The Complete Guide to Neutering your Rabbit
What we'll cover:
✨ Advantages of neutering rabbits
✨ When should I have my rabbit neutered?
✨ What to expect after a neuter
What is Neutering?
Neutering is a surgical procedure performed in animals in order to prevent reproduction. In female rabbits (spaying), this involves the removal of the ovaries and the womb (uterus) and in males (castration), this is the removal of the testicles.
Do I need to get my rabbit neutered?
Since neutering involves the removal of the reproductive organs, it may seem like the only reason to have your rabbit neutered is to prevent your rabbits from mating. However, there are actually numerous other advantages and reasons to get your rabbit(s) neutered.
Advantages of Neutering rabbits:
✨ Prevents unwanted litters
Female rabbits can become pregnant from as early as 3 months and rabbits have a gestation period of around 31 days. Moreover, female rabbits can become pregnant a few days after giving birth. Since each litter can have several kits (baby rabbits), sometimes (but more rarely) up to 18 rabbits in one litter, you can imagine how quickly a single male & female pair of rabbits can turn into a whole population. Rabbits remain one of the most abandoned pets in the world and there are tons of rescues waiting for a loving home. With that being said, having your rabbits neutered to prevent unwanted and unexpected pregnancies is extremely important.
✨ Improves litter habits
When rabbits reach the age of sexual maturity - around 4-6 months, they begin to display signs of territoriality due to an increase in their hormonal levels. As a result, they may begin marking their territory more by peeing or pooping. As rabbits grow up, these litter habits can become learned behaviours and can be tough to un-learn. Neutering your rabbit as soon as they are able to be fixed greatly reduces this inclination to mark, and thus significantly improves litter habits.
✨ Allows bonding of rabbits
Male and female pairings are considered to be ideal bonding pairs where possible, therefore preventing reproduction naturally will allow for a happy and safely bonded pair. However, even with same-sex pairs, neutering is essential for successful bonding. While neutering doesn't rid rabbit's of all their hormones, it does decrease the levels in the body. As a result, rabbits display lower levels of aggression, territorial behaviours and even sexual behaviours. This means there is less likelihood for behaviours such as mounting and chasing which could result in fights and potential harm to the rabbits. Un-neutered females are also at risk of developing pseudopregnancies, also known as ghost pregnancies which can result in aggressive behaviour. Neutering can prevent this from occurring.
✨ Prevents numerous (sometimes fatal) health issues
There are a number of health issues that bunnies can get if they aren't neutered as soon as possible. Early in life female bunnies can develop uterine (womb) cancers, and later in life, are at an increased risk of mammary cancers and developing uterine infections. In male rabbits, while the risk is smaller, un-castrated males can still be at risk of developing testicular and or prostate cancer.
Is it safe?
The short answer is - on average, yes. The more lengthy answer is, neutering a rabbit is unfortunately not an entirely risk-free procedure in all cases. As with any surgical procedure or medicine for humans, no medicine or surgical procedure for rabbits is entirely risk-free. Surgeries can have complications, rabbits may have underlying health conditions that weren't known and individual rabbits can be more sensitive to anaesthetics than others. However, neutering is a very common procedure and is overall considered to be relatively safe.
The main risk associated with the neutering procedure tends to be the anaesthetic. However, there are now a number of safer anaesthetic options available for rabbits, rabbit veterinary training has improved significantly and anaesthetic techniques have been finessed further. Thus, though not eliminated, the risk associated with giving rabbit anaesthesia is much lower than it once was in the past.
With that being said, why put your rabbit's at risk at all? Well - remember the aforementioned health risks that come about from not neutering your rabbit, not to mention all the other benefits such as behavioural improvements and improved litter habits? When weighed up against the potential risk associated with the neutering procedure, the general consensus is that the benefits of neutering a rabbit far outweigh the associated risks. However, this is a personal decision for all rabbit owners, and beyond that - not all rabbit's may be healthy enough to go through the surgery. Please really discuss the procedure thoroughly with your rabbit savvy vet and ensure that your rabbit(s) have a health check to ensure that they are suitable for the procedure. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable and do lots of research to feel prepared. And look - I know it's terrifying, and I don't want to tell you that nothing will happen (because like I said - the risk is sadly not zero), but please know that you're not the only rabbit owner who was terrified before the procedure. Moreover, just know, that the vast majority of neuters actually go really well, so just ensure to monitor your bun closely afterwards and fingers crossed they should be a-okay and be back to their normal happy selves ASAP!
When should I have my rabbit neutered?
In general, rabbits tend to be neutered between 4-6months, i.e. the time when they reach sexual maturity. It is usually preferred to wait until rabbits are a little larger and more developed so that the surgery is less difficult - this can be deduced by a physical examination conducted by your vet. When it comes to male rabbits, whether they are ready depends on whether their testicles have descended into the scrotum or not. While some rabbits may be ready at 4 months for the surgery, other vets may prefer to wait until 5-6months. It is ideal however to have this surgery as soon as your rabbits are able to be spayed (i.e. around the 4-6month mark) as leaving it until later can make the surgery too complicated. Make sure to discuss this with your rabbit savvy vet as they will know best when the time is right for your specific rabbit.
