by Bibi Farber
Little Sandra has been dashing around all morning, making us laugh. At 7:00 am she was already high up on the backrest of the sofa waiting for her morning treat. She knows my roommate Maria always has cereal with banana and every day, she gets three little slices when she jumps up and asks for them. It’s a delightful ritual to behold.
Then she rushed around and even played with some of the cat’s toys. She got her breakfast salad, which today consisted of organic parsley, baby bok choi, dandelion greens and carrot tops.
She did some of her laps, zooming around, exploring further into unknown parts of the apartment. Eventually she flopped down and stretched out by the willow branches I picked up for her. She loves to munch on them. Soon we will have apple tree twigs and raspberry branches.
But something is changing. All of a sudden, last week, she started attacking Maria’s cat Rocky! She would lunge at his chest and bite him. Several times I saw her hop on his back, bite his nape and actually hump him! It looked so violent and frightening, I had to separate them unless one of us was home to break up the fights. I didn’t understand what was going on. She was sweet as pie with me, but would run right over to bite and hump Rocky. They had been playing nicely for months, just gently chasing each other. Now fur was flying—all Rocky’s.
I felt instincitively it had to do with her frustration that he isn’t a boy rabbit. I searched online and found this rather sexist explanation: when unneutered males rabbits do this, it’s because of sexual aggression. When unspayed females do it, it’s because they want to be dominant. It’s a more of a territorial act.
Sandra – you want to be dominant when Rocky is a big boy cat and it’s his house?
You are really something.
What was even more puzzling was that Rocky didn’t seem to mind. He never hissed, used his claws, fought back! On the contrary, he came into our room and seemed to seek her company even more than before.
But seriously, what is behind this behavior is that I never had her spayed. If you look online, into the subject of spaying female rabbits, there is unanimous consensus that it should be done. Not only to prevent pregnancy: to prevent aggressive behavior, to stop them from marking territory, to insure a sweeter disposition, and make them more docile around other pets.
What makes it a truly gut wrenching dilemma is an awful statistic staring you in the face every time you look into this issue: an 80% increase in the risk of uterine cancer by age 5 or 6 if you do not spay them.
Sandra is now 4 years old. The decision to spay or not to spay her has been one of the toughest dilemmas running in the back of my mind ever since I had had her.
We are talking about a complete hysterectomy with full anesthesia on a creature that weighs less than 3 lbs. I have never had a problem with any aggressive behavior or marking territory before. I suppose you could say I was delaying the decision. She seems as happy and healthy as any creature could be, jumping around doing her binky hops, playing games, demanding bananas…and now attacking the cat?
Is she unhappy, uncomfortable? Going crazy because of her raging hormones? I have to get it done. She will be happier.
But I was torn. It killed me to even think about it. A complete hysterectomy is a violent and traumatic thing to have done for any female of any species at any age.
Online, you will find no support for the option of not spaying. The only non-spayed females are breeders or the females that never had it done and are now too old to risk the surgery.
Which Sandra will be in a year.
I even received email from readers of this website, inquiring if I had been responsible in and gotten Sandra spayed yet? I felt terribly guilty and never responded.
I searched and read every blog, every chat room discussion, every website about rabbit care, veterinarians guide lines, personal stories on the topic.
“I wish I had spayed my little Daisy, who died of uterine cancer at age 5.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t do this when I still had time. Flopsy just keeled over one day, only 6 years old.”
I was in agony trying to figure this out. Go through this violent surgery… or possibly die prematurely from uterine cancer? Knowing you had a way to prevent it?!
I decided to do it. I was researching the best vets in NYC, figuring out when I could stop everything for a few days and just comfort her in the post surgery days. I was a complete wreck just thinking about it, and broke down crying many times. I don’t want to lose Sandra ever! I want her here as long as possible and I want to do whatever is in my power…
I changed the question: “What would be best for Sandra?”
That is not the same as: “What will give her the longest life?”
What if I could present this to her? “Sandra darling, what do you think: we could do a complete hysterectomy on you because you see according to this study from 1958 you have an 80% chance of dying from uterine cancer if we don’t. I know you are happy and healthy as can be but how about let’s remove your ovaries and uterus next week and maybe you’ll live till 7 or 8 years. Isn’t that a great idea?
She would say: “Are you crazy?”
Sandra was born with a set of reproductive organs, and a natural life span. She was born with the right not to be violated and altered internally because some human wants her around longer and has talked herself into that she is doing Sandra a big favor.
I decided against it, for this one little bunny. I cannot speak for any other animals or owners or other situations. This is the decision I made for a rabbit that is already between age 4 and 5. I would be highly in favor of spaying any females that will otherwise produce litters of rabbits that will live in lonely cages or shelters the rest of their lives. My dilemma did not involve preventing pregnancy, and it goes without saying, the boys have a far simpler procedure to endure, so that would have been different
I have my friend Donna Celeiro to thank for talking me down from the ledge. She has raised dozens of bunnies, and is against spaying unless it’s to prevent pregnancy. I called to tell Donna, we were planning to do the surgery after all. I was hysterical after reading comments from owners who wished they had done it. I could NEVER forgive myself if little Sandra died of a cancer I could have prevented. I love this little girl so much! Can you imagine walking around with that on your conscience?
She said: “Bibi, you can’t control when she dies or of what. She is a rabbit. They don’t live as long as cats and dogs. She is going to die of something. Rabbits live about 6 or 7 years, more if you are lucky. Plenty of my girls lived longer, and they were not spayed. I can confirm they died of other things in fact! There are so many risks you are taking with the surgery at this age. She is healthy. She doesn’t need it! So what if she’s being a little assertive with the cat? Just love her and enjoy the time you have with her NOW!”
We were on the phone for at least an hour, and this was the forth time I turned to Donna for wisdom on this subject.
On my behalf, she reached out to another woman who confirmed she had personally raised about 25 females who lived happy healthy, long lives without the surgery.
How many rabbits were in that study from 1958? Do we know how those rabbits lived, what they ate, what other life shortening factors they may have been exposed to? Were they kept outside in a cage exposed to the elements year round? What did they eat?
This is printed at www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk:
“It’s worth mentioning that the original studies were in lab or meat rabbits – not pets. But vets in both Britain and America, spaying rabbits routinely over the past few years, report that they are finding abnormal uteruses in a high proportion of slightly older pet rabbits, confirming that the findings of these 40-year-old studies are just as relevant in pet rabbits today.”
They are finding a “high proportion”…but is it 80%?
Who really knows what the numbers would be, if you studied a group that live like Sandra? She is fed exclusively organic and home grown vegetables, many with powerful cancer fighting properties like papaya, dandelions, cilantro (yes, look it up!). Her pellets are organic, her water is the highest quality filtered water, even free of fluoride. What would the real statistic be if she were typical of the sample?
But here I go again. These are the games my mind plays, because I feel I have to justify not doing the surgery. I am nothing but another human, with an ego and some misguided belief that I can control nature’s path and extend life in creatures I come across.
I am not in charge of her life span. I can’t have her forever. It’s not my place to remove her reproductive organs to see if we can get two more years together. What if we did the surgery and I go prematurely? Who knows where she would end up living out her now artificially prolonged life?
She is fine! I love her! Like Donna says, enjoy the time NOW!
Right around the time I made peace with this decision, Sandra stopped attacking Rocky.
Maybe she just wanted to be dominant. He’s OK with that. He still loves her.