writes in concerning her 18-month-old male Netherland
Dwarf rabbit that has suddenly become aggressive,
especially when approached in his cage. Andrea has heard
that neutering him might help this aggressive behavior
and wants to know if, at 18 months of age, he might be
too old for that procedure.
Dwarf rabbits are not, in general, an aggressive breed.
The have been heavily bred over the years for their
demure looks and small size and can make excellent
companions. In fact, rabbits as a group can make
excellent companions. They are very intelligent,
inquisitive creatures that interact quite well with
people. They can be house trained to use a litter box
very easily, and I know of many families with rabbits in
my care that allow them free roam of their house. This
can work out just fine; however, I would caution you
rabbit caretakers that these little guys are avid
chewers and are not too discriminating on what they
decide to chew. They can mutilate electrical cords,
furniture, shoes, almost anything down at their level.
This is a natural behavior necessary in keeping their
front teeth, the incisors, filed down. Without this
frequent chewing, their teeth will overgrow and cause
severe health problems.
are often surprised that rabbits can show aggression.
They are often thought of as timid, passive little
creatures, but as Andrea has noted, this is not always
the case. Aggression in rabbits can occur for several
reasons. In males, aggression is often seen when
defending their territory as well as protecting breeding
rights with females (does). In the case of Andrea’s
bunny, territoriality may be part of the problem. Since
this behavior is more common in males, neutering is a
a male rabbit, called castration, is a surgical
procedure that is done by a veterinarian that is
familiar with rabbits. This is an important point to
understand. Rabbits are not dogs or cats and have
different requirements for anesthesia than do other
types of companions. When this surgery is performed, it
is important to keep stress to a minimum in rabbits as
it can be very detrimental to their bodies. This
includes management of the pain associated with the
surgery. As we’ve discussed in these pages before,
pain management is important to all creatures undergoing
surgery and rabbits can be especially sensitive.
a male rabbit is neutered, the testosterone ("male
hormone") level in his blood will drop. It stands
to reason that any behaviors associated with
testosterone will cease. This is an important point to
understand. Not all behaviors considered inappropriate
in male rabbits are testosterone related and thus are
not likely to change with neutering. There are also
cases in older male rabbits where certain behaviors such
as urine marking (spraying), normally a testosterone
related behavior, can become habit and even after
neutering, the behavior may remain. To avoid this,
neuter your male bunnies at a young age before
objectionable male behaviors become habit.
also asked if 18 months is too old to neuter her rabbit.
The answer here is clearly no. There is no age limit
after which surgery cannot be performed on a healthy
rabbit. The only drawback to having this procedure done
later rather than sooner is the potential for certain
behaviors to become habit as discussed above. I do feel
in the case of Andrea’s rabbit that neutering will be
extremely helpful in curbing the aggressive behavior
described in her letter.
speaking, I was quite happy to receive this letter from
Andrea concerning her rabbit. I truly believe they make
fabulous companions and with proper care, can live long
interactive lives with their caretakers.