Please note that male rabbits can remain fertile up to four weeks after being castrated, therefore shouldn't be immediately introduced to an unspayed female rabbit.
How much does it cost?
The cost of a rabbit neuter can really vary based on where you are. In the UK prices can range from around £50 to over £100. In general male castrations tend to be cheaper than female spays as the operation is much simpler. Prices can really vary from vet to vet, so make sure to ring around and do your research when finding a suitable vet to perform the procedure. Make sure to inquire whether or not the cost includes any additional care items such as medications.
Before your rabbit's neuter, your vet should perform a health check to make sure your rabbit is fit for the surgery. They may recommend delaying the procedure if your rabbit has any present health issues or is on any medications to ensure they're in the best health when the surgery is performed.
In the lead up to the surgery, ensure they are as strong and healthy as possible, i.e. feed them lots of good quality hay and try not to change their diet significantly. Since rabbits aren't able to vomit there is no need to fast them before the procedure so ensure they eat as usual before the surgery.
If you have any health concerns about your bun in the lead up to the surgery, make sure to contact your vet as soon as possible in case the surgery needs to be delayed to address these issues.
When your rabbit goes in for their surgery, they will likely be at the vet's for a significant period of time, before the surgery and afterwards too. Prepare a packed lunch to go with your buns on the day of the surgery, including a generous helping of their favourite hay, pellets and fresh veggies, and make sure to include some of their favourite treats too. After the surgery, your bun likely won't have much appetite, so in order to try to encourage them to eat your vets will try to tempt them with the different foods you've packed.
Prepare their carrier
In order to make your bunny feel as safe and as comfortable as possible before and after their surgery, try to line their carrier with a soft blanket of theirs that will have their scent on it. Like this, it will feel familiar but also provide warmth and a soft surface against their incision. If they have a favourite toy or stuffed animal include this as well for familiarity.
Post-operative care involves a little more effort than pre-operative as the surgery can have quite an effect on rabbits, especially female rabbits where the surgery is more invasive and hence more painful than in males. Moreover, rabbit's can be quite sensitive to general anaesthetic so need to be carefully monitored after their surgery to ensure that they recover well and soon resume their appetite and normal behaviour.
Prepare their space
First things first, before your rabbit returns home from their surgery you want to ensure that you have suitably prepared their home-base a little differently from how it is usually set up.
If your bunny is usually free-roam or has quite a large allocated space, you really want to minimise this significantly to prevent your bunny from running around too much in the early days post-surgery. This will allow time for their surgical incision to heal and prevent any stitches from coming apart from excessive activity. In females, it's recommended to restrict them for around a week or so, and in males, for a couple of days.
Replace their litter tray with one that they don't have to jump into to prevent them further hurting their incision. Additionally, consider swapping any hard litter e.g. wooden pellets and instead opt for something more gentle e.g. soft paper bedding or better yet, use a soft towel.
Ensure your bunny has plenty of easy access to hay and water so that they don't have to work too hard to eat while they're in discomfort. Provide lots of toys for enrichment as when they start to feel a little better, the restricted space may frustrate them, so these toys will help keep them occupied and prevent them from getting too bored.
Lastly, ensure the space your bun is in, the litter tray they're using and their food and water bowls have all been thoroughly cleaned in order to provide a sterilised environment that will not risk infecting their incision.
Yes - Poop. Probably one of the most important things after your rabbit's neuter is ensuring you see poop. A lot of bunnies can lose their appetite due to the pain/stress of the surgery and may refuse food afterwards. For some, this may be for a few hours after the surgery, but for other bunnies, this can persist for longer - especially females. This can be extremely dangerous as bunnies can go into GI stasis if their gut stops moving.
Your vet should have ensured that your rabbit ate a little bit after their surgery before sending them home and may have given them critical care to kick start getting their gut moving. However, you really have to continue the hard work here and ensure that they keep eating until you see poop when they're back at home. If your bunny isn't interested in hay or pellets at first, really push the boat out and offer them their favourite treats - whether this is bananas or their favourite shop-bought treats. While giving fruits and treats in large amounts isn't usually good for rabbits, in the first instance, it can be very helpful to tempt them to eat something. And don't give up - particularly in female rabbits, they can really refuse food at first, so keep trying to make them take a few nibbles even if they seem quite sleepy or uninterested. If your bunny is still refusing treats, you may need to bunny burrito them and syringe feed them critical care. Hopefully, you will eventually see tons of poop and feel relieved!
The key thing here is to keep persisting in trying to feed them little amounts every now and then, but in more extreme situations where you really can't get them to eat and they haven't pooped in 12 hours (or however long your vet advises) - call your vet and see if you need to bring them back in.
