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Ask the Vet: Sterilizing Pet Rabbits Has Medical and Behavioral Benefits

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: Our children were given two rabbits, and they'd like to know each bunny's sex before they name them. We parents would like to know, too, so we don't end up with a house full of rabbits.

How do we tell what sex each rabbit is? If one is female and the other male, can they be neutered to prevent a household population explosion, or should we just try to keep them apart?

A: One way to determine their sexes is to look at each rabbit's groin. A male, called a buck, has a penis with a circular opening and two cigar-shaped testicles. A female, or doe, has a slitlike vulva.

A far easier way to sex your new bunnies is to schedule a physical exam with a veterinarian. If your new rabbits are not yet sexually mature, it will be particularly difficult to determine their sexes without your veterinarian's help.

In males, the testicles descend around 10 to 12 weeks of age. Small and medium-sized breeds are sexually mature at 4 to 6 months, while giant breeds don't gain sexual maturity until around 9 months of age.

Once you learn that both rabbits are healthy, request an appointment for sterilization surgery, even if both of them are the same sex. Sterilized rabbits live longer and behave better than unsterilized rabbits. Rabbits are social creatures, and sterilization will help your two bunnies get along more harmoniously.

 

Females should be sterilized, or spayed, to prevent uterine cancer, which occurs in most unspayed does and is fatal. In addition, spay surgery decreases urine spraying and aggression.

Males are sterilized, or neutered, to prevent urine marking and aggression. Urine odor is also reduced after neutering.

Moreover, sterilization reduces overpopulation of pet rabbits. Bunnies are the third most common species living in animal shelters, awaiting forever homes.

To help you and your children give your new bunnies the best possible care, consult the House Rabbit Society website at https://rabbit.org/. You'll learn about diet, litter box training, finding an expert rabbit veterinarian and much more.

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