WHY SHOULD I STERILISE MY RABBIT?
- Prevention of pregnancy
- This is particularly important if there are male and female rabbits living in the same household. Keeping them separated is not fool proof- accidental matings can occur!
- There are many abandoned rabbits in need of homes in Singapore and the least we could do is to not add more innocent new lives to the already large population of unwanted rabbits. Please do not breed your rabbits unless you are very sure that you have responsible homes waiting for the babies.
- Reduction of territorial or aggressive behaviour.
- Upon reaching sexual maturity at 6 to 12 months old, some rabbits can develop aggressive behaviour. In the wild, this helps them to establish their social ranking, and helps to protect them and their future brood from predators. However, such behaviour in a safe home environment will make it very difficult for you to bond with your bunny if he is biting, striking or chasing anyone who tries to approach him. Early neutering at this age will help to reduce the chances of such aggression developing.
- Prevention of testicular disease (males)
- Testicular cancer is rare, but not impossible. At least two incidences of testicular cancers has been diagnosed by Dr Lowe in older, uncastrated male rabbits. These problems would have been avoided if they had been neutered.
- Bucks can also develop abscesses in their testicles
- Reduction of urine spraying (males)
- Sexually mature male rabbits are more likely to spray urine to mark their territories, as compared with female rabbits. Unsterilised male rabbits, in particular, have very strong smelling urine that can be difficult to wash off.
- Prevention of uterine cancer (females)
- This is the most important reason why you should sterilise your female rabbit. The most common type of rabbit uterine cancer is uterine adenocarcinoma. There is a high incidence of uterine cancer in unsterilised female rabbits; some rabbit populations have a uterine cancer rate of up to 60-80%. It is not always possible to remove the cancerous uterus once it has developed as they can spread to the neighbouring organs and also to other areas like the lungs. As with any cancer, the consequences of uterine cancer is often devastating. Sterilising your rabbit young will completely eliminate the chances of her having uterine cancer.
- Prevention of uterine disease (females)
- Besides uterine cancer, unsterilised female rabbits can also develop uterine disease like pyrometra (pus accumulation in the uterus) and hydrometra (water accumulation in the uterus). The mortality rate for both conditions are very high.
- Prevention of mammary cancer and mammary cysts (females)
- Unsterilised female rabbits can also develop mammary cancers and cysts due to stimulation from the reproductive hormones. In particular, the type of cancer called mammary adenocarcinoma is often linked to uterine adenocarcinomas. Mammary tumours can spread rapidly to involve all of the mammary glands, thus complicating surgical removal and treatment. Sterilisation will prevent both diseases, especially if done before 1 year of age.
- Prevention of false pregnancy (females)
- The reproductive hormones produced by the ovaries can cause false pregnancies, which is when the body thinks it is pregnant when it actually is not. This means that your female rabbit may lose her appetite, have engorged mammary glands, and become stressed out over building and protecting her nest. Sterilisation removes the hormone-secreting ovaries so that your female rabbit does not have to go through the emotional and physical stress of a false pregnancy.
WHAT DOES STERLISATION ENTAIL?
Males – Neuter
- Neutering involves the removal of both testicles via an incision over each scrotal sac. It is normal for some post-operative swelling at the scrotum for 2 to3 days; eventually the scrotum will reduce in size. The incisions do not always require stitches; in the event that stitches need to be placed, they are usually hidden and do not require removal.
- There may be some residual sperm left in the remaining genito-urinary tract that can last in the body for up to 3 weeks. Please ensure that your male rabbit is not placed with any female rabbits for at least 3 weeks after neutering as he may still be able to mate with her during that time, resulting in pregnancy.
Females – Spay
- A spay involves the removal of both ovaries and the uterus. This is done via a small incision at the abdomen. The incision is usually closed with absorbable, hidden stitches.
- The surgical wounds of both spay and neutering surgeries are expected to heal in 2 weeks.
- The surgeries must be done under general anaesthesia for the safety and comfort of your rabbit.
IS ANAESTHESIA SAFE IN RABBITS?
- Yes! Anaesthesia in rabbits can be performed as safely as in dogs and cats. In the past there may have been some fear amongst veterinarians and owners regarding rabbit anaesthesia due to the lack of available knowledge on how to manage the anaesthesia in rabbits, but this is no longer the case in the hands of a veterinarian with the correct knowledge, medications and experience.
- Anaesthesia is very useful in reducing the perception of pain so that our rabbits are able to undergo interventive and life-saving procedures. Having them asleep also keeps them still enough for delicate surgery to be performed. Why should we deny our rabbits quality medical and surgical treatment when anaesthesia is safe for them to be performed?
- We recommend pre-anaesthetic blood tests for all our surgery patients, so that we can pick up any underlying disease that may affect anaesthesia. This is especially important for senior rabbits aged 5 years and older.
- At Amber Vet, all our rabbit patients will have a catheter placed in an ear or arm vein for the procedure. We can then give painless injections via this catheter for rapid and effective administration of drugs according to your bunny’s condition. All patients are placed on an IV drip during the procedure to ensure hydration and maintain blood pressure. As well, your rabbit’s vital signs will be monitored at all times by a dedicated anaesthetic nurse. Our rabbits are usually maintained on a safe anaesthetic gas called Isoflurane, either via a mask or a tube. Your bunny will also be kept on a warmer throughout the procedure to prevent hypothermia.
WILL MY RABBIT BE IN PAIN?
- All rabbits are given pain relief injections during the procedure. They may also go home with oral pain relief medications. While there may be mild discomfort related to the surgery, most rabbits return to their normal behaviour by the 2nd or 3rd day.
HOW DO I GO ABOUT ARRANGING FOR A STERISATION SURGERY?
- Please contact us at 6245 5543 to make an appointment for the procedure.
- It is very important that you DO NOT fast your bunny prior to surgery at all. We would like for our bunnies to be eating right up to their admission for surgery to prevent gut stasis
- Please place your bunny in a secure carrier for the journey. Please also bring lots of its usual hay, pellets and treats to munch on before and after surgery.
- All surgery patients and clients will have a consultation with the veterinarian at admission, during which you may raise any concerns regarding your bunny’s health or ask questions about the surgery.
- Thereafter, your bunny will be admitted for surgery. There usually is some preparation time before the scheduled surgery. This includes the measurement of your rabbit’s baseline vital signs (like temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate), starting the IV drip, sedation, and shaving and disinfection of the surgical site.
- After surgery, the veterinarian or surgery nurse will contact you for an update and to arrange for a discharge time on the same evening.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO FOR MY BUNNY AFTER SURGERY?
- Your bunny may be groggy or lethargic in the immediate few hours after discharge. However, many of our bunny patients are up and eating by the time they go home. A few bunnies may have reduced appetite and abnormal stools due to the stress or discomfort after surgery. It is important that our bunnies continue to eat and defaecate normally, so please contact us should these occur so we can dispense a specially formulated hay powder to syringe feed your bunny with until the appetite and stools normalise.
- Do monitor the surgical site twice daily for any signs of bleeding, discharge or gaping of the wound. It is important that your bunny is not obsessively licking his surgical wound, which may result in an infection or break-down of the wound.
Are there any long term side effects on my rabbit after sterilisation?
- There has been no research indicating any adverse side effects from sterilisation. If anything, rabbits that have been sterilised have a better chance of living longer and healthier lives. Contrary to some urban myths, sterilisation does not cause your bunny to become obese (but a poor diet will!).
Written by Dr Gwenda Lowe, Associate Veterinary Surgeon and resident bunny expert at Amber Vet.