Far from being the cute, undemanding little fluff balls you might think, rabbits need appropriate care, space and training. They also have strong personalities, especially when they mature. If you weren’t expecting this, you might be overwhelmed to discover that little Thumper is not so docile once he hits bunny puberty. Gender plays a part, with males tending to be slightly more outgoing than females. Because rabbits have such distinct individual personalities, however, it’s impossible to conclude that one sex always makes better pets than the other.
Dude Looks Like a Lady
You might think determining rabbit gender is straightforward, but pet store staff, pet owners with unexpected rabbit litters to re-home, and even animal sanctuaries regularly get it wrong. In the event of a mix-up, the best case scenario is that you have to quickly select new names for your pets, worst is you end up with a lot more rabbits than you bargained for. The male genitalia so obvious in other animals are hard to see on rabbits, so always ask your vet for confirmation of the gender during the initial check-up. If you’ve adopted a pair of young rabbits, it would be sensible to keep them apart beforehand.
While both males and females have high sex drives, the males -- bucks -- are especially liable to approach anything of a suitable size in the vicinity, including cushions, soft toys, their rabbit friends and people, and unneutered bucks may spray. Females -- does -- can be extremely territorial, mainly with other rabbits. A highly aggressive, dominant rabbit who mercilessly bullies you, your children and your dog is perhaps most likely to be an intact male, but females can also be tough cookies.
While intact bucks are taking out their frustration on the teddy bear, unspayed does may display their desires in slightly less obvious ways. A series of escape attempts, including burrowing at your carpets and attempting to run past you when you come in the front door, might be as much a desire to find a mate as dissatisfaction with the habitat. False pregnancies may also occur, with the most obvious signs being nest building and pulling some of her own fur out to make a lining.
Time for the Vet
To reduce behavioral problems, aggression, urine marking and frustration, it’s essential to get your rabbits – you should always keep rabbits in pairs – neutered or spayed. Spaying also enormously reduces the risk of uterine cancer in does. Males can and should be neutered as soon as their testicles drop, usually after about three months. Leave it too late and some of the undesirable behaviors may persist, albeit in a reduced form. Does can be spayed from 6 months onwards, although it isn't quite so urgent. Note that spaying, unlike neutering, is a major operation, so schedule extra time to care for your bunny on her return. Before getting her spayed, set up a second cage besides the main one -- she might also need to be separated from her friend for a week or so, especially if he or she tends to be boisterous.
Best Friends Forever
If you are new to rabbits, you would be best with an already bonded pair, preferably ones who have already been fixed and housebroken. Animal sanctuaries often have a great number of rabbits, of every shape, size and personality, so ask about adopting a laid-back pair or trio. Introducing two strange adult rabbits can be an exhausting business, especially with older bucks, and best avoided if you are inexperienced. An alternative to the adult couple is two young rabbits from the same litter, who will already be friends. Arrange spaying and/or neutering as soon as they are old enough. Two does work well, as does a male/female pair, although the latter combination will have to be separated until at least one rabbit has been fixed. Two young bucks can also be an option, but get them neutered early. They might not be able to have babies, but one or both might become aggressive at the onset of puberty.
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Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.