Pre- and Post-operative care of Rabbits

Dana Krempels, Ph.D.
University of Miami Department of Biology (updated 3 January 2011)
Any surgery can be physically and emotionally hard on both you and your companion rabbit, since there's really no such thing as a surgery that is 100% risk free. I hope the following information will help you and your rabbit get through either emergency or elective surgery with maximal safety and minimal stress.

Pre-operative Care

1. Be sure to schedule surgery with a veterinarian who is very familiar with the rabbit's unique anatomy and physiology, and who has had a great deal of experience and success with rabbit anesthesia and surgery. You might wish to start with the House Rabbit Society veterinary listings at the House Rabbit Society Veterinarian Listings. Veterinarians specializing in "exotic" species are often rabbit-savvy. But before you commit to surgery, make sure. The House Rabbit Society has an excellent site on how to find a good rabbit vet that should make this easy.

2. If possible, schedule the surgery so that you can bring your bunny home with you the same evening. Spending the night in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by strange people and the sound and smell of potential predators, can add unnecessary stress and lengthen your rabbit's recovery. Very few veterinary hospitals have 24-hour monitoring staff, and your bunny will probably not be watched for at least part of the night if s/he stays in the hospital. Home, where he can be monitored lovingly and regularly, is almost always best.

3. If your rabbit is bonded to another rabbit, it is important to bring them to the hospital together so that the mate can offer moral support in the pre-operative waiting period and during recovery. It also will help prevent the dreaded un-bonding phenomenon that sometimes occurs when one member of a bonded pair comes home smelling of Strange and Scary Hospital. The last thing you want your bunny to suffer after surgery is violent rejection by his/her own mate! Unfortunately, this goes for bonded groups, too. It is best to bring everyone in for moral support and to prevent post-operative social rejection.

4. DO NOT FAST YOUR RABBIT PRIOR TO THE SURGICAL APPOINTMENT, even if the person scheduling your appointment tells you to do so. (Receptionists giving such instructions often recite the rules for dogs and cats, not realizing that the rules are different for rabbits.) Here are the reasons why some (inexperienced with rabbits) clinic staff might suggest fasting, and why these reasons do not hold true for rabbits:

5. Take a bit of your rabbit's normal food (pellets and hay) along as well as a small bag of favorite fresh herbs. Ask that the foods be offered to your bunny after the anesthesia has worn off. The sooner bunny starts nibbling after surgery, the quicker the recovery.

Post-surgical Care

Pain Management
  • Any surgery, including a neuter or (especially) a spay, will make bunny sore for one to several days.
  • Pain management in rabbits is critical to uneventful recovery.
  • Most experienced vets routinely administer analgesics such as metacam/meloxicam, Banamine (flunixin meglumine), buprenorphine, tramadol, etc. before or shortly after surgery, so the bunny will be as comfortable as possible while waking up.
  • Ask the veterinarian about this before scheduling surgery. If no pain medications are going to be given to your rabbit, you should probably seek a different vet!
  • Before bringing your bunny home, ask your vet about follow-up pain management at home, when the initial dose wears off.

    Post-surgical monitoring and care
    1. Warmth

    • Immediately after surgery, keep your bunny warm and quiet.
    • Provide a warm water bottle or other heat source (that can't leak, burn, or cause injury) wrapped in a soft towel for bunny to lean against or move away from, at his/her discretion. DO NOT use any type of electrical heating source that could be an electrocution risk, should bunny chew on it!
    • Rabbits will tolerate a soft, light blanket better than a heavy one.

    2. Post-surgical Contact and Handling

    • Don't hover. A bunny after surgery may feel groggy and unhappy, and not in the mood for cuddling.
    • Unless you know that your rabbit wants cuddling, it's best to let him/her recover quietly and without more human interruption than is necessary to ensure that all is well.

    3. Post-surgical Monitoring for Trouble

    • Be sure to carefully (and gently) check the sutures daily for a few days after surgery to be sure the bunny isn't chewing them.
    • Many vets use subcuticular (under the skin) sutures that cannot be chewed out, and may even put a line of surgical glue over the incision for extra strength. Ask your vet about this before surgery, so you will know what to expect.
    • Be alert for excessive bleeding (a bit of oozing is not unusual, but outright bleeding is a cause for concern)
    • Excessive redness or signs of infection such as swelling or pus are not normal.
    • If you see anything that causes concern, call the vet immediately for further instructions.

    The Healing Process
    If all goes well, your bunny will start to perk up noticeably by the second day after surgery. Healing begins quickly; adhesions (normal tissue repair) usually start to form within 24 hours of surgery in rabbits. In the case of spay/neuter, a male will usually recover more quickly, since a neuter is less invasive than a spay.

    • A male is usually ready for normal activity within a few days of surgery.
    • A female might take a bit longer to recover from a spay.
    Recovery time will depends on the type of surgery, the surgeon's technique, the surgery itself, and any complications.

    1. Post-operative Preventive Care