It’s very important to accurately identify the gender of pet rabbits. Rabbits are social creatures that thrive in pairs or small groups, but if you mix males with females, the results are predictable: they breed like rabbits.
Many people buy their pet rabbits from pet shops and the rabbits have already been sexed by somebody knowledgeable. In Lauren’s case, her new rabbits came from a friend’s house. He had bought two “boy” rabbits, and had been astonished one day when he found nine babies in their hutch. He then had to find homes for the young rabbits, because there were too many to keep.
Lauren chose her two rabbits from the group carefully. She liked Fudge because he has an unusual appearance, with a large fluffy ruff of fur around his neck, giving him a lion-like look. She chose Fifi because she was the friendliest one in the batch. Lauren thought that Fudge was probably a boy, and Fifi was most likely to be a girl, but she was only going from their appearance and personalities. Lauren was worried that I might tell her that Fifi was a boy, in which case she’d have to find a new name for him.
When I checked the rabbits for her, I explained that it was impossible to work out whether rabbits were boys or girls from their shape, size and looks. Some male rabbits can be petite, dainty creatures, and some females are large, aggressive, strong animals. The only way to be sure is to have a look beneath the rabbits’ tails, and even then, it isn’t always easy.
Text books have photos that show the different appearance of rabbits’ “private parts”, but it’s much more difficult to tell than you’d think. Firstly, rabbits are bouncy creatures that are difficult to hold still. They have sharp claws, and they can give you a nasty scratch as they wriggle to try to escape.
Secondly, the area to be examined is hidden behind skin and fur, and even when you manage to have a look, a boy isn’t as different to a girl as you’d expect. It’s especially difficult in young animals: when I checked Lauren’s pets, they were three months old, which is just reaching the easy stage. When younger baby rabbits are brought in to see me, sorting the boys from the girls can be very challenging.
Lauren was delighted when I informed her that she was right: Fudge is a boy, and Fifi is a girl. There’s no need to rename Fifi after all.
Lauren knew that it meant that she’d need to separate them right away, to avoid the chance of an accidental pregnancy. And when they’re four or five months old, she’ll need to bring them both back to me, so that they can be spayed and neutered.
Spaying and neutering is important for all rabbits, and not to prevent unwanted young. Both male and female hormones have a strong effect on rabbit behaviour, causing a level of aggression that can be surprising. Once rabbits are neutered or spayed, both male and female rabbits become calmer, more relaxed and friendlier. Spaying also brings health benefits: cancer of the uterus happens in nearly all female rabbits over the age of five, and obviously it’s completely prevented if they’re spayed while young.
Lauren’s parents have already made the appointment to bring Fudge and Fifi back for their operations. Until then, they’re sleeping in separate hutches; they’re allowed to mix during the daytime, but only under close supervision.
- It can be difficult to tell whether young rabbits are male or female
- Rabbits can breed while only 4 or 5 months old, so it’s important to find out which sex they are
- Neutering and spaying is important for both male and female rabbits