The last few days have been hard. Really hard. One of our pet rats, Freddy, was and still is fighting for his life. I have been keeping pet rats for like 10 years. I’m not a breeder because in my opinion there are already enough rats looking for a home. That said, I only keep male and neutered rats. Unwanted for different reasons like new timeconsuming jobs, allergics or accidental litters so many rats are waiting for responsible owners to take care of them.
Some weeks ago, Freddy was suffering from a bad cold. I’m still not sure how he got that but rats are susceptible for respiratory ailments and we know what to do. A visit to the vet to get him checked, antibiotics and he was recovering really fast. He was already playing with his friends again, when it became obvious that something was wrong. He stopped eating the hard food pellets, only taking fresh food. His jaw seemed somewhat swollen and his breath started to smell rotten. So, back to the vet…
As foreseen, the vets (they have a team of vets there) told us that there was some big abscess inside his mouth. Possibly caused by a bad tooth or a small injury. And they told us that he probably would have to undergo surgery which could be very difficult. The next day he was narcotized and an x-ray was taken and it became obvious that he really needed surgery. We had agreed that he should be operated immediately if necessary. I had been asked to call between 1-2pm. When i called, they told me that he was still narcotized and in surgery. That was a bad sign. I was asked to call later, but only half an hour later I got a call from the vet.
It was horrible. The abscess was covering the right side of his underjaw. And there was some kind of fraction. Maybe caused by the abscess or by a fall. I have no idea how he should have been able to fall and break his jaw. There’s just no place at their cage and run, where they could fall down to break something. Anyway, it was severe. They were able to remove a tooth that was directly affected and already loose. But the rest was still intact and couldn’t be removed easily. Besides that would cause some serious problems with eating and dental abrasion. The abscess was opened from the outside, too. Because of the vast extent of the abscess and the high probability that he wouldn’t eat or drink anything, they suggested to not wake him up and let him sleep peacefully.
Peacefully? One thing we know, is that he has always been a fighter. We know nothing about his first few weeks and months. He was found living on the streets when he was like 5 month old. He was thin but healthy. And hungry. Trusting as he was, he approached a small boy and tried to steal his waffle. Fortunately his mother knew about pet rats and wasn’t afraid. She picked him up and took him home to search for his owner. But noone missed him. She couldn’t keep him and set up an ad to find him a new owner. I saw this ad and contacted her. We agreed to pick him up the other day. Meanwhile, Freddy had made other plans. He escaped the provisional cage and survived on their balcony for nearly two weeks, stealing rabbit food and managing to escape every “trap” they tried. It was getting colder every day…
Finally, he was caught and we were able to take him home. He was trusting but really jumpy and even bit us a few times when he panicked. Nothing we couldn’t cope with and it got better real fast. Still he wasn’t able to make friends with our other rats. All our rats (nine at this point) are living in one huge cage standing in a run. The neutered ones were fairly ok, but sometimes scary. The male ones were another matter. He wasn’t aggressive or pushy. He was curious and a bit bossy but terrified by them when they got to close. We decided to get him castrated. That way he would have a better chance to integrate or in the worst case scenario we could find him a home with female rats. But it worked out and his wound healed incredibly fast.
That was in January this year. In May he had an abscess and shortly after in June another. Both were opened and, again, healed incredibly fast. Whilst the first days of the bad cold, he lost a significant amount of weight but after medication kicked in he ate well and gained back weight rapidly. So… he knows how to fight. This is the reason why we decided to not put him to sleep and give him the chance to fight. And that’s what he does.
Taking care of a seriously ill rat is hard and time-consuming. The wound looks nasty but it has been cleaned at the vet daily and already looks a lot better. Today there was no more pus, only ichor.
Circulatory may not be too well, so he needs to be warmed if needed to prevent hypothermia. He needs to take his medication (painkillers and antibiotics) at regular intervals all day. He has to be fed several times a day to keep him full and prevent dehydration. Only eating mash and slurry, we have various kinds ready, bought or self-made, so that his diet is balanced. And to cater to his tempers. Every day he fancies another mash and doesn’t even look at it the next. He’s driving me nuts. You have to monitor the weight closely. He hasn’t been eating much (compared to normal times – he’s always been a hearty eater) but enough to not loose weight.
Like most rats that live in a pack (or rather any rat), he really suffered from being alone. We had our more relaxed rats visit him to snuggle, keep him warm and groom. Nevertheless he always tried to escape to reach the big cage. It’s critical that his wound doesn’t get infected again and such a huge cage gets messy in no time.
As said before, it is hard. Yesterday night he ate a boiled noodle and some canned corn. Today we cleaned the big cage and run and he is allowed to stay with the others as long as we are at home and can check on him. He’s so happy! He even got to the run himself when it was time for the fresh food and grabbed some canned corn. That’s pretty awesome! It doesn’t mean that he will recover though. We are slightly optimistic but that’s it. It will take a lot of time and effort to recover. And you always have to keep in mind that he might not make it and you will have no choice but to let him go. But it’s totally worth fighting!
Freddy died during the night of August 22nd. The day before it became obvious that the wounds were healing but the inflammation of the dental roots still wasn’t. He was still eating a lot of his mash and enjoying the company of the others, so we decided to give him few more days and get back to the vet as soon as it would become necessary. He had a good day, eating all the yummy stuff he was offered and mostly cuddling with Merry. The next day he refused to eat, drank just few water, only wanting to curl up in one of the Sputniks with Merry. It seemed like he decided that it was enough. He did not want to fight any longer. In the evening, with a heavy heart, we decided to visit the vet the next morning.
When we stood up the next morning, he was already gone. He was lying in one of the Sputniks. It looked like he was sleeping. It felt kind of unreal and in all the years I have never seen a passed away rat looking that peaceful. Death is mostly a fight itself even if it happens during sleep (and you can normally see that).
So, was it worth all the time and effort? Definitely. Aside from the times we had to clean the wounds, Freddy was able to enjoy his last days. He got to eat all the good stuff. Merry comforted him all the time. I never realized before, how deep the relationship between him and Merry was. I’m still very sad and he is missed by