The phrase “breeding like rabbits” came about for a reason, and an unneutered pair of rabbits will reproduce quickly and prolifically, as anyone who accidentally found themselves in possession of one of each sex rather than two males or two females will know!
Unless you own excellent quality pedigree rabbits that you have decided to breed from in the future as part of a responsible breeding programme, it is important to have your rabbits spayed or neutered as soon as they are old enough, even if you intend to keep same-sex groups and not allow your pet to come into contact with members of the opposite sex!
Spaying and neutering not only prevents unwanted rabbit reproduction, but it will also make your rabbits less apt to fight with each other, and it can help to prevent or greatly reduce the risk of them developing certain reproduction-specific health issues later in life too.
In this article, we will provide a short overview of what spaying and neutering rabbits involves, and what to expect after your rabbit has been neutered. Read on to learn more.
Unneutered male rabbits are extremely likely to fight with other males, making it virtually impossible to keep unneutered males together. Added to this, unneutered male rabbits will tend to urine mark everywhere that they go, which can both lead to an unpleasant smell that is hard to eradicate, and will also upset your other rabbits.
Neutering the male should ideally be performed when the rabbit is between four and six months old, as if the operation is left until later in life, it will not necessarily remove any learned undesirable behaviours, such as aggression and urine marking.
Male rabbits are neutered by means of castration, in much the same way as occurs with dogs and cats, by anesthetising the rabbit, making a small incision into the scrotum, removing the testes, and suturing the small wound left behind.
The neutering operation for female rabbits is called spaying, and is a larger and more involved surgery than castrating males, as it involves internal surgery.
Left unspayed, your female rabbit will reach sexual maturity at between the ages of four to six months, and will both attempt to go in search of a mate, and also, be likely to fight with other unspayed females. Added to this, unneutered females tend to be slightly more aggressive than neutered ones, which can make handling and taming your rabbit safely a challenge.
As well as making them easier to handle and reducing their propensity to fight, spaying your female rabbit can also have a range of positive health benefits for your pet, including negating the chances of them developing uterine or ovarian cancer in later life, and actually increasing their lifespan.
Female rabbits can be spayed from around the age of six months and upwards, once they have reached sexual maturity. The spaying operation involves a surgical incision being made into either the left flank or the underside of the abdomen, and then the ovaries and so, the eggs that they contain are cut out, along with the uterus itself.
While this operation is very commonly performed by vets, it is still a major surgery, and so the recovery time for the female rabbit is longer than it is for the male, who will usually be completely unbothered by their operation, and in little to no post-operative pain.
Neutering or spaying a rabbit is actually more complex than it is for other popular pets such as dogs and cats, because ideally, animals should fast before undergoing surgery in order to reduce the risks.
However, the digestive system of rabbits is constantly mobile, as they graze and eat all day long, and anything that pauses or stops the digestive system can pose a potential risk to the rabbit’s health, as it can be very hard to get everything moving again after surgery, and encourage your rabbit to begin to eat again.
This means that rabbits are left with hay available to them up until right before they are anesthetised for surgery, and are encouraged to begin eating again as soon as possible once the operation is complete.
After the operation, your rabbit will be monitored carefully by your vet to ensure that they start eating again, and they will not be able to go home until this has happened. Whilst most rabbits will begin eating again within an hour or two of waking up fully after surgery, in a small number of cases, the rabbit may be reluctant to eat, and so your vet may need to administer some medications that will make them feel hungry, and so, keener to eat.
Once your rabbit begins eating again and is able to come home, it is important to ensure that they are able to recover quietly and in peace, in order to promote good healing of the wound. This may mean isolating your rabbit from its friends, while ideally keeping them close and in sight to provide reassurance, and ensuring that the hutch, bedding and everything else they come into contact with is scrupulously clean.
You will be asked to take your rabbit back to the vet for a check-up a few days after the surgery, and your vet will explain to you how to keep an eye on the surgical field, and identify if anything is not quite as it should be in the meantime.
It is important to note that it takes a while after the male rabbit has been neutered before they actually become infertile, so ensure that you do not reintroduce your male into a cage with unspayed females for at least three weeks after the operation.