn't say that males aren't territorial).  I didn't want River to think because she was first into the cage that it was hers.  Here they are extremely confused about their new surroundings, but breakfast made everything okay.
Seriously not kidding about not letting them out of my sight for even a second.  I made my breakfast before I put them into the cage, so by the time that was done I had soggy Cheerios and lukewarm coffee.  By the looks the bunnies gave me, they were shocked to find me having a picnic with them.
8:05am  Bunnies are sharing each others' pellets interspersed with exploring the big cage.
8:10am  Well, it didn't take long for Simon to make his opening gambit by trying to mount River in the litter box.  She hops away to the cardboard box.  Simon follows and licks her head.  All is well.  Back to munching pellets and exploring the big cage.
8:15am  Simon hops on top of the cardboard box, rips a strip from its top and hops down.  River immediately investigates and hops up there while Simon goes under the box and sits there (see above pic).
8:22am  Simon tries to move the cardboard box but it's twist-tied to the cage, which frustrates him.  River is in the litter box when Simon rushes over and humps her head.  She moves to under the cardboard box and Simon follows her.  After some brief circling, Simon starts humping her head while under the box.  It looks like River is trying to get away and given where they are, I intervene before a fight can break out by squirting them both with water.  They're both stunned enough to stop what they were doing so I could move them to opposite sides of the cage.  No injuries on either bun.  (See above pic for wet bunnies and box.  River is clearly not enjoying herself in the big cage and keeps coming over to me to be let out.)
8:27am  River is munching on pellets, Simon mounts her again.  She tolerates it by not moving away. 
8:31am  The bunnies are munching pellets together; Simon explores the cardboard box and starts licking River's face.
8:39am  I don't think the bunnies like being wet.  Simon keeps shaking his body and flicking his front paws (he's only wet on his rump and the outside of his left ear--not inside of it).  River has water on a few spots on her side.  Both have wet feet from it dousing the cage floor during their scuffle.
8:40am  Simon is flopped at the front of the cage with his head against the litter box for a nap.  River is munching hay and looking mopey at me from the top of the cardboard box.  She then sulked under the box for a bit while flicking her front paws to remove any remaining water from them.  I think she remembered exactly why her feet were wet so she decided to take a bit of passive-aggressive revenge on Simon by jumping into and out of the litter box several times in a row, spraying him with wood chips.  Here he is cleaning them off of himself.
8:46am  River hopped into the litter box, Simon licked her face and then tried mounting her.  She ran under the box and when she came out again, he tried humping her again after licking her face and back.  He also keeps chinning her and trying to crawl over her.  She tolerated it and Simon hopped away, so all is well.
8:58am  Had to break up humping spree by Simon.  He kept following River everywhere and trying to hump her head/back (started in the litter box).  I pulled him off of her 3 times while under the box and pushed his head down and held it there for a few seconds to show him I meant business (that is a submissive position for a bunny, so me doing that establishes that I'm the one he should be paying attention to).
Simon just doesn't know when to quit, but at least it didn't cause a fight. 
9:04am  Bunnies are both flopped under the box.  They're both making happy chomp/purring noises and River is licking Simon's head.
9:19am  Simon and River unite to destroy the cardboard box.  Well, at least they've discovered a common enemy.
9:35am  Nap time with both bunnies flopped under the box.
10:28am  Playtime then Simon tried to hump River while both were sitting on the box.  River jumped down and hopped into the litter box.  Simon followed and tried humping her again causing her to run under the box.  Simon followed and moved to attempt humping her again.  
I intervened by pulling him away.  Bunnies then flopped under the box together, so all is well.
11:05am  River is flopped under the box and Simon is munching pellets after trying to eat/destroy more of the box.
11:48am  Major hump-fest in the litter box (not head humping).  River stayed still with her face in the corner and didn't try to get away, so I didn't intervene.  
When Simon let go, he'd go to the other side of the cage.  When River moved, Simon would come back and mount her again for a few seconds, lick her head and hump her side then move back to the mount position.  This repeated a few times.  
The last time, he just stayed in a side humping position and pushed his muzzle against the nape of her neck in a "So there!" kind of move.  She stayed still and didn't seem distressed, so I let them work out their differences and only called Simon's name as a warning if I thought he seemed a bit rough.
3:17pm  River is flopped over Simon's head after some serious grooming and nap time.
4:22pm  Still sleeping peacefully next to one another.
5:48pm  Simon started humping River's head.  River stayed still, so things are okay. 
6pm  Simon humping River, she runs away.  Simon follows her under the box and starts trying to hump her again and it caused them to start circling.  It was getting more aggressive so I separated them after tapping Simon's rump lightly to distract him, which worked.  Once separated, I held his head down gently for a few seconds to help get my point across.
Both bunnies acted normally after this.  Simon is flopped near the door to the cage and River is destroying the top of the box.
6:35pm  Bunnies are napping with one bun's head near the other bun's tail.
8:18pm  River tried to hump Simon, some circling but the dispute solved itself without human intervention.
8:35pm  River is digging in the litter box and Simon hopped in causing them to start circling each other for dominance.  Simon hopped out of the litter box and River continued to dig.  
8:38pm  More circling.  This time River is trying to mount Simon and is nipping his rump.  I walk over to intervene, they see me and break apart on their own.
Simon is now flopped in front of the door to the cage and River is eating hay nearby.
8:45pm  Both were in the litter box, so I headed over to watch them so they wouldn't start the dominance thing again.  I don't want River to claim the litter box as hers.  I gave them both noogies for a few minutes and received lots of purring from both of them.
Gave them more hay to make sure that their dominance squabbles weren't due to a perceived food shortage.  They both descended on the fresh hay.  I may be onto something. 
10:28pm  More circling and Simon chased River to hump her.  Ben squirted water on them because it was escalating into a fight.
10:38pm  Simon keeps trying to mount River, she runs away and he chases her.  I had to physically pull him away and push his head down 3 times saying, "No, Simon" each time. 
River is now on the box eating hay while Simon is sitting on the hay pile and eating it.
10:41pm  Both bunnies are sitting on the box with their noses in the corner.  Simon is licking River's face, so at least they're getting along now.
