Rabbits commonly spray urine to mark their territory. If your rabbit is urinating on you, he or she may be attempting to claim you as part of their territory! Although this may be flattering, rabbit spraying can be a problem when a rabbit is frequently spraying in their environment, on their companion or on their owner/guardian! This article will explore the underlying causes of rabbit spraying and how it can be stopped or reduced. As well as other reasons why your rabbit may be urinating abnormally.
Hormonal causes of rabbit spraying
Spraying involves the deliberate release of urine, usually onto a vertical surface. It should not be confused with normal urination (where urine is usually released onto a horizontal surface), or abnormal urination due to a medical or psychological cause. Causes of abnormal urination will be discussed later on in this article.
The urine released during spraying has a specific smell which can be detected by other rabbits. A rabbit may spray areas of its environment, other rabbits, or people to mark them as part of their territory. Male rabbits may also spray female rabbits as part of courtship behaviour, or lower ranking males as a form of aggression.
A rabbit can also mark its territory by leaving small piles of faeces in specific areas of their environment. And by “chinning”, which involves rubbing their chin on an object in order to scent it with secretions released from a scent gland located in their chin.
Spraying and other territorial behaviours are driven by the production of sex hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen. These hormones are produced and released when the rabbit reaches puberty.
Other hormonally driven behaviours include courtship behaviours such as circling, mating behaviours such as mounting and aggressive behaviours towards other rabbits.
Male rabbits tend to hit puberty around 10-12 weeks of age and female rabbits around 16 weeks. Hormonally driven behaviours may be more frequent during spring and summer time. This is because rabbits are seasonal breeders – they release more hormones once the days start to get longer.
How do I stop my rabbit from spraying?
The most effective method to reduce or stop hormonally-driven behaviours such as spraying, is to neuter your rabbit. This must be performed by a veterinary surgeon. During the procedure, which is performed under anaesthetic, the vet will remove the testes of a male rabbit, or the ovaries of a female rabbit. This will reduce or stop behaviours such as spraying. This is because the testes and ovaries are no longer able to produce sex hormones which usually drive these behaviours.
Neutering rabbits not only reduces the occurrence of unwanted behaviours such as spraying, mounting and aggression; but it also means that rabbits are much more likely to be able to live in bonded pairs or groups. This is extremely important as rabbits are social creatures and should not be kept on their own. Neutering also prevents unwanted pregnancies and prevents certain medical conditions and cancers from developing.
If you are interested in getting your rabbit neutered you should contact your veterinary practice for more information.
Spraying in neutered rabbits – is it normal?
It is possible for neutered rabbits to demonstrate hormonally-driven behaviours such as spraying. This is because the adrenal gland can produce small amounts of sex hormones in place of the testes or ovaries. However the frequency and severity of these behaviours is likely to be reduced compared to unneutered rabbits.
Neutered rabbits are more likely to perform hormonally-driven behaviours in the spring and summer. Rabbit owners should factor this into their routines. For example rabbits who are spraying may require more frequent cleaning of their hutch or run areas.
If your neutered rabbit is still exhibiting a large amount of hormonally driven behaviour, and this is causing you or your rabbit distress, please speak to your veterinary surgeon about other possible causes.
Other causes of unwanted urination
There are a number of other reasons as to why a rabbit might urinate inappropriately on its owner or in its environment.
Rabbits may urinate when picked up as a result of fear or stress. Rabbits are prey animals, and getting picked up can stimulate the feeling of being caught by a predator. Rabbit handling should therefore be introduced slowly and the rabbit should be given time to get used to its human owner and the feeling of being handled.
Rabbits may also urinate inappropriately, for example outside of litter trays, when there has been a change to their environment which is causing them stress. For example a change to the location of the hut or a new person or pet in the house. Any changes should be introduced as gradually as possible to allow rabbits to become accustomed.
There are a number of medical conditions which could cause inappropriate urination such as bladder conditions or conditions causing rabbits to drink and urinate excessively. If you are concerned that your rabbit may have developed a medical condition you should speak to your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible.
Urine spraying is a normal behaviour of unneutered rabbits which can be prevented by neutering. Rabbit neutering can stop or reduce spraying and it has a wide number of additional benefits. If you have a neutered rabbit which is urinating this can be due to seasonal hormonal changes, fear, stress or a medical condition. You should speak to your veterinary surgeon if you are concerned your rabbit has a medical condition, especially if they are showing other signs such as straining to pass urine or drinking more frequently.