Why and when to neuter
Let’s take a look at the reasons why all rabbits should be neutered, and when are the best times for the surgery to be performed.
There are so many positive reasons to neuter both male and female rabbits.
- Prevents breeding – This one may seem obvious, but the saying “breed like rabbits” has not become established without good reason. Rabbits are prolific breeders, and can potentially breed from 16 weeks of age, or in some cases even younger. They will also breed with siblings, parents or any other relative, and females can get pregnant again immediately after giving birth. Numbers quickly get out of hand and there is currently a crisis with unwanted rabbits, and unplanned litters are playing a big part in this. Neutering at a young age removes all risk of unwanted litters.
- Makes bonding easier – Both male and female rabbits are immensely territorial and do not appreciate other rabbits within an environment they perceive to be their own. This causes fighting when the rabbits attempt to defend their territory, which can be serious and, in some cases, even fatal. Neutering removes a significant proportion of circulating hormones and ensures rabbits are much more likely to accept a companion without fighting, although careful introductions and bonding must still take place.
- Can have a companion rabbit – Following on from the previous point, neutered rabbits can have a companion rabbit. The best combination tends to be a male and female, but two males or two females often get along and form strong bonds. This is not possible if both rabbits are not neutered. Rabbits have higher welfare standards, a better quality of life and show additional behaviours, such as grooming each other, snuggling up together, eating and playing together, when they have a companion rabbit.
- Removes the risks of uterine cancer – Some studies have shown that up to 80% of unspayed female rabbits develop uterine cancer by the age of 5 years. This is often sadly fatal, unless caught in the very early stages. Having your female rabbit spayed will eliminate this serious health risk.
- Improves litter training – Rabbits leave droppings around their environment as a way of marking their territory, so unneutered rabbits are far more difficult to litter train. Neutered rabbits will use a litter tray for droppings and urine, although may still leave the odd dropping outside the litter tray.
- Reduces or eliminates unwanted behaviours – Contrary to popular belief, most rabbits do not like being picked up, held and some even dislike being stroked or approached by humans. Many and fearful and will show their disproval by growling, lunging or biting. Whilst neutering may not totally eliminate these behaviours, often it does lessen the severity. Male rabbits will often spray urine to mark their territory, which can include people and other rabbits. Castration often stops this behaviour, especially if performed before or shortly after it first appears.
- Lessens or eliminates false pregnancies – Female rabbits are prone to false pregnancies, when they believe they are having a litter and prepare for this by plucking fur out of their chest and making a nest. During this time they often become extremely hormonal and show signs of heightened growling and lunging if approached. This is extremely stressful for the rabbit and may happen several times a year. Spaying will prevent or lessen this behaviour.
So now we know why we should neuter our rabbits, let’s have a look at when.
The minimum age at which to neuter rabbits is accepted as being 10-12 weeks for males and 16 weeks for females.
Males must have their testicles descended into the scrotum. Rabbits can retract their testicles back into their abdomen when stressed or in cold weather, so a quick look may not be enough to determine this. Taking your rabbit to your vet for a check-up before castration or spaying is advised. Your vet can not only check their sex but perform a full health check.
Older rabbits can be neutered too and there is no upper age limit to when this can be done. The health status of the rabbit will have some influence on whether this is in the rabbit’s best interest, but in the vast amount of cases, with a rabbit savvy vet, neutering is a routine and highly successful surgical procedure even in older rabbits.
When your rabbit has been neutered, if they do not already have a companion, you need to allow 6-8 weeks for their hormones to settle, and for them to have fully recovered from the surgery, before introductions and bonding occurs, otherwise it is more likely the bond will not be successful. Male rabbits are fertile and capable of breeding for up to 6 weeks post-castration.
Written By Claire Speight, Registered Veterinary Nurse