There are a number of health, welfare and behavioural benefits of neutering both does and bucks. Neutering them makes then happier and healthier and enables them to live as bonded pairs or groups allowing them to meet their social needs without increasing the rabbit population! While neutering may not be natural, keeping a rabbit in a domestic set-up is not natural either. We may provide our pets with the right food and exercise etc... but we also need to take the step of neutering to prevent them from reproducing or becoming frustrated – it’s a very simple way to make your rabbit calmer and happier.
The goals of neutering
Many owners are surprised that their neutered rabbits may still exhibit behaviours that are driven by their hormones, especially during the spring and early months. In male rabbits testosterone is produced by the testicles, which are removed when they are neutered, but testosterone continues to be produced to a lesser extent by the adrenal gland.
Neutering rabbits therefore modifies sexual and hormonal behaviours, but may not abolish it altogether.
Removes reproductive organs so that the rabbit cannot reproduce.
Eliminates the risk of reproductive cancers in the doe and testicular tumours in bucks.
Lessens or removes unwanted behaviours ** such as: spraying of urine, hormonal aggression, pseudo-pregnancies (false pregnancies) and excessive mounting.
The younger the rabbit is neutered, preferably less than 6 months of age for both sexes (see below for recommended neutering ages), the less chance there is that the rabbit will develop unwanted behaviours listed above. If neutered later in life once any of these behaviours have already become established, then neutering may have minimal effect on cessation of them since they will have become a learnt behaviour rather being driven by hormones.
** Rabbits are clever and like all animals known when spring is approaching. As the day length increases and the temperature rises this triggers rabbits into ‘spring mode’ and their hormones heighten, leading to behaviours that will be driven by them. Some of which are those we aim to eliminate through neutering.
Within domestic rabbits, social, sexual and even aggressive behaviours may surface, although most are as a rule mild. Does may attempt to or dig out new burrows; aggression between other rabbits and people may appear; an increase in chasing and mounting behaviours and ‘chinning’ items to mark territory - may all become apparent.
During the spring months and early summer it is a common occurrence for bonded pairs (who may have been bonded for many years and never had problems), to have more disagreements and ‘tiffs’. These are normally characterised by an increase in mounting behaviour and chasing each other. As long as there is no fighting then this normally settles down within a few weeks and just requires careful monitoring.
If serious fighting breaks out then the rabbits will need separating, given time to calm down and careful reintroductions once their hormones have settled (which may be several weeks). We recommend you speak to us for advise as breaking the pair bond needs to be avoided where possible.
If separated you will need to keep a close eye on your rabbits during this time for any breakdown in a bond and act immediately if you observe any fighting or signs a fight may have occurred (scattering of fur, blood or wounds on one or both rabbits).
Supply them with natural enrichment to enable them to keep mentally and physically active. Allow your rabbits the freedom to express these normal behaviours by ensuring they have ample time in the garden to dig and forage, run, skip and be a rabbit!
It is worth mentioning that this is not the best time of year to attempt to bond rabbits, since their hormones are at a heightened level and the risk of hormonal aggression and fighting between new bonds is at its highest. Therefore the bonding of two rabbits should be avoided if at all possible during this time, or extra care and extremely close supervision undertaken.
So when should you neuter?
Mixed-sex pairs usually work best, so if you are thinking of getting rabbits for the first time, it is advisable to get a male and a female. Adult rabbits adopted from rescue centres are usually neutered before re-homing, but if you are buying baby rabbits, you will need to have them neutered to avoid accidental litters or fighting (which is why same-sex pairs also need to be neutered as soon as possible). When you take your new rabbits to the vet for their vaccinations as soon as possible after buying them, get their sex checked and discuss neutering.
Both sexes can reach sexual maturity from as early as 8 weeks, though it is uncommon for them to mate successfully at this age. We recommend spaying does from 16 weeks and bucks at 12 weeks. For male and female pairs, neutering at the same time is recommended and they should be kept together in the ward.
The anaesthetic and operation
Rabbits cannot actively vomit and so unlike dogs, cats and ferrets starving at home is not necessary. The neutering is a surgical operation for both sexes and a full general anaesthetic is required. Vomiting during any part of the anaesthetic can be dangerous to the patient and starving prior to surgery helps protect their airway. This is not an issue in rabbit anaethesia.
In the male rabbit a wide area over and around the scrotum is shaved and prepared for surgery. The spermatic cord and blood supply are tied off and testicles completely removed; this is achieved by making a small incision in front or over the scrotum which will be stitched at the end of the operation.
In the female rabbit we perform abdominal surgery to remove both ovaries and the uterus, (known as an ovario-hysterectomy). The rabbit will be clipped over its midline and prepared for surgery. The ovaries and its blood supply are tied off and the lower end of the uterus. The reproductive tract is removed. The layers of abdominal muscle are closed with sutures.
It is common practice to use subcutaneous, (rather than skin) sutures in both sexes, which do not need to be removed at a later date Post op care at home is still needed and you will be given a full set of instructions.
It should be remembered that with all male animals that are neutered they have the ability to successfully mate up until 6 weeks after the operation and should be kept separate from unneutered females.
This fact can affect the rabbit bond if the pair have to be separated for this length of time. (See when should you neuter section above.)
The anaesthetic is the most common concern for rabbit owners and you should ask your vets what procedures are in place to keep them safe, from when they are admitted until when they go home. Our registered veterinary nurses nurse our patients from when they are admitted to discharging them back into the care of their owners. This forms part of our protocol and includes the following:
We keep all our bunnies in a quiet ward away from barking dogs and provide them with something to hide in. This makes them feel safer and reduces stress levels. If required, the rabbit’s friend can come too. This adds to stress reduction and doesn’t break the bond between them when one is left behind at home only to be greeted later by their mate who smells different. We administer a calculated fluid therapy bolus ½ hour before surgery to reduce the risk of dehydration. Dehydration can affect their recovery time and their vital organs when under the anaesthetic
Our surgery nurses pre-prepare all the equipment needed so the procedure runs smoothly and the patient anaesthetic time is kept to a minimum' Our rabbit patients are taken to the prep room for pre-induction oxygen therapy. Their anaesthetic is given by intramuscular injection, (this is accurately calculated according to the rabbits body weight) and the oxygen is continued. Once asleep their airway is secured and an oxygen-anaesthetic gas mix is given. Keeping rabbits warm throughout their procedure is important as smaller animals loose heat very quickly. We use space blankets, bubble wrap, baby socks, monitored heated pads and our operating theatres are kept warm. We are also careful about how much and what type of skin preparation liquids are used. The recovery stage is just as important and are closely monitored by our ward nurses until they are up, wide awake and have eaten. We usually syringe feed them using a highly nutritious convalescent feed as its important their gut remains active
If you have any further questions about neutering your rabbit please contact us on 01376 325511.