Why Should You Spay or Neuter Your Bunny?
Dr. Dawn Ruben
Rabbits have been part of our lives for thousands of years. As the numbers of pet rabbits increased, the knowledge of their health and longevity has also risen. Besides offering the necessary nutrition, spaying or neutering your pet bunny can greatly increase his/her quality of life, as well as increase the length of his/her life.
Spaying is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of the uterus and ovaries. Neutering is the removal of sex organs in both males and females but is generally thought of as the removal of the testicles. When performed by an experienced rabbit veterinarian, the procedure is quick and has few complications.
Why Spay or Neuter?
One of the most common reasons to spay or neuter your pet rabbit is to prevent pregnancy. Unless you plan to be a breeder, spaying and neutering your bunny will eliminate the risk of adding more rabbits to an already overpopulated world. There are so many rabbits available that there is a high risk that any babies you may have will end up homeless or abandoned. Unless you plan to care for all the offspring, consider spaying or neutering.
Another reason to spay or neuter your rabbit is to reduce or prevent the natural aggressive behavior that can develop in sexually intact bunnies. After a rabbit reaches sexual maturity, around four months of age, everything changes. Those bunnies that were once cute and cuddly have now become teenagers, and act like it. They don't want to be handled and seem like they want to destroy everything is sight.
This is part of a maturing rabbit. As a prey species, their instinct is to protect themselves and establish their position in the world. Just because they live in a safe, comfortable home with no risk of being attacked by predators, it doesn't mean their instincts won't surface. To keep their biting, striking and even lunging behavior to a minimum, have your rabbit spayed or neutered around the time of puberty.
For the female rabbit, spaying offers several benefits. In addition to eliminating the risk of pregnancy and reducing the natural aggressive behavior, spaying also reduces or eliminates the risk of various uterine diseases. Since spaying involves the removal of the uterus, many serious illnesses can be prevented.
One of the most common illnesses affecting female rabbits is cancer of the uterus and is a common reason for death in sexually intact female rabbits. Up to 80 percent of female rabbits may develop this malignant form of cancer. Rabbits under two years of age rarely develop this cancer so spaying should be done early in life. The best time to spay is around the time of puberty, four to six months of age. If you adopt your rabbit later in life or have been putting off the surgery, make sure your rabbit is spayed before her second birthday.
Spaying not only reduces the risk of uterine cancer but can also reduce the risk of certain breast cancers. A link has been suspected between uterine cancer and the development of breast cancer. Even mammary gland cysts have been linked to uterine cancer. Spaying your rabbit not only eliminates the risk of uterine cancer, but also significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer or cysts.
Spaying your bunny can also eliminate the risk of other uterine diseases. Uterine infections, bleeding and inflammation (endometritis), are potentially devastating and even fatal diseases of the uterus. Without a uterus, these diseases cannot occur.
Finally, spaying your rabbit eliminates the risk of false pregnancy. Even without mating, bunnies can have hormonal changes that make their body think they are pregnant, even though they are not. This does not typically cause a medical problem, but it is a significant stress for the rabbit. She will build a nest, protect her area and even produce milk. Reduction in appetite and even gastrointestinal disorders can occur. Eventually the hormone levels diminish and the bunny returns to normal. Why put your bunny through this? Having her spayed can prevent this undue stress.
Neutering your bunny will also prevent unwanted pregnancies. Trying to keep your male and female rabbit apart usually doesn't work too well. While under the influence of testosterone, male rabbits are very persistent and can be quite destructive in his attempt to get to the girl of his desires. Neutering will reduce these behavioral problems.
By removing the testicles, diseases of these organs are no longer a concern. Abscesses and cancer and the most common illnesses affecting the testicles. By removing them, you don't have to worry about these diseases.
Neutering also reduces the incidence of urine spraying. Though both males and females can spray urine to mark their territory, intact male rabbits do this at least 10 times more often than females. The urine sprayed from intact male rabbits has a strong and quite unpleasant odor. Typically, spraying occurs on vertical surfaces such as walls, furniture and doorways and if allowed to continue, the behavior becomes ingrained and neutering won't help stop it. By neutering early in life or as soon as the bunny begins to spray, this behavior can be either eliminated or at least significantly reduced.
When Should Your Bunny Be Spayed or Neutered?
Spaying your bunny can be done anytime after about four months of age. Performing the surgery before four months has not been found to be an advantage and actually carries more risks. The organs are a lot smaller and difficult to find.
The best time to spay or neuter is around the time of puberty (four to six months). For giant breed rabbits, puberty may not occur until around six to nine months of age. It's still better to neuter before then to reduce the risk of destructive and unacceptable behavior problems.
For female rabbits, spaying before they reach two years of age has significant health benefits. If your bunny is over two years, spaying and neutering is still recommended. Overall, sexually intact rabbits have a life expectancy of about five to six years. By having your bunny spayed or neutered, that life expectancy can double. Some rabbits have even lived into their teens.