Rabbit Spay/Neuter Information and Resources
Spaying or neutering your rabbit benefits you and your rabbit for several reasons. This page discusses why it’s so important and beneficial to spay or neuter your rabbit. We also include rabbit spay/neuter information and resources near Austin, TX.
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Rabbit Spay/Neuter Information and Resources
What is Spay & Neuter?
The word “neuter” refers to the removal of the reproductive organs of either a male or a female of a species, although people frequently refer to the surgery in a female as a ‘spay’. The ‘scientific’ terminology for neutering in the male is castration and in the female is ovariohysterectomy.
Female rabbits can be spayed as soon as they are sexually mature, which is usually around 4 months of age (yes, they can get pregnant at 4 months old!).
Depending on size and health of the rabbit, some veterinarians may prefer to wait until the rabbit is 6 months old to perform surgery.
Male rabbits can be neutered as soon as the testicles descend, usually around 8-12 weeks.
It’s still a good idea to have your rabbit seen by a rabbit-savvy veterinarian at around 4 months old for a general health assessment, and a double check on their official “sex”. Depending on where you got the rabbit, many pet stores and breeders incorrectly sex young rabbits, and this mistake has led to many accidental pregnancies of pairs of brothers and sisters that were supposed to be the same sex. This appointment also allows to you to schedule the spay or neuter surgery for when the veterinarian deems they’re ready.
Not sure where to find a rabbit-savvy veterinarian? Check out our Rabbit-Savvy Veterinarian page.
The House Rabbit Society believes that a rabbit’s general health is improved if they are altered, live indoors, and properly fed. It is difficult to separate these issues, since no one in the House Rabbit Society wishes to risk shortening the lives of our companions in order to see which of these three factors is most important.
In general, stress is a major problem in all species. Rabbits are no exception; in fact, they appear to be more susceptible to stress. Stress decreases the immune system’s ability to cope. Stressed bunnies are more likely to get an infection. Most of the illnesses our bunnies tend to get are considered opportunistic infections, infections that are caused by a drop in the body’s ability to fight off that infection. Maintaining a low level of stress plays a large role in warding off many types of bacterial infections. Unfixed rabbits are permanently “on” sexually. This state creates a substantial amount of the stress on their system and makes them more susceptible to illness.
The Uterine Cancer Risk in Females is Extraordinary:
Unspayed female rabbits are especially prone to health problems. Their permanent “on” state is something humans have bred into them, and it gives them an extraordinary risk for uterine cancer. It was shown as far back as the early 1950s that by the time female rabbits reach age five, 80% have uterine cancer. We have seen uterine cancer in rabbits as young as six months.
According to the Wisconsin Chapter of House Rabbit Society (HRS), the number one killer of foster rabbits is uterine cancer. Spaying essentially removes this risk, because the reproductive organs are removed. Our shelter bunnies live 8-12 years; it is against the odds for an unspayed female to live that long. Spaying female bunnies will literally add years to the happy life of your rabbit. We’re happy to have our female rabbits around as long as possible and the cancer risk alone is a very sufficient reason for spaying. We’ve seen the end stage of cancer in rabbits and it is not a pleasant end. Spay your female bunnies and you will not have to worry about this heartbreak.
Those who keep rabbits outside in individual hutches may think they don’t need to get the animals sterilized because after all, any bothersome behavioral habits won’t be noticeable if they’re not in the house, and if they’re separated, they can’t reproduce. That’s true, but unaltered rabbits, especially females, are at great health risk, according to Keith Gold, DVM, who sees many rabbits at the Falls Road Animal Hospital in Baltimore, Md.
“Uterine cancer is ‘extremely common’ in unspayed females,” Dr. Gold said. “Such rabbits are also at a higher risk for mammary cancer.”
