Should I get my rabbit neutered?
Vets recommend that all rabbits not intended for breeding are neutered. Neutering your rabbit not only prevents unwanted pregnancies but improves the chance of a long and healthy life by helping to prevent cancer and other diseases.
It can also lead to your bunny having calmer, happier relationships with other rabbits and with you. Rabbits are very sociable creatures and should always be kept with at least one other rabbit. Even if you have a same-sex pair, neutering is important to ensure they develop a loving and long-lasting friendship. Let’s look at each sex in turn:
Why should female rabbits be neutered?
The main reason vets recommend that female rabbits are neutered is to prevent them from developing uterine adenocarcinoma. Sadly, this cancer of the uterus (or womb) is extremely common, occurring in some 5 to 8 of every 10 rabbits over three years of age. Often unseen or with only subtle signs, it is a malignant cancer that can spread to other tissues in the body such as the lungs, brain or liver and is considered a major cause of death in pet rabbits. Other benefits of neutering include:
– a reduced risk of mammary gland cancer
– no chance of an infected uterus (pyometra)
– the prevention of unwanted litters
– avoiding hormonally-driven territorial aggression
– preventing phantom (false) pregnancies.
Neutering your rabbit also helps to improve the relationship and bond between companion rabbits, as even two female rabbits from the same litter can start to fight and cause serious injury to each other once they reach sexual maturity.
Why should male rabbits be neutered?
The major benefit of neutering male rabbits is the reduction of unwanted behaviours such as urine spraying, mounting and aggression. Neutering can also make litter training much easier!
Fortunately, problems such as cancer or torsion of the testes and cancer of the prostate are rare in male rabbits, though castration will remove or reduce these risks.
Neutering also helps to improve the relationship and bond between companion rabbits. Castrating your male rabbit will allow you to bond them with a female companion, without any unwanted pregnancies.
Uncastrated males kept together often become very aggressive as they get older and can cause serious damage to each other when they fight. Neutering may allow two young male rabbits to remain as a happily bonded pair even when they reach sexual maturity.
What age should a rabbit be neutered?
Rabbits are usually neutered between 4 to 6 months of age, though males can be neutered as early as 10 weeks old if both testicles have descended.
It is important to remember that male rabbits can still be fertile for up to 6 weeks after neutering, as there may be sperm left in the reproductive tract! So, it is important to keep newly castrated males away from un-neutered females for 6 weeks post-operatively, while females, of course, can no longer get pregnant as soon as they are neutered.
What is involved in having a rabbit neutered?
See below for a handy checklist of what you’ll need if you decide to go ahead.
If you’ve taken a dog or cat to the vet for an operation, you may be used to a 12-hour pre-op fast. Rabbits can’t vomit, so you don’t need to starve them at all. Indeed, it is important to feed your rabbit as normal on the morning of the operation and allow them access to clean, fresh drinking water. It is very helpful if you send a packed lunch of your rabbit’s favourite vegetables, nuggets and hay to the vets with them, as familiar foods can encourage them to start eating as soon as possible after the operation and this helps to speed their recovery. Neutering is usually a day procedure, so your rabbit will normally be ready to collect from the vets in the afternoon or evening of that day.
The neutering procedure for female rabbits:
The operation for a female rabbit is called a spay and it involves removal of the uterus and ovaries via an incision into the abdomen. The procedure is performed under general anaesthesia and is a bigger procedure than neutering a male rabbit.
The neutering procedure for male rabbits:
The operation for a male rabbit is called castration and it involves removal of the testicles under general anaesthesia. Most vets perform the procedure via two small incisions into the scrotum, but your vet may perform the operation via an incision into the abdomen. Some male rabbits may have retained testicles, which means the testicles have not moved into the scrotum and are still in the abdomen. Retained testicles need to be removed via an abdominal incision.
How do I care for my rabbit after neutering?
When your rabbit gets home after having surgery, expect them to be a little sleepy and perhaps a bit wobbly on their legs. Your bunny needs plenty of rest after the operation and should be kept in a small area where they won’t bounce or run around too much, to allow their wounds to heal properly.
Your rabbit needs to come home to a clean enclosure too, to reduce the risk of post-op infection. Ask your veterinary care team what bedding they recommend; towels, blankets or newspaper are generally more suitable than hay or sawdust as they don’t get stuck to the wound.
It is vital that rabbits start to eat and drink quickly – and keep doing so – after their surgery and that they continue to pass faeces and urine normally. They need to be monitored closely, noting what food and water they are taking in, that they are passing urine and how many and what size of pellets are passed. It’s a good idea to do this before their operation for a couple of days so that you have a very clear idea of what “normal” is.
Why does this matter? If rabbits stop eating, even for short periods of time, they can develop gut stasis or ileus, where the guts stop moving. Other issues such as hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) can rapidly develop. Both these conditions are serious. Your vet may send you home with some special food that you can syringe-feed if necessary, but if you are having difficulty getting your rabbit to eat or your rabbit stops passing faeces, it is important to contact your vet as soon as possible.
Having surgery will obviously cause some discomfort, though the patient will normally be feeling better and behaving normally within a couple of days. Your vet will likely dispense pain relief to give your bunny for the initial post-op period; do give this medication as advised to help keep your rabbit comfortable.
It is important that you look at your rabbit’s surgical wound at least once, preferably twice a day during the recovery period. Check for any sign of infection, bleeding or inflammation. Female rabbits may have a dressing placed over their spay wound for initial protection, which is often removed at their first post-op vet check. Most rabbits don’t interfere with their surgical wound, but if you notice yours is licking or chewing at the site, discuss it with your vet as soon as possible. A surgical vest, baby-grow, soft buster collar or wound dressing may be advised to protect the site till fully healed.
One or two post-op checks may be arranged to make sure wound healing and recovery are progressing well, either face-to-face or by video or teleconsult and by sharing photos of the op site. Do attend these check-ups so that small problems are picked up before they lead to any major complications. Full recovery takes around 14 days. If you have any concerns with your rabbit before your scheduled checks, do err on the safe side and contact your vet. The checklist below summarises the things you’ll need to think about.
Checklist: planning for post-op care
- The place and the space
- Bedding materials
- Eating, drinking and food supplements
- Pellet watching
- Post-op problems
- Pain relief
- Wound watch
Are there any risks to having a rabbit neutered?
Although neutering is a low-risk procedure, especially in a young healthy rabbit, unexpected complications can occur and there is a small risk of death – the biggest risk of the procedure is the anaesthetic. Thankfully, rabbit anaesthesia is much safer than it used to be and many small animal vets are now very experienced at rabbit neutering.
Other risks including bleeding, post-op infections and wound breakdown, yet despite this neutering is generally a very safe procedure. Talk with your vet team before scheduling surgery till you are happy that you have made an informed choice for your bunny’s best interests – for most rabbits, the benefits of neutering far outweigh the risks.
Find more advice about neutering and fabulous facts on all aspects of rabbit care and welfare at www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health
If you have any further questions or concerns about getting your rabbit neutered, would like an individualised risk assessment or have any other concerns about your fluffy friend, remember the vets at Vet on the Net are available for telephone video consults 7 days a week!