Rabbits are well known for their ability to increase numbers very rapidly, so the two cute bundles of fluff that you adopt can quickly turn into tens or even hundreds of rabbits if they are not neutered! Neutering your rabbit can give them a longer, healthier life and vets recommend that all rabbits that are not used for breeding are neutered. Neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies but also can help prevent cancer and other diseases developing and can lead to your bunny having calmer, happier relationships with other rabbits. Rabbits are very sociable creatures and so should always be kept with at least one other rabbit. Even if your pair of rabbits is the same sex, neutering is important to ensure they develop a loving and long-lasting friendship.
Why should I neuter my female rabbit?
The main reason vets recommend that female rabbits are neutered is to prevent them from developing uterine adenocarcinoma, which is a cancer of the uterus. Sadly, this cancer is extremely common in female rabbits, occurring in 50 – 80% of female rabbits over the age of 3 years (Heatley and Smith, 2004.) ; it is malignant and can spread to other tissues in the body such as the lungs, brain and liver. Neutering can also reduce the risk of mammary cancer and pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus.
Other benefits of neutering include the prevention of unwanted litters, reducing aggression and hormonal territorial behaviours and preventing phantom or false pregnancies. Neutering your rabbit also helps to improve the relationship and bond between companion rabbits. 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 I neuter my male rabbit?
The major benefit of neutering male rabbits is that it reduces unwanted behaviours such as urine spraying, mounting and aggression. Neutering can also make litter training much easier!
Fortunately, reproductive diseases such as testicular torsion, testicular cancer and prostatic cancer are rare in male rabbits. Although the risk of these diseases is small, castration will completely remove that risk.
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 towards each other as they get older and can cause a lot of serious damage to each other through fighting. Neutering may allow two young male rabbits to remain as a happily bonded pair once they reach sexual maturity.
What age should I get my rabbit neutered?
Rabbits are usually neutered between 4 – 6 months of age, but 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 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 unneutered females for 6 weeks post neutering to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Females can no longer get pregnant as soon as they are neutered.
What do I need to do before my rabbit goes to the vets for neutering?
As rabbits cannot vomit, you do not need to starve them before an operation as would be done for a dog or cat. It is important to feed your rabbit as normal on the morning of their operation and allow them access to clean, fresh drinking water. It can be 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, which helps to speed their recovery. Neutering is usually a day procedure, so your rabbit will usually be ready to collect from the vets in the afternoon or evening after their surgery.
It is important that your rabbit has a clean enclosure to come back to after the surgery, to reduce the risk of post-op infections. It is important that the bedding doesn’t get stuck to the wounds, so often it is recommended to keep them on towels, blankets or newspaper after the operation whilst the wounds heal – you can discuss with your vet what bedding they would recommend.
What does the neutering procedure involve 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.
What does the neutering procedure involve for male rabbits?
The operation for a male rabbit is called a 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.
What do I need to monitor my rabbit for post neutering?
When your rabbit gets home after having surgery, they are likely to be a little sleepy and may also be a bit wobbly on their legs. It is important after the operation that your bunny gets lots of rest and is kept in a smaller area, so they don’t bounce or run around too much, to allow their wounds to heal properly.
It is very important that rabbits keep eating and drinking after the surgery and continue to pass faeces and urine normally. Therefore, it is very important that you closely monitor what food and water your rabbit is consuming and what faeces and urine they are passing. If rabbits stop eating, even for short periods of time, it can lead to gut stasis, where the guts stop working as normal, and other issues such as hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) can rapidly develop. Your vet may send your rabbit home with some special food that you can syringe into your rabbit’s mouth if they are not eating normally. If you are having difficulties 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 to your rabbit, but usually within a few days they will feel better and will be behaving normally again. Your vet will likely give you some pain relief to give your bunny after their operation. It is important to give the medication that your vet advises to help keep your rabbit comfortable.
It is important that you look at your rabbits surgical wound at least once or twice a day during the recovery period, checking for any signs of infection, bleeding or inflammation. Female rabbits will occasionally have a dressing placed over their spay wound to protect it initially, which is often removed by the vet at their first post op check-up. Most rabbit will not interfere with their surgical wound but if you notice that your rabbit is chewing or licking at their surgical wounds, then it is important to discuss this with your vet asap. If a rabbit keeps interfering with the wound, then your vet may provide a surgical vest or baby grow, a soft buster collar or a dressing to cover the wound.
Your vet will likely arrange for one or two post operation check ups for your rabbit to make sure they are recovering well and their wounds are healing. It is very important that you take your rabbit for these check-ups as small problems can be picked up before they lead to any major complications. If you have any concerns with your rabbit before your scheduled post op checks, it is important to contact your vet asap. After 10 – 14 days, rabbits have usually fully recovered from their operation.
Are there any risk to having my rabbit neutered?
Although neutering is a low-risk procedure, especially in a young healthy rabbit, unexpected complications can occur, including a small risk of death. The biggest risk of the procedure is the anaesthetic but thankfully rabbit anaesthesia is a lot safer than it used to be and many small animal vets are now very experienced at rabbit anaesthesia and neutering. Other risks including bleeding, post op infections and wound breakdown. Despite these risks, neutering is generally a very safe procedure and, for most rabbits, the benefits of neutering far outweigh the risks of the procedure.
If you have any further questions or concerns about getting your rabbit neutered or you have any other concerns with your fluffy friend, then don’t forgot the vets at Vet on the Net are available for video consults 7 days a week!
Heatley J and Smith A (2004) Spontaneous neoplasms of lagomorphs. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice 7, 561 – 577
Dr Louise Abuzet BVM&S CertAVP(ECC) CertAVP (ZooMed) BSc(HONS) MRCVS
RCVS Advanced Practitioner in Emergency and Critical Care
28th January 2021