In a nutshell, yes. While the risks that come with any rabbit surgery are very real, the numerous benefits of spaying and neutering bunnies are even more immense and worth considering before making any decisions.
Benefits of Spaying/Neutering Rabbits
*Hormonally-induced behaviors subside or disappear.
Some of the nasty behaviors that develop when the bunny matures and the hormones surge include spraying, excessive digging and pawing EVERYTHING, grumpiness (usually in does), mounting your feet or anything that even remotely resembles another bunny or looks like fun to mount, and an overall reduced desire to be a cute, snuggly bunny.
*Enhanced litter training.
While unaltered rabbits can be litter trained, the best you can usually hope for is most of the urine and some of the poop to be in the litter box. Bunnies can't lick their cage and call dibs, so they scatter their urine and poo balls about as if to say, "Mine!" Most of my customers say that this dramatically improves upon spaying/neutering, though it may take a couple months for the hormones to subside.
*Calms your bunny down.
Remember how playful, care-free, and snuggly your bunny was as a baby? It's difficult for that personality to resurface with raging teenage hormones present. Spaying/neutering helps most bunnies to become more mellow and less occupied with finding themselves a hot chick or stud muffin.
*Reduces risks of certain reproductive cancers.
Though conflicting evidence can be found, general consensus (and most veterinarians will tell you) is that spaying in particular helps to reduce the likelihood of reproductive cancer in rabbits.
*Easier bonding with another bunny.
If you belong to the camp that believes a single bunny cannot be happy, then you'll definitely want to spay/neuter the bunnies that you wish to bond. Otherwise, two males will viciously fight, females will often fight unless sisters from the same litter, and male/female pairs will give you more bunnies. I always recommend spaying/neutering one bunny, letting the hormones subside for a couple months, and THEN seeking a second bunny. If the second bunny is a baby, immediate bonding may be possible, but spaying/neutering will usually be necessary once the baby is 5/6 months of age and hormonal. An older bunny can be immediately spayed/neutered and then bonding attempted slowly once the hormones dwindle. It's always a good idea to have two separate enclosures in case bonding never is successful, but the issue of hormones is usually the Achille's heel.
*Prevents unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.
If I had a dollar for every email I received from a panicked bunny owner about accidentally letting an unaltered male and female bunny play "for just a minute" and then having baby bunnies to care for (and find homes for!), I could probably buy a vacation home in Tahiti and be typing this while lounging on a white sand beach and being served sparkling beverages by my personal cabana bunny.
You know the saying, "wham, bam, thank you ma'am"? It truly happens that fast in the bunny world (like 10 seconds or less), and with certain rabbit breeds, they indeed breed like rabbits with babies o'plenty. Let me debunk a common myth about rabbits: they don't have ovulation cycles and can become pregnant at almost any time, even if they are caring for young babies. Another myth is that it is safe to keep the buck (father) with the doe (mother) and babies. Not only will he impregnate her again, but he will likely kill the babies.
It's simple. If you have a male and female bunny, either get one or both spayed/neutered or keep them completely separated in SECURE enclosures, and don't let them play in the same areas, ever. EVER! The only exception is if you purchase two babies at once and are told that they are the same gender. Disclosure: even experienced breeders can get the gender incorrect on an 8-week-old bunny. Bucks with split penises look like little does until they are 3-4 months, which is why I always recommend getting one bunny at a time and only adding a second bunny after the first is spayed or neutered.
"How fast do bunnies really breed?" you are wondering. Let Molly and Sunny Jim (orange buck) show you. Molly played hard to get for a bit and then quickly submitted to Sunny Jim, and he successfully mounted and rolled off of her in under ten seconds. That's all it takes, folks, and then you could have up to 6-8 babies to find homes for in three months when they're ready to be weaned. (Rabbit gestation is about 30 days.)
Risks of Spaying or Neutering a Rabbit
*Anesthesia & Complications
From what veterinarians have told me, it's not the actual spaying or neutering of a rabbit that is the most dangerous aspect of the surgery but the actual anesthesia and administering it to a fragile creature such as a rabbit. Remember that rabbits are prey animals whose systems are easily stressed and thrown off-balance.
It is therefore vital to seek a veterinarian who is experienced at bunny spays and neuters (such as an exotic veterinarian), not a general vet who has few procedures on rabbits under his/her belt. Make sure that your vet does pre-surgery testing to help determine the health of the rabbit and administers pain medication post-surgery for recovery.
