Elective Desexing (Sterilisation) in Rabbits

Elective desexing in rabbits is one of the most common procedures that owners of rabbits elect for (whether male or female). You may be wondering what are the benefits of paying to have your rabbit undergo anaesthesia and surgery, then having to provide the aftercare. After all, many would say that leaving them in their intact state is what nature intended!

Yes, in the wild, having the ability to breed quickly has its benefits in expanding the population. Have you heard of the term “breeding like rabbits”? The gestation (pregnancy) period of rabbits is approximately 30-32 days. Each litter can range from four to twelve babies depending on the breed. So you can imagine the number of rabbits you will have after leaving an entire male and female rabbit together for a year.

Most owners do not wish for unwanted pregnancies for their rabbits when kept as pets, for various reasons such as high costs of ownership, limited space, too many rabbits, etc. Also, they want their rabbits to live a healthy life for as long as possible due to the close bond between owner and pet. Besides avoiding unwanted pregnancies, desexing both male and female rabbits does have medical and behavioural advantages as discussed below.
Male Rabbits
The type of desexing in male rabbits commonly done in the vet clinic is called castration. It can be done via an incision just in front of the testicles or through an incision on each testicle. The testicles are then removed and the spermatic cord and blood vessels tied with sutures, but the scrotum (skin around the testicles) are left. The incisions are then stitched up with sutures or closed with tissue glue, depending on where the incision is. Majority of the rabbits do not lick or chew on the surgical site post-op and can do without an Elizabethan collar when they have adequate pain relief. There is a small number of rabbits that will bed traumatise at the surgical site and require veterinary attention.

Do remember that rabbits are able to pull their testicles back into the abdomen, and gives the false impression that they are already castrated.

Elective castration helps by:
  • Eliminating risk of testicular tumours and infection
  • Preventing injury to the testicles (especially during fighting between rabbits)
  • Reducing testosterone levels. Therefore, less urine spraying, aggressive behaviour and sexual mounting in some rabbits. 
Female rabbits
In females, ovariohysterectomy (OVH) is usually performed for elective desexing (spey). The ovaries, uterus (womb), and cervices are removed and the blood vessels tied with sutures. The incision on the underside of the abdomen is closed with 3 layers of stitches - the abdominal muscle, fatty tissue under the skin (if significant amount), and skin (tissue glue may be used instead). Again as in male rabbits, most rabbits do not traumatise the incision if it is not infected or inflamed and adequate pain relief is given. To maximise the benefits of, most vets recommend speying before the age of 2 years old. Some vets may postpone the surgery if the rabbit is in heat.

Elective speying helps by:
  • Eliminating the risk of ovarian and uterine tumours, cysts and infection 
  • Removing chances of bleeding from the uterine wall as well as twisting of the uterus 
  • Preventing false pregnancy 
  • Reduces infection and tumours of the mammary glands (breast tissue)]

The decision to desex your rabbit is a personal one, and depends on your beliefs, and finances or breeding plans for your pet. Talk to your vet if you are undecided. Take this opportunity to find out about aftercare and possible complications so you know what to expect.