Neutering (Spaying & Castration)

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Neutering (Spaying & Castration)

Post by Happy Hoppers on Tue Jun 24, 2008 5:06 pm

Why Should I Neuter My Rabbits?

There are many reasons why it is beneficial to both yourself and your rabbits to have them either castrated or spayed. The obvious major advantage is that it allows you to keep more than one rabbit together without the worry of them breeding. It also, in some circumstances, allows you to keep rabbits of the same sex in cohabitation with a lesser risk of them fighting. Often same sex pairs (even if they have grown up together) will begin to fight upon reaching sexual maturity, sometimes causing serious injury or even death.

Rabbits that are not neutered have a tendancy to be more aggressive and territorial than those that are. They are able to breed at all times as does do not have “seasons” though there are times of year, namely spring and summer, where they are more fertile and therefore more inclined to mate. Un-neutered rabbits often become very stressed due to their hormones when they are unable to fulfil the urge to breed, which can lead to a range of behavioural problems and as well as potential health issues.

The figures are also worth thinking about. Whilst the average number of kits per litter is 6 it can be as high as 14 and there is a equal chance of rabbits being born male (bucks) or female (does). This means that half of the kits could be does, so 3 in the average litter. Rabbits gestate for 28 – 31 days and the mother is immediately fertile again after kindling, so if she is living with a male he can impregnate her for a second time straight away. This basically means a doe can deliver a litter every month, thats 12 litters a year or 72 kittens. The female babies will be fertile at approximately 6 months old though it can be as young as four months in smaller breeds.

Therefore from that single initial doe, estimating that she goes on to have 3 does per litter a month, she and her intact female descendants could hypothetically produce a sum total of 1,300 rabbits a year (don't believe us? Read here). That is an awful lot of babies to find responsible and caring homes for.

There is not enough demand to create homes for the amount of rabbits that are being produced every year and many find themselves neglected and unwanted, either euthanized or in a rescue. You may think if you have a litter and find good homes for the baby, it is fine, however will the people who take on the babies, consider the benefits of neutering or spaying their bunny? Figures show that at least one of a rabbits genetic offspring will end up in rescue within 3 generations. Those that are lucky enough to find a home are taking a much needed opportunity from a rabbit already in existance, unwanted in a rescue.


Male Rabbits
Male rabbits reach maturity between 3 and 6 months. It is not unheard of for a 12 week old male to be able to impregnate a female. It is generally a good idea to check for testicles to establish when your buck is fertile however care should always be taken from 3 months onward as the age when fertility is reached varies from rabbit to rabbit.

Male rabbits can become aggressive and territorial upon reaching sexual maturity. This can result in destructive behaviour such as chewing and digging, aggression to either the owner or their bonded partner (including biting, nipping, lunging and grunting) and anti-social activities such as spraying either yourself or your home with urine, circling and honking around their owner and mounting a variety of objects, including feet. A pair of co-habiting males will most likely fight at maturity, often they attempt to castrate each other.

A buck can be castrated as soon as his testicals have both descended and taken on a rounded, plump, appearence. This is usually between 12 and 20 weeks but there are the odd late developers and some bucks manage to retain a testical.


Female Rabbits
Female rabbits reach sexual maturity at around 6 months old. As we have shown a doe is an incredibly productive breeder but there are other reasons to spay your female bunny. Most females become aggressive, moody and territorial at around 4 – 6 months old. This can again be directed as aggression towards their owner or their bonded partner (biting, nipping, lunging and grunting) and through destructive behaviour patterns. Does are also prone to 'false' or phantom pregnancies. These occur when the rabbit becomes convinced she is pregnant and starts to act accordingly. Phantoms can be very distressing for a doe as they put her into a state of high alert which can lead to increasing protectiveness or her space. She may also build, and defend, a nest made from her own fur. This can happen several times a year.

Spaying can help to prevent these problems and more importantly can save your rabbit’s life. Up to 80% of unspayed females develop uterine cancer by the time they are 5 years old. Spaying when your female is young and healthy, will prevent her from having to undergo surgery to remove a cancer, that may well already have spread, at a later age. A speyed rabbit can also not develop Pyometra, a nasty infection of the womb. Doe's can be speyed once sexual maturity has been reached, usually at about 6 months although some vets will spey when they have reached 1kg in weight.

