Why is neutering so important? It's a question we hear a lot at Nibbles. The most obvious answer is to prevent unwanted litters, but what if you have two females or two males, obviously they can't breed, so is neutering really necessary? The answer is yes, and here's why…..
Sadly, there is so much terrible rabbit care advice out there. Whether that's given at the point of sale from pet shops and breeders or found on the internet. It can be difficult for first time owners to gain access to the correct advice to avoid disasters in the future. All rabbits should be neutered as soon as they are old enough, for males this is around 12-16 weeks, once the testicles have descended, and for females this should be around 16 - 20 weeks.
Many first time owners purchase two litter brothers. By the time they are 16 weeks old they are starting to squabble, by 6 months they have seriously injured each other and can no longer be housed together. This is when we get the call, as one brother has to go. We ask if they have been neutered and the answer in 98% of cases is no. They are fighting because they have reached sexual maturity and will no longer tolerate each other. Unneutered male pairs have and will attempt to castrate each other, their fights are violent and serious. But the owner was never told this at the point of sale. Neutering males early will help prevent fighting in the future. It isn't always fool proof and even two neutered litter brothers may well end up having to be separated. But by neutering, as soon as possible, you will drastically reduce the odds of the rabbits turning into deadly enemies. So while two males won't breed, they still need to be neutered early for their own welfare.
What about two females? While it is less likely for two litter sisters to fall out as they reach sexual maturity, it isn't unheard of. But the main reason to neuter girls as early as possible is to prevent uterine and ovarian cancer. What are the real risks for an unneutered female.. HUGE! 80% of unspeyed females develop cancer by the age of 5. That's 8 in every 10! Beryl is one of many older unspeyed females to arrive with us, over the past 7 years. We neuter all rabbits before making them available for adoption and Beryl was no exception. She was found as a stray and as a result we had no history for her. After her vaccine, she was placed on our neutering list and booked in for her op. Her ovaries were black and pitted and well on the way to cutting her life prematurely short. Thankfully she arrived with us just in time and the ovaries and uterus removed before the cancer had a chance to spread. She would have been in considerable pain for quite some time and we were none the wiser of her condition. Had she not been speyed, not only would the pain have become worse, but the cancer would have spread. Beryl is just one example of discovering serious problems once they are on the operating table. We've saved many lives as a result of our policy to spey all females. Once again, two females won't result in you becoming overrun with baby rabbits, but the risk of cutting their lives short and putting them through unimaginable and unnecessary pain is huge. The only way to prevent this is by speying as early as possible.
What if you have a speyed female with an unneutered male? The female won't get cancer and they can't breed, surely that would be OK? Well, yes the above facts are true, but the male will still continually mount the female as the drive to mate still remains. This will be heavily obvious in the spring and summer and will drive the female insane. Her only way to protect herself from this onslaught of sexual advances will be via aggression and the bond between the two rabbits will quickly break down. To live harmoniously both the male and female need to be neutered. While the opposite of the above pairing, a neutered male with an unspeyed female will be more likely to succeed in terms of their relationship. The female will still have the same risks of developing cancer, so this isn't an option either.
These aren't the only reasons to neuter. It is very common for entire males to spray urine, unspeyed females may also display this behaviour. This is highly unpleasant for owners and is generally stopped by neutering. Neutering will also help with litter training and curb the desire to poo and pee in every part of their enclosure. This makes life much easier for owners to clean enclosures.
The vast majority of aggressive behaviour in rabbits is a result of raging hormones and both sexes can be equally affected. Lunging at and biting owners is another common reason for rabbits to become unwanted. Once again, in the vast majority of cases the rabbit in question hasn't been neutered. Neutering fully removes the sex hormones 6-8 weeks post op, and aggressive behaviour generally disappears after this time.
The overall benefits to both the rabbits and the owners as a result of neutering is huge and should be part of responsible rabbit ownership. It isn't just about stopping unwanted litters, it's about providing your rabbits with a good quality of life and companionship in the form of another rabbit.