NEUTERING Campaign – make it early!

CottonTails® was instrumental in the setting up of the rabbit Early Neutering Campaign, and with the help of Mandy Stone and Damian Pacini of the RSPCA Bristol Vet Clinic, the campaign was launched in April 2010.

Together with Anne Mitchell of RWA/F, copies of the campaign letter were sent out to most of the veterinary surgeons in the UK.  However, some vets did not receive the letter, and this is where you come in!

Please feel free to copy and paste the campaign letter below and pass it to your local vet.  We will make a difference!

RABBIT EARLY NEUTERING CAMPAIGN

Dear Veterinary Surgeon, 

     In recent years rabbits have become very popular pets, and there has been much to learn to keep up with the latest advances in rabbit medicine, behaviour and welfare knowledge. It is generally accepted that pet rabbits should live in compatible groups, such as non-breeding pairs, and rabbit neutering has become much more commonplace. The benefits are well recognized and include the management of anti-social behaviours such as urine spraying and excessive territorial behaviour, and the prevention of uterine adenocarcinoma. 

     However, when it comes to timing of neutering, there seems to be some conflicting advice given to owners regarding the minimum age at which rabbits can be successfully and safely neutered.  I am writing to you now, not only to highlight the benefits of rabbit neutering, but, more specifically, to encourage vets to consider earlier rabbit neutering in certain situations.  

     At last the message is getting through to the general public that rabbits should not be kept on their own.  However, for pairs to work successfully long-term, both partners need to be neutered, and neutered early enough. Rabbits are sexually mature well before 6 months of age. Whilst a delay of up to 6 months of age will not harm a rabbit living on its own, failure to carry out earlier neutering of rabbits living in pairs can be detrimental to welfare, as it may lead to unwanted litters, severe fighting and injuries, as well as major bonding issues. These are all problems that CottonTails® has seen firsthand on numerous occasions.  

     I am therefore campaigning to raise awareness that rabbits can be neutered earlier than is often considered the norm. While the timing of neutering will always be assessed by the veterinary surgeon on a case-by-case basis, I am appealing to vets to consider earlier neutering in situations where rabbits are socially-housed and where it will have a clear welfare benefit.  

     Richard Saunders MRCVS, RWA/F Resident in Rabbit & Zoo Medicine, at Bristol University Langford Referrals, says that as a general guideline,males can be castrated when their testicles have descended, from about 12 weeks of age. Females can be spayed safely from 16 weeks of age, so long as they are in good health and weigh at least 1 kg.   

     Brigitte Reusch BVetMed(Hons) CertZooMed MRCVS, Lecturer in Rabbit Medicine and Surgery, Head of The Rabbit Clinic, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, castrates males from 12 weeks of age and females are spayed routinely from 16 weeks of age at the University of Edinburgh to help prevent health and behavioral problems developing. Early neutering is also associated with shorter surgical and anesthetic time. Young rabbits also tend to have less chronic diseases which can complicate anaesthesia. In females, surgery before the development of fatty deposits around the uterus and ovaries occurs makes the operation less traumatic and more straightforward. 

     This timing of neutering is the policy that CottonTails®  has followed successfully for many years. The RSPCA Clinic in Bristol, who carry out all our neutering operations, use these guidelines and neuter rabbits at these ages whenever it is considered appropriate.  

The campaign is also supported by: 

•    Anna Meredith MA VetMB CertLAS DZooMed MRCVS, Head of Exotic Animal and Wildlife Service, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

•    Dr. Anne McBride, animal behavior specialist, University of Southampton

  Neil Forbes BVetMed CBiol MIBiol Dip ECAMS FRCVS, RCVS Recognised Specialist zoo Animal and Wildlife Medicine (Avian), European Veterinary Specialist Avian Medicine and Surgery

•     Sean Wensley BVSc MSc MRCVS of The PDSA

•     Wood Green Animal Shelters

•     The Company of Animals, training and behavior experts

•      Bobtails, one of the largest rabbit and guinea pig rescue centres in the UK

•      Anne Mitchell of the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund Helpline, who deals with large volumes of calls concerning this issue. 

     Please do what you can in your practice to join us in this campaign, by raising awareness with clients and within your veterinary team of the welfare benefits of earlier neutering in appropriate cases. 

     Vets can get advice and reassurance about rabbit neutering from Langford Referrals and also the RSPCA in Bristol, who are very willing to share their experience.  Furthermore, CottonTails® is happy to advise about match-ups and best sex combinations, and this and other user-friendly information is available on our website www.cottontails-rescue.org.uk 

Yours faithfully, 

Mairwen Guard MBE        

Trustee and Founder of CottonTails® Rescue