At What Age Can I Sterilize My Rabbit?
Rabbits can reach sexual maturity and start reproducing from the age of 4 months – this is when males/females need to be separated.
It is recommended to:
- neuter males as soon as the testes drop (approx 4 months) 0 a very good rabbit savvy vet can do it as soon as 12 weeks
- spay females only at 6 months of age
Reasons To Sterilize
- prevents reproduction
- prevents destructive, aggressive and dominant behaviour (makes for easier bonding)
- prevents territorial behaviour like urine spraying
- prevents uterine cancer in females (60% or more chance of uterine cancer in unspayed females older than 4 years)
- generally leaves you with a healthier, happier rabbit
Your rabbit will undergo a general surgery and an anesthetic during which she will receive pain relief, fluids and antibiotics. Some vets may also keep her on a heating mat for warmth. Some of her fur will be shaved. Females will have a cut under the belly. Males will have two small cuts, one over each sac that contained the testicle. Dissolvable skin sutures and/or tissue glue should be used, so that you do not need to have the sutures removed later. Where possible, the glue is preferred as there are no sutures that can be chewed out.
Choosing A Vet
Any surgery is nerve wrecking for a bun-parent. Choosing a knowledgeable vet makes all the difference. It will not only put your mind at ease, but will make for a quicker and problem-free recovery (especially with a spay (female) – a more complex and invasive procedure than a neuter). See the list of our recommended rabbit-savvy vets.
- Males: R600 – R1000
- Females: R750 – R1500
(depending on the vet)
FACT: The meds used for the op is expensive.
If you find a vet willing to sterilize for cheaper than these prices, proceed carefully and do not be fooled as some vets have been known to use the wrong medication, leave out antibiotics / pain killers, or even leave out the proper anesthetic. Any of the above is unacceptable and we do not advise putting your rabbit through it. Rather save up and have your rabbit sterilized the correct (and safe) way.
Choosing A Date
Your rabbit will be admitted to hospital for the morning/day. Choose a day that you will be able to stay with your bun after she gets home (and probably feed her through the night) – a little TLC goes a long way. You will have to monitor if she is eating/pooping/in pain and take the necessary steps if she isn’t. It is very important that they do not go without food for too long – start syringe feeding small amounts of purity the evening after surgery if she is not eating on her own yet. Remember not to move her around too much, and don’t let her jump onto/off high surfaces for a few days. Calm and comfy is the way to go.
Get these from your vet to keep at home post op, and get extra to keep at home in case of emergency. Most dosages depend on your rabbit’s weight. Ask your vet to write down the dosage for each of your rabbits on the bottle. If you have the meds, but not the dosage and cannot contact your vet, atleast contact one of our admins or knowledgeable members to assist, rather than guessing. Overdosing could be fatal.
– Clopomon aka Metoclopromide (a gut motility drug): Keeps the gut working to prevent GI stasis. Very important for rabbits that have stopped eating/pooping. Dosage is normally repeated every 12 hours.
– Cisapride: This is clopomon’s big brother. More effective and normally used in more serious cases.
– Petcam aka Metacam (painkiller): In many cases providing a rabbit with pain relief is the first step towards recovery. Make sure that you know how to read your rabbit’s body language – how to tell when your rabbit is in pain. Dosage is normally repeated every 24 hours.
– Baytril or Enrovet (anti biotic): Rabbits are prone to infections which are normally treated with a course of anti biotics. Some rabbit owners give anti biotics straight away (preventatively) when they suspect a sick rabbit.
NB: The vet has probably already administered some of these meds – so double check when you can start with the first dose at home.
Home Recovery Kit
- Warm water bottles/ blankets: Keep your bun warm and comfy. Just make sure that it’s not too hot as she may not feel up to moving away from the heat while she is ill.
- Treats: Tempt your bun with her favourite treats to encourage eating.
- 1ml/3ml/5ml syringes (without the needles)
- Apple or banana purity: Syringe feed 3-5ml every 1-3 hours if your bunny is not eating, to keep the gut moving.
- Chamomile tea: Keep your bun hydrated with water/chamomile or rooibos tea/apple juice. (Chamomile is a good choice as it also manages pain (a little) and has calming effects.) Syringe 1-5ml (as much as she will take) every 1-3hours if she isn’t drinking on her own.
- Devils claw herbal drops: Additional pain management – can be given more frequently than (and together with) prescribed meds. Available at health shops, or Discem. Syringe feed 4 drops (0.1ml) every hour for 3 hours, and then 3-hourly thereafter (can mix with purity or 100% apple juice for better taste).
Important Things To Know
- Never (EVER) starve your rabbit before an op. Rabbits cannot vomit, and therefore it isn’t necessary, and can in fact be a fatal mistake to make. Rabbits should eat up to the very last possible moment before the op, and as soon as possible after, to keep the gut moving and prevent it from going into GI stasis. Send some of your bun’s favourite food along to encourage eating as soon as she is awake.
- Male rabbits can still reproduce for 4 weeks after the op, so make sure to keep males/females separated for this period in order to avoid unwanted litters.
- Recovery times may vary between rabbits: Some may eat and interact socially the same evening, while many only start eating voluntarily the next day (females can take 2 – 3 days to return to normal.) If your rabbit is still not eating or pooping by the end of day two (despite being syringe fed, hydrated and on meds), consult your vet.
- Your rabbit may try to lick the wound (allot) on the first day, so be sure to check the wound twice a day to make sure that the sutures (if applicable) are in place and that the wound isn’t septic (if it is, consult your vet asap)
- If your rabbit has a bonded friend, make sure the friend does not chew the sutures out.
- If a vet tells you to starve your rabbit the night before, he/she clearly is not rabbit-savvy – find someone else. Many vets also refuse to give home-meds, this is not ideal either as there is always a risk of GI stasis if your rabbit is in pain and/or does not start eating soon after the operation.
- If you decide not to use one of our recommended vets, or live in a different area, please contact us and we will gladly assist in locating an appropriate vet.
What About My Rabbit’s Friend?
If your rabbit is one of a bonded pair/group (providing the friends are same sex or sterilized) it is important to preserve the bond. Try to keep them together for as long as possible before and as soon as possible after the op. Take the friend with (for moral support) on the trip to the vet, and again when fetching the bun. It’s comforting for them to see each other and the friend will possibly groom her and make her feel more at ease during the car ride home.
However, remember that not all rabbits are the same – in a few cases they may not want to be around the other rabbits immediately. If you sense that your bun is irritated or aggressive towards her friend, it’s better to separate. Keep them somewhere close to each other where they can still see and smell each other, and have supervised play dates for a few days. Most buns return to normal behavior after 2-3 days.
Photo: Jennifer Chen / Unsplash