Why Spay or Neuter your Rabbit?

Rabbits are a very popular pet that are owned by many. They are cute and cuddly and can make wonderful pets, however they require basic veterinary care to keep them healthy and happy! Today we are addressing the importance of spaying and neutering in these little guys!

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Why Spay or Neuter?

There are many good reasons to spay or neuter your rabbit. Many of them have significant health benefits that can help you and your rabbit live long, happy lives together!

1. Prevention of Pregnancy - This is the most common reason that rabbits are neutered, particularly if there are both male and female rabbits living together in a household. One should not consider breeding these pets just for fun or education. A responsible pet owner should not breed their pet unless they are well educated on the topic and are prepared to take on all the responsibilities such activity entails.

2. Prevention of Uterine Cancer - This is the most compelling medical reason to neuter female rabbits. In some rabbit populations the rate of uterine adenocarcinoma (a deadly uterine cancer) can approach 80% of the females. It is believed that the incidence may be related to the rabbit’s genetic makeup. Since we usually don’t know the genetic background of most of our rabbits, it is best to have the surgery done as a preventative for this cancer. Uterine adenocarcinoma can spread rapidly to other organs of the body such as the liver, lungs and even the skin and it is not treatable once it metastasizes outside of the uterus. Rabbits under two years of age rarely develop this disease so it is best to get your female spayed before this age.

3. Prevention of other Uterine Disease - Although cancer is the most common disease of the rabbit uterus, we see many cases a year of other uterine disease such as pyometra (infected uterus full of pus), uterine aneurism (uterus full of blood) and endometritis (inflamed uterine lining). Like uterine cancer, these conditions are all more common in female rabbits over two years of age.

4. Prevention of False Pregnancies - Female rabbits can go into a hormonal state triggered by their ovaries where the body acts as if it is pregnant but there is in fact no pregnancy. Although this is not medically harmful, it can be stressful for the rabbit who goes through all the activities of being pregnant including nest building, milk production and aggressive protection of her territory. This aggression can be taken out on the caretakers and cage mates and can make the pet difficult to handle. Some rabbits experiencing false pregnancy will develop a decreased appetite and have gastrointestinal disturbances as well.

5. Prevention of Mammary Gland (Breast) Disease – Mammary gland cancer is not common in female rabbits, but when it occurs it can spread rapidly and be difficult to treat. It is preventable if the pet is spayed before two years of age. It is interesting to note that the most common type of mammary cancer is a malignant form called mammary carcinoma and it is almost always associated with uterine cancer. The other common mammary gland disease is mammary dysplasia or cystic mammary glands. This is a benign condition, where the mammary glands fill with a cystic material. It can be uncomfortable to the pet. Spaying a female rabbit before two years of age will prevent both of these diseases.

6. Prevention of Aggressive Behavior - Both male and female rabbits can display aggressive behavior when they are sexually mature. Many rabbits are sweet and easy to handle as little babies, but when the teenage years hit at around six to twelve months of age…watch out! They don’t want to be touched or picked up and they act like they want to destroy everything in sight. This is a normal change in behavior as they mature, however, they can often take out their aggression on you or their cage mates. There may be more biting, striking, lunging and chasing. It is best to neuter or spay just before or shortly after sexual maturity to keep this behavior to a minimum.

7. Prevention of Urine Spraying - Both male and female rabbits can spray urine on vertical surfaces to mark their territory. Intact mature males do this at least 10 times more frequently than females. In addition, the urine from a sexually mature male rabbit can have a strong odor that is unpleasant to many humans. If this behavior is allowed to continue for a long period of time, it may be impossible to completely stop this behavior. Therefore, it is best to nip it in the bud and get the little guys neutered or spayed just prior to or shortly after sexual maturity.

8. Prevention of Testicular Disease - Disease of the testicle is uncommon in the male rabbit, but it can occur. Most commonly we see abscesses (usually the result of bite wounds from other rabbits), hematomas (blood filled areas) and cancer.

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So when is the best time to neuter?

The best age to neuter either a male or female rabbit is just before or shortly after sexual maturity. Depending on the breed, this time could range from four to six months in the small to medium sized breeds and up to nine months in the giant breeds. We do not recommend neutering rabbits younger than four months of age because the surgery may be more difficult due to the size and position of the reproductive organs. There is no health benefit to neutering earlier than four months of age. However, there is a benefit in females of neutering before two years of age to reduce the incidence of uterine and mammary gland disease.

Your rabbit should be examined by a veterinarian prior to surgery to make sure he is in good condition and ready for neutering. Sexual maturity can be gauged a number of ways including; visualizing testicles in the scrotal sacs, a well developed vulva, a mature body condition, and by behavioral changes such as urine spraying and increased aggression. Your veterinarian may recommend some simple tests prior to surgery, particularly if your pet is older or has had other medical problems. We do not recommend performing routine neutering procedures on obese animals or those with other disease because these rabbits are at higher risk for surgical complications. The weight should be reduced and any disease conditions managed prior to having a major elective surgical procedure performed.

If you have questions regarding the benefits of spaying or neutering your rabbit or any questions about general rabbit care, please feel free to contact our office!