Neutering your rabbit is beneficial for many health and behavioural reasons, however, it does involve your pet going under anaesthetic to have this operation done. It’s really important you care for your rabbit correctly and know what to look out for whilst they recover.
Why should I get my male rabbit neutered?
Male rabbits can be neutered as soon as their testicles descend (however some vets prefer to wait a little longer so contact your vets to see what their policy is). Unneutered male rabbits can display a range of unsavoury behaviours such as spraying urine and humping everything in sight! The humping can be problematic if your rabbit lives with another bunny as it can upset the other rabbit and even cause fights. They won’t only hump other rabbits, but your feet, the cat, footballs… anything they can have their wicked way with! Neutering makes them calmer with you and makes them easier to handle and interact with as they won’t just have one thing on their mind!
Entire male rabbit’s urine smells strong and neutering will help reduce the pungency of the smell! It also makes litter training easier as well as eliminating all risk of testicular cancer.
Why should I neuter my female rabbits?
If you thought an entire male rabbit sounds like a nightmare, wait until you hear about the girls! Entire female rabbits can exhibit behavioural issues – many will guard their hutch/run/territory and will bite, lunge and growl at anyone who comes near (which includes you!). Rabbits can actually bite quite hard and draw blood.
Females can also have phantom pregnancies which involve nesting by pulling put their own fur to make a nest and you guessed it – they become even grumpier during this time and will do all they can to protect their nest.
Female rabbits over 5 years of age have an 80% chance of developing cancer of their uterus and as they get older, this percentage increases. This will kill them very quickly and although an emergency spay can be done, it won’t always work and will be more expensive than a routine surgery, especially if it needs doing out of hours. My childhood rabbits both got uterine cancer and although we had them spayed as soon as we found out, one didn’t pull through and I regret not having them neutered to this day (in my defence, neutering wasn’t routinely recommended when I first had bunnies as a kid, so I found out the hard way and since then, every bunny I have had is neutered as soon as they are old enough).
Entire females are incredibly difficult to bond and even two sisters who have been kept together from birth can fight and fall out if both left entire. They are also hard to bond with neutered males as they are territorial of their space and won’t take kindly to a young buck strutting in!
So as you can see, there are loads of reasons why you should get your rabbit neutered. You should never try to bond entire rabbits because it will be much harder and there is a higher risk of them fighting and even falling out after they have been bonded! It’s best to get your bunny snipped as soon as you can, not only for health reasons but the younger they are, the less risky the procedure is (as long as your bunny is healthy). Not only that, but some of the bad behaviour (such as growling and lunging) can become learnt behaviour and even if you did get your rabbit neutered at an older age, whilst it may lessen the undesirable behaviour, it won’t always stop it completely.
What does neutering involve?
Neutering is a medical procedure performed by your veterinarian which involves removing the testicles in a male rabbit and removing the ovaries and the womb in females. Neutering a male is usually a quicker and easier procedure than spaying a female as their operation involves opening the abdomen to locate the womb. Both sexes will be put under a general anaesthetic and will be completely asleep whilst this is done.
Your rabbit will usually go to the vets in the morning and as long as all goes well, they will be sent home that evening. Although there is a risk with any operation, neutering will hopefully mean your bunny has a more relaxed and longer life.
Top tip – Book your rabbit to be neutered at the start of the week. That way, if there are any problems later on in the week, you won’t have to worry about reduced opening hours at the weekend (and definitely avoid getting them done just before a bank holiday for the same reason!
How should I prepare my rabbit before they go in for their operation?
When your rabbit comes home, they will need to be kept indoors in the warm, so if your rabbit normally lives outside, get an indoor cage whilst they recover. The area shouldn’t be too large as they need to keep calm and rest. Keep the cage as empty and clean as you can and make sure there is nothing in there they can jump on. Charging around after an operation isn’t a good idea because it can interfere with healing. The wound must be kept clean, so don’t use any loose bedding like woodchip, Carefresh or straw, just use newspaper or vet bed. Vet bed is great because the urine will soak down to the bottom, meaning your rabbit won’t be lying on soiled bedding.
A few days before the operation, keep a close eye on the amount your rabbit is eating and pooing. If you notice a change in the amount they are eating or pooing, or their poos look different, contact your vet as they may need to postpone the operation until your bunny is back to normal.