“One study found that unspayed female rabbits have greater than an 80 % chance of developing uterine and/or ovarian cancer by the age of three years,” said Dr. Dana Krempels D.V.M and Founder of the Miami, Fl. chapter of House Rabbit Society. “As the bunny ages, this risk continues to increase. By leaving your female rabbit intact, you increase her risk of cancer every day: the longer she has her uterus and ovaries, the greater the chance that they will become cancerous.” – Dr. Keith Gold, DVM at Falls Road Animal Hospital in Baltimore, MD.
There is no similar hormone related cancers in males. Testicular cancer is not anywhere near as common as uterine cancer. However, having an unfixed male around can lead to many preventable behavioral problems.
Behavior Problems in Both Unfixed Males & Females is Common:
Raging hormones can cause unaltered rabbits to display a number of less-than-desirable habits, including:
- aggressive lunging and biting,
- territorial nipping
- destructive chewing and digging
- spraying VERY STINKY urine
- loss of good litter box habits
The most unfortunate aspect is that most of what people find troubling about their rabbits’ behavior is hormone driven. “My bunny sprays; My bunny bites my ankles; My bunny runs circles around me and sprays me down; or Why does my bunny charge my boyfriend when he comes over?” Usually these questions are accompanied with a statement that the bunny was sweet until recently. If the answer to the question, “Any idea the sex and age of your rabbit?” is a male between 4 and 8 months of age, the universal fix is, “Have him altered.”
Male bunnies can be aggressive toward people if they feel their territory is too crowded. Unfixed male rabbits have more of an odor. They will mark their “space” with urine. After a boy is neutered, all the hormone-driven activity will stop AND you do not see a change in personality.
Unspayed female bunnies can also exhibit negative behaviors. “My bunny is so mean she won’t even let me change the litter pan in her cage.” If this behavior is coming from a female that is 5-9 months old it is likely her hormones are driving her to defend her cage against all visitors. This is her nest spot and she will fight to keep it. Many of these girls will only be nasty around the cage or sleeping spot.
Since this kind of behavior is a major factor in the abandonment of rabbits at animal shelters, spaying or neutering is one of the easiest ways to get people to keep a bunny. Not all behavioral issues are related to sex hormones running rampant, but many sweet affectionate bunnies become a combination of Bugs Bunny and Mr. Hyde when they hit puberty, with major mood swings and unpredictable reactions.
Altering rabbits has also been noticed to improve litter box habits.
Bonding Problems & Fighting Occur with Unaltered Rabbits:
Spaying or neutering helps with aggressive, territorial behaviors, so it only makes sense that when you fix your rabbits, it also makes bonding them MUCH easier.
When looking to bond two rabbits, you will have the best success with them both being fixed. You will want to wait 6 weeks after the spay/neuter surgery to begin trying to pair. This allows those raging hormones to leave the rabbit’s system and never return. Rabbits, like many animals, are sensitive to smell, and can tell if a rabbit has only recently been altered and still has the sex hormones in them. If rabbits sense these hormones in another, it will put them on the defensive, and make pairing incredibly difficult, so it’s best to wait until the hormones have left their systems before trying to pair anyone.
In the case of same sex pairs it is the only way to make them consistently work. Neutered male-male pairs are the most difficult combination of altered rabbits, but it is impossible with intact male rabbits.
“Rabbits are social creatures, and enjoy the company of other bunnies. Same-sex pairs can cohabitate quite nicely, but if they’re not sterilized, they may start fighting with each other once they reach sexual maturity.
As for mixed-sex pairs… well, if they’re not ‘fixed’, they’ll do what bunnies do best: reproduce.” – Dana Krempels, Ph.D., who rescues rabbits and founded the Miami, FL chapter of the House Rabbit Society.
According to Dr. Krempels, one pair of rabbits and their offspring can produce 2,000 babies in the course of a year.
“You may think you can find homes for your bunny’s babies, but we have seen far too many abandoned and dumped pets to think that this is a realistic hope,” she explains. “And for every one produced by a casual breeder, another is put to death at an animal shelter, because there are simply not enough homes for all of them. Many casual breeders will sell their baby bunnies to pet stores,” said Dr. Krempels, “where they have a good chance of ending up with irresponsible owners, or worse-many rabbits are sold as snake food.”
