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Why Spay Your Rabbit?

By Astrid Kruse, DVM

Why is your vet pushing you to spay your bunny? After all, the bunny seems fine, perhaps a little sexually overexcited and at times belligerent. Is it worth the money and the anesthetic risk? 0nce you accept that a rabbit is not a disposable commodity, and that rabbits are not interchangeable, you become committed to providing your rabbit with the same level of veterinary care a dog or cat would receive. Dogs and cats are routinely spayed, not only for overpopulation control and for affecting positive behavioral changes, but for significant health reasons. The following are the health risks for not having your bunny altered:

Uterine Cancer Up to 85% of female rabbits develop uterine cancer by the age of four if they have not been spayed. I have seen a number of these heart-breaking cases, all either occurring because the owner did not know the rabbit's gender or had been uninformed about the vital importance of spaying a rabbit. In nature, rabbits are designed to reproduce as quickly and frequently as possible, and die of predation before reaching an age at which cancer becomes a risk. With such active uterine tissue, in which cells are constantly dividing, mutations that can give rise to tumors take place frequently.

The first signs of uterine cancer are often bleeding from the vagina, which may be interpreted as bloody urine. The rate of blood loss can be quite rapid, with the rabbit bleeding out in days. By the time there are any signs of a problem, chances are that the tumor has metastasized (spread), often to the lungs. This means that even if the bleeding carcinoma is removed, the rabbit will likely die within some months because of cancer that has spread throughout the body. Decreased appetite and weight loss are common signs that the body is breaking down as the tumors grow. Losing a young bunny to a preventable cancer is pitiful!

Uterine Infection (Pyometra) In this condition, pus builds up inside the infected uterus and either leaks out or is trapped by the closed cervix. The condition is often lifethreatening, as bacterial toxins leak into the bloodstream or the distended, pus-filled uterus ruptures into the abdominal cavity.

Aneurysm Some rabbits can develop enlarged, weakened blood vessels in the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus. When these rupture, rapid blood loss ensues.

The treatment for all of these conditions is an emergency spay. Emergency surgery is not only financially costly but risky to the rabbit, since anesthetizing an ill animal is dangerous. Please head off any life-threatening emergency by spaying your bunny! She will be not only healthier, but less aggressive and easier to litterbox train. In addition, you will be helping to reduce the number of unwanted pets in shelters, many of which are euthanized because there are not enough homes for them.

The health risks for not neutering a male rabbit have not yet been adequately identified. It is possible that, as pet rabbits live longer due to better care and improved diets, diseases related to the constant hormonal stimulation of male tissues will begin to emerge. Testicular cancers and prostate diseases such as cancer, abscesses, or benign hypertrophy (enlargement) impeding urination or defecation, are the likely problems that older intact male rabbits may contend with. The behavioral benefits of neutering, though, cannot be overstated. Most sexually mature male rabbits will spray urine and unmercifully mount anything that strikes their fancy. By neutering your bunny, you will help him discover life beyond sexual frenzy as well as encourage him to become a neater, more well-behaved member of the family!

Copyright 2003 Astrid Kruse

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