Neutering also improves litter training and makes for a much tidier, better behaved house rabbit in both sexes.

How Safe Is It To Get My Bunny Neutered or Spayed?
In the past rabbits have been renowned for having had problems with aneasthetics. However in recent years things have changed as safer techniques and drugs have been developed and vets have become more aware of how to treat rabbits that are going through an operation both pre and post-op. There are now rabbit friendly sedatives which have been rigorously tested to ensure they were fit for purpose and many of these also act as an analgesic too.

It is essential that you ensure you have a rabbit savvy vet before you let your bunny undergo any operation. Any good vet should do a pre op check to ensure your bunny is in good health and doesn’t appear to have any respiratory tract infections such as pasteurella, that may put your bunny at a higher risk during a general anaesthesic. A knowledgeable rabbit vet will also NEVER advise you to fast (starve) your bunny the night before the op. Rabbits are not able to vomit, and due to the delicate workings of the gastro-intestinal tract, should be able eat until shortly before they are sedated (to ensure the mouth is free from choking hazards).

There are a few questions you can ask to check that your vet seems knowledgeable about rabbits.
  • Do they recommend vaccinating and neutering?
  • Are they going to ensure your rabbit receives pain relief after the operation?
  • Will they offer a gut stimulant, post op, to encourage your bunny to eat and to help the GI tract to continue functioning?
  • Will they make sure your bunny is on a heat pad during the operation and when in recovery?
  • Will they house your bunny away from cats and dogs before & after the operation to avoid any stress?

You are well within your rights to ask these questions as a paying customer so please do not feel embaressed. A good vet will be happy to put your mind at ease.

Post Operative Issues

Eating
Once your rabbit has come through their operation and is into recovery, there are a number if things to be aware of. Rabbits can sometimes take a while to eat following a General Anaesthetic and should be offered a gut stimulant (usually Metaclopromide) routinely to help counteract this by promoting motility in the GI tract. Some vets like to keep rabbits in over night to ensure they are eating again and if you are at all nervous about home nurseing it is a good idea to take them up on this offer, particularly with does, who tend to take longer to recover due to the invasiveness of the spey procedure. Often you will be asked to send a bunny pack lunch with your rabbit full of their usual food and any particular things they like, in order to tempt them to start eating again.

If you are at all concerned that your rabbit is not eating, then it would be advisable to consult your vet regarding more gut stimulant, pain relief and syringe feeding. You should see your bunny eating and pooing relatively well, within 12 hours of the operation. If not then you should contact your vet for advice.

One of the key reasons rabbits refuse to eat post-op is because they are in pain.

Pain Relief
Rabbits should be always be offered pain relief after an operation. If in doubt, ask before hand to ensure that your vets intend to provide this, it will usually be in the form of an injection of either Rimadyl or Metacam given at the surgery. Rabbits have the same neurophysiological mechanisms as humans to produce pain meaning they feel pain as we do and their reaction to this is to become withdrawn and to refuse food. Rabbits in pain often adopt a hunched position in the corner of their cage and can be seen and heard grinding their teeth intensely, they will become rigid and scared in your presence and it may make them aggressive. They will also often attack the cause of the pain, in this case their stitches. If you see your rabbit acting like this please consult your vet for more painkillers.

Stitches
The ideal stitching technique should be dissolvable, internal sutures. These are placed under the skin to prevent the rabbit aggravating them and removing the need for the rabbit to wear a headcollar. Staples or external stitches can be picked at by the rabbit which may lead to increased post-op swelling, a higher risk of infection at the suture site and in some cases a need for the wound to be restitched if the wound works open. Some vets chose to use glue rather than sutures although the strenght of this alone is open to question.

Check-Ups
Your vet should request to see your rabbit within 7 days of the procedure. Doe's are often seen within 3-4 days post-op and bucks 5-7. This is a routine appointment to look for any possible post-operative complications and to ensure that the wound is healing well and is not showing signs of infection. Most vets include the cost of this consultation in the price of the neutering. It is well worth keeping your appointment.

In General
Your rabbit may be lot quieter than usual when you get them home. This isn’t something to worry about but your rabbit will require careful monitoring for the first 48 hours. Keeping them warm is essential, as the anaesthetic lowers the core body temperature. If your rabbit is usually kept outdoors, them you should definitely keep them indoors for the first 24 – 48 hours. If they seem especially cold, it may well be worth placing them on a heat mat overnight but do make sure your rabbit is able to move away if he gets too hot. A good rabbit safe heatpad is the 'Snugglesafe' and we recommend investing in one of these.

Keep your rabbit off hay and straw type beddings, as these may irritate the wound. It is best to put your rabbit on a towel, blanket or vetbed for the first few days and line the litter tray with either just newspaper or wood based litter pellets. Offer eating hay from a hay rack placed low to the floor. Rabbits are often reluctant to stretch after a neuter so giving water in a bowl for the first few days is also beneficial as water is vital for keeping the GI tract mobile.

Ensure the area that you are keeping your rabbit in, is clean and disinfected, as hygiene with a new wound is essential for avoiding infection. By keeping the area clean, you can also monitor how much urine and faeces your rabbit is producing enabling you to check their GI system is returning to normal.

You should check the wound for any discharge or swelling and should do so a couple of times a day for the first few days and then once a day for a week here after. If you see any cause for concern then contact your vet for advice.

Post Op Appearence
Males may experience some swelling around the scrotum and in the testis. The vet does not remove the testicals, rather tie the bucks tubes, so do not be alarmed that his bits are still there. The swelling usually subsides in a few days and the sacks will then being to shrivel and shrink until such time as they are no loner visible. This can take a few months. Females often take slightly longer to recover than males as the surgery is far more invasive. They tend to take longer to eat afterwards and are more likely to require syringe feeding. Your vet will have a recovery mix they can provide you with for this, and it should run along side a gut stimulant. Try tempting her with fresh herbs and greens.

A good eye needs to be kept on her wound, to check it is not oozing, swollen or bleeding. It any of these things occur, seek immediate veterinary advice. Try to keep her relatively confined for the first few days too, so that she cannot stretch upwards or jump off anything that may rupture the stitches. The ibest thing is to keep her warm, quiet and ensure she is eating and drinking well.

Neutering and Bonded Pairs
If you are taking a member of a bonded pair to be neutered we strongly advise that you request the partner accompany them to, and stay with them at, the vets. They will have to be split for obvious reasons during the surgery and whilst one is in recovery but vets can usually accomodate to hosue them net to each other during this time.

The reason bonded pairs should stay together is that seperation, coupled with a strange smell on a partner and obvious post-op weakness can lead to an irrepairable breakdown in the relationship and in some situations fighting and injury. If the post-op rabbit experiences compliactions or needs careful monitoring it may be unavoidable that the pair are split but it has been shown that rabbits recover better in the company of their partner because they experience less stress and also that the partner will modify their behaviour accordingly around their poorly mate.

If you are planning on bonding your rabbit with a new companion remember that a male can impregnate a female for 6 weeks post castration. If both parties are neutered it is adviseable to wait 2 weeks post-op to allow for healing before attempting bonding. Rabbits who are exceptionally hormonal prior to neutering may require up to 8 weeks for their hormone levels to settle sufficiently for bonding.

Ideally if you have two adolescent males or two adolescent females together have them operated on at the same time, this way there is no need to separate them at all throughout this process and therefore no rebonding will be necessary. Hopefully once their hormones settle down, they will have a long peaceful relationship.




References

http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/spay.html Spay or Neuter my Rabbit?
By Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/resources/content/leaflet_pdfs/neutering28.8.07.pdf

http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?cls=18&cat=1803&articleid=2147Spaying & Neutering Holly Nash, DVM, MS

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=671&S=5&SourceID=43 By Susan Brown, DVM

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=500&S=5&SourceID=43 By Susan Brown, DVM

http://homepage.mac.com/mattocks/morfz/rabrefs.html#adh

http://web.archive.org/web/20021203172519/http://www.therabbitcharity.freeserve.co.uk/neuter_vet.html
Neutering Rabbits - By Virginia Richardson MA VetMB, MRCVS

This Document is Copyright © Suzanne Rolland, HappyHoppers Forums Uk . June 2008.UK. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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