REASONS FOR NEUTERING RABBITS
AGE TO NEUTER
The best age to neuter is shortly after sexual maturity. Depending on the breed, this could range from 4 to 6 months and with giant breeds up to possibly 9 months.
If the rabbit is neutered much younger than 4 months of age, not only is the surgery more difficult due to the immature condition of the reproductive organs (in males the testicles might not even be descended into the scrotal sacs prior to three months) but we do not know what the long term effect is on the endocrine system of the body.
The reproductive organs are part of an interconnecting system of hormone producing organs including the thyroid, pituitary, pancreas and adrenal. If we remove a large "chunk" of the endocrine system before it is done developing, we suspect there could be long term effects on the health of the rabbit. This has been studied in mice and rats where ill effects have been found with early neutering, but as yet has not been researched in rabbits.
For the pet rabbit, there is really no good reason to neuter your rabbit before it is about 4 months of age.
You should have your rabbit examined by an veterinarian who has experience with rabbits to make sure your pet is in good condition and ready for neutering.
Sexual maturity can be gauged a number of ways including the presence of the testicles in the scrotal sacs, a well developed and possibly swollen vulva (this has to be checked by "pushing" the vulvar tissue out by pressure placed above it), a 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.
I do not recommend performing routine neutering procedures on obese animals or those with other disease. The weight should be reduced and other disease managed prior to having a major surgical procedure performed.
WHAT HAPPENS AT NEUTERING
Male, Buck Rabbit Neutering
When a male rabbit is castrated, the testicles are completely removed. There may either be one incision made in front of the testicles, in the area of the lower abdomen through which they are both removed, or there may be one incision made over each scrotal sac. The incisions may be left open (perfectly acceptable if scrotal incisions are made) or closed with suture or surgical glue.
The scrotal sacs may swell after surgery within 24 to 48 hours and by 7 to 10 days the swelling should be gone.The scrotal sacs will eventually shrink to be barely noticeable over time.
It is important to note that neutered males should not be put with intact females for at least 3 weeks after neutering. Male rabbits can still have living sperm in the portion of the spermatic cord (vas deferens) which is still in place after surgery. These sperm can live for a couple of weeks.
Testosterone blood levels drop slowly after neutering and male rabbits will still try to mate with female rabbits for weeks after the testicles are removed. After three weeks the sperm are dead and since no new sperm are being produced it is safe to put a male and female rabbit back together again.
Female, Doe Rabbit Spaying/Neutering
When a female rabbit is neutered the ovaries, the oviducts, the uterus and often both cervices are removed. Female rabbits have a uterus that is made up of two long tubes with an ovary at one end and a cervix at the other. They have two cervices unlike cats, dogs, humans and many other species.
An incision is made approximately mid-abdomen and the uterus and associated structures are gently pulled out from the abdomen through this incision. The blood vessels supplying the uterus and ovaries are tied off with suture material and reproductive organs are removed. The incision is sutured with two to three layers of suture material.
Since rabbits have incisors that are excellent at cutting through many materials we find it beneficial to bury the final row of sutures under the skin so they are not accessible. In this way the rabbit has nothing to chew on or pull out. These sutures dissolve eventually over several weeks and there are no external sutures to remove. Some veterinarians use skin staples as the final closure which also work nicely in rabbits, particularly the larger breeds. Skin staples can't be chewed through like nylon suture or other more flexible materials.
It is important with any surgeries to check the surgical site at least one, and even better twice a day for any signs of unusual swelling, discharges or gapping of the wound.
Many rabbits will be off feed for a day after surgery, but this should gradually return to normal over the next two to three days. In addition, some rabbits will have unusual stools for a day or two including soft stools, clumped stools, irregular shaped or small stools.
If your rabbit is acting very uncomfortable, is not eating at all or is unwilling to move, you need to contact your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian may prescribe a pain medication for your pet post-surgically, particularly for females that may have had any complications at surgery or for those that are older. It is found that the great majority of rabbits return to normal within 2 to 5 days and are none the worse for wear. The long term benefits of neutering far outweigh the temporary discomfort that might be felt.
Anesthesia is a major concern with any surgical procedure in rabbits. This is a complex issue but if you are dealing with an experienced rabbit veterinarian, he or she will be familiar with the eccentricities of rabbit anesthesia and will know how to handle this issue with your pet.
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