Spaying or neutering your cat or dog is pretty much second nature to experienced pet owners, but it's all to easy to forget to sterilise your pet rabbit or rodent!
It is advised to sterilise your pets when they are not owned for breeding purposes, even if they live alone, because this prevents certain illnesses and diseases developing in them.
Usually, a neutered male will lose the habit of marking their territory and may become less aggressive. As for females, it is possible to observe a marked decrease in aggressiveness. A spayed female also runs a much lower risk of developing mammary and uterine tumors. And above all else, sterilisation prevents you being drowned in baby rodents if you have a female and male living together!
It is recommended to neuter your male rabbits from the age of 6 months (sexual maturity is achieved at about 6 - 7 months) and a little earlier in females, from the age of 4 months (sexual maturity is achieved at about 4 - 6 months). This reduces marking, territorial and hierarchical aggression, as contrary to their placid reputation, rabbits can have very strong personalities! This will also improve cohabitation, guaranteeing emotional stability in the group.
In females, it is important not to forget the risk of mammary or uterine tumors, which affect one out of two female rabbits under 4 years old.
The sterilisation of rabbits is a surgical operation completed under general anaesthesia: it consists of removing the uterus and ovaries in females (ovario-hysterectomy) and the testicles in males. Female rabbits become sterile immediately after the operation but this is not the case for male rabbits. It is necessary to wait between 48 and 72 hours before putting them in proximity with a female, and their hormonal production can last up to a month after the operation.
The changes in behaviour are usually noticeable immediately after the operation: the rabbit becomes calm and relaxed, cleaner, and this only improves with time. However, if your rabbit is very strong-willed, they will not lose this aspect after sterilisation! Also, cleanliness will become more of a learned habit than being linked to hormonal production.
The rodent: guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils
Male and female rodents can be sterilised from the age of 5 - 6 months. Just like other species, it is advised to sterilise them if males and females cohabit and you wish to limit their progeny.
Independently of this, many reasons justify sterilisation. The operation is surgical and generally consists of an ovario-hysterectomy or an ovariectomy (removal of ovaries) in females and excision of the testicles through the scrotal tract of the male. Chemical sterilisation exists for females, using proligestone, but unlike surgical sterilisation, chemical sterilisation only lasts 4 to 5 weeks so is not permanent.
This allows the control of reproduction and certain forms of aggressiveness in men as well as territorial marking and the associated odors. This also treats testicular tumors and prevents et androgeno-dependent sweating (overproduction of sebum by the glands controlled by sexual hormones). After sterilisation, it is advised to wait 1 month before reintroducing a male to females. For females, sterilisation limits the appearance of mammary or uterine cancers.
However, in mice, hamsters and gerbils, sterilisation of females is only rarely practiced because it is a rather risky procedure.
Don't forget that sterilisation is a surgical procedure that demands general anaesthesia, which runs its own risks in all species, not least small animals like rabbits or rodents. Before making any decisions, ask the opinion of your vet!
If you can, ask the opinion of a vet specialised in this kind of procedure!