You’ve read it before: rabbits are happiest in pairs. It can be hard to tell a doe from a buck, in general. It’s even harder to tell when they’re young. But if you don’t want any surprises, that’s exactly what you’ll have to do. So, do you know how to sex a rabbit?
Why Do You Need to Know the Sex of Your Rabbits?
There are a few reasons, other than curiosity, that it’s important to know the sex of your rabbits.
Prevent Unwanted Pregnancies
There’s a reason people say ‘breeding like rabbits.’ In the wild, lots of different animals eat rabbits. So in order to maintain a viable population, rabbits, including domestic rabbits, have evolved to reproduce early and often.
And they have numerous ways of accomplishing that goal.
First, female rabbits have no oestrus cycle. Rather, they are receptive to male rabbits for periods of five to 14 days separated by one or two non-receptive days.
Female rabbits also have two uteruses, and can potentially carry a litter in each one.
A single litter can have between four and 12 kits — and that’s a lot of rabbits. And speaking of a lot of rabbits, a single pair and their baby bunnies can produce nearly four million rabbits over a period of just four years!
Small rabbits reach sexual maturity at three to four months, while larger rabbits may take a bit longer. But these times can vary, so don’t take any chances. Keep your pair separate until you can be certain of their gender.
Even better, neuter both male rabbits and females as soon as your vet says they’re old enough.
But all of these precautions start with knowing who’s in your hutch in the first place, and that means sexing rabbits.
Every rabbit has its own personality, regardless of breed or gender. But when it comes to bringing home two individuals, or adding to your existing rabbit family, you can make a few generalizations.
It’s easiest to bond a boy bunny with a girl bunny. For this reason alone, sexing rabbits is essential.
Two neutered bucks (male rabbits) are also pretty easy to bond. Does (female rabbits), on the other hand, can be very territorial. You can bond two neutered females, but it may prove more difficult than the other combinations.
In any case, properly sexing rabbits can help you to understand a potentially difficult facet of bonding, and to prepare for it.
Sexing rabbits is also important for overall health. Unspayed females have a much greater chance of developing uterine cancer. Spaying female rabbits protects their health as well as protecting you from surprise pregnancies.
The operation is quite different for an adult buck and an adult doe. Knowing your rabbit’s gender can help you to prepare for the operation and recovery.
At What Age Can You Accurately Sex a Rabbit?
It can be hard for a rabbit owner to tell the gender of a baby rabbit. Adult rabbits are a bit easier, however.
In general, it gets easier for rabbit owners to tell the difference around four weeks old.
How to Tell the Sex of an Adult Rabbit
So, how do you tell?
Know Your Parts
Both male and female rabbits have a pink, figure-eight shaped bump between their hind legs. This is called the vent. The part of the vent area closest to the tail is the anus. The other part has a slit that hides either a penis or the vulva. The vertical slit that hides the vulva is “I”-shaped. The slit that hides the penis is “O”-shaped.
Confused? It’s not surprising. It may be easier to simply look for the testicles.
A male rabbit over the age of 10 weeks has visible testicles. These are torpedo-shaped bumps, one on either side of the figure eight. Often the skin will be purple beneath the fur.
It’s important to note that a male rabbit can retract its testicles when frightened — as one might be when someone is performing a surprise inspection of their genitalia.
Sexing Rabbits 101
You’ll need to lay your rabbit on its back to examine its genitalia. Naturally, most rabbits won’t like this, as it puts them in a vulnerable position. And unfortunately, rabbits can injure themselves if they’re frightened and trying to get away.
So never be rough, and never try to force your rabbit into position. Instead, move slowly and calmly. It may help to have a second person to gently hold your rabbit while you perform the examination.
Also, as you may be touching your rabbit’s genitalia, wear protective gloves to prevent the transfer of germs.
Step 1: Put Your Rabbit into Position
Put one hand on your rabbit’s scruff. Gently. Put your other hand on your rabbit’s hind end, and scoop its hind legs under. Now turn your rabbit onto its back.
Lay your rabbit on a safe, secure surface. Choose your lap or a low table, so that if your rabbit does get away it won’t fall or jump from too great a height.
Step 2: Find the Vent
Like many other animals, a rabbit’s genitalia are between its hind legs. Use your fingers to part the fur around the vent.
Step 3: Testicle Check
Check for testicles. Remember, these will be torpedo-shaped lumps on either side of the vent. The skin may be purple beneath the fur. Have you found the thinly furred scrotal sacs? Chances are, you have a little buck.
Step 4: Check the Genitalia
Even if you believe you know the sex of a rabbit, check the genitalia for an additional measure of security.
A doe (female rabbit) will have an “I”-shaped slit above the anal slit. Apply gentle but firm pressure to either side of the slit. A doe’s vulva will peel back into a petal shape.
Bucks (male rabbits) will have an “O”-shaped slit. If you apply gentle pressure to either side of it, the penis may protrude from the slit. This obvious protrusion will be small and tubular.
Step 5: A Triple Check
If you really want to be sure you’ve found the sex of a rabbit, have a vet verify your findings before putting your bunnies together in the same enclosure.
Watch the entire process here:
When Can Rabbits be Neutered?
Bucks can be castrated at any age, though the RSPCA recommends waiting until their testicles descend. Be careful, though. A neutered male can still impregnate a female bunny up to six weeks after castration.
The RSPCA recommends spaying a female bunny between 16 and 20 weeks of age. This is a major operation. It’s important to keep a newly-spayed female away from other rabbits until she’s healed. Your vet can give you more specific advice.
Knowing your rabbit’s sex will help you to safeguard your bunnies’ health, prevent unwanted pregnancies, and better prepare for bonding. But it can be difficult, so know what to look out for, and double check with a vet if you’re unsure.
Do you have any tips for sexing rabbits? We’d love to hear them!