Light brown rabbit with pointy ears sitting happily in their enclosure

Rabbits and surgery

Your rabbits may need surgery at some point in their lives, whether it's for routine neutering or other medical conditions.

Getting to know how to care for your rabbit before and after their operation can help to put your mind at ease.

Why might my rabbit need surgery?

The most common reasons that your rabbit may need surgery are:

  • neutering (spaying and castration) – it's essential to neuter both your male and female rabbits to stop unwanted litters, reduce territorial behaviour and prevent fatal illnesses such as uterine cancer in females. Female rabbits can usually be spayed from around six months of age, and males can be castrated from four or five months. Your vet will be able to advise on when is best to neuter your rabbits.
  • dental disease – dental problems are common in rabbits as their teeth constantly grow. If your rabbit is not wearing their teeth down properly through their diet, their cheek teeth (molars) can overgrow, causing painful spurs that need to trimmed down under anaesthetic. Some breeds are more prone to dental disease, such as lops and dwarf rabbits, as their teeth can become overcrowded in their narrow faces.
  • abscesses – these are painful lumps that are caused by an infection. In rabbits, they are filled with a pus that is dry and thick, meaning they cannot be treated by opening and draining. Instead, they will often need to be removed. They can be caused by wounds such as bites or scratches, or dental disease. After surgery, the wound will often be left open so it can heal from the inside out.

There are other reasons that your rabbit may need surgery. If this is the case, your vet will talk you through your options.

Is there a risk with anaesthetic in rabbits?

Anaesthetic involves a risk for any animal or person, but the risk is small and surgery will only be recommended when it's in your rabbit's best interests. Rabbits are common pets and vets are used to anaesthetising them. Talking to your vet about the ways they keep your rabbit safe under anaesthetic can help to put your mind at rest.

It's also a good idea to take your rabbit for a check-up before their surgery to make sure they're in good health. This is especially important if your rabbit is older, or if they've previously had a respiratory disease such as the snuffles.


Tip: It can help to do some research and speak to different vet practices to find a vet that is knowledgeable about rabbits.

What happens on the day of surgery?

Your vet will normally ask you to drop your rabbit off at the practice at a certain time in the morning, ready for surgery later that day.

You'll need to take your rabbit in a pet carrier or box, labelled with your name and address. It's a good idea to ask your vet if you should bring your rabbit's bonded partner with them, as this can provide company and make the experience less stressful.

Before you leave you'll be asked to sign a consent form and leave a contact telephone number.

For routine surgeries such as neutering, your rabbit will often only need to spend one day at the vet, but sometimes it can take longer for your rabbit to come round from surgery and they will need to stay overnight. Your vet will let you know when your rabbit is ready to go home.

Should I feed my rabbit before surgery?

Yes, it's important to feed your rabbit as normal before their surgery. Rabbits do not need to be starved overnight before anaesthetic, as this can cause complications and make your rabbit weak.

You should also take some of your rabbit's normal diet with them to the vet, including their favourite foods, to tempt them into eating when they wake up from surgery.

Read more about feeding your rabbit.

Caring for your rabbit after surgery

Your rabbit will probably be sleepy for a short while once they come home, but if they're reluctant to move or seem weak at any time, it's important to contact your vet immediately. It's best to take your vet practice's emergency contact number before you bring your rabbit home.

There are some things that you'll need to do when caring for your rabbit after surgery.

  • Keep them warm – this includes keeping them warm on the way home from the vets with a blanket, and placing their cage in a warm, quiet room indoors while they recover
  • Remove any wood shavings or straw bedding from their area – if the surgery has left your rabbit with stitches or a wound, remove wood shavings to keep their wound clean and prevent infection
  • Follow instructions from your vet – for example, giving them their medication on time and in the correct dosage. If you're unsure about this, speak to your vet for advice.
  • Check your rabbit's wound daily – you'll need to check your rabbit's wound or stitches at least once a day. If there is bleeding, swelling or discharge at the wound, or if your rabbit removes any of their stitches, contact your vet immediately.
  • Monitor your rabbit's droppings – it may take a day or two for your rabbit's droppings to return to normal, but they should be passing droppings when they come home. If droppings stop, contact your vet immediately. This can be a sign of GI stasis which can be dangerous in rabbits.
  • Attend post-op appointments – your vet may want to check your rabbit's progress after their surgery to make sure they are recovering as they should be

Feeding your rabbit after surgery

When your rabbit returns home after surgery, encourage them to eat. You can do this by offering a variety of tempting foods such as fresh herbs or freshly pulled grass (not lawn mower clippings).

If your rabbit is refusing to eat or they're eating less than normal after 24 hours, you'll need to call your vet for advice. Rabbits' guts are designed to be constantly moving and their bodies can shut down quickly when they are reluctant to eat.

Your vet may ask you to provide assisted feeds (syringe feeds) to help keep your rabbit's digestive system moving. This involves feeding a critical care food supplement or soaked, crushed pellets using a syringe to assist them in their feeding. If your rabbit is not eating at all, you may need to provide syringe feeds up to four times a day.

How to syringe feed your rabbit

What you'll need
  • A sachet of critical care formula for rabbits, or a small amount of your rabbit's normal pellets which have been crushed
  • Cooled boiled water
  • A feeding syringe – your vet will be able to provide you with a suitable syringe for assisted feeds
How to feed
  1. Mix the critical care formula or crushed pellets with cooled boiled water to create a paste. The instructions on the back of the packet will advise how much formula you need to make depending on the size of your rabbit.
  2. Remove the plunger from the syringe and spoon a small amount of the paste into the tube, placing your thumb over the nozzle to prevent it from spilling out. Reinsert the plunger into the syringe.
  3. Hold your rabbit in a secure place, such as on your lap or on a suitable table. You may find it helpful to have someone hold your rabbit while you provide the feeds, or if your rabbit is very nervous, hold them on the floor to prevent them from injuring themselves. Carefully wrapping a towel around your rabbit while you hold them can also help to keep them safe.
  4. When your rabbit has relaxed, place the nozzle of the syringe into the side of your rabbit's mouth. Gently press down on the plunger to release a small amount of paste onto their tongue. Do not point the nozzle towards your rabbit's throat, as this can cause them to choke.
  5. Remove the nozzle from their mouth and allow them plenty time to swallow the paste. Repeat these steps until your rabbit is no longer interested, or once they have eaten the amount recommended on the critical care packet.

Your rabbit may seem uncomfortable at first, but once they understand that they are being fed, they will often calm down while you syringe feed their food.


Syringe feeding your rabbit incorrectly can cause more harm, so if you're not sure how to give assisted feeds, contact your vet for advice.

Signs of illness after surgery

You should contact your vet or emergency out of hours if your rabbit shows any of the following signs after surgery:

  • not eating
  • not passing droppings
  • hunched in pain
  • not moving around
  • bleeding or weeping from the wound
  • lumps or abscesses on the wound

Contacting your vet quickly will increase your rabbit's chance of recovery.

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• 18 January 2024

Next review

• 18 January 2027

Approved by
Anna Ewers Clark

Veterinary Surgeon MRCVS