When I was a child, my parents didn’t especially want the responsibility of a cat or a dog, but they did allow me to have a rabbit as a pet. My first rabbit was a gentle, affectionate female, but when she reached sexual maturity, at around the age of five months, she became an escape artist. I became an expert rabbit retriever, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how she got out of the pen and blocking all possible escape routes. But one day she got away and was never found again. Sadly for all of us, it was very likely that she was searching for a mate. My second rabbit, Puffin, was a male. He was a very friendly rabbit, and loved to greet me with a playful dance, kicking up his heels as he ran around his pen. Every day I would bring him special treats and make sure that he had enough hay and water, and then we would play, and sometimes the neighbour’s cat would come around to visit. But when he was around five months old, his friendly welcome dance started to include sprays of urine (yuck!) as he skittered by me, flicking up his back feet. I reported this new trick to my mother, and she made a very interesting decision. She took Puffin to the veterinarian and requested a castration. Back in the 1980s, veterinarians didn’t have a lot of experience with pet rabbits, and our vet responded that although he could definitely perform the castration, he wouldn’t guarantee that the rabbit would survive the anesthesia because he had never operated on a rabbit. In the end, Puffin pulled through the surgery very easily, and came back home to live for many more years, with no more unpleasant side effects of sexual maturity. He also learned to use the litter box (as many rabbits do)!
If my female rabbit had lived for a few more years, I very likely would have seen her get sick and die of a very common disease in female rabbits: uterine cancer, a progressively fatal disease that sends cancerous metastases to the lungs and other organs of the body. Studies estimate that by the age of four years, 50-80% of unspayed female rabbits have already developed uterine cancer (adenocarcinoma). The lifespan of spayed females, on the other hand, can be up to 10 years or more.
At the CVPAE, we believe that spaying and neutering, along with proper nutrition, is the most important decision that you can make for the health of your rabbit. With the anesthetic and post-op protocols we have developed through our research and consultation with veterinarians specializing in rabbit medicine, we have been confidently offering spays and neuters for the past several years to rabbit owners in the Eastern Townships. We firmly believe that spaying and neutering not only provides population control for rabbits, but has many other benefits as well, including better health and increased lifespan, maintaining a gentle temperament, and providing owners with a more pleasant overall experience of rabbit-keeping.
We recommend that spaying or neutering take place at around 5 months of age. Prior to that, the tissues are too delicate to manipulate, and waiting beyond a year means that you will be dealing with the unpleasant features of sexual maturity in males and females.
When you decide to spay or neuter your rabbit, you will also receive good advice and tips on how to care for and feed your rabbit to optimize their health and longevity.