Desexing rabbits – yes or no?
Should you get your bunny neutered?
Whatever you call it, desexing, neutering, spaying (girls) or castration (boys), what we're talking about is surgical removal of the reproductive organs. Now, that can sound pretty drastic but there are some very good reasons to consider it.
Good reasons to get your rabbit desexed
To prevent pregnancy
This is an obvious one – especially if you've male and female rabbits living together. It's not uncommon for people to think it might be fun or educational for the kids to let their rabbits breed. But before you do, did you know that there are rabbit rescue centres in Victoria teaming with bunnies that need a home – we don't need more bunnies!
Rabbits can also have false pregnancies. This happens when the pregnancy hormones are triggered and the rabbit's body goes through a whole pregnancy process but there are no babies. This isn't usually medically harmful, but it is stressful on the rabbit and can cause aggressive behaviour while she's defending her nest. Some rabbits will go off their food, which can become a medical issue.
To prevent cancer of the uterus (womb)
Female rabbits that are not desexed have up to an 80% risk of developing a malignant cancer of the uterus (an adenocarcinoma). This type of cancer starts in the uterus but can spread rapidly to other organs (eg lungs, liver), and once it's spread it can't be treated.
The best way to prevent this cancer is having your rabbit spayed before 2 years of age.
To prevent other diseases of the uterus
Cancer isn't the only disease that can affect the uterus. Rabbits can also develop:
- pyometra – which is a uterus full of pus
- uterine aneurysm – which is a uterus full of blood
- endometritis – which is inflammation of the lining of the uterus
These conditions can be life threatening. Like with cancer, the best way to prevent them is by having your rabbit spayed before 2 years of age.
To prevent or treat aggression
Both male and female rabbits can become aggressive when they hit puberty. Your nice friendly little bunny can suddenly become a monster, attacking everything and everyone in sight. The best way to deal with this is desexing just before or shortly after sexual maturity.
To prevent urine spraying
This is the delightful behaviour of squirting urine onto vertical surfaces to scent mark a territory. Although male rabbits do it much more frequently than females – don't be fooled, girls scent mark too! Male rabbit urine can be particularly pungent.
Urine spraying can become a habit, so before it becomes routine behaviour, get your rabbit desexed. Preferably before sexual maturity.
To prevent testicular disease
Although they aren't common, testicular diseases do occur in rabbits. These include abscesses and cancer.
Best age to get it done
As we've said, the best age to desex either a male or female rabbit is just before or shortly after sexual maturity. This time frame varies with breed. It ranges from 4–6 months in small to medium sized breeds and up to 9 months in the giant breeds.
We don't usually desex before 4 months of age. This is because we don't get any health benefit from desexing earlier than this but we do increase the difficulty of the surgery due to the size and position of the reproductive organs.
There's probably never a time that's definitely too late to desex. But we do see a benefit in spaying females rabbits before 2 years of age in terms of reducing the incidence of uterine diseases including cancer.