Rabbits reach sexual maturity at about age six months. It varies somewhat by breed. Spaying is the surgical procedure carried out on females in which their mature organs are removed, neutering involves removing the testes of the male but not the penis – neutering is not the same as full castration.
There are pros and cons to the procedure for either sex.
Since one of the most common cancers female rabbits can suffer from is uterine tumors, removing the uterus can eliminate the problem. No organ, no possibility of cancer in that organ.
At the same time, as in dogs, removing it drastically reduces the production of estrogen, which plays a role in causing tumors elsewhere in the body. The uterus doesn’t produce the hormone, but when it’s gone the body responds by lowering the amount generated.
Spaying also prevents false pregnancy, which occurs in females from time to time. In false or pseudopregnancy, the female’s body acts as if it were pregnant, producing drastic hormonal changes. The rabbit responds by nest building, milk production and other behaviors that may be unwanted. Stress is often higher and the rabbit may respond to familiar people and pets aggressively. Spaying eliminates the problem.
Similarly, removing the testes of the male substantially reduces the amount of testosterone flowing through the rabbit’s body. Neutering erases the possibility of testicular cancer and lowers the prospect of tumors elsewhere though to a lesser degree than the female. At the same time, it reduces the likelihood of aggression, especially where males are around a female.
For both the male and female, removing the sex organs reduces marking behavior. Marking occurs when the rabbit urinates (and sometimes defecates) to ‘claim’ territory, and to keep others away. The result can be stained carpets, failure or refusal to use the litter box, and other problems. Spaying or neutering may not eliminate it entirely, but it lessens the chances.
On the other hand, spaying and neutering are not completely without possible negatives.
Like any surgical procedure, it entails some risk. Though millions of spaying and neutering surgeries have been carried out, they haven’t all been carried out by your vet. He or she may or may not have done any. Finding a vet knowledgeable about rabbits, or willing to treat them, is more difficult than finding one for a pet dog or cat.
The procedure is certainly very similar to that performed, say, on a cat. But if your vet is qualified to treat your rabbit in general, he or she may not have the experience to spay or neuter your pet. It’s possible to have it performed by someone more experienced with rabbits, but most people prefer to have their pet treated exclusively by one vet, even when they work in the same office.
Also, many people will want to breed their rabbits. Usually, that’s an undertaking best left to professionals, or at least those with experience. It’s not as easy as it seems if you want the best outcome. But it’s an option that some will want to leave open.
The best approach is to get as much relevant information as possible about the procedures, the risks and then choose. Just as you would for your child, dog or any other loved one.