*Cessation of Eating Post-Surgery
If you've researching about rabbit health, you probably have come across the term GI Stasis. This basically means that the gastrointestinal system has slowed down or stopped due to a variety of factors, including stress, dehydration, illness, blockage, poor fermentation in the gut, and PAIN. That's right, just like in the wild, a rabbit in pain won't whimper like a dog but will instead hunker down in a meatloaf position, grinding his/her teeth in pain and suffering all the while. He/she will stop eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping.
This is why pain medicine is essential after surgery, especially with spaying since it's more invasive than neutering. You may also have to syringe-feed your bunny to ensure proper hydration and intake of powdered food such as Critical Care or Sherwood's SARx Recovery food. A quiet, stress-free place to recover is also important, and you may wish to make sure someone is with the bunny during the day for at least the first couple days after the procedure.
Final Thoughts on Rabbit Spaying & Neutering
While surgery has its risks, if you desire your bunny to be housed indoors and have some degree of cohesion with your family, then spaying and/or neutering is extremely beneficial in the long run. Finding an experienced veterinarian with good references is key, though such a high level of care could set you back upwards of $400+. However, compare this to the cost of a new iPhone ($800+) that you only keep a few years. Bunnies can live 8-10 years, will provide an abundance of joy and pleasure to your pet-loving family, and they can't accidentally butt-dial your ex-boyfriend or scam you with a bogus free Disney vacation offer.
When the weather changes from mild to hot and you break out the shorts and flip flops, your bunny will undoubtedly be shedding his/her winter fur coat. When a bunny sheds, it's called molting. Bunnies typically molt about twice a year, though one molt may be barely noticeable and the second look like a blizzard of fur. Baby bunnies have three molts their first year since they also have a baby coat to shed, but again, some of these molts will likely be mild.
Removing the Loose Fur
Two other methods for removing excess fur are by plucking/rubbing the fur off while outside or in an area where you can let the fur fly. This is great for bunnies that hate being brushed, but you may need a few healthy treats to keep him/her at ease. Finally, if your bunny is extra mellow, you may be able to vacuum the loose fur. My bunnies often tolerate this because they are used to me vacuuming their cages each morning, but they would still rather eat their own poop than be groomed by me. :)
Why is it Important to Remove Loose Fur?
Just like cats, bunnies give themselves baths in an attempt at proper hygiene. When they are molting, they ingest any loose fur in areas that they clean. Unlike cats, however, bunnies cannot vomit up hair balls. Sounds good, right? Well, not really. The fur sits in their digestive tracts and either forms "poop ornaments" (poop strung together by fur) or slows down and possibly stops digestion. This immobility of the gut is called GI stasis, and excess fur ingestion is one cause. GI Stasis has the potential to quickly kill your bunny, so it's important to keep loose fur to a minimum and educate yourself about GI stasis.
Support Your Bunny's Digestive System
During molts, it's especially important to boost your bunny's digestive system to help prevent GI stasis. First, a constant supply of hay is essential to help sweep material through the intestines. I recommend a fresh timothy hay or orchard grass (weeds and clover can be included, bunnies love them). First cutting will be the least green and most thick, second cutting is softer and usually greener, and third cutting is very soft green, and fragrant. I usually purchase second cutting, either from a local farmer who doesn't use pesticides/herbicides/fertilizer or online through Farmer Dave's or Small Pet Select on Amazon. Just make sure the hay smells fresh and not moldy or overly dusty. Bagged pet store hays are usually sub par quality.
Second, digestive support tablets can be a great aid in helping your bunny's digestive system stay active. My favorite are Sherwood's digestive tablets, which contain papaya, ginger, pineapple, and other gut-stimulating natural ingredients...plus, the bunnies love these (yes, they're like bunny crack)!
Third are herbs that help digestion. Plantain herb, dandelion greens and flowers, parsley, and comfrey are just a few herbal digestive aids. If your yard is not treated with chemicals, you likely have plantain and dandelion everywhere. These can be fed freshly picked/washed or washed/dried for later use. When feeding fresh herbs, be careful not to give more than a small handful at once. If you notice mushy poop later (from your bunny that is), then cut back on the amount of greens. Dried greens are not as harsh on the digestive system and can be fed in slightly larger quantities (this is basically what hay is, dried greens). I try to keep dried plantain herb on hand in a mesh bag all year long.
Last but not least, remember to offer your bunny plenty of exercise! Exercise helps to stimulate gut motility and keep things moving, plus, your bunny will love being able to run, hop, and binky. Basements, garages, and outdoor exercise pens all offer a great spacious environment for your bunny to have "recess."
I hope you have found this information on brushing bunnies during molting helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below. Thank you!
