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Ovarian cysts

ISSN 2398-2969

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Synonym(s): Tubo-ovarian cyst, Paraovarian cyst, Cystic rete ovarii


  • Cause: dependent upon cyst type. May be spontaneous, congenital or due to impaired ovulation.
  • Signs: non-specific anorexia, ileus, abdominal pain, discharge from the vulva, reproductive failure. May be asymptomatic.
  • Diagnosis: abdominal ultrasound, CT, MRI, exploratory laparotomy, necropsy.
  • Treatment: ovariohysterectomy.
  • Prognosis: good to fair.
Print off the Owner factsheet on Ovarian cysts to give to your clients.

Presenting signs

  • May be an incidental finding.
  • Anorexia Anorexia, ileus Gastrointestinal: ileus.
  • Abdominal discomfort.
  • Vulval discharge Vagina: discharge or hematuria Urine: hematuria: especially if concurrent uterine disease is present or if cysts are hormonally functional.
  • Ovarian enlargement may be palpable.
  • Reproductive failure or pseudopregnancy Pseudopregnancy.
  • Cystic mammary enlargement may be seen in some rabbits.
  • Ascites reported in rare cases.

Acute presentation

Geographic incidence

  • Worldwide.

Age predisposition

  • Mature and ageing animals.

Gender predisposition

  • Entire females.
  • Ovariectomized females Ovariohysterectomy with ovarian remnant syndrome.

Cost considerations

  • Moderate.
  • Diagnosis usually requires abdominal imaging and most cases treated surgically.

Special risks

  • Rabbit ovaries and uterus are fragile so care must be taken to avoid rupture during examination.
  • Fat within the mesometrium and mesovarium of mature rabbits can complicate ovariohysterectomy Ovariohysterectomy and risk ovarian remnants.



  • Follicular cysts:
    • Intraovarian cysts.
    • Form from failure of one or more Graafian follicles to ovulate or regress causing progressive dilation.
    • Likely to be hormonally active.
  • Cystic rete ovarii:
    • Intraovarian cysts.
    • Arise from tubular structure extending from ovarian hilus to medulla.
    • Spontaneous formation and may be congenital.
    • Not thought to be hormonally active.
  • Paraovarian cysts:
    • Extraovarian cysts.
    • Arise from mesometrium as remnants of mesonephric ducts.
    • Spontaneous or congenital.
    • Not thought to be hormonally active.

Predisposing factors


  • Intraovarian cysts may develop from impaired ovulation due to stress, malnutrition or systemic disease.


  • Intraovarian cysts:
    • Increasing age.
    • May develop concurrent to uterine disease, eg endometrial hyperplasia Endometrial hyperplasia or inflammatory uterine disorders.
  • Extraovarian cysts: developmental abnormalities of the reproductive tract.


  • Follicular cysts:
    • Rabbits are induced ovulators → lack of mating stimulus or systemic disease may impair LH surge.
    • One or more mature Graafian follicles develop → fail to undergo ovulation to form corpora lutea.
    • Progressive dilation resulting in ovarian enlargement → compression of surrounding structures.
    • Continued production of estrogens → secondary or concurrent uterine hyperplasia → inflammatory or neoplastic uterine disease Uterine adenocarcinoma may develop → impaired fertility and vulval discharge Vagina: discharge.
  • Cystic rete ovarii:
    • Arise in the ovarian medulla or at tubal extremity of ovary → lined by ciliated columnar or cuboidal epithelial cells with external spindle-shaped stromal layer.
    • Expansion into ovarian stroma → ovarian enlargement → compression of surrounding structures and disruption of ovary.
    • Inciting cause and hormonal effects not well understood but tend to occur concurrent to uterine neoplasia or hyperplasia.
  • Paraovarian cysts:
    • Arise in mesometrium and distinct from ovarian tissue → lined by epithelial tissue.
    • Mostly asymptomatic but may cause organ compression if very large.
    • Very rare in rabbits so cause is unclear.


  • Intraovarian cysts:
    • Clinical signs develop in weeks to months depending upon cyst size, number and hormonal effects.
    • Often asymptomatic until very large.
  • Paraovarian cysts: often asymptomatic so may be present lifelong.


  • Ovarian cysts are rare in rabbits but frequently develop concurrently with uterine disease and should always be suspected in rabbits with urogenital disorders.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Rosell J M, de la Fuente L F, Carbajo M T et al (2020) Reproductive disease in farmed rabbit does. Animals 10 (10), 1873 PubMed.
  • Savietto D, Martinez-Paredes E & Pascual J J (2019) Influences of environment on the development and lifetime reproductive performance in domestic rabbit females. World Rab Sci 27 (3), 123-133 VetMedResource.
  • Bertram C A, Muller K & Klopfleisch R (2018) Genital tract pathology in female pet rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus): a retrospective study of 854 necropsy examinations and 152 biopsy samples. J Comp Path 164, 17-26 PubMed.
  • Bertram C A, Klopfleisch R & Muller K (2017) Ovarian lesions in 44 rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). J Vet Med Sci 79 (12), 1994-1997 PubMed.
  • Harcourt-Brown F M (2017) Disorders of the reproductive tract of rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 20 (2), 555-587 PubMed.
  • Geyer A, Poth T, Otzdorff C et al (2016) Histopathologic examination of the genital tract in rabbits treated once or twice with a slow-release deslorelin implant for reversible suppression of ovarian function. Theriogenol 86 (9), 2281-2289 PubMed.
  • Chambers J K, Uchida K, Ise K et al (2014) Cystic rete ovarii and uterine tube adenoma in a rabbit. J Vet Med Sci 76 (6), 909-912 PubMed.
  • Lopez-Bejar M A, Lopez-Gatius F, Camon J et al (1998) Morphological features and effects on reproductive parameters of ovarian cysts of follicular origin in superovulated rabbit does. Reprod Dom Anim 33 (6), 369-378.

Other sources of information

  • Barthold S W, Griffey S M & Percy D H (2016) Chapter 6 – Rabbit. In: Pathology of Laboratory Rabbits and Rodents. 4th edn. John Wiley & Sons, USA. pp 283-285.
  • Harcourt-Brown F & Chitty J (2014) Chapter 8 – Ultrasound. In: BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Surgery. Dentistry and Imaging. 1st edn. BSAVA, UK. pp 94-108.
  • Harcourt-Brown F & Chitty J (2014) Chapter 12 – Neutering. In: BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Surgery. Dentistry and Imaging. 1st edn. BSAVA, UK. pp 138-149.