Rabbit Awareness Week 2023 – Interview with Dr Suzanne Moyes
23 June 2023
With Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) just around the corner, we spoke to Dr Suzanne Moyes, MVB, MRCVS, Deputy Managing Director and In-house Vet at Burgess Pet Care, organisers of RAW, about this year’s important campaign.
The theme of this year’s RAW is ‘Neutering: Protect and Prevent’, but what are the benefits of neutering rabbits?
There are a wealth of benefits to neutering both male and female rabbits, both from a behavioural and health perspective.
Around 80% of unneutered female rabbits develop uterine tumours after the age of three years, often with fatal consequences. Spaying female rabbits removes this serious health risk.
Rabbits are prolific breeders, and can potentially breed from 16 weeks of age, and sometimes even younger. Numbers are currently out of control, with rescue centres across the UK reporting they are at crisis point. Unplanned litters play a large part in this, so neutering is really important to try and get this under control.
Rabbits relish the company of other rabbits and neutering enables them to be in at least pairs. Rabbits are able to experience a good quality of life and show additional behaviours, such as grooming each other and playing together, when they have a companion rabbit.
Rabbits are hugely territorial and if neutered, they are far more likely to accept another rabbit, although care needs to be taken during introductions to enable the bonding process to be a success.
Where rabbits are housed indoors, if they’re neutered, they are less likely to exhibit marking behaviours around the home.
Neutered rabbits are also often much calmer, as well as being easier to litter train.
What are the considerations when deciding whether to neuter a rabbit?
It is thought that the best pair bond for rabbits are a neutered male and a neutered female. Neutering helps to ensure the likelihood of a female-male bond as they are not contending with hormones produced by the other rabbit, which reduces the chances of fighting.
Same-sex pairs of neutered rabbits from the same litter are also considered a good combination. Although neutered same-sex pairs may occasionally have disputes, these are much less likely if they are introduced before 12 weeks of age or are from the same litter.
As with any patient, age and any concurrent health issues should be considered when discussing specific requirements with owners.
At what age should you neuter?
The minimum age at which to neuter rabbits is recognised as being 10-12 weeks for males and 16 weeks for females.
It’s possible to neuter older rabbits too and there is no upper age limit to when this can be done. Naturally the rabbit’s health will need to be balanced against whether it is in their best interest, but in many cases, neutering is a routine and highly successful surgical procedure regardless of age.
What are your other tips for keeping rabbits happy and healthy?
Despite being the UK’s third most popular pet, it remains the case that rabbits are one of the most mistreated and misunderstood, which is why the RAW campaign is so important.
As well as ensuring that rabbits are neutered and kept at least in pairs, it’s vital that they eat a balanced diet and have plenty of space to exercise and exhibit their natural behaviours, including running and jumping.
The Good Practice Code for the Welfare of Rabbits recommends they should have a suitably sized enclosure that allows permanent access to both a secure shelter to rest in and a safe exercise area. The recommended minimum dimensions are 3m (L) x 2m (W) x 1m (H) for a pair of small to medium sized rabbits.
A good diet is the cornerstone of rabbits’ health –and the key is to provide rabbit food based on what they would eat naturally. Their feeding plan should consist of:
- 85% – 90% unlimited fresh grass or high quality feeding hay (not bedding hay, which may have poor nutritional value). As a guide, each rabbit should consume at least their own body size in feeding hay every day.
- A small handful of rabbit-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs.
- Around one egg cup of nuggets a day per rabbit. Brightly coloured muesli mixes may look more appealing but are not a healthy choice for rabbits and have been linked to digestive and dental issues.
Rabbits must also have constant access to lots of fresh water to keep them hydrated.
Led by Burgess Pet Care and supported by Blue Cross, RSPCA, Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, Raystede and Woodgreen Pets Charity, Rabbit Awareness Week is the UK’s largest campaign dedicated to improving the lives of these wonderful creatures.
For more information about how your veterinary practice can get involved in this year’s RAW, which takes place from 26-30 June, and to download a free vets’ pack resource, please visit www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk.