Spaying and Neutering

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A spay or ovariohysterectomy is the removal of the uterus and ovaries from a female rabbit. A neuter, castration, or orchidectomy is the removal of the testes from the scrotal sacs in a male rabbit. Although usually reserved in reference to males, neutering can also refer to a spay as the term technically refers to the removal of reproductive organs, regardless of sex.[1] Colloquially, the terms altering or fixing is used to refer to the gender-neutral procedure.

Reasons to Spay and Neuter

Surgery for spaying and neutering can be as safe on rabbits as any animal, given that you find an experienced veterinarian to perform the procedure. Mortality rates for a skilled veterinarian should be no more than 1%, and most of the danger is from the anesthesia. The House Rabbit Society has had over 1000 rabbits spayed or neutered with approximately 0.1% mortality due to anesthesia.[2]

Do not allow any vets that are not experienced with safe rabbit surgery techniques to work on your rabbit. Make sure that they use a rabbit-safe anesthetic such as isofluorene.

Overall Benefits

  • Healthier and live longer than unaltered rabbits.[2]
  • Calmer, more loving, and dependable once urge to mate is removed.[2]
  • Less prone to destructiveness (chewing, digging) and aggressiveness (biting, lunging, circling, growling) behavior after surgery.[2]
  • Easier and more reliable to litter train.[2]
  • Will not contribute to the overpopulation of pet rabbits.[2] Having a spayed or neutered rabbit in the case that rehoming is necessary will make the pet easier to adopt out and give reassurance that the rabbit will not go on to make any unwanted babies.
  • Can safely have a friend to bond with.[2] Hormones will encourage sexual and aggressive behaviors toward other rabbits.

Female Spaying

  • Eliminates all or reduces risk of developing reproductive cancers (ovarian, uterine, mammarian).[2] There is a high 50%-80% incidence rate of uterine cancer in intact does over the age of 4 years. See Uterine Cancer for more information.
  • Prevents pseudopregnancy. It is stressful for rabbits to go through nest building, milk production and aggressive protection of territory. This can make the pet very difficult to handle during this period and can progress to decreased appetite and gastrointestinal problems.[3]

Male Neutering

  • Reduces sexual aggression.[2]
  • Stops spraying behavior.[2]
  • Reduces and eliminates risks of testicular and prostate cancers.[4]

Myths

Several myths have been perpetuated about spaying and neutering pets.

  • Your pet will not become "fat and lazy" after being altered. A lack of exercise, too much food, and boredom will cause an animal to be so, regardless of altering.[5]
  • Your pet will still be bonded with you after its surgery. While he may be calmer due to lack of hormonal frustrations, the underlying personality will not be changed, especially if altered at a young age. However, if you are basing your rabbit's personality on hormone-driven behaviors such as circling, humping, and biting, then such behaviors will be eliminated or reduced after altering.

Age to Spay and Neuter

Depending on its genetic makeup, a rabbit will reach sexual maturity somewhere between the age of 3 to 8 months.[5]

Although not all rabbits will show undesirable habits upon reaching sexual maturity, most rabbits do. Behaviors include the following:[5]

  • loss of previously good litterbox habits
  • spraying urine
  • mounting and humping of objects such as toys or your body
  • growling and boxing
  • territorial biting and nipping
  • aggressive and possessive lunging and biting
  • circling and honking
  • excessively destructive chewing and digging (especially in females)

As Dana Krempels writes,[5]

When intact, both male and female rabbits usually mount one another endlessly out of sex drive and/or to establish social dominance. Same-sex pairs who tolerated each other as babies will often begin ferocious fighting upon reaching sexual maturity. This can result in permanent "unbonding," not to mention serious physical injury.

Opposite sex pairs will begin reproducing as soon as they mature. Left unchecked, an unspayed rabbit and her intact female descendants can produce more than 1300 offspring in a year. Over the course of five years this number balloons exponentially to more than 94 million!

Females can usually be spayed as soon as they become sexually mature, around 5 months old.[6] It is advisable to spay females after puberty but before maturity when large amounts of abdominal fat can complicate the surgery.[6] An immature rabbit will have structures that are not well developed, making the surgery more difficult.[7] Some veterinarians may want to wait until the rabbit is older at ~6 months.[2]

Males can be neutered as soon as their testicles descend, usually around 3 months of age.[6] Some rabbits may have testicles descend at around 10-12 weeks.[6] Motile spermatozoa appear in the ejaculate from about 4 months of age.[6] Some veterinarians may want to wait until the rabbit is older at ~5 months.[2][8] If they are too young, the neutering may require abdominal surgery which makes the process more complicated.[3] Males can be considered sterile 4 weeks after the operation.[6]

Older rabbits (6+ yrs) may need to have blood work done beforehand to make sure they do not react negatively to anesthesia. Small rabbits may need to grow bigger before they may be dosed with an anesthetic for surgery. Giant breeds of rabbits may reach maturity a couple of months later so the surgery might be done a little later in these breeds if necessary.[7]