To take your rabbit to the vet, you will need a secure carrier. You can put some of their bedding in the carrier to help them feel more secure. It’s also a good idea to bring your bunny a packed lunch for the day – although vets will have food there, it’s best for them to have what they are used to and what you know they like. Make sure you know what time you need to get your rabbit to the vets for and leave in plenty of time.
How should I look after my rabbit when they get home?
A veterinary nurse should have gone through any going home instructions with you and explained how to give any medication they may need. Make sure you ask the nurse to show you the operation site so you have a baseline for how it looks and you must check it a couple of times a day. If there is any swelling, redness, discharge or it feels hot, contact your vet right away. Most vets will ask to see them back for a post-op check, so book this before you go home.
Your rabbit may still be very sleepy, but others can act as if nothing happened! Even if they seem active, you must still put them in their warm indoor cage. You can cover half the cage with a blanket to help keep them warm and even give them a heat pad should they feel cold. Keep the room quiet and dark whilst they recover.
One of the most important things to look for is if your rabbit is eating, drinking and urinating. After surgery, a veterinary nurse will have given your rabbit a liquid food (like this). Your bunny may be happy eating their own food, but some may need syringe feeding even once they are home. As each liquid food is different, follow the instructions on the back of the packet to ensure you make up the right ratio. You can then draw the liquid food up in a syringe (the larger ones are easier for bigger bunnies as the food can get stuck in the thin ones) and put your bunny on your lap. If your rabbit is a wriggler, you can make a ‘bunny burrito’ but wrapping them in a towel (it’s a bit like swaddling a baby) but it keeps them still and calms them down. Next, you need to put the syringe to the side of their mouth. Rabbits have a handy little gap in their dentition called the diastema (which helps them chew plants) and this is the best way to get the syringe in. Slowly squirt a little bit of food at a time and allow them to chew and swallow before offering more. It’s better to do this little and often and the packet should say how much you should give depending on their weight.
Top tip – if your rabbit is just spitting the food back out, put some in their mouth, take your hands off them and let them mooch around., Naturally the rabbits will then feel more relaxed as they arent being restrained and will chew what’s in their mouth. It takes longer, but it has helped me get food into many uncooperative bunnies!
You must make sure your rabbit doesn’t nibble at the operation site. Some vets will glue the wound shut, but if your rabbit licks it, it can interfere with healing. If your rabbit won’t leave their stitches, they may need a collar for the initial healing period. Most rabbits will hate the collar and will refuse to eat with one on, so remove it when they eat and be sure to watch them like a hawk!
Rabbits are usually sent home with pain relief, medications to keep their digestive system moving and liquid food. Any medication can be given in the method described above. You are in luck if your rabbit has been prescribed Metacam or Loxicom as it has a sweet taste most bunnies love!
Male rabbits tend to recover quicker than females as the operation is less invasive, but it does vary on the individual. If your rabbit is lethargic the next day, not eating, pooing and doesn’t look right, call your vet for advice.
Can my rabbit have anything else done whilst at the vets for neutering?
If your rabbit isn’t already microchipped, the best time to get this done is when they are being neutered as they will be asleep and won’t feel the needle go in! I advise microchipping all rabbits, even if they are house rabbits. The reason is it increases the chances of you getting them back should they dart out the door and go missing.
Many vets offer to clip your rabbit’s nails whilst they are under anaesthetic which could be a good idea if you aren’t too confident on clipping them yourself, your rabbit protests at the being cut or they have black nails which makes it harder to see the quick (cutting the nail too short can make them bleed). Again, they won’t feel any pain if they are sedated, so take advantage of this!
How can I prepare myself when my rabbit is being neutered?
It’s natural to be worried about your rabbit when they go to the vets as it is a scary time. Make sure the vet you use is confident neutering rabbits and if you don’t feel comfortable, you have every right to go elsewhere. Speak to other bunny owners and see which vets they use.
When your rabbit is being neutered, try to keep busy. You will probably be clock watching to phone the vets at the exact time they have asked you to call (I know I do!), but staring at the clock will drive you mad. Watch some TV, read a book, try and keep busy with something else. Always make sure you have your phone on you as the vets could call you – don’t panic if you see their number flash up, sometimes they phone you to double-check any information.