About the Spay or Neuter Surgery
“There’s really no good reason not to spay or neuter a bunny,” says Dr. Krempels, D.V.M. “Common misconceptions are that the procedure will change a rabbit’s personality, or make it “fat and lazy.” Your rabbit’s endearing qualities will not change. His or her unacceptable, hormonally induced behaviors usually will,” explained Dr. Krempels.
Despite rabbits’ notorious fragility, the spay or neuter surgery is usually very safe in the hands of an experienced rabbit veterinarian.
“It’s a very successful procedure,” Dr. Gold says, estimating that the success rate is in the upper 99th percentile.
“Although it’s a concern anytime an animal is put under anesthesia,” he says, “complications with rabbits are rare. But it’s important to make sure your veterinarian is rabbit-savvy,” explains Dr. Gold. “[The operation is] different than with dogs and cats. Rabbits are anatomically different, and their organs are more sensitive. The procedure is also different,” Dr. Gold says. “But rabbits of any age should be able to handle the operation relatively easily.” Dr. Gold’s clinic performs numerous spays on rescue bunnies of unknown age.
Spay/Neuter Surgery and Rabbit Age:
The best age to neuter either a male or female rabbit is just before or shortly after 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. We do not recommend neutering rabbits younger than four months of age because the surgery may be more difficult due to the size and position of the reproductive organs. There is no health benefit to neutering earlier than 4 months of age. However there is a benefit in females of neutering before two years of age because after two the incidence of uterine and mammary gland disease can increase.
Your rabbit should examined by a veterinarian prior to surgery to make sure your pet is in good condition and ready for neutering. Sexual maturity can be gauged a number of ways including; visualizing the presence of testicles in the scrotal sacs, the presence a well developed vulva, the presence of mature body condition and by behavioral changes such as urine spraying and increased aggression. Your veterinarian may recommend some simple tests prior to surgery, particularly if your pet is older or has had other medical problems. We do not recommend performing routine neutering procedures on obese animals or ill rabbits because these rabbits are at higher risk for surgical complications. The weight should be reduced and any disease conditions managed prior to having a major surgical procedure performed.
“No surgery is ever 100 percent risk-free,” Dr. Krempels explains. “However, with modern anesthetics and with an experienced veterinarian, rabbits can be spayed or neutered with no greater risk than that experienced by a dog or cat being spayed. We suggest that older rabbits—four years and older—have a complete blood chemistry and panel done to check for metabolic abnormalities that might increase surgical risk. But our vets have routinely spayed rabbits as old as seven or eight years, and neutered males as old as 10 years without problems.”
Rabbit Spay/Neuter Information and Resources
The Benefits of Spaying or Neutering Your Rabbit
General benefits of neutering/spaying your rabbit include:
- Rabbits are healthier and live longer.
- They’re calmer, more affectionate, and emotionally stable because the urge to mate has been removed.
- Rabbits are less prone to destructive behavior overall when fixed.
- Much less prone to aggressive behavior.
- Much easier to litter train (territorial marking is eliminated).
- Droppings and urine have less odor.
- Rabbits can safely be bonded without the threat of hundreds of baby rabbits as a result.
- Rabbits of the same sex can become bonded without the risk of fighting.
Benefits of Spaying Female Rabbits:
The benefits of spaying for female rabbits include:
- Spaying greatly reduces, if not totally eliminates the risk of getting reproductive cancers. On average, un-spayed females have an 80% chance of developing reproductive cancer. That’s astonishingly high.
- Prevents the onset of stressful pseudo pregnancy.
Benefits of Neutering Male Rabbits:
The benefits for male rabbits include:
- Reduces sexual aggression (this can be a very big deal. Do not underestimate a sexually frustrated rabbit—they can be mean little buggers!).
- Stops spraying behavior i.e. it will stop your male rabbit spraying awful smelling urine all over your walls and furniture.
