The spaying of a female rabbit or doe has the medical term ovario-hysterectomy which involves the surgical removal of the ovaries and, quite often, the uterus. Veterinarians call this type of surgery “major” due to a need to enter the abdomen. It is usually advised to spay a female rabbit between the ages of four and six months although, following certain pre-surgery tests, the surgery can occur later in the rabbit’s life. As is usually the purpose of the procedure, it is an irreversible operation preventing the rabbit from ever breeding. The main reasons for spaying rabbits are to prevent unwanted breeding and to reduce the risk of certain diseases.
At what age should a female rabbit be spayed?
Between four and six months of age is when most rabbit owners have their pet spayed. This is around the time when the average rabbit reaches sexual maturity. It is advised to have female rabbits spayed sooner rather than later because the surgery becomes more complicated as the pet gets older. Since the operation occurs under general anaesthetic the risk of the operation is increased for elderly does.
For most mammals, feeding is prevented prior surgery due to a risk of vomiting. Rabbits do not vomit and cannot be restricted of their food due to their sensitive digestive system. If the rabbit is not fed its digestives processes may actually stop completely. It is for these reasons that the pet will be allowed food for up to an hour before the operation. At this point, food is only taken away to prevent it staying in the mouth which could cause breathing complications during surgery.
An anaesthetic is given to the rabbit along with analgesics. When the pet is unconscious a tube administers further anaesthetic in the form of gas as well as oxygen throughout the whole operation. Hypothermia is more of a risk with rabbits than with other animals such as cats and dogs. In order to prevent this, heated pads are used during the operation and during recovery time.
The surgical site is clipped and cleaned with a surgical scrub to disinfect the area. An incision is made through the skin along with the subcutaneous tissue and the muscle layer. Once inside the abdominal cavity, the main attaching blood vessels can be ligated or tied off. This allows for the removal of the ovaries and uterus. Dissolvable sutures are used at each of the layers of incision which means they will not need to be removed after the operation. It also reduces the risk of the rabbit later chewing at its sutures which they are especially prone to do when compared with dogs and cats.
More pain relieving medication is administered after the rabbit has regained consciousness. This will ensure its feeding habits can return to normal as they often don’t eat when stressed or in pain. The rabbit is kept in a clean, warm, and quiet environment where it can be constantly monitored.
Post op care
Most rabbits live outdoors although after the operation it is preferable to keep the rabbit warm inside in a quiet area with clean bedding and food. The pet should also be kept separate from other rabbits or pet companions for up to a fortnight. Female rabbits can require persuading to eat and so, along with their usual pellets, fresh grass may be a tempting option. Veterinary Surgeons provide the pet with medication to reduce pain and so the rabbit may well actually feed itself without any problems. However, it is very important to check the doe’s digestive habits following the surgery and if these are unusual (the rabbit has not eaten for a day or has few, no or diarrhoea like droppings) then the vet should be called immediately. The surgical site should be routinely checked for redness, soreness, swelling, over heating or discharge. If any of these are noticed the vet should be contacted immediately.
It is too dangerous for my rabbit to go under a general anaesthetic
Vets are very competent surgeons and are skilled in ensuring there are no unnecessary risks during the operation. Not only are they experienced in dealing with rabbit surgery but there are usually nurses monitoring the rabbits health throughout the whole procedure and so on the rare occasions that any complications may arise, they can be dealt with immediately.
My rabbit lives on her own so she doesn’t need to be spayed.
Other than simply preventing unwanted breeding, there are other reasons for spaying a rabbit. These include preventing diseases such as fatal cancers or behavioural problems including aggression and excessive digging or chewing. Spayed pets usually live longer than entire pets due to the decreased risks of disease and hormone induced stress.