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The Importance of Neutering - Rabbit Welfare Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund

Neutering (castration of males and spaying of females) is vital to helping your rabbits live a long and healthy life.
Neutering allows rabbits to be kept in the pairs or groups that are so vital to their welfare; prevents life-threatening health problems (especially in female rabbits) and, of course, prevents unwanted pregnancies: there are thousands of unwanted rabbits in rescue centres already, please don't add to this by breeding from your pets.

Neutering is vital to helping your rabbits live a long and healthy life.

If you have a mixed-sex pair of rabbits, they both need to be neutered in order to live together harmoniously: even if your female rabbit is spayed, an un-castrated male will still try to mount her, which can trigger fighting and cause stress to both rabbits. And if you neuter your male rabbit leaving your female rabbit un-spayed, she will have repeated false pregnancies, is likely to become aggressive, and will be at risk of premature death from uterine cancer. While mounting may still take place between neutered pairs, it'll be due to dominance behaviour rather than reproduction, and this is a wholly natural behaviour… you will sometimes find female rabbits mounting their male companions for this reason.

Pair of Rabbits

Male rabbits can be castrated at any age, but if you have bought young rabbits, it's best to have them castrated as soon as their testicles descend (10 - 12 weeks) although take advice from your own vet - some may prefer you to wait a little longer. The operation is fairly straightforward and recovery time is quite quick, provided there are no complications. Some vets perform rabbit castrations via the scrotum and some via the abdomen.

Advantages to having male rabbits castrated
  • Un-castrated males can breed. Neutering/castration prevents this.
  • Un-castrated male rabbits often spray urine like tom cats... over their territory, their possessions (include their rabbit companions) and very often over you, too.
  • Un-neutered males occasionally develop cancer in their testes and prostate gland. Although the risk is small, castration eliminates it.
  • Neutering usually make litter training much easier.
  • Some un-neutered males are aggressive. After castration, testosterone levels will fall dramatically which should reduce or eradicate aggression.
  • In general, neutered males are much happier and more relaxed pets.
  • Un-castrated male rabbits can't realistically live with any other rabbit.

If you have a young male rabbit castrated within a few days of his testicles descending into the scrotum, he won't have the chance to become fertile and he can remain with a female littermate or companion. If he was any older when he was castrated, be careful: male rabbits aren't sterile immediately after castration (mature sperm may have already left the testicles, and can live a surprisingly long time!), so keep him away from unspayed adult females for between four and eight weeks after his operation.

For females, the spaying operation is a bigger undertaking, as her uterus and ovaries have to be removed via an incision in the abdomen. Females are sterile as soon as they have been spayed, but if they have a male companion, you need to check he is gentle with her until the healing process is well underway: if you suspect he might mount your female rabbit, keep them apart for a few days, where they can see and smell each other through wire mesh.

Advantages of having female rabbits spayed
  • Unspayed females are at very high risk of two potentially fatal conditions: uterine cancer and pyometra (infection of the uterus/womb). These can both be fatal.
  • Some unspayed females are aggressive and territorial. Many have repeated phantom pregnancies and may growl, lunge at, scratch or bite their owners or other rabbits, particularly in spring and summer.
  • Keeping two un-spayed females together, even if they are sisters, can make aggression issues worse.
  • Female rabbits are able to reproduce from about 4-6 months of age. Rabbit pregnancies are short - around 31 days - and there are several kits to each litter. Females are able to mate again immediately after they have given birth, so if the dad is still around the potential for a population explosion is obvious.
Male and Female Rabbits

Is it safe?
Even a decade ago, rabbit surgery was regarded as high risk and many vets were very reluctant to perform elective (planned) surgery on rabbits. Today, things are very different: advances in anaesthetic techniques and veterinary training have resulted in rabbit neutering operations becoming much safer. However, low-risk surgery doesn't mean norisk surgery. Surgery on any animal can have unexpected complications, including a small risk of death, but for most rabbits the benefits of neutering far outweigh the very small risk. Older rabbits and those in poor health are more difficult to neuter safely. If your pet rabbit is older than three or four years old, or has medical problems (such as obesity, dental disease or 'snuffles' and related disorders) you must discuss the risks and benefits with your vet in order to choose the best option for your pet.

Today things are very different...

Choosing the right vet to neuter your rabbits
It's important to choose a suitable veterinary practice to neuter your rabbits. Like any other specialist field, vets vary in their interests and expertise in rabbit medicine.

There is a full guide on how to choose a vet for this most important of procedures elsewhere in this booklet.

If you already use a veterinary practice, ask whether they neuter rabbits. Most small animal vets are happy to neuter both male and female rabbits these days, but some practices do still refer rabbit surgery – especially spays, or higher-risk rabbits – to specialist exotics practices.

The cost of having rabbits neutered varies from one veterinary practice to another. Spaying a female is always more expensive than neutering a male because it is takes longer and is a more complex operation. Ask vets for quotes, but if you can afford to do so, choose your vet based on their rabbit expertise and track record in rabbit anaesthesia and surgery, not on their price-list. And don't forget, that expertise may not be at the most expensive veterinary clinic!

Pre operation

Pre-operative care
Take your rabbit to the vet well before the operation date for a health check and to discuss the procedure. Ask whether any pre-operative blood tests are advised. Don't change the diet in the week or so before surgery. Rabbits cannot vomit, so they don't need to be fasted before surgery. They should be offered food and water right up to the time of surgery and as soon as they wake up.

Post-operative care
Your rabbit should be awake, alert and preferably eating when you collect him after surgery. Remember to check:

  • Has the rabbit been given pain-relieving drugs? If not, request some - you are unlikely to find any rabit-savvy vet these days who doesn't routinely pay great attention to pain relief after rabbit surgery, but always check.
  • Who should be contacted if there are any problems?
  • Do you need to book an appointment for a check-up, or for stitches to be removed?
  • How long should the rabbit be on cage rest? (Usually 2 days for males, 5 or 6 for females)

The most important thing is to get your rabbit eating

When you get your rabbit home, put him in a disinfected cage indoors with comfortable bedding (e.g. clean towels or Vetbed) and a clean litter tray or newspapers. Most vets use special suture techniques to prevent rabbits chewing at stitches, but you should still check the operation site for any discharge or swelling.

rabbit recovery

Males usually bounce back from their operation, but females may be quiet for a day or so. The most important thing is to get your rabbit eating, or the digestive system may grind to a halt. Vets try very hard to avoid this complication, using drugs to relieve pain and stimulate the gut, but you should be prepared to tempt the rabbit with nibbles of favourite food. Freshly picked grass or herbs often work. If your rabbit isn't eating by next morning, call the vet for advice. You should also monitor the rabbit's droppings for a few days and contact the vet if few or none are produced.

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