There are many reasons why altering (spaying for females, and neutering for males) your pet rabbit is not only recommended but almost mandatory if you are concerned about the health and lifespan of your bunny.
Reasons To Alter Your Rabbit –
1. Prevention of Pregnancies – Use of the plural term wasn’t a mistake. Females rabbits are capable of carrying multiple litters at one time, it’s rare but can happen. They can also become pregnant within a few days after giving birth. Juvenile rabbits can become fertile when they are as young as 4 months old. There are plenty of rabbits in shelters around the world who need loving, caring homes.
2. Prevention of Uterine Cancer – This is probably the biggest medical reason to alter your female rabbit. Depending upon the breed, the likelihood of this type of cancer occurring is as high as 80% in an unaltered population. There is no cure for this cancer once it begins and it is a death sentence for your pet. This type of cancer is usually not seen in a rabbit under the age of 2 years so it is recommended they get spayed while they are still in their youth.
3. Other Types of Diseases Affecting the Reproductive Organs – Should your rabbit avoid uterine cancer, there is still a significant chance they will experience some other life-threatening disease of their reproductive organs. These diseases range from infections of the mammary glands to an inability of the reproductive organs to function correctly. Most are untreatable by the time they are discovered, but all can be avoided by having your doe spayed before she reaches 2 years of age.
4. Preventing False Pregnancies – Unaltered female rabbits are notorious for acting as if they are pregnant, even to the point their hormones spike, when in fact, they are not. While not life-threatening by themselves, these episodes are very stressful for the rabbit involved. They can include aggressive behavior and a loss of appetite which can in turn, lead to GI stasis in short order.
5. Avoiding Aggressive Behavior – As rabbits reach sexual maturity, most male and female rabbits will begin to display aggressive and territorial behavior. They can be compared to hormonal teenagers during this time period and very difficult to deal with. The little cuddly bunny who liked to snuggle and receive pets now charges anything coming close to their area and is likely to bite the hand that is feeding it without remorse. This is a natural instinct and in wild rabbits, a time when they are learning to defend their territory and themselves. While pet rabbits do not need to protect themselves in this way, their bodies don’t know that and hormones can easily turn your cute little bunny into a destructive monster rabbit. Having your pet altered, either shortly before or right after, reaching sexual maturity will alleviate this Jekyll & Hyde syndrome.
6. Marking Territory by Spraying – Both male and female rabbits have the ability to spray their urine in a vertical direction. While male rabbits tend to do this more frequently, unaltered female rabbits also spray to help mark their territory. As rabbits reach sexual maturity, their urine also takes on a very strong odor, which can be hard to clean and eliminate from porous surfaces. Altering your pet rabbit decreases spraying behaviors almost entirely and will go a long way toward helping your bunny get back to being litter trained.
When To Have Your Pet Spayed/Neutered
It’s best to have this discussion with your exotic vet who will be performing the surgery. Many vets refrain from doing this surgery until the rabbit is at least 1-year-old, however, there are others who understand the benefits of altering the house rabbit shortly after sexual maturity. This differs for each breed and can be as early as 4 months of age, up to 9 months of age for most of the larger breeds.
It’s important that the rabbit isn’t altered too soon. As they approach sexual maturity, many hormones are at work, including the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal, and pancreas. Altering a rabbit before sexual maturity is at hand risks disturbing the fragile hormone balance and causing health issues later in life.
Your exotic vet will be able to determine when your rabbit has reached sexual maturity by performing a simple physical exam, although you will probably know this time is near based upon your daily interaction with them.
Once your vet has given the go-ahead, it’s time to schedule the surgery.
What To Expect?
The procedures for altering rabbits differs based upon their sex. In the male (buck) rabbit, the testicles are completely removed. Most vets only make one small incision, low on the abdomen. Some vets still use sutures to close this incision, but many will use internal sutures and then use surgical clue on the outer layer of skin.
Some swelling in this area is to be expected but usually dissipates in a few days. It is important to remember that newly neutered male rabbits should be kept away from fertile females for at least three weeks after surgery as they could still be capable of delivering viable sperm to the female.
If your male rabbit was acting out prior to surgery, expect that to slowly improve over the course of several weeks as the testosterone levels fade away. You may have to bond your rabbits again, or re-litter train, but after the hormone levels drop off, this should be fairly easy.
For female rabbits, the spaying process is much more involved. All the reproductive organs are surgically removed. Due to the extensive nature of this surgery, sutures are always involved, several layers deep. The savvy exotic vet will hide the outer layer of suture beneath the skin to prevent your rabbit from using her large incisors to cut through them. If the incision is too large for this, external skin staples may be used instead. Your rabbit will not be able to bite through these and they will ensure the incision stays closed long enough to properly heal.
No matter the surgery, the site should be examined at least once each day until completely healed. Any signs of swelling, redness, or fever to the touch warrants a return visit to the vet for antibiotics and their expert examination.
Your vet will give your furry companion some pain medicine before you take them home, and may provide you with additional medication to give for the first few days. Follow all directions and ensure they have plenty of fresh hay and water at their disposal. They may not feel like eating the day they come home, but this will return to normal in just a few short days.
A few days of discomfort are well worth the many extended years of life you will have provided your pet by having them altered at a young age.
Cons Of Spaying/Neutering Your Pet Rabbit
1. Cost – The cost of having your bunny altered can range from $100 up to $300 dollars. Weighed against the cost of having them treated with medication, x-rays, pain medication, and even euthanized, this is a cost well-worth budgeting for.
2. Anesthesia Risk – This is the only sound medical con against altering your rabbit. As with any surgical procedure, being anesthetized carries an inherent risk. This risk can be minimized by carefully selecting an exotic animal vet that has plenty of experience with treating rabbits and is willing to openly discuss your concerns with you.
We hope you can see from the above information that spaying or neutering your bunny is a responsible pet owner’s decision. Your bunny deserves the best life you can give them.