Keep your bunny warm
It's important to ensure your bunny stays warm after a neuter, therefore try to favour a warmer room for their recovery space. Additionally, consider adding a heat pack or a small hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket to their area to provide some extra warmth. However, please be careful that it is not boiling and is wrapped appropriately to avoid your bunny getting burnt or getting too hot. Another option is to add snuggly blankets in a corner or a soft pet bed.
What if I have another bunny?
If you have a second bunny you may need to entirely separate your newly recovering bun and the original bunny for a short period of time. Since your other bun will be healthy and full of energy they may still want to be playful with the recovering bunny and could risk harming them while the stitches and incision are vulnerable and healing. However, when it comes to bunny care nothing is as clear cut as following a single rule. A bonded companion can also be very comforting to a recovering bunny and may groom them and provide comfort while they heal, thus decreasing some of the stress they may be feeling. In the first instance, allow your second bunny to be close to the healing rabbit and pay attention to how they behave. If they are calm and comforting allow them frequent visits to the healing bunny. If they are aggressive at all or too playful, consider separating them at least for the first day or two. Either way, if the healing bunny is in a confined space, it's likely your healthy bunny won't want to be restricted too - so allow them their usual free-roaming, but also ensure they get some time to visit their friend and comfort them. If you had a bonded pair neutered at the same time, it is advisable to keep them separated after the surgery. Post-neutering, bonded pairs can become a bit aggressive due to a surge in hormonal levels which can result in fighting despite being bonded. To avoid risking their bond, keep them separate with their cages side by side and ensure to feed side by side and swap belongings frequently.
It is likely your vet would have provided pain medications for your rabbit post neuter. If they don't - you definitely should ask for these or at least enquire why they aren't being prescribed. It is very vital that you give your buns the full prescription as the surgery can be very painful. Feeding medicine to bunnies after a neuter can be quite difficult in some cases and your bunnies may reject the medicine completely. One way to tempt your rabbit to have the medicine is to give them a small nibble of banana (or their other favourite fruit) and then pour the medicine onto a small piece of banana (not on the side that they taste first) and let them eat it quickly. This is usually quite quick and they don't realise they're being tricked into having the medicine! If this doesn't work, you will need to bunny burrito your bunny in a towel or blanket and syringe feed the medicine.
Inspecting the incision
You will need to monitor your rabbit's incision daily to see that it is not bleeding or giving off any discharge. Moreover, look out for any excessive swelling or redness. Your vet will advise you more specifically on what to look out for, especially with respect to their stitches as some bunnies have dissolvable stitches, while other's will have stitches that need to be removed down the line. Some bunnies really don't enjoy being picked up, or may resist after a neuter due to their incision being sensitive. A good tip here is to tempt your bunny to stand up to reach a treat when they're feeling a little better and to take a quick peek at the area while they're standing up.
What to expect after a neuter
Initial worsening in behaviour
While neutering is supposed to improve a number of hormonal behaviours in rabbit's, you may discover that after your rabbit's neuter, they actually seem to have worsened. This is because there is an initial surge in hormones that can cause your buns to act a little wild, and it can take some time for the hormone levels to drop completely. It can be quite intense and can persist for about 6 weeks, so be prepared with tons of chew toys, consider preparing a digging box and provide lots of cardboard for them to chew so they don't choose your furniture instead.
Boredom, grumpiness, other changes in behaviour
You may even notice your bun feeling a little more bored or grumpy after their spay, this is because of all the hormonal changes their body is going through. While it may seem like your bunny has 'changed' after its neuter, don't worry - this is usually temporary. A usually clingy bun that always wants to be pet may not like pets as much in this initial period, but after a little while, they get back to normal and warm right up.
Further common questions
Do neutered rabbits still mount?
Yes! Mounting is normal behaviour and doesn't necessarily indicate a desire to mate. Rabbit's mount in order to display dominance, to gain attention from another rabbit and even sometimes to be playful. It's usually advised not to interfere in rabbit's establishing their dominance or displaying their regular behaviours (unless of course, it's risking the welfare of one of your rabbit's e.g. could lead to a fight).
Where should I get my rabbit neutered?
Do your research before picking a place to have your rabbit neutered. If you already have a rabbit savvy vet that you are comfortable with and trust, it's advisable to stick with them as they'll know your rabbit's medical history well. If you are yet to find a good vet, in the first instance try to find a good rabbit savvy vet. However, if you can't find a rabbit savvy vet, most regular vets are very experienced in the routine neutering procedure. Research around and enquire with a number of places. Ask them how much experience they have with neutering, what their pre and post-operative care looks like and try to deduce the level of care they provide and pick your best option.
That's all folks!
Okay friends, I know that was tons of information - but sending your rabbit in to be neutered can be quite an emotional time for many, so being as prepared as possible can really help to calm your nerves.
If your bun is going in for their neuter soon - I wish them all the luck in the world, and if you have any further questions, feel free to drop a comment down below! As always, please speak to a rabbit savvy vet and conduct your own further research.
Lots of love, Tamara, Peanut, Butter & the Plants xoxo