10:50pm  Had to pull Simon off of River.  Simon started the humping, River ran into the litter box, Simon followed and major circling commenced.
Now they're ignoring one another by eating hay or grooming themselves.
11:40  Massive cleaning fest!  River has been cleaning Simon's face for 10 minutes, then individual cleaning for another 10 minutes and now back to River cleaning Simon.
12am  Gave bunnies more hay.  Both are peacefully munching it.
2:45am  River is thumping on top of the box.  It's clear she's having a nightmare so I try to wake her up.  I have a hard time getting her off of the box and when I do, she bolts into the litter box and thumps some more (she's still clearly asleep--she's done this before, it's like half of her brain is awake so she can run and half of it's asleep and completely out of touch with her surroundings).  I finally wake her up completely by scooping up her front paws into my hand and rubbing her cheeks.  
River is now getting her face licked by Simon.
3:11am  Repeat of above.  
I had to chase her around the cage a bit until I had her front paws in my hand again so I could wake her up.  I put some oats in the hand holding her feet to test her wakefulness (she started eating them, so definitely awake).  I gave Simon some oats too.
5am  I remove the cardboard box because River is clumsy.  
This time, she was up on the box and decided to stand up on her hind legs to inspect the ceiling of the cage.  She bent over too far backwards, tranced herself into a frozen position and fell over backwards hitting her head on the side of the cage.  
She's okay, just a bit startled.  She just isn't having a good night. 
7:15am  Simon was humping River's head too aggressively, so I physically separated them.
7:35am  Had to physically separate the buns and push Simon's head down because he tried to do the dominance humping thing while I scooped out their pellets for breakfast.
7:48am  Bunnies have finished eating (no more issues with dominance displays during breakfast) and are sprawled out with Simon licking River's face.
8am  The bunnies have made it to 24 hours in each others' presence!
I think the bunnies are too tired to do much in terms of dominance displays today, so things were peacefully quiet during the daylight hours.
8:05pm  River tried to hump Simon and they started circling aggressively causing Ben to intervene by physically separating them.
Both bunnies acted normally after this. 
10pm  Simon kept chasing River around trying to mount her.  She wasn't cool with that so they started circling one another and it became progressively more aggressive.  I had to squirt water on them to make them stop.
Bunnies spent the next 30 minutes cleaning themselves.  Simon got pretty wet near his nose, so he wasn't a happy bun.  River got wet on her back and rump, but instead of spending much time cleaning, she decided to just lean on Simon so his fur would absorb the water.  Simon started grooming her for a bit after that and she reciprocated, so they're getting along again.
11:45pm  Gave the bunnies lettuce and had to chase Simon away from River because he was acting like a little piggy and kept trying to steal her food.    
2:16am, 2:30am, 3:40am, 4:10am, 4:30am   River keeps thumping for ??? reason (she was having a nightmare twice and received oats once I was able to wake her up).  Simon would keep trying to comfort her by licking her face whenever she would go near him (usually after I'd try petting her to calm her down).  I even tried picking her up and cuddling her in my lap, which she seemed to like.  I gave them both oats a couple of times, but I don't want them to associate thumping with a treat and it isn't good to give them too many oats. 
No change to their environment from daytime.  Plenty of hay and water.  She isn't sick or injured.  She's deaf, so it isn't like she can hear something going on outside of our apartment.  I had hoped that the first night's thumping was just due to a change in living quarters, but if that were so, I'd expect her to thump during the day as well.  If she felt stressed in the new cage, she wouldn't flop down like she has been.  I'm at an utter and complete loss to explain this behavior (and extremely sleep deprived at this point).
5:15am  River is thumping again.  She gave an exasperated/frustrated grunt when I noogied her and Simon (no sign of aggression, just that odd vocalization).  She started munching some hay afterwards.  
It then dawned on me that she probably was demanding either pellets or oats.  Request denied, I'm not going to start altering their feeding schedule because of demanding little buns. 
8:35am  River kept aggressively mounting/humping Simon and he'd circle and try to do the same, so they both got squirted with fresh water.
They went to opposite sides of the cage to clean off.  As you can see, River got the brunt of the water because she was the more aggressive of the two.  I should note that only the very top part of the fur is wet, it isn't soaked to the skin (which is dangerous for bunnies because hypothermia could set in).
Here is Simon cleaning the water off.  I checked them both over for injuries while they cleaned and everyone was fine.  That's just where a drop of water trickled down his ear--at first I thought he got scratched, but the fur there is just so fine that it looks like it's missing (whew!  really had me worried there for a minute).
They alternated between cleaning themselves and nuzzling and grooming each other after these pics were taken.
9am  I gave the bunnies breakfast a bit later today so they wouldn't associate it with their squabble for dominance.  It also gave them time to calm down and let their fur dry out.  Today, no one tried to do any dominance display while I scooped out pellets!
9:26am  I scolded River for digging in the litter box.  Simon was flopped with his head resting on the edge of the litter box watching this go down and was actually purring (I imagine it was his version of laughter).  River then kicked wood chips onto him for laughing at her. 
10am  The bunnies started rapidly circling, so I went over--they glanced at me and kept going.  I picked up the squirt bottle and said, "Don't make me use this."  They saw it and actually stopped on their own!  Simon just went into hover-lump form with his butt in the corner and River sat near him and ate a piece of hay.  
10:14am  Simon is licking River's face in the litter box.  Nice to see them getting along.
11:15am  Simon and River play with the freezer bag box.  Why yes, River did decide to stick her head inside of it.  I took this pic as she slowly moved her head from side to side like Stevie Wonder.  She was utterly unfazed by not being able to see, which surprised the heck out of me because she usually has a melt-down when part of her field of view is blocked. 
11:34am  River tries to hump Simon.  There's head humping, then circling, which escalated into chasing and aggression (Simon lost some fur, but was otherwise okay).  I squirted them with water to distract them so I could physically separate them. 
They're now cleaning on opposite sides of the cage.
This intervening span of time was primarily spent sleeping or eating.
3:19pm  Just snapped this pic of the bunnies being cute.  I just thought it was adorable how Simon has his paw on River's cheek as he gives her bunny kisses.  Too bad they don't act like this all of the time.
7:30pm  I was getting their toys out for their yard time when they started circling and chasing one another.  I had to physically separate them.

