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Should i spay my rabbit?
Rabbits are increasing in popularity and are now the third most common pet in the UK. Over recent years, our knowledge concerning rabbit health and welfare has increased greatly and many rabbit owners are keen to make sure their rabbits have the best quality of life possible. For owners of female rabbits, this may mean that they consider spaying their rabbit.
What is spaying?
Spaying is a term that you may be familiar with if you have been around cats or dogs, as it is a word that is frequently used by the pet community. It is an elective surgical procedure where a female animal’s reproductive organs, the ovaries and uterus, are removed. This means that the animal will not be able to reproduce in the future. You may hear this procedure called a number of different names including neutering and de-sexing, but they all have the same meaning in female animals.
Depending on the species of animal, there are a number of reasons that an owner may either choose, or be recommended by a vet, to have their pet spayed. For the rest of this article we will discuss the reasons why you may consider spaying your rabbit, but of course, our team are happy to answer any questions you may have about spaying any of your other female pets.
How will it affect my rabbit’s health?
Female rabbits can go on to develop a number of different health conditions that are often life threatening by the time they are diagnosed. Some of these conditions are preventable by spaying your rabbit, while they are still healthy.
One of the main reasons that owners decide to spay their rabbits is to prevent them from developing the most common rabbit cancer, uterine adenocarcinoma. This is a cancer that solely affects female rabbits that have not been spayed. Rabbits have an increased risk of developing this cancer as they get older.
If your rabbit develops uterine cancer then the prognosis for survival will depend on if the cancer has metastasised (spread to other parts of the body) at the time the disease is diagnosed. Uterine cancer will commonly spread to the lungs and if spread is detected, then the prognosis for survival is poor.
If your rabbit is diagnosed with uterine cancer, then we would most likely advise further tests such as radiographs (x-rays) and ultrasound scans to assess if any obvious signs of spread are present. If your rabbit is healthy enough for surgery, then treatment would involve removing your rabbit’s reproductive organs in the hope of removing the tumour and preventing any recurrence. After surgery, your rabbit will require regular check-ups with us for up to 2 years to check that no signs of spread have occurred. By spaying your rabbit while they are healthy, you will prevent them from developing uterine cancer in the future.
Female rabbits can sometimes go on to develop uterine infections, also known as pyometra. While this condition is not frequently seen in rabbits, it is still a serious, life-threatening condition when it occurs. It can be seen in both rabbits that have been bred from and those that have not been used for breeding, showing that any un-spayed female can potentially go on to develop this condition. Treatment of uterine infection often requires emergency stabilisation followed by surgery to remove the infected reproductive organs. Uterine infection can be prevented by spaying your rabbit, ensuring that they will not develop this serious condition.
While not usually a serious condition in itself, if a rabbit develops a pseudopregnancy (false pregnancy) then it can progress into a uterine infection. Pseudopregnancy can develop either after an unsuccessful mating or as the result of being mounted by any other rabbit, so an un-spayed female is at risk if they are kept with any other rabbit. Spaying can prevent this condition from occurring.
Spaying your rabbit can also reduce the likelihood of diseases occurring that affect the mammary gland. Rabbits can develop mastitis, which is a painful inflammatory condition of the mammary glands, and this can go on to develop into a mammary cancer such as mammary carcinoma. If your rabbit has developed either of these conditions then often we would recommend spaying your rabbit, sometimes alongside surgeries to remove any tumours.
Will my rabbit behave differently after spaying?
Female rabbits that have not been spayed will commonly become aggressive towards other rabbits and even their owners. This may make your rabbit difficult to handle. Spaying can calm this aggressive behaviour down and make it easier to interact with your rabbit.
Rabbits are very social animals who get lonely and depressed if they are kept by themselves. This means that we advise that rabbits are kept with at least one other rabbit. Usually a female rabbit will be more successfully bonded with a male rabbit, but regardless of the pairing, both rabbits need to be neutered to try to reduce aggression and fighting. If you have any questions about how to bond your rabbits, one of our team would be happy to discuss this further with you.
Spaying your female rabbit will also prevent her from breeding, so she will not get pregnant if kept with a male rabbit. This will reduce the incidence of any unwanted litters due accidental matings. It will also prevent any risk to your rabbit’s health from being pregnant and raising kits.
Are there any risks from this operation?
Your rabbit will need a general anaesthetic while they are spayed. There is a slight risk for any animal having an anaesthetic, with rabbits having a slightly higher risk compared to cats and dogs. However, rabbit anaesthetics have become much safer in recent years as our knowledge of anaesthetics and the drugs we use for anaesthetics has greatly improved.
Rabbits can develop gastrointestinal stasis after a general anaesthetic. This can be a life-threatening condition where the rabbits guts stop working properly and the rabbit can quickly become ill. We will give them medication while they are hospitalised with us to help prevent this condition from happening, and we will discuss this condition further with you when you come to pick up your rabbit.
We make the surgery as safe as possible for your pet by making sure they are healthy before being spayed and by giving them a full health check when you bring them in for their procedure. If you have any worries or concerns about this procedure, then one of our team would be happy to discuss this further with you.
What will happen when I bring my rabbit in for a spay?
Before your rabbit comes in for her spay, we will ask you to carry on feeding your rabbit. Rabbits do not need to be starved before an anaesthetic as they cannot vomit. We will also ask you to bring in some of your rabbit’s favourite foods to try and get them eating after the surgery.
On the morning of your rabbit’s visit, we will give them a heath check and discuss the consent form with you. After being admitted, your rabbit will be settled into one of our rabbit friendly kennels. They will be given an injectable anaesthetic to make them go to sleep before going into theatre for their procedure and will be continuously monitored by one of our highly trained staff until they are awake after the surgery. Usually, your rabbit will go home the same day.
When you come to collect your rabbit, we will discuss with you how your rabbit should be cared for at home, how to give the medications they will be going home with, and any signs that you need to watch for that would require them to come and see us urgently. Your rabbit will be booked in to see us for a post-operative check at regular intervals, until we are happy that your rabbit has healed well.
The thought of having your rabbit spayed can be daunting if you have never had a rabbit spayed before. If you have any worries about the risks of spaying, then one of our vets can go through the procedure with you and answer any of your questions. There are many benefits to spaying female rabbits, from preventing serious health issues to reducing behaviour problems and allowing successful bonding with other rabbits. For many individuals, these benefits outweigh the risks.