"Should I get a friend for my bunny?" "Will my bunny be lonely without another bunny to keep him/her company? Can two bunnies get along?
These are questions I am often asked, and while the answer isn't a clear-cut "yes" or "no," I usually suggest starting with one bunny and then adding a second later if desired. There are certainly pros and cons of owning a single bunny compared to two more more.
Examples of Good Bunny Buddies:
The first pair of bunnies (far left) consists of my orange buck Sunny Jim and his girlfriend (one of them) Envy. Neither is spayed/neutered, but after an hour of chasing each other and breeding, they were best friends. Obviously, they would never share a cage and this scenario wouldn't work for those keeping pet bunnies, but I am fully confident that these two could be permanent playmates if spayed/neutered. Both have pleasant personalities, and Sunny is never aggressive.
The middle photo is from a customer (Eleanor M.) who purchased a chocolate tort buck, got him neutered, and then sought a female companion who would be spayed when old enough. The female, Mimi, immediately took to Mochi (after first having to show him that she wouldn't tolerate mounting), and two are good friends the last I knew. She will most likely begin to show displeasure at sharing a cage with Mochi upon maturity and will need to be spayed, but they have a great chance at long-term bonding.
Examples of Bad Bunny Buddies:
At left is Cocoa and her baby Henrietta. Henrietta was the runt and needed to stay with Cocoa past the normal eight weeks, and the pair became thoroughly bonded. I sold them to a wonderful family who wanted to keep both bunnies together. Well, long story short, Henrietta was really Henry (bucks can have a split penis when little, which makes them look like does initially - totally my fault, but tough to differentiate) and needed to be neutered. After surgery and a few weeks for the hormones to subside, re-introduction didn't go smoothly, and the pair had to be separated from playing together. Cocoa would likely stop mounting her son if she was spayed, but that is a risk possibly not worth taking on a doe who is already several years old. This seemed like a good match but ultimately was not.
The last two pictures are my breeding does Luna and Mable. On nice days, there are several does who I am able to let play together with no altercations at all, but one day, things went terribly wrong. In hindsight, Luna was pregnant, so I should not have let them out together, but it was a cold winter day, and I was inside the bunny barn with them as they played. Luna began to chase Mable and instigate all sorts of trouble. Before I could grab either, there was a scuffle, fur went flying, and then I saw Luna's bloody ear. Mable not only nipped Luna's ear, she bit half-way to the center. Luna had a ragged flap of ear dangling pitifully. I couldn't believe what had transpired in less than a minute together!
After my initial panic, I decided to clean the wound with iodine and Vetericyn spray and they try to use Gorilla Glue to suture the wound like they do in the hospital. For a week, it seemed to do the trick, and the ear appeared to heal. Until one day, the glue began to crack (likely due to Luna's grooming), and the ear became red and the flap dangled once again. This time, I knew a trip to the veterinarian was warranted.
I loaded Luna into the travel carrier and took her to West Park Animal Hospital in Cleveland, OH to see Dr. Kari Swedenborg, who specializes in "pocket pets" such as bunnies. Dr. Kari is a wonderfully knowledgeable and kind veterinarian with a warm bedside manner. I felt ashamed of my failed efforts to help Luna, but she never criticized. She agreed that the part of the ear that was loose and flapping needed to be removed to prevent being caught and tearing more. The wound was then cauterized and the bleeding quite minimal. As a side note, the doctor performed an ultrasound to confirm whether Luna was pregnant (which determined the anesthetic that could be used) and saw two wiggly babies! Amazingly, the bill was only $70, and Luna appears to be healing, though she will always have a permanent chunk of ear missing to serve as a reminder to me to be extremely cautious about letting two bunnies play together. If it ever happens again, I will seek veterinary care immediately. FYI - Gorilla Glue is not the same as skin adhesive that surgeons use, which may be why it didn't hold well on her ear.
In summary, it is possible to have two bunnies become companions to one another, but there are a lot of variables and expenses that make it a risk. If this is a risk you accept, be prepared to spay/neuter both bunnies as soon as possible as well as have separate cages. They may be able to play together during the day but will likely always want their own spaces for sleeping (which isn't always at night). Ultimately, a lot depends on the individual personalities of the bunnies after they reach maturity and post-surgery.
Hook's Hollands is a small hobby rabbitry on our Ohio farm and is operated by me (Diane) with the help of my family. We have a small herd of Holland Lop rabbits and focus on raising colorful bunnies with the best type and temperament possible.
This blog serves to spotlight various bunny care topics and share a bit about my experiences raising bunnies.