Spring 2012 Magazine

Yes to Spay/Neuter for Rabbits!

By Bill Velasquez

Tiger Lily and Snowflake were abandoned four years ago at an Albuquerque Petco. It is not uncommon for people to abandon animals at pet stores or set them free in the wild which is a death sentence for domestic rabbits. They are not equipped for a life on the run and will get hit by a car, killed by a predator, or worse - fall victim to abuse by humans. Deb Schaefer, a registered House Rabbit Society Educator, took Tiger Lily and Snowflake in as foster rabbits. After being in foster care for about a year, they were adopted by Debbie and Steve Litecky of Quemado, NM. Here they enjoy the best home that any house rabbit could dream of having. Tiger Lily and Snowflake are two of the lucky ones.

Rabbits are the most abandoned pets in the country after dogs and cats. Sadly, there are too many feed stores and pet stores selling unaltered rabbits. Altered rabbits are healthier and live longer than unaltered ones. There is an 80% risk of reproductive cancers (ovarian, uterine and mammalian) in an unaltered female rabbit. Spaying your female rabbit virtually eliminates this risk. Your neutered male rabbit will live longer and better as well. His sexual aggression will no longer tempt him to fight with other animals. Rabbits sold in feed and pet stores are young and playful. It isn't until months later, when they begin to reach sexual maturity, that hormones take over and that cute little bunny becomes a "teenager" with many unwanted behavior traits.

Altered rabbits make better companions. They are calmer, more loving, and dependable once the urge to mate has been removed. In addition, rabbits are less prone to destructive (chewing, digging) and aggressive (biting, lunging, circling, growling) behavior after altering.

Unneutered male rabbits spray, and both males and females are much easier to litter train after they have been altered. This is what makes them great companions in the home rather than living solitary lives in an outdoor hutch.

Perhaps the biggest reason to spay or neuter is that altered rabbits won't contribute to the problem of rabbit overpopulation. Over 7 million dogs, cats, and rabbits are killed in animal shelters in this country every year. This is a human problem that must be solved by humans.

Pet stores don't generally check what kind of home the rabbits they sell will go to. Many of these rabbits will be sold as snake food or as a pet for a child who may soon lose interest in the rabbit. The most common call our rescue receives is about stray rabbits. Many people release their rabbits "to go live with the wild rabbits." The second most common call we get is from people who thought they had two boys or two girls, but now have a litter of 4-9 babies. It is left to me to give them the news that the mother is probably pregnant again as females can get pregnant the same day they give birth. The babies will be sexually mature themselves in about 4 months.

Rabbits are extremely social and intelligent animals and altered rabbits can safely have another rabbit friend. Although rabbits can be great friends with many dogs and cats, they crave the company of other rabbits. Unless your rabbit is altered, though, he or she cannot have a rabbit friend of the opposite sex or the same sex, due to sexual and aggressive behaviors triggered by hormones. Time with humans helps fill the gap for a single rabbit, but remember you may only be with them a few hours a day. What about the other 21 hours? Loneliness and boredom can trigger destructive behavior. Make sure you can give your rabbit adequate time and attention.

Spaying and neutering rabbits is a safe procedure when performed by an experienced rabbit veterinarian. In over 20 years, the House Rabbit Society has experienced less than a1% mortality due to anesthesia. A knowledgeable rabbit veterinarian can spay or neuter your rabbit with very little risk to a healthy rabbit.

The New Mexico House Rabbit Society is a chapter of the International House Rabbit Society. It has been active since 2007 and in that time has either directly rescued or assisted in the rescue of over 700 rabbits. The city of Albuquerque shelter alone took in 308 rabbits in 2009, 178 rabbits in 2010, and 361 rabbits in 2011. In 2012, at the time of this writing the shelter has already taken in nearly 40 rabbits.

While we have assisted in a rescue involving approximately 350 rabbits from one residence, the more common scenario we see is the single rabbit, usually purchased for a child from a feed or pet store, with little to no research into the care of the rabbit done by the parents. Once the novelty wears off and the unaltered rabbit begins to display hormonal behaviors, the rabbit ends up at the shelter. This is when we get the phone call and are asked to help find the rabbit a new home.

Tiger Lily and Snowflake were a special case because the New Mexico House Rabbit Society does not take in rabbits from the public, but these two had been abandoned at the store. Petco now refers people trying to dump rabbits to the city shelter. A lot of times people think that the shelter is a bad place. In reality it is the best place because there the rabbits get necessary medical care and will be spayed/neutered, so their chances of fitting in to a new home are greatly increased.

To learn more about welcoming a rabbit in to your home, contact the New Mexico House Rabbit Society directly by phone at 505-435-9916 or via email at bill@rabbit.org.

Bill Velasquez is President of the New Mexico House Rabbit Society.

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