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RUNNING BUN MAGAZINE - All things "bunnified," news from the rabbit multiverse, deep down in the Earth, where it's still warm.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Harry Bunnick, Jr.: The Crooner Speaks


The Importance of
Spaying or Neutering Your Rabbit

So you brought home a little bunny. You acquired all the accoutrements he or she could possibly want or need according to 21st century companion rabbit care. He or she should be very happy. Actually, you aren't sure whether you have a girl bunny or a boy bunny. Rabbits can be hard to sex when they're young but sooner or later, there are two very distinct indicators of the presence of a male, and in rabbits, they are usually quite pronounced.

So that being established, now you think to yourself, 'well I don't have to get him or her altered, I am only going to have one rabbit.' Let me say, I hope you do get him or her a rabbit buddy. Rabbits are highly social creatures, and, in the wild, which is in Europe as rabbits are not found in America except for the tiny pygmy rabbit, they live in groups of dozens or hundreds in large underground warrens. So a single rabbit must get lots of human attention to satisfy his social needs and even then rabbits like to have a buddy to snuggle. Don't you?

Well, still, you're thinking that you don't need to get your rabbit altered. It can be expensive and hard to find a vet who is experienced enough to handle this delicate surgery. Save yourself the mistake that so many others have made in waiting too long to get their rabbit spayed or neutered. Left to develop strong mating, nesting, and territorial instincts, hormones kick in around age 5-6 months and after that, for some behaviors, there's no turning back.

Girls Will Be Girls

Cecilia was abandoned at the vet's office at age 9 suffering from uterine cancer. She was successfully spayed and lived another year and a half, dying from other causes.
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Females will develop nesting behaviors which present with digging. They will also aggressively guard their sleeping or nesting bed. Chewing becomes an important behavior as the rabbit matures; he or she wants to shape their space and put their chew marks upon it. This could be your baseboard or furniture that is suddenly a victim of rabbit graffiti; lots of little nibbles done in bas-relief style. Or it could be your carpeting. Rabbits love to pull grass blades out of the ground and indoors, your carpet is the next best thing.

Males will spray urine like cats but with the precision of a skunk. Some are able to hit a bullseye from ten feet away - similar to a skunk's infamous aim. Males may also 'oink' like a little pig to express displeasure. And they may start to 'box' with you. In the wild, male rabbits often fight to the death over a mate whom they often retain for life. And so it seems they invented pugilism along the way.

Sadly, female rabbits suffer an 85% chance of developing uterine cancer if not spayed by the age of five.1 When uterine cancer sets in, it spreads to the lungs and the female rabbit dies of suffocation. This is an incredibly sad and pathetic thing to witness.

All of these problems mentioned above are preventable and, for the most part, remedied through the procedure of sterilization. Males cease immediately the spraying of urine. Female nesting behavior diminishes along with much of the territorial aggression and chewing behaviors. Vestiges of these are the essence of rabbit existence, however, and so you will not see a 100% reduction in the hormone-induced behaviors being discussed here. Trace behaviors such as these can be redirected to chew toys. However, a strong reduction overall in undesirable behaviors can be expected. Cancers are also eliminated as a future health problem.

Boys Will Be Boys

The most dramatic benefits of neutering a rabbit are the vanquishing of hormonal humping and aggression. I have seen highly aggressive males, once neutered, display the most positive attributes you can possibly imagine. From a boxing, biting, spraying buck, the male often transforms into a gregarious, amiable individual. Nesting obsessed females will still retain the sense of sacred space for their bedding but they will lessen this dramatically and exhibit a sense of sisterhood or sharing with their family instead.

All in all, the benefits of altering your rabbit, whether living singly (hopefully not), or in heterosexual pairs (preferred natural state though same sex is sometimes best) are well worth it. In fact, like with our cat and dog friends, altering is what makes them pleasant house pets. So don't short change yourself or the rabbit, get it done and enjoy the resulting wonderful, magical personalities of these charming creatures.

Petruchio is a Netherlands dwarf house rabbit who humped his (spayed) mate so incessantly that she sustained a head injury. Altering removed this behavior.
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Special Vets

That being said and established, getting it done is a tricky business. Rabbit vets must have trained especially in rabbit spaying in order to successfully anesthetize a rabbit. This is not taught during the usual curriculum of veterinary school. It is given as part of continuing education and through internships with exotic vets. Carefully research your choice for a rabbit veterinarian as it is the single most important decision you make regarding your rabbit's life.

With an altered rabbit lounge lizard on your living room hearth, you will enjoy the gentlemanly or lady like qualities of these fine companion animals for many years.

1 Uterine Adenomata in the Rabbit by Harry S. N. Greene, M.D. & John A. 
Saxton, Jr., M.D. (From the Department of Animal and Plant Pathology of 
the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, Princeton, New Jersey)

 -Thumper S. Thompson 

All content and images © Running Bun Magazine. Use without permission prohibited.