Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour


Wild male rabbit (right) tail flagging a not very well female rabbit. c. Celia Haddon

The sex life of the wild rabbit in the UK starts in early spring and continues through till late autumn. Buck rabbits do a stiff legged walk with their tails laid across the back, called tail flagging. There is lots of chasing. Males may emit a jet of urine at their would-be partner. Only after sex, does the doe let down the female egg for fertilization.  Then 31-32 days later the babies are born. If male and female are kept in the same run or hutch, the result may be fighting and injuries (Patton 1994). An intriguing factor in the sex life of the rabbit is that the male can withdraw his testicles into the abdomen. (This doesn’t make castration difficult, as they pop out again once the rabbit is under the anaesthetic!)

Many pet rabbits are still not spayed or neutered (Mullan & Main 2006) . ALWAYS neuter and spay your rabbits if they are kept together. Rabbits need social companionship (Seaman et al., 2008), and so you need to neuter them so that they can have proper companionship. If you don’t you will have far too many babies – and there are too many rabbits needing homes already. A pet rabbit like a New Zealand white, will give birth to about 7-8 kittens and is ready to mate again within a day of giving birth (Patton, 1994). A doe may have six litters or 40-50 babies a year (Harcourt-Brown 2002).  Male rabbits should be neutered from the age of 3 months: females from the age of 5 months (Harcourt-Brown, 2002) but they can be neutered later in life without any problem.

Rabbits that are kept together but are not not neutered are more likely to fight (Crowell-Davis 2007). Intact male rabbits spray on you (Crowell-Davis 2007), or sexually harass their companions. . Females in season are more likely to fight if they are left entire (Crowell-Davis 2007) and may kill other does’ kittens (Mykytowycz & Dudziński 1972).  So neuter and spay, just like you would a cat or a dog.  The Welsh code of conduct for pet rabbits includes neutering, (Welsh Government 2009). The Rabbit Welfare Fund has a good leaflet here. If you are keeping a single female rabbit then it is not always necessary to spay (Bradbury & Dickens 2017)



Bradbury, G. & Dickens, G., (2016), ‘Should we advocate neutering for all pet rabbits?’ Veterinary Record, 179: 654-655

Crowell-Davis, S. L., (2007), ‘Behavior Problems in Pet Rabbits,’ Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 16, 38-44

Dykes, L. & Flack, H., (2003), Houserabbit, Dorking, UK, Ringpress.

Harcourt-Brown, F., (2002), The Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, Oxford, UK, Butterworth-Heinemann

McBride, E.A., Magnus, E. and Hearne, G. (2004) Behaviour problems in the domestic rabbit. In, Appleby, David (ed.) The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour. London, UK, Souvenir Press., 164-182.

Mullan, S.M. & Main, D. C. J., (2006), ‘Survey of the husbandry, health and welfare of 102 pet rabbits,’ Veterinary Record, 159, 103-109

Mykytowycz, R. & Dudziński, M. L., (1972), ‘Aggressive and Protective Behaviour of Adult Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.) towards Juveniles,’ Behaviour, 43, 97-120

Patton, N. M., (1994), ‘Colony Husbandry, in eds Manning. P.J., Ringler, D. H. & Newcomer, C. E., The Biology of the Laboratory Rabbit, Second Edition, London, Academic Press, 28-44.

Seaman, S., Waran, N. K., Mason, G. & D’eath, R. B., (2008), ‘Animal economics: assessing the motivation of female laboratory
rabbits to reach a platform, social contact and food, Animal Behaviour, 75, 31-42

Welsh Government, (2009), ‘Code of Practice for the Welfare of Rabbits,’ Accessed at http://wales.gov.uk/topics/environmentcountryside/ahw/animalwelfare/pets/codesofpractice/codeofpractocewelfarerabbits/

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