- Pretty much eliminates risks of testicular and prostate cancers (while lower risk than female reproductive cancers, it is still a real risk).
Rabbit Spay/Neuter Information and Resources
Cost Associated with Altering Your Rabbit
The cost of spaying or neutering your rabbit is wide ranging. Depending on what state and county you live in will vary the cost of surgery and your access to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian who can do the surgery.
House Rabbit Resource Network is based in Central Texas, so we are going to discuss general prices in our area, because that’s what we know. To find costs of the surgery in your area, we recommend finding the closest rabbit rescue in your state and going to their website or asking them, they’ll know the best resources and prices in your area.
For rabbit savvy vets in the USA, please check this list at House Rabbit Society:
Costs to Spay or Neuter Your Rabbit in Central Texas:
We have found the prices in Central Texas (Austin area) to range anywhere from $150 to $350. Neuter surgery is less invasive and therefore will be on the lower end of this price range, while spay surgeries are more invasive thus requiring more surgery time and work which ups the cost, so spay surgeries will be on the higher part of this range.
These prices may seem exorbitantly high, but we promise taking the dive now and getting your rabbit altered will save you a lot of money and time in the long run.
Case Study 1: You have 2 rabbits of opposite genders, a boy and a girl. Possibly siblings. As soon as they’re 4 to 6 months of age, they’ll breed. The only way to prevent breeding is to keep them in separate cages for life. Rabbits are prolific, one oopsie-breeding and you have a litter on your hands. Normal litters are anywhere from three to seven kits, and all these new babies will add up to more expenses and time. Oh, and momma can get pregnant all over again as soon as she gives birth, so watch out!
Case Study 2: You have 2 rabbits of the same gender, maybe even brothers or sisters. If left unaltered and together, when they reach sexual maturity they will become aggressive and territorial. Rabbits are actually quite ferocious creatures when they want to be, with extremely sharp teeth and claws that can do incredible damage in the blink of an eye. Just one fight can end in extreme injury or death of one of the rabbits. Rabbit vet bills are also not cheap.
Case Study 3: You have only one rabbit. This situation is the one where you are most likely to get away without altering your rabbit, with the least amount of consequences. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t drawbacks of having an unaltered single rabbit in your home. Once they’re sexually mature, they will begin to have behavior issues such as aggression, extra digging and shredding stuff, displaying territorial behaviors such as spraying. Even if you can deal with the unwanted behavioral problems, you place your rabbit at a much higher risk for reproductive cancers–chemo for rabbits is not cheap or especially successful. In the long run, the cost of surgery pays for itself.
Rabbit Spay/Neuter Information and Resources
Rabbits are known for their ability to, well, breed like rabbits! Do not underestimate two unfixed rabbit’s ability to procreate a lot, in a very short amount of time!
*This information is for EDUCATIONAL purposes only. House Rabbit Resource Network does not condone breeding rabbits for any reason. There are enough rabbits out there as it is needing homes, we believe spaying and neutering your rabbit prevents thousands of offspring from suffering abuse, abandonment, and death.
One female rabbit can potentially deliver up to 60 young per year. Take a look at the scary numbers and why Spaying and Neutering your rabbits is so important: Why Spay or Neuter my rabbit? Some Scary Numbers…by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.
When do domestic rabbits become sexually mature? Aka when are they able to have babies?:
- Rabbit breeds of medium to large size are sexually mature at 4 to 4.5 months
- Giant breeds at 6 to 9 months
- Small breeds (such as the Polish Dwarf and Dutch) at 3.5 to 4 months of age
McClure, D. (2011, June 11). Breeding and Reproduction of Rabbits Retrieved from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/all-other-pets/rabbits/breeding-and-reproduction-of-rabbits
Christal Pollock, DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice). (2018, November 3). Rabbit Reproduction Basics. LafeberVet. https://lafeber.com/vet/rabbit-reproduction-basics/
Rabbit Reproduction Facts:
- The release of eggs in female rabbits is triggered by sexual intercourse, not by a cycle of hormones as in humans. This is why you may hear of rabbits being “induced ovulators”.
