Caesarean section in a female rabbit having a difficult delivery



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Warning: this file contains pictures that may be distressing for people.

Pregnant females rarely present a problem unless they are exposed to a stressful environment, present abnormal deformations of the reproductive tract, or have only one large fetus. This can lead to complications like toxemia or anorexia.

The presence and the number of developing fetuses can be established around the 10th day of gestation. At this period of time, they form small grape-sized masses in the ventral abdomen. At a later time, it becomes difficult to differentiate the fetuses from the surrounding intestine and other organs.

The gestation period lasts between 29 and 32 days, exceptionally 35 days. Parturition is rapid and, in most cases, lasts no longer than 30 minutes. Natural abortion is rare in rabbits and is only observed after the 24th day of gestation. Exceptionally, the interval of time of delivery between one fetus and the next exceeds over an hour and the female is found straining and exhausted. Medical assistance is needed at this stage.

Caesarian section procedure

The presence of retained fetuses can be determined by palpation, ultrasound or X-ray.

If no physical obstruction is diagnosed, the delivery can be activated by administration of calcium and oxytocin (1-2 IU/kg, IV, IM). If a blockage or narrowing of the birth passage, an abnormal size of the fetus, shape, or positioning in the reproductive tract (dystocia) or uterine inertia is diagnosed, caesarean section is the sole life-saving option for the doe and its newborn.

The procedure is uncomplicated, but needs to be done fast, to avoid asphyxia of the fetus(es). The female rabbit is placed in dorsal recumbency, with the head slightly elevated. A surgical midline incision is made into the abdominal cavity (laparotomy). The gravid uterus can be easily located and can be quickly exteriorized in order to take out the fetus(es).

Recovery of the doe is generally uneventful.

To avoid future problems of unwanted litter and health problems for the doe, an ovariohysterectomy surgery is recommended. This surgical procedure is done under general anesthesia, in a sterile environment, with sterile surgical instruments and a preparation of the skin. Indeed, any post-surgical infection becomes a medical emergency.

For more detail of the spay surgery: ”Female reproductive tract and ovariohysterectomy

Pictorial midline caesarian section


A 1 to 3 cm midline incision is made through the shaved and cleaned skin, between the xiphoid sternum and the cranial rim of the pelvis. The enlarged mammary glands and their supplying blood vessels must be avoided.


The body wall is elevated with forceps, to avoid damaging the underlying thin walls of the cecum and the bladder.


The gravid uterus is located and exteriorized through the incision by gentle traction on the organ. The fetuses are located.


The fetus located closest to the cervix, is removed first, by an incision through the uterus.  Great care must be taken, not to hurt the fetus.


The fetus is carefully extracted from the uterus, together with its placenta.


View of the exteriorized fetus, partially inside its fetal membrane and still connected to its placenta by the umbilicus.


The umbilicus is clamped; the membranes are taken away, and the fluid cleared from the oral and nasal regions.


Once the newborn has been dried with a towel, it is gently massaged, in order to stimulate respiration.


The uterine wall is sutured, using a two-layer continuous inverting pattern.


Note the rich amount of fat surrounding the reproductive organs.


The incision is closed by placing sutures up to the skin level. Some surgeon’s recommend suturing or gluing the subcutaneous tissues with acryl amide based products.

Karen Comish

Doe feeding her week old kitten.

Post-surgical care

The administration of oxytocin (1-2 IU/kg, IM, IV) can help stimulate milk production.

Administration of analgesics like e.g. buprenorphine, followed by meloxicam, is necessary during several days following the surgical procedure. Pain indeed induces stress and physiological responses, which slow down the activity of the digestive tract, delay food intake and recovery.

The presence of blood in the urine during 24 to 48 h post-surgery is sometimes observed.


Many thanks to Akira Yamanouchi (Veterinary Exotic Information Network, Japan) and Karen Comish (Israel) for the permission to use their pictures to illustrate this page.

Further Information

Harris WH, Yamashiro S, Stopps TP. The effects of cesarean section anesthesia on heat loss and heat production in the newborn rabbit. Can J Comp Med. 1983; 47(1):79-83. 

Morgan DR. Routine birth induction in rabbits using oxytocin. Lab Anim. 1974; 8(2):127-30. 

Jenkins JR. Surgical sterilization in small mammals. Spay and castration. Veterinary Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract. 2000; 3(3):617-27.

 Millis DL, Walshaw R. Elective castrations and ovariohysterectomies in pet rabbits. J. Am. Anim Hosp. Assoc. 1992: 491-497

Quesenberry KE, Carepenter JW, Quesenberry P. Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery Includes Sugar Gliders and Hedgehogs, Elsevier Health, 2004.

Harcourt-Brown F. Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2001.

Flecknell P , editor. BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Medicine and Surgery, Gloucester, UK: British Small Animal Veterinary Association, 2000..