Nowadays the health, welfare and behavioural benefits of neutering both male and female rabbits are well known and documented. Neutering rabbits makes them happier and healthier and enables them to live as bonded pairs or groups, meeting their social needs without increasing the rabbit population.
However, many owners are surprised that their neutered rabbits may still show hormonal behaviours, especially during the spring and early summer months.
The aims of neutering
Besides preventing reproduction and reproductive cancers in females and testicular tumours in males, neutering reduces unwanted behaviours like spraying of urine, aggression, false-pregnancies and excessive mounting.
The younger the rabbit is neutered the better, preferably less than six months of age. If a rabbit is neutered later in life it may be less effective in reducing the unwanted behaviours as they will have become ‘learned’.
Hormonal behaviours shown by neutered rabbits
Neutered rabbits still have hormones going around their bodies. Neutering them doesn’t rid males of all their main hormone, testosterone or females of their main hormone, oestrogen.
During spring wild rabbits are at their peak breeding time, with hormones massively heightened.
Pet rabbits may show social, sexual and even aggressive behaviours, although these tend to be mild. Females may dig out new burrows. Rabbits may be aggressive to other rabbits and people and there may be an increase in chasing and mounting of their companion. There may be an increase in them ‘chinning’ items to mark their territory too.
Why does this happen in spring?
Rabbits know when spring is coming. As the day gets longer and it warms up, it triggers ‘spring mode’ in rabbits and their hormone levels rise, along with the linked behaviours.
During spring and early summer it is quite common for bonded pairs (who may have been bonded for many years and never had problems), to have more disagreements and ‘tiffs’. There will be more mounting and chasing but as long as there is no fighting this should settle down in a few weeks. If serious fighting breaks out they’ll need to be separated, given time to calm down and then carefully reintroduced once their hormones have settled down. This may take several weeks.
Keep a close eye on your rabbits at this time and act immediately if you see any fighting or signs that a fight may have happened (scattering of fur, blood or wounds on one or both rabbits).
Give them plenty to in their home to keep mentally and physically active. Allow them the freedom to express their normal behaviours of digging, foraging, running and jumping.
Pairing up (bonding) during spring/early summer
This is not the best time of year to try to bond rabbits as their hormones are at their highest and there is a bigger risk of fighting. If you do need to bond at this time then take extra care and give them extremely close supervision.
Even though some unwanted behaviours may still exist in neutered rabbits, neutering is still a must for their health and overall well-being.