The rabbit castration – the how and why

Why is neutering important? There are many benefits to neutering a male rabbit. They tend to live a longer, healthier lives and are generally calmer and easier to handle. Their destructive habits are reduced, yet they don’t lose any of their character. An additional benefit is that they are often easier to litter train and have less of an urge to spray.

Posted: 11 February 2019

The rabbit castration – the how and why

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6 reasons to castrate a pet rabbit

  1. Less dominant - social and sexual aggression is reduced
  2. Spraying – castrated males tend not to urine mark as much
  3. Prevention of pregnancy – but remember that following castration, the male may remain fertile for at least four weeks
  4. Disease - testicular tumours and urinary infections are reduced
  5. Hernia correction – if an inguinal hernia is detected, castration can be performed during the repair
  6. Cryptorchidism – as in all mammals, true cryptorchidism is best treated surgically

What age should your neuter?

Ideally male rabbits are castrated after they are 4 or 5 months of age. Any earlier and they won’t have reached sexual maturity.

Anatomy – consider these unique differences of male rabbits

  • Penis is caudal to the testes
  • Inguinal canal remains open in adulthood
  • Testicles are held in two separate hemi-scrotal sacs
  • Testicles are free to move between the hemi-scrotal sacs and the abdomen
  • A large fat mass rests in the inguinal canal and prevents soft tissues, such as the bladder and small intestine, from herniating

Which surgical techniques are available?

There are several recognised surgical approaches used, with some being better than others, so we’ve highlighted the key points of each method below.

1. Pre-scrotal approach

  • Anaesthetise the animal and place in dorsal recumbency
  • Clip the area in front of the scrotum and prepare it by cleaning with chlorhexidine (NB. Don’t pluck the fur - the skin is fragile and easily torn)
  • Make a midline incision cranial to the scrotum
  • Dissect down initially on one side, and then afterwards the other, towards the vaginal process, and isolate the tissue surrounding the testes
  • The surgery is then continued by either the open or closed technique, as described below;

A. Open technique

By using this method, the inguinal and epididymal fat blocks the inguinal canal and thereby prevent herniation of loups of intestine.

  • The vaginal process is exteriorised, then 3-0 to 4-0 absorbable suture material is passed around and tied.
  • The vaginal process is incised.
  • Exteriorised the testicle through the incision.
  • Ligate and suture the spermatic cord and vessels.
  • Close and suture the vaginal process.
  • The procedure repeated on the contralateral vaginal process.
  • Close the skin incision.
  • Revert the scrotum with gentle traction when the sutures are all complete.
  • Monitor recovery for several hours.

B. Closed technique

This method ensures that the inguinal canal remains closed.

  • Using blunt dissection, pull the vaginal process gently, which results in the scrotal sac inverting.
  • Ligate the vaginal process containing the testicle, vas deferens and blood vessels. 3-0 to 4-0 absorbable suture material is used.
  • Apply a haemostat, then cut and replace the inverted scrotal sac.
  • The procedure repeated on the contralateral vaginal process.
  • Close the skin incision.
  • Revert the scrotum with gentle traction when the sutures are all complete.
  • Monitor recovery for several hours.

2. Scrotal approach

This method is not used very often, as it can be difficult to prepare the surgical site adequately. Hair can be difficult to remove, and the skin is very fragile

Surgery can be via either the open or the closed approach. With the open approach, the vaginal process is incised, and the spermatic cord and vessels are ligated as the testicle is removed. The vaginal process is then ligated before closure. With the closed technique, the vaginal tunic, spermatic cord and vessels are all ligated simultaneously.

3. Abdominal approach

  • Anaesthetise the animal and place in dorsal recumbency
  • Clip and prepare the abdomen
  • Make a caudal midline incision (approximately 3cm)
  • Expose the bladder and reflect caudally
  • Gently retract the vas deferens then exteriorise the testicles
  • Dissect of the epididymis from the end of the everted scrotal sac, then ligate the spermatic cord
  • Close abdominal wall as you would a routine laparotomy

What are the complications of castration surgery?

The most common problem encountered with surgery is an inguinal hernia. The bladder, intestines and abdominal fat can move into the hemiscrotal sac via the inguinal canal. It’s for this reason that the canal should be closed. Other complications include haemorrhage, infection, suture reactions as well as ineffective pain management, resulting in gut stasis.

A recent study comparing rabbit castration techniques found that…

  1. Neutering should be considered in pet rabbits, as it’s well tolerated
  2. The pre-scrotal technique is considered superior to the scrotal technique, as the anaesthetic time and postoperative swelling are both reduced.
  3. Post-operation oedema is more common in the scrotal technique.
  4. Post-operative hernias are uncommon.

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