Choosing a Clinic

To choose a veterinarian for the procedure, some good questions to ask are the following:[2]

  • About how many rabbit clients does the veterinarian see in a year?
  • How many spays and neuters of rabbits has the veterinarian has done in the past year?
  • What is your success rate? If any were lost, what was the cause? According to the House Rabbit Society,[2]
    90% success is way too low. Every doctor, whether for animals or humans will occasionally lose a patient; usually because of an undiagnosed problem. Veterinarians across the country who spay and neuter rabbits for the House Rabbit Society have lost on average less than 1/2 of 1%.
  • Does the veterinarian remove both uterus and ovaries? They should be. Uterine cancer prevention requires the entire removal of the organ, and without the removal of the ovaries, the rabbit will still be hormonal and problematic behaviors will not cease after the operation.
  • Does the veterinarian do "open" or "closed" neuters? Closed is preferable, but let the veterinarian explain the difference.
  • Is entry to the testicles made through the scrotum or the abdomen? Entry via the abdomen unnecessarily increases the trauma for male rabbits.
  • Does the veterinarian require withholding of food and water prior to surgery in rabbits? Rabbits should never be fasted before surgery. Rabbits can't vomit, so there is no risk of that during surgery, and rabbits should never be allowed to get empty digestive tracts.
  • What anesthetics are used? Make sure it's rabbit-safe. Some common anesthetics used include isoflurane and sevoflurane. See Drugs for more resources.
  • Review the procedure (op and immediate post-op) with your vet. See the Costs section below for more procedure-related questions.

Check out Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinics for some low-cost options.

Costs

Costs of a spay or neuter will vary based on your location and availability of the service. On the low end, the procedure can begin at ~$50 at low cost spay/neuter clinics. At certain veterinarians, the cost can be $300+.

You can find more about the cheaper options at Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinics.

From the Colorado House Rabbit Society, [9]

There is a wide variety of charges for a rabbit spay or neuter. Before deciding who to use, find out what the differences are in the care your rabbit will get. Specifically:

  • Is a thorough "exotic exam" done? If not, is any kind of exam done?
  • Is pre-anesthetic blood-work done?
  • Is the anesthetic used injected, or is it a gas (which is much safer)?
  • Is the rabbit intubated (a breathing tube placed)?
  • Is a vet tech monitoring the rabbit's vital signs throughout the surgery?
    • What monitoring equipment is used?
      • Respiratory monitor?
      • Blood pressures?
      • Body temperature?
  • Is an IV catheter and fluids used throughout the surgery?
  • Are pain medications given either before or after the surgery?
  • How is the skin closed?
    • Will there be external sutures or staples which need to be removed?
  • Is the rabbit kept overnight?
    • If so, why? (i.e., will there be someone monitoring the rabbit throughout the night?)
  • Is any pain medication sent home with the rabbit for use later that day or the next day?

The links below include some more information about how much rabbit spays and neuters cost and what they include.

Care

Surgery can be very emotionally and mentally stressful, and the following tips can help you and your rabbit get through this operation with maximal safety and minimal worries.

Before the Operation

  • Make sure to schedule surgery with a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. The vet should be very familiar with the rabbit's unique anatomy and physiology and has had a great deal of experience and success with rabbit anesthesia and surgery. See How to Choose a Rabbit Veterinarian for more resources on finding a rabbit-savvy vet as well as the sections above.
  • Schedule the surgery early in the week and also so that you can bring your rabbit home the same evening. Many vet offices are not open on the weekends, so having the operation on a Monday or Tuesday allows for more leeway in case something goes wrong with your rabbit's recovery. Try not to board your rabbit at the vet unless it is guaranteed to have 24/7 care. Many clinics often do not have techs that watch the pets overnight. Bringing your rabbit home to a familiar safe place is almost always better than leaving it in a strange lonely place with other dogs and cats within hearing or sight. Stress can easily make a recovery process lengthier.

Extra Resources

See the links below for more information about pre- and post-op care.

Techniques

The following links are some detailed descriptions of the procedures used to spay and neuter rabbits.

Warning: The following have graphic pictures of the procedures.

Complications

See the resources below for information about possible complications.

Further Reading

The following articles include general information about spaying and neutering rabbits, covering most of the topics above.

See Also

References

  1. Merriam-Webster, neuter
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 House Rabbit Society, FAQ: Spaying and Neutering
  3. 3.0 3.1 British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Policy Statement on the Neutering of Rabbits
  4. PAWS - Saudi Arabia, Spaying or Neutering Your Rabbit or Guinea Pig
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Dana Krempels, Ph.D., Spay or Neuter my Rabbit?
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Frances Harcourt-Brown, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2002.
  7. 7.0 7.1 About.com, Lianne McLeod, DVM, At What Age Can I Have My Rabbit Spayed or Neutered?
  8. Give Us a Home, Rabbits
  9. Colorado House Rabbit Society, A Guide to Having Your Rabbit Safely Neutered