Rabbits are social animals and should therefore preferably be kept in pairs or groups, ideally reared together from birth. When you get a new rabbit or a pair of rabbits together, it is wise to get one, or ideally both, of the rabbits neutered.
If opposite gender rabbits are kept together with no intention of breeding then one or both will need to be neutered from 4 months old. Watch for the male’s testicles to descend from 3 months old and separate the rabbits immediately this is seen, keeping them in sight and sound of each other.
At Wendover Heights Veterinary Centre, our vets and nurses are experienced with rabbit anaesthesia and surgery, and we will be happy to discuss with you what having your rabbit neutered involves.
Reasons for spaying Does:
- prevention of pregnancy if kept with male
- prevention of uterine cancer (some statistics suggest as many as 80% of entire does may develop uterine cancer over 5 years of age)
- to eliminate aggression which may develop at puberty
- to eliminate false pregnancy
- to prevent spraying if kept indoors
The best age is 5-6 months old.
Reasons for castrating Bucks:
- to prevent pregnancy if kept with a Doe
- to reduce aggression
- to prevent spraying if kept indoors
The best age is as soon as the testicles descend into the scrotum, around 4 months old.
Remember that Bucks may still be fertile for about a month after castration.
It is generally appreciated that anaesthetics in rabbits and small mammals are higher risk than many other animals, and unfortunately have a higher rate of anaesthetic deaths compared to dogs and cats . Although this risk is still very small, it is enough to warrant a careful cost-benefit analysis for each procedure. The reasons for this increased risk are as follows:
- Rabbits, as prey animals, are notorious for hiding signs of disease. For example, there may be pre-existing pneumonia with substantial lung disease without the rabbit ever having shown clinical signs. In combination with the rabbit’s particularly narrow airways this can produce breathing difficulties under anaesthesia.
- With outdoor rabbits, observation may not be as good as it could be, and so early signs of illness may be missed
- Rabbits are particularly susceptible to stress and the huge surge of adrenaline they produce when stressed can affect the heart.
Having said this, rabbit anaesthesia is safer than it has ever been before, with improved knowledge and skill and state-of-the-art anaesthetics. Our vets and nurses are very experienced and confident in anaesthetising small mammals, using the very best in anaesthetic drugs. For many procedures, where possible, we will place a tube into the airway to allow better oxygen supplementation (compared to using a face mask).
Very often the procedure recommended will greatly improve the animal’s quality of life or even save it, making the procedure more than justified.
Please note that there is no need to withhold food or water prior to surgery as rabbits do not easily vomit, and will continue to eat their faecal pellets (caecotrophs) through the night anyway. In fact, withholding water would be detrimental to the animal’s condition.
Sexing rabbits over 12 weeks old is simple as the buck’s testicles descend visibly into the scrotum and the penis can be extruded. Sexing of younger rabbits is notoriously difficult and you may need expert help, and preferably several littermates for comparison!
Females have a pointed genital opening closer to the anus, and males, a more rounded
orifice further away. Sexual maturity occurs between 3 – 10 months of age, with smaller breeds often becoming mature earlier.
Breeding should not be attempted except by experienced breeders, as there are lots of possible complications. Please bear in mind before breeding that there are hundreds of rabbits in overflowing rescue centres, including baby rabbits, that need homes.
The doe has a period of receptivity to the buck every 5 days from January to June, which may not be obvious. Rabbits are induced ovulators (meaning they ovulate only after mating) with a gestation (pregnancy length) of 32 days. The buck should be removed towards the end of gestation as the doe can be fertile immediately after giving birth.
Sometimes rabbits can have a false pregnancy after an infertile mating or even from being mounted by other does. She will pull fur from her dewlap (the lump under her neck) for about 15 days to line an imaginary nest.