The rabbit spay

There is no doubt that most small animal vets and nurses are seeing more and more rabbits. They’re social and interactive, making excellent small companions. The good news is that many of our clients want to treat them as they would their dog or cat and are prepared to offer them the best. It’s for this reason we should always be talking about neutering, as there are so many health benefits to be realised.

Posted: 29 May 2019

The rabbit spay

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6 reasons to spay a rabbit

Female rabbits are prone to a variety of problems if they are left entire. Here are some of the health benefits related to spaying. You’ll be able to prevent;

  1. Uterine Cancer – this is probably the most persuasive argument you can use. The strongest medical reason to neuter a female rabbit is to prevent uterine adenocarcinoma. As many 80% of entire females will go on to develop this malignant tumour. Fortunately rabbits under two years of age rarely develop this problem, so by neutering young you’ll have the best chance of preventing the problem. See our article on Uterine adenocarcinoma>
  2. Uterine Diseases – middle aged and older rabbits are more prone to developing other uterine conditions, such as pyometra, endometritis and uterine aneurism. Neutering prevents all of this.
  3. Pregnancy – encourage responsible pet ownership, ensuring nobody breeds just for fun. Remind your clients that a pregnant female is almost always inevitable if she is left with an entire male.  
  4. False Pregnancy – just as in dogs and cats, rabbits are also able to develop a hormone related false pregnancy. They’ll start to produce milk, build nests and may develop some aggressive behavioural changes. All of this can be stressful to them and make them more at risk from gastro-intestinal disturbances.
  5. Mammary Gland Disease – whilst mammary gland tumours are not that common, they can still occur. A mammary carcinoma is almost always associated with uterine cancer, so spaying a female early will prevent the problem. Other mammary conditions that can be prevented include mammary dysplasia and cystic glands.
  6. Aggressive Behaviour – entire females can sometimes be quite unpleasant and even aggressive. They can bite, kick and chase you around, so much so that a children’s pet can end up being neglected. To avoid this, it’s best to neuter.

What’s the best age to neuter?

Ideally, the best time to spay is just before or shortly after sexual maturity. This would tend to be when they are between four and six months of age. It’s not usually recommended to neuter rabbits younger than four months, and indeed there is no health benefit this early.

In order to benefit from all the preventable conditions listed above, we would normally recommend they are spayed before two years of age.

The rabbit spay – what’s involved?

To appreciate the detail of a rabbit spay, it helps understand some of the anatomical features of importance.

  • Each uterine horn ends in a separate cervix
  • There is no common uterine body
  • The mesometrium is surrounded in fatty tissue. This can make it difficult to identify and tease away fragile blood vessels
  • Rabbit abdominal tissues are very delicate and needs to be handled with care – the ovarian and uterine tissue is no exception
  • Rabbits form abdominal adhesions very easily, so avoid touching other abdominal organs as much as possible

14 steps to spaying a rabbit

  1. Use the traditional ventral midline approach.
  2. Make an incision large enough to allow you adequate exposure of both ovaries and cervices. This way you’ll avoid pulling and tearing fragile vessels.
  3. Lift the linea alba away from the abdominal contents – avoid cutting into the bladder and caecum.
  4. Use moistened gauze swabs and gloves when handling the tissues – this will help to reduce adhesion formation.
  5. Expose both ovaries by lifting gently.
  6. Break down the suspensory ligament with care.
  7. Identify and isolate the ovarian artery – it’s usually coiled and quite prominent.
  8. Identify and isolate the uterine artery and vein in the broad ligament – it’s usually several millimetres away from the uterus and hidden within fat.
  9. Choose absorbable suture materials to transfix and ligate.
  10. Take great care to identify and avoid the caudal vesicular artery, a branch of the uterine artery which supplies the bladder wall.
  11. Double transfix and ligate the vagina just distal to the cervix.
  12. Take care to avoid urine contamination of the abdomen through leakage of urine as the vagina and cervix are separated.
  13. Close the abdominal wound in three layers – the linea alba, the abdominal muscles and the subcuticular tissues.
  14. Use staples or fine non-absorbable sutures in the skin.

Watch our video>

Some extra top tips

  • Never use catgut
  • Never use steroids
  • Use analgesics to avoid stress from pain
  • Be aware of the complications of surgery, including gut stasis

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