The life span of a rabbit ranges widely depending on size and breed; but on average we see 5-10+ years. Although we do not vaccinate rabbits we do recommend annual examinations so we can monitor their overall health: paying particular attention to their weight, oral/dental health, respiratory disease, and to look for signs of arthritis which is very common in domestic rabbits.
Should I neuter/spay my rabbit?
At Guelph Animal Hospital, one of the more common discussions we have with rabbit owners is about having them spayed or neutered; in rabbits it is often referred to as neutering for both unlike cats and dogs. Here is some information on why we recommend these procedures:
- Prevention of Pregnancy – This is especially important if there are both male and female rabbits living together in a household. One should not consider breeding these pets just for fun – rabbits mate frequently and have many kits per litter so it can quickly get out of hand!
- Prevention of Uterine Cancer – This is the most compelling medical reason to neuter female rabbits. In some rabbit populations the rate of uterine adenocarcinoma (a malignant uterine cancer) can approach 80% of the females. It is believed that the incidence may be related to the rabbit’s genetic makeup. Uterine adenocarcinoma can spread rapidly to other organs of the body such as the liver, lungs and even the skin and it is not treatable once it spreads outside of the uterus.
- Prevention of other Uterine Disease – Although cancer is the most common disease of the rabbit uterus, we also see other uterine diseases, such as pyometra (infected uterus), uterine aneurism (uterus full of blood) and endometritis (inflamed uterine lining). Like uterine cancer, these conditions are all more common in female rabbits over two years of age.
- Prevention of False Pregnancies – Female rabbits can go into a hormonal state triggered by their ovaries where the body acts as if it is pregnant but there is in fact no pregnancy. Although this is not medically harmful, it can be stressful for the rabbit that goes through all the activities of being pregnant including nest building, milk production and aggressive protection of her territory.
- Prevention of Mammary Gland (Breast) Disease – Mammary gland cancer is not common in female rabbits, but when it occurs it can spread rapidly and be difficult to treat. It is preventable if the pet is neutered before two years of age. The most common type of mammary cancer is a malignant form called mammary carcinoma and it is almost always associated with uterine.
- Prevention of Aggressive Behavior – Both male and female rabbits can display aggressive behavior when they are sexually mature. Many rabbits are sweet and easy to handle as little babies, but they can start to act up as they mature and they can often take out their aggression on you or their cage mates. There may be more biting, striking, lunging and chasing. It is best to neuter just before or shortly after sexual maturity to keep this behavior to a minimum.
- Prevention of Urine Spraying - Both male and female rabbits can spray urine on vertical surfaces to mark their territory. Intact mature males do this much more frequently than females. Rabbit urine can smell very strong once they hit maturity. If this behavior is allowed to continue for a long time, it becomes much harder to train them out of it.
- Prevention of Testicular Disease – Disease of the testicle is uncommon in the male rabbit, but it can occur.
What is the best age to neuter/spay?
It is best to do prior to reaching sexual maturity. Depending on the breed, this time could range from four to six months in the small to medium sized breeds and up to nine months in the giant breeds.
Your rabbit should be examined by a veterinarian prior to surgery to make sure (s)he is in good condition, and to answer any additional questions you may have.
What Happens at Neutering
Neuter – When a male rabbit is fixed, the testicles are completely removed. There are usually two incisions – one over each. The incisions may be left open which is acceptable if scrotal incisions were made, or closed with suture or surgical glue. This area can swell within 24 to 48 hours after surgery but in another seven to ten days the swelling should be gone. It is important to note that neutered males should not be put in contact with intact females for at least 3 weeks after neutering. Male rabbits can still have living sperm in ducts within the spermatic cord. The sperm in these ducts can live for two weeks. Testosterone blood levels drop slowly after neutering and male rabbits will still try to mate with female rabbits for several weeks after the testicles are removed. Since the testicles are gone, no new sperm are being produced so it is safe to put a male and female rabbit back together again. We recommend introducing cage mates very slowly as some rabbits can react very aggressively and can seriously harm the other rabbit.
When a female rabbit is neutered, the ovaries and uterus are removed. Rabbits have a uterus that is made up of two long tubes with an ovary at one end and a cervix at the other. They have two cervices unlike cats, dogs, humans and many other species which only have one. An incision is made just below the umbilicus (belly button) and the uterus and associated structures are gently removed from the abdomen through this incision. The blood vessels supplying the uterus and ovaries are tied off with suture material and are removed. The incision is sutured with two to three layers of suture material. Since rabbits have incisors that are excellent at cutting through many materials, we find it beneficial to bury the final row of sutures under the skin so they are not accessible. In this way the rabbit has nothing to chew on or pull out. These sutures dissolve eventually over several weeks and there are no external sutures to remove.
It is important after any surgery to check the surgical site at least twice a day for any signs of bleeding, unusual swelling, discharges or opening of the wound. Other signs of concern are decreased stool production, reduced activity, and reduced urine output. It is very important for you to monitor how much they are eating – it is dangerous for a rabbit to be off food. If your rabbit is not eating well after surgery, call your veterinarian right away! Sometimes your pet will be prescribed a special nutritional supplement to help support them after surgery.
Pain control is your veterinarian should prescribe a post-surgical pain medication for one or more days for your pet, which will help ease discomfort and shorten the recovery time. Most rabbits recovery very quickly from surgery and are back to their old antics within a few days!!
If you are interested in discussing this procedure please give us a call and we’d be happy to have a veterinarian speak to you about your pets’ surgery.