- Rabbits have a cycle of “mating receptivity”; rabbits are receptive to mating about 14 days of a 16 “cycle”. (Unlike human females who only ovulate/have the ability to get pregnant 1 day out of a 27-30 day cycle).
- Pregnancy (gestation) usually lasts about 31 to 33 days. Females with smaller litters (usually 4 or less) seem to have longer pregnancies than those that produce larger litters. If a female has not given birth by day 32 of her pregnancy, a veterinarian normally needs to intervene and induce labor; otherwise, a dead litter is almost always delivered sometime after day 34. Occasionally, pregnant females will abort or resorb the fetuses due to nutritional deficiencies or disease.
- The average litter size is 7-8.
- A female rabbit can become pregnant again within a few days of giving birth. This is incredibly stressful to the female and can be very damaging.
- Weaning of kits occurs at 4-6 weeks. Do not a let a breeder or pet store tell you otherwise. If you are set on purchasing a rabbit from one of these sources (see reasons why to Adopt instead of Shop) make sure the rabbit is at least this old. Premature weaning for selling baby rabbits is a rampant problem and only causes illness and premature death to the rabbit, and trauma to the caretaker.
Rabbit Spay/Neuter Information and Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Most frequent questions about rabbit spay/neuter, and answers from our bunny experts
The best time to spay or neuter rabbit your rabbit is as soon as they reach sexual maturity, which can be as young as 3 months in dwarf rabbits. Be sure to have you rabbits gender double checked by your rabbit -savvy veterinarian). Most young rabbits can be spayed between 3 and 6 months.
Just like in humans, the older a rabbit is, the risk of problems related to “going under” anesthesia rise. Some research suggests that anesthesia induced risks increase after the rabbit is 6 years old. However, keep in mind that at that age the risk for reproductive cancers also rises drastically.
There is always some risk when undergoing any kind of surgery; that is why we recommend you have a rabbit-savvy veterinarian perform the operation to reduce these risks as much as possible.
The health risks associated with not altering your rabbit (reproductive cancers) normally outweigh the possible surgery risks and therefore are worth the lower risk of surgery.
But every case is individual, and therefore you must discuss all of this with your rabbit-savvy veterinarian to make the best decision about whether your rabbit is healthy enough to undergo the procedure.
The probability is very high that she hasn’t been spayed, but your rabbit-savvy veterinarian can shave the tummy and look for a spay scar or a pin-head sized tattoo that some veterinarians leave to indicate the rabbit has already been spayed. However, when veterinarians use certain stitching techniques, there is no scar whatsoever.
If there is no scar or tattoo, the only way of know is to proceed with the surgery.
Do not fast your rabbit before its surgery. Meaning, do not take them off food the night before the surgery. If your vet tells you to do that, you need to reconsider your vet’s rabbit knowledge immediately.
Rabbits must have food and water available at all times.
Isofluorane is still the preferred anesthesia for rabbits, although some are now using sevofluane with good results.
After surgery, have your rabbit’s cage ready as usual and separate him/her from your other pets. Neutered males should not be put in contact with unaltered females for at least three weeks after surgery.
Do not encourage any exercise and refrain from picking-up your rabbit unnecessarily.
Offer your rabbit what he or she normally eats.
Monitor your rabbit’s appetite, but know that he or she may not be interested in food the night after surgery. Contact your rabbit-savvy veterinarian if your rabbit does not eat after 24 hours.
Carefully check your rabbit’s incision twice a day–it should be free of blood or discharge. Bruising or swelling of the incision/scrotum may occur, but this is normal. You may notice that your female rabbit has two small dark lines, one on each side, parallel to her incision. These are thin tattoo lines to indicate she has been spayed. If a female pulls her stitches out, call your veterinarian asap for an incision check.