What is neutering?
Neutering female rabbits is called ‘spaying’ or ‘ovariohysterectomy’. This is a routine, but major, surgical procedure under general anaesthetic to surgically remove the uterus and ovaries via the abdomen. It is usually done between 5-6 months old but can be done as young as 4 months. This procedure becomes more difficult and carries an increased risk as females get older and fat develops around the uterus, so we recommend not waiting longer.
Why should I neuter my rabbit?
There are lots of important reasons to neuter your doe with significant health benefits. The most important are listed below:
- Spaying prevents uterine (womb) cancer. This type of cancer is reported to affect 60% of unneutered does by the age of 4 years old and 75% by the age of 7. It can spread to other organs and be fatal.
- Preventing infection of the uterus (‘pyometra’). Pyometra can be fatal and is more common in rabbits that have been mated.
- Preventing unwanted pregnancies. The RSPCA estimates that 35,000 bunnies are sadly abandoned each year, so by neutering your rabbit you are helping prevent this problem.
- Removing the risk of fake-‘pseudo’-pregnancy, which is caused by infertile mating, sexual excitement or stress. Pseudopregnancies normally last 16-17 days but can progress to pyometra. Neutering is the treatment of choice.
- Helping to reduce hormone-related behaviours like aggression, scent marking and mounting. Behavioural problems are the most common reason for rabbit abandonment and can prevent you bonding with your rabbit.
- Allowing both sexes to be kept together in companion pairs. Rabbits are highly social animals and studies have shown that they are permanently stressed when kept alone. Neutering allows your doe to find their forever friend! Unneutered pairings rarely work well at home due to aggressive, hormonal behaviours.
What can I expect on the day?
Your rabbit will be admitted to the practice in the morning by our nurses and will normally go home the same afternoon. After the operation is complete and your rabbit is recovering, our nurses will call you to arrange a pick up time. Rabbits don’t normally need a collar/cone. She will have a shaved patch on her abdomen and skin stitches that are hidden and dissolvable. Sometimes a rabbit may need an overnight stay if their vet thinks they require a longer period of close monitoring. Our vets and nurses will discuss with you how to monitor your rabbit and their surgical site at home, but it is important to see that they are eating and defaecating the same day. Some rabbits will need special recovery food that is syringe fed into the mouth at home. Your rabbit should cage rest for at least 5 days.
Before bringing you rabbit in for a visit, please make sure you read a copy of our “Bringing Your Bunny to Orchard Vets” checklist so that you can help make your rabbit’s stay as stress-free as possible.
Are there risks of neutering?
As an accredited Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) Rabbit Friendly Practice, we are experienced at carrying out these surgeries; monitoring your rabbits and providing excellent post operative care and pain relief. The small risk of a general anaesthetic and surgery is outweighed by the benefits of neutering for most rabbits: ultimately this decision is made on an individual rabbit basis and is something you will discuss with your vet. The main risks are outlined below:
- The general anaesthetic is considered the main risk of this procedure for rabbits. Overall, the risk of general anesthesia is low, but rabbits have a higher risk than other pets like cats and dogs. The results of a 2 year study (CEPSAF), showed that in the UK the fatality rate from anesthesia is 0.73% for healthy rabbits and 7.37% for sick rabbits. Please see our “General Anaesthesia For Your Bunny” factsheet that explains how we minimise the risk of general anaesthesia for our rabbits at Orchard.
- Surgery and a hospital visit have the potential to trigger gut stasis, which can in extreme cases be fatal. Post operative care and ongoing pain relief is therefore our top priority after surgeries. It is important that your doe starts eating after surgery and faeces are seen within 12 hours: if we aren’t happy that your rabbit is eating properly before her discharge, this is when we might recommend an overnight stay for further care.
- Post operative wound breakdown and infection can be a risk for some does: occasionally rabbits interfere with their wound site no matter how perfect the repair or strong the pain relief. Close monitoring is required in the days after surgery and if this were a severe problem we can blunt rabbits’ incisors with a burr to prevent their sharp teeth pulling out the stitches (but this is rarely, if ever, required).
- Haemorrhage (bleeding) from the operation site within the abdomen can occur during or after surgery. Rabbit blood clots very quickly so this is rarely a problem. Our experienced surgeons and careful monitoring reduces the risk of this occurring.