At this point, I decided to put them in their separate cages after their play time because their dominance displays were getting progressively more aggressive and there is a good possibility that the night time thumping has something to do with this kind of stress during the day.
I may try this process again after the holidays, but at this point, I can't trust them to be together in the big cage without constant supervision. 
10pm  The bunnies seem to think that room-mates are highly overrated and they are perfectly happy just being neighbors.  I thought this pic pretty much summed up this entire experience.
6am  Someone thumped three times in a bid for early breakfast.  Demand denied--their cages spilled over with all of the hay I gave them last night.
The bunnies were quiet all night.  This is the longest period of uninterrupted sleep I've had since before Thanksgiving. 


Tn said...

I've been meaning to ask you...Do your buns sleep a lot? I have a very quiet home and it seems my bun plays the most in the morning and night. However, throughout the day he's most content sleeping sprawled out with his legs sticking straight out."

Courtney said...

Yes, they sleep most of the day and are most active right after I give them breakfast (for about an hour) then they crash until around 7 or 8pm. I think this is pretty normal because rabbits (having evolved as prey species) are crepuscular, meaning that they're most active at dawn and dusk when their predators (completely nocturnal or diurnal) can't see them well due to the amount of light. Granted, domestication and our house lighting alters their behavior a bit, but not by much.

Anonymous said...

The "big" cage is not nearly big enough for two buns, especially as a full time living space. Mine each have a cage that size as their own space and then a six foot by six foot xpen for daytime shared living.

Courtney said...

It would seem that you have a much larger living space than we do to have your current set-up. Though not the same set-up as you have, Simon and River do get lots of time outside of their cages each day so they're kept mentally and physically active.

At this point, we are looking into other housing options for the two of them if we can't get them to live in the same cage without constant dominance disputes. I think with River being deaf, this will be a long drawn-out process because she's missing certain cues that a bunny with full hearing would pick up on and fighting commences due to some misunderstanding. I do appreciate your input, though.