Q. Why do you rehome your rabbits and guinea pigs in pairs?
A. We try to rehome all our rabbits and guinea pigs in pairs as they are naturally highly sociable creatures. They need company of their own kind, and both species would live in family groups in the wild. Rabbits will groom each other and they have been proven to actively seek out each other’s company if they have been kept alone. In studies, finding the company of other rabbits was shown to be as vital for the rabbit as finding food or water. Guinea pigs will often chatter away to each other and love to snuggle next to each other. Being in a couple also helps them to feel more secure, as one can keep a look out for perceived predators, whilst the other is resting or eating, which is important for prey animals. At night they will be able to share each other’s body heat for extra warmth, another bonus especially when kept outside. We also have plenty of single rabbits and guinea pigs here who are waiting to join a lonely rabbit or guinea pig in the home.
Q. Why do I need to neuter my rabbit, if your rabbit is already neutered?
A. It is much easier to bond two rabbits who have both been neutered. Without the sex hormones, there is a lessened chance of mounting behaviour which can upset the bonding process. (There may be some mounting behaviour when mixing rabbits, however this is to find out who is in charge rather than sexual mounting which is more frantic). Even some previously well bonded couples have fallen out in the spring once the natural sex hormones have kicked in if only one of the rabbits out of the pair has been neutered. Neutering also prevents some cancers.
Q. How do you go about mixing/bonding two new guinea pigs or rabbits?
A. We recommend that the two animals have an area that can be split in two, with wire mesh down the middle so that both animals can see and smell each other but cannot hurt each other. It must be a neutral area where neither pet has been before, with no hideaway areas. They can live like this for a couple of days. You can swap them into each other’s pen so that they get used to the scent of the other one. After a couple of days we do a supervised meet. We advise that you have two people present and that each person has a towel with them so that they can separate the animals if needed. Rabbits and guinea pigs can give nasty nips if they are fighting. Split them straight way if any aggression is shown. They will probably go around scenting the area the other one has been in. They may even circle each other, but only split them with the towel if the circling turns to chasing. Some chasing is ok but it must not escalate. If the first meet only lasts less than ten minutes this is fine, then build up the time the animals spend together gradually. Also try to end the sessions on a high. You can pop food in for them whilst they are bonding, making sure there is enough food for both animals. With guinea pigs they may talk to each other, beware of teeth chattering though as this is often a sign of aggression. With rabbits, one rabbit may place their head down in front of the other. This is a demand for grooming, normally made by the more dominant out of the pair. If the other rabbit does groom them, allow this to happen. Watch carefully though as sometimes the other will want the grooming to be reciprocated afterwards and this may lead to frustration if it does not happen. Sometimes we will place both rabbits next to each other and stroke them over their heads so that they totally relax, transferring our hands from one rabbit to the other moving their smell from each rabbit to the other. Let them wake slightly and look at each other and then repeat. This may fool the rabbits into believing they are being groomed by the other.
Once the time the animals are spending together has increased without any signs of aggression, you can start leaving them unattended for short periods. We normally place a ball with bells within the toy in the pen, so that if there is any chasing or commotion you can hear the bell and you can run back in to check on the animals. Once they are spending the majority of the day together with no problems, you can leave them overnight.
Once they have had a sleepover with no issues they are generally fully bonded as a couple. Make sure you have two water bowls and two food bowls to reduce the likelihood of competition over resources. Also if there are any doorways or hideaway areas watch that one of the pair does not prevent the other animal from going through or using them. If you ever have to take one of the animals to the vets, it is important that both of the animals go in the same carrier, even if the other animal does not need to be seen. This prevents the coupling from breaking down in the future.
We offer a bonding service at the rescue centre if you would prefer us to do it. Although we do insist that any visiting rabbit is fully vaccinated before coming into us. We do not charge for this service however donations are always welcome.
Q. What do you recommend we feed our new pet?
A. Good quality hay should make up the majority of your pet’s food. Readigrass, which is a dried grass that still retains its green colour and nutrients, should also always be available for your pet. Guinea pigs will require fresh vegetables every day as they cannot manufacture vitamin C and need to obtain it from their diet. Rabbits can also enjoy vegetables, although care should be taken not to give them vegetables which are high in sugars. Carrots and apples should be a very rare treat. Carrot tops and apple tree branches are a better alternative. Guinea pigs can be fed a good quality pellet food as this will have added vitamins. Rabbits should not be fed a pellet based diet daily though, as this can make them overweight. It will also not allow them to wear down their teeth properly. Foraged dandelions and grass from places which are safe from pesticides are a great treat. Wash the greens well before giving them to your pets. Stay clear of some treats designed for rabbits and guinea pigs, which you can purchase from some shops. Most are high in calories and some, such as the hard maize treats can form blockages in their intestines. Dried herbs are a good substitute to buy instead.
Q. Do I need to keep vaccinating my rabbit?
A. Your rabbit would have been fully vaccinated whilst with us, however they will require yearly vaccinations to keep them protected. The diseases they are vaccinated against are extremely infectious, can cause terrible suffering and are almost always fatal. Myxomatosis can be carried by biting insects and the RHD/VHD1 & 2 (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, strain or variant 1&2) diseases are air borne. VHD is particularly deadly as there are no or little symptoms and the rabbit can die within 24-48 hours from contracting it. The rabbits do not have to be in direct contact with wild rabbits to catch these diseases and even rabbits that are kept indoors should still be vaccinated to keep them safe.
Q. Can rabbits and guinea pigs live together?
A. The short answer is no. Rabbits and guinea pigs have very different needs and personalities. They have specific dietary requirements and they interact with their own kind in a contrasting way. Rabbits love to mutual groom. Guinea pigs are more vocal. If kept together the smaller guinea pig can be bullied by the larger rabbit, which could result in some nasty injuries. Rabbits love to run and dig. Guinea pigs prefer to eat and sleep. It is much better to get a companion of their own species.