Ovariohysterectomy in Rabbits

What is an ovariohysterectomy?

An ovariohysterectomy is often referred to as a 'spay' or 'spaying'. It is a surgical procedure in which the ovaries and uterus are removed completely in order to sterilize or render infertile, a female animal.

Why should I have my rabbit spayed?  

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Spayed rabbits are much less likely to display behaviors such as mounting, urine spraying and aggression.

There are many behavioral and health benefits associated with spaying your rabbit.

  • The obvious is the elimination of unwanted pregnancy. Although raising baby rabbits might be a wonderful family experience, finding homes for the new rabbits might prove more challenging than one would anticipate. Spaying significantly minimizes the risk of ovarian, uterine and mammary cancers. Reproductive cancers are quite common in rabbits. There is no chance of uterine infections (pyometra) if there is NO uterus.
  • Spayed rabbits are much less likely to display undesirable hormone induced behaviors such as mounting, urine spraying (or territorial marking) and aggression.
  • Litter box habits are more stable in spayed animals.
  • The rabbit may be calmer and easier to handle as it is not experiencing the stresses of sexual frustration.
  • An intact rabbit may experience a condition called "pseudo-pregnancy", also known as false pregnancy in which it will start nest building, milk production, and experience maternal aggression towards people and other animals.

When should I have my rabbit spayed?

Most rabbits are spayed between four and six months of age. Many veterinarians prefer to spay at 6 months of age.

What does a spay surgery involve?

This major surgical procedure is done under general anesthesia. You must NOT fast your rabbit the night prior to surgery as is done with other animals.

Your rabbit will be given a physical examination prior to the surgery. Your veterinarian may recommend some pre-operative blood tests. This is to ensure your rabbit is healthy enough to have surgery performed and that there are no pre-existing problems that may compromise your pet. The operation is performed through a reasonably small incision in the midline of the abdomen, just below the umbilical area. The hair in this area will be shaved and surgically prepared prior to the surgery. The ovaries and uterus are removed. The surgical incision will be closed with several layers of sutures (muscle and skin). Most rabbits go home within forty-eight hours after surgery.

You must NOT fast your rabbit the night prior to surgery as is done with other animals.

What post-operative care will my rabbit need?

Your rabbit will likely be given pain medication in hospital and may be sent home with several days' worth of the same. Keep your pet in a clean, quiet environment and try to minimize excessive running, jumping or hard play that may stress the incision. Feed normally, a rabbit should be eating and drinking within 12-24 hours of the operation. Inspect and assess your rabbit and the incision several times daily and report any concerns regarding behavior changes, appetite, drinking, urination and defecation to your veterinarian. Occasionally, rabbits will chew the sutures and open the surgical wound. This needs immediate veterinary attention.

Skin sutures will be removed in seven to ten days.

 Are complications common with spaying?

In general, complications are rare with this surgery. However, as with any anesthetic or surgical procedure, in any species, there is always a small risk. To minimize risks, it is important to follow all pre-operative instructions and report any sign of illness or previous medical conditions to your veterinarian prior to the day of surgery.

The potential complications may include:

Anesthetic reaction.
 Any animal may have an unexpected adverse reaction to any drug or anesthetic. These reactions cannot be foreseen, but are extremely rare.

Internal bleeding.
 This may occur in association with any of the cut or manipulated tissues. This is very rare and is more likely to occur if your rabbit is too active in the days following the surgery. Signs to watch for include weakness, pale gums, depression/listlessness, lack of appetite, or a distended abdomen.

Post-operative infection.
 Although rare, this may occur internally or externally around the incision site. Infection can be managed with antibiotics. Infections most commonly occur when the pet licks the surgical site excessively or is kept in a damp dirty environment. Monitor the surgical site several times daily for swelling, redness, wound breakdown, pus or other discharge.

Suture Reaction or Sinus Formation.
 This is extremely rare but occurs when a sensitive body reacts to certain types of suture material used during surgery. This results in a draining wound or tract that may appear up to several weeks after the surgery was performed. Further operations may be required to remove the suture material and correct the issue.

Will spaying have any adverse effects on my rabbit?

The vast majority of rabbits will experience no adverse effects following spaying.

There are many myths and beliefs about spaying that are not supported by facts or research. Your pet will not become fat and lazy.

Feel free to discuss the pros and cons or any concerns you may have with a veterinarian familiar with rabbits.

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