There is a lot of information out there saying you need to spay or neuter your pets, but how important is it really? As someone who works with a local animal shelter, I see how they fill up every year with unwanted baby animals. And it’s not just cats and dogs. There are always a few unwanted litters of baby rabbits that need to find new homes. But overpopulation isn’t the only reason for you to get your rabbit altered. Neutering (for males) and spaying (for females) have significant health benefits and can help fix some troublesome rabbit behaviors.
It is vitally important for you to get your rabbit neutered or spayed. There are significant health benefits that increase the life expectancy of a rabbit by 2 years or more. You can fix many rabbit behavioral problems by getting your rabbit altered also.
But it can be a little daunting to try to think about everything you need to do to be prepared for your rabbit’s surgery. There are so many things to consider, including how to find a good vet and how to care for your rabbit before and after surgery. So let’s walk through the steps to make sure you and your rabbit can get through this process with all the information you need.
Is surgery safe?
Because of the advances in exotic animal medicine over the past couple of decades, getting a rabbit spayed or neutered is a very low risk surgery. An experienced rabbit-savvy vet can perform thousands of surgeries without having any fatal incidents. The neutering procedure is easier and less invasive than spaying, so it’s generally considered the safer of the two types of surgery.
But I don’t want to completely sugar coat it. There is always a small risk (less than 1%) in putting any animal under with anesthesia, especially small animals. However, the health risks of not spaying or neutering your rabbit are far greater in the long run. Female rabbits, in particular, have an 80% chance of developing uterine cancer if they are not spayed.
The expected cost for a rabbit neutering or spaying procedure will generally be anywhere from $200-$500. The cost will vary depending on where you live and the specific fees of the veterinary office. Likely you will have to pay an additional $50-$100 for the pain medication your vet should send home with you. And it may cost extra if your vet wants to keep your rabbit for observation overnight.
The cost for neutering is often a little less than for spaying. It’s much easier and takes less time to perform the male operation than the female one, so the prices will reflect that.
The price for getting your rabbit fixed can add up pretty quickly, but you might qualify for a low cost option for your rabbit’s surgery. The shelter that I work with offers a sliding scale for people with incomes lower than $55,000 who need medical care for their animals. The wait time for appointments is often long, but you can get the necessary surgery for a cheaper price.
You can try contacting a local animal shelter or humane society near you that offers a medical clinic. They may be able to accommodate your needs and help you find a reduced price surgery. You can also check to see if there is a House Rabbit Society (HRS) group in your state (website here). The HRS specializes in rabbits and may be able to give you more specific information about where you can find good, low-cost vets in your area.
Find a rabbit savvy vet for the surgery
Rabbits and their medical needs are much different than cats or dogs. So you don’t want to go to just any vet when getting your rabbit fixed. You’ll need to find a vet that specializes with rabbits. Most of the time these doctors will be called small mammal or exotic animal veterinarians.
As much as you can, try to find a vet that has a lot of experience performing surgery on rabbits, since many exotic vets may specialize with birds or other small animals instead. The House Rabbit Society has a helpful list of small animal veterinarians across the United States. And they even have some international listings.
If you can’t find any nearby veterinarians through the HRS, you can try calling some of your local veterinarian or animal shelter offices and ask if they have a rabbit specialist on staff.
Caring for your rabbit before surgery
Leading up to the surgery, you should feed your rabbit the same as you normally would. Rabbits cannot vomit and their digestive system depends on having food constantly moving through the system.
You should never fast your rabbit. Occasionally the hospital staff may tell you to withhold food before the surgery because it’s standard procedure for most pets. But ask the staff member to clarify with the rabbit veterinarian. If it’s the vet you are going to that is telling you to fast your rabbit prior to surgery, that is a sign that this doctor is not experienced with rabbits and you should consider finding a new veterinarian.
Your veterinarian may also advise that they perform a blood test prior to scheduling a surgery. This is more likely if your rabbit is a little older (2+ years) and is a way to be sure the rabbit has no underlying conditions that would make the surgery more dangerous.
You may want to schedule your surgery just before a weekend or at a time when you will be able to stay home and keep an eye on your rabbit in the days after they come home. Your rabbit won’t be acting quite up to normal and you’ll want to watch them to make sure your bunny is on the road to recovery.
After surgery care
Before sending the bunny back home with you, the vet should make sure the rabbit is awake and has started eating again. If the vet wants to be extra sure your rabbit is recovering properly, they might keep the rabbit in their care overnight for observation.
After the surgery, your rabbit will be a little groggy and grumpy for a few days. Don’t worry! They will recover and be your cute lovable friend again. Your vet should give you pain medication for your rabbit, and you’ll want to keep your rabbit in a smaller enclosure than usual to discourage excessive acrobatics.
The rabbit-savvy veterinarian will be able to give you more detailed instructions. So make sure you pay very close attention so you can give your rabbit medicine on schedule and help make sure they recover quickly. In my experience, they will also send you home with a written flyer of post-care instructions, so don’t worry if you can’t remember everything as they’re telling you.
Most rabbits will not need a cone like many cats or dogs do. But consult your vet if you notice your rabbit is damaging the wound.
Observe your rabbit to make sure they are eating
Whether male or female, your rabbit will need to start eating (and pooping) as soon as possible. Some veterinary hospitals will not allow the rabbit to be sent home if they aren’t eating yet. If they haven’t started eating within 10-12 hours of coming home, call your vet immediately. You may need to hand feed your rabbit some Critical Care, to help get them on the right track.
Some rabbits, especially males, will be feeling okay and ready to get back to their normal diet right away after surgery. But if not, you’ll want to try to get your rabbit to eat as soon as possible. Make sure they have hay, water, and pellets available. Fresh leafy greens can also be very enticing for a rabbit and will encourage them to eat after surgery.
Caring for your male rabbit after neutering
Neuter surgery for male rabbits is much easier. They will usually start to recover relatively quickly compared to female rabbits. Sometimes they will appear almost back to normal as soon as you take them home. But they will still probably be a little sore, and will be less active over the next few days. Continue to give him pain medication as instructed by your vet, even if his behavior seems like it’s back to normal.
The neutering process leaves a few stitches where the incision is made to remove the testicles. You may have to have a follow up appointment with the vet to have them removed in a couple of weeks. More and more often, vets are using stitches that will dissolve on their own though. So just follow your veterinarian’s instructions on whether to make a follow up appointment. Otherwise just check the incision to be sure it’s not infected and your rabbit isn’t licking it so much that he reopens the wound.
Neutered rabbits don’t become infertile until a few weeks after surgery. The hormones are still running through the rabbit’s body and will slowly start to die down. So avoid introducing him to another rabbit for about a month, so the hormones have time to settle down. If he is already bonded with another rabbit, then you should allow the rabbits to stay together as long as they are interacting calmly. They can comfort each other after surgery.
Caring for your female rabbit after spaying
Spaying is a little more complicated than neutering, since it involves internal surgery to remove the uterus. Most female rabbits will take a least a couple days to recover, and sometimes as long as 1-2 weeks.
When she first comes home, try to keep her warm and comfortable. But avoid handling her as much as you can, to avoid irritating the incision. You can allow any bonded pets to interact with and comfort her. Just make sure they’re calm and not trying to over-groom the wound.
As you get your rabbit settled in, make sure she has access to food, water, and some fresh greens. You want to try to get her eating what she can now, but it may take a couple days before she is back on her normal diet.
Her poops over the first couple of days may be smaller or deformed. But as long as your rabbit is eating and moving back to her normal diet, her poops should also return to normal after a few days.
Most veterinarians nowadays will use either surgical glue or dissolving stitches to sew the tummy incision back together. You likely won’t have to make a follow-up appointment to get stitches removed. But you might want to make an appointment anyway, just to check-up on your rabbit and make sure she is healing okay.
Otherwise, just make sure your monitoring your rabbit closely and listening to any advice your vet gives. Your rabbit will be back to normal soon, and will be much better for it in the long run.
Health concerns are absolutely the number one reason it is so important for you to get your rabbit fixed. Getting your rabbit fixed can increase their life expectancy by 1-2 years because it balances out their hormones.
Unaltered female rabbits have an 80% chance of developing uterine or ovarian cancer between 2-5 years old. But this risk drops to almost zero as soon as your rabbit is spayed. Male rabbits aren’t off the hook either. They have a high chance of developing testicular cancer if they have not been neutered. But the risk falls to virtually zero once they have been neutered.
Both males and females that have been fixed can expect to have a longer and healthier lifespan. And although there is always a risk during surgical procedures, the tiny fatality rate is well worth the risk if you consider the chances of your rabbit developing a much more painful and deadly disease a couple years later.
Advantages for behavior
Most rabbits, both male and female, will start to develop some aggressive and obnoxious behavior once they reach sexual maturity. They will spray in areas around the house to mark their scent, even if they have been litter trained, and they are more likely to exhibit destructive behaviors like chewing or digging. Getting your rabbit fixed will even help their pee to smell less. And it will prevent stress from phantom pregnancies in female rabbits.
Unaltered rabbits are also much more likely to display aggressive territorial behavior toward you or any other rabbit they share a space with. They will bite, swat, lunge, and growl at you. You’ll start to wonder where that sweet little rabbit you brought home went.
After your rabbit has been fixed, these aggressive behaviors should start to decrease or even completely stop. They should start using their litter box more regularly and the territorial behavior will be a thing of the past.
It may take some time for these behaviors to completely stop, though. The behaviors should slowly calm down over the next one to two months as the hormones in your rabbits body slowly start to decline.
But after your rabbit recovers from surgery, you’ll find that many of these aggressive and territorial behaviors stop completely. Rabbits that have been fixed are much calmer since their hormones will have settled down. They’ll be your friendly and social companion again.
Are there any negative side effects?
As long as your rabbit has a quick recovery, there won’t be any long term negative side effects. Your rabbit will temporarily be groggy and less active, but they should return to normal over the course of a week or two.
It is possible that the incision from the surgery could get infected. If you notice any redness, swelling, or abscesses around the wound, you should take your rabbit to the vet to deal with any infection or complications.
Preventing Overpopulation and Unwanted Babies
Rabbits multiply like – well… Rabbits! They can have 12 litters a year! So if you’ve got more than one rabbit, this could mean a whole lot of baby bunnies. And sure baby bunnies are the cutest little fluff balls you’ll ever see, now you have to figure out how to take care of them. Then you’ll have to try to find homes for them. Many shelters get full very fast and can struggle to find enough adopters. So you might not be able to rely on one to help you out.
When are rabbits too old or too young?
You want to wait until your rabbit reaches sexual maturity to get them fixed. Male rabbits are ready to be neutered when their testicles descend at around two to four months. Female rabbits reach sexual maturity a little bit later. They will be ready for the procedure around four to six months.
As rabbits get older, the surgery becomes more dangerous and the risks need to be considered more carefully. In general, rabbits over six years old are considered too old to be spayed or neutered. But it’s a good idea to contact your rabbit-savvy vet and ask for their opinion.
Will a rabbit’s personality change after being fixed?
A rabbit’s personality will not change too much after being fixed. Spaying and neutering can help a rabbit to become less grumpy and less aggressive. But if they were lovable and enjoyed licking you and cuddling with you before, they’ll continue to enjoy doing that. It can even cause a rabbit to become more lovable than they were before, now that they’re not sexually frustrated.
Adopting a rabbit
If you don’t have a rabbit yet, you could consider adopting a rabbit instead. Many rabbits in the shelter system have already been spayed or neutered, so you won’t have to worry about the surgery.
And if you adopt a young rabbit from a shelter that isn’t old enough to be fixed, you may be able to get the operation done for free at the animal shelter or an animal hospital that they work with.
Do rabbits smell bad?
In general healthy rabbits don’t smell bad at all. For most rabbits, as long as you regularly clean the litter box and cage, you won’t have to worry about having a smelly house. However, rabbit pee can be a little smelly, especially if your rabbit hasn’t been fixed.
Do rabbits calm down with age?
Rabbit tend to calm down a little bit as they age. They will usually sleep more and become less hyper and less prone to getting into trouble. Elderly rabbits can develop arthritis, which will slow them down even more, causing them to require more care from you.
- Krempels, Dana Ph.D. “Spay or Neuter my Rabbit?” University of Miami: Department of Biology, Aug. 2009, www.bio.miami.edu/hare/spay.html.
- “Spaying and Neutering.” House Rabbit Society, rabbit.org/faq-spaying-and-neutering.
- “Medical Bibliography.” House Rabbit Society, https://rabbit.org/care/bibliography.html.