TIP – Neutering for both sexes is essential for your rabbit to live a healthy & long life. It is an absolute must for a female. An unneutered female will have her lifespan seriously diminished by the very high chance she will at some point have uterine cancer.
Neutering is a general term used when an animal has it’s reproductive organs removed.
If the animal is male the procedure is called a castration. The procedure involves removal of the testicles. A male can be castrated between 10-12 weeks old. However, discuss your individual rabbit with your vet. Consideration needs to be given as to how mature your rabbit is.
If the animal is female the procedure is called a spay. The procedure involves removal of the womb & uterus. A female can be spayed from 4 months old, however most vets prefer to wait until the rabbit is 6 months old reducing the risk of the surgery. A spay is a much bigger operation than a castration. Once again discuss your individual rabbit with your vet.
In both procedures a general anaesthetic is used. The operation is much more involved for a female & therefore is a much longer operation.
There is always a risk with any operation but the benefits outweigh the small risk.
Benefits of Neutering
- Prevents unwanted pregnancies. Females can reproduce from 4-6 months old & have several babies in each litter. Just think of all the bunnies in need of homes in animal sanctuaries, you don’t want to add to the problem.
- Allows bunnies to be kept in groups or to be paired. Unneutered pairs or groups are more likely to be very aggressive towards each other making pairing difficult & risk of injury high.
- Reduces/eliminates aggression. Calms their hormones down.
- Reduces/eliminates spraying of urine to mark their territory or anything else they think is theirs like yourself!
- Prevents cancer. Uterine cancer is very high in unspayed females & occasionally in male rabbits they can develop cancer in their prostrate gland & testes.
- Litter training is usually easier as the need to spray all over their territory diminishes.
- Reduces/eliminates humping – Females especially have mood swings leading to aggressive behaviour but also getting rather amorous with just about anything including yourself, namely a leg. Males tend to be less aggressive but still like to have a good hump!
Post Op Care
After any operation a rabbit must be kept indoors overnight to keep warm & allow you to keep a close eye on them.
Things you need to know before you & your bunny leave the vets:
- When will they start drinking normally?
- When will they start eating normally?
- Are the stitches dissolvable or do you need to return for their removal?
- How often should you check the wound from the surgery & what problems should you look out for?
- Has your bunny had painkillers & do you need to continue them & for how long?
- How long do you have to wait before your bunny can be paired?
The answers to some of these questions will help you know when things aren’t going to plan. My vets give a courtesy call the following morning after any of my bunnies have had an operation to check their progress but not all vets do this. If you are worried about your bunny, the first thing I would recommend is give your vets a ring & ask for advice. Don’t be too quick to put your bunny in a car to take them to the vets as the extra stress could make them worse. Obviously, if your bunny is really quite sick then that is what you must do.
Below is a photo of Bubbles’ spay incision that was not healing according to plan. The little opening you can see is where an abscess had been. It would appear Bubbles’ messed with her cut & managed to open it slightly causing an abscess. The abscess burst & fortunately the wound was clean & not infected so healed very well without the need for antibiotics.
Males generally recover from the operation quicker than females as their operation is less involved. The main thing to remember is do not put your male with an unsprayed female for 4-8 weeks after the operation. He could still be fertile. If he is to be paired with a spayed female give him time to heal before you pair. If he is to go back with a female he is already paired with make sure she keeps away from his operation area & doesn’t interfere with it.
Females take a lot longer to recover as their operation is much more involved. Do not pair the female straight away, even though she will be sterile she will need some time to heal. If she is to go back to a male she is already paired with make sure he is gentle with her. If he isn’t, it is recommended you separate them with mesh but make sure they remain side by side. This is so they can still have contact with each other & when you remove the mesh they should live together as before.
When one of mine has had an operation their partner is usually very interested in them as they smell different. Meaning they often smell of the vets. I often stroke the partner & then stroke the bunny who has been to the vets & vice versa. This transfers each others smell on to them so things do seem to keep more relaxed.
I have had a lot of experience of neutering & post op care. Neutering is a no brainer for me & my bunnies. I have lost so many females to uterine cancer in the past it’s almost a foregone conclusion in my mind that any unsprayed female will end up with uterine cancer. Aggressive behaviour has also diminished & I have had a lot of aggressive rabbits over the years. As for the males, I have seen the difference in how much less territorial they are & seem to have less health problems.
My latest spay was Tilly & she recovered really well. After the operation everything went to plan & she healed great.
Sometimes it is recommended that if you have an older rabbit it is not worth neutering. I have had rabbits who were 6 & 7 years old neutered. It saved the females lives as the uterine cancer had already started. They then lived for another 2-3 years but would have only had months left if the neutering had not been done. Please note these rabbits were fit & healthy otherwise. Sometimes the age does go against them if it is combined with an existing illness. You would need to discuss your individual rabbit with your vet & weigh up the pros & cons.
As mentioned previously uterine cancer is very high in unsprayed females. In my experience something sinister usually starts developing by the age of 3 years. The common sign is bleeding at the back end. In females that have been spayed under 3 the womb & uterus has looked normal.
I have also found that any female who has had the cancer, it has usually come back to haunt them at a later date. Usually 2-3 years after, depending on how old the rabbit was at the time of spay. However, I have had a couple of rabbits where it hasn’t returned. Obviously, I have no scientific evidence to back this up it is just information I have gained over the years from my own rabbits.
I feel it is worth noting that a friend took his female rabbit, Bumper, to be spayed who lived by herself. The vet couldn’t understand why he wanted his rabbit spayed. Uterine cancer was pointed out to the vet & after insisting undertook the operation. It seemed quite staggering to me at the time that the vet was unaware or didn’t think it was a good enough reason to neuter. This happened only a few years ago so there are still some vets out there who lack knowledge on rabbits. So stick to your guns & insist like Bumper’s owner did. You may also want to consider seeing another vet who is a little more rabbit savvy.
My Losses to Uterine Cancer
The females I lost to uterine cancer weren’t spayed initially due to the high risk of the anaesthetic back in their day or were rescued from sanctuaries who didn’t have a spay policy & already had the cancer.
Bunnies who didn’t have the spay operation
For the bunnies below it was too late to do anything about the cancer.
Bunnies who had the spay operation when signs of cancer had been found
The bunnies below all had shown signs of uterine cancer, they were spayed but the cancer came back & got them in the end. Where possible I have the year of spay & year of death.
Bunnies who had the spay operation & showed signs of cancer were lucky enough for the cancer not to come back.
Since anaesthetics have got a lot better & I have my females spayed as a matter of course I have a lot less deaths due to uterine cancer. However, I still see it frequently through adopting older females. It’s a pity all sanctuaries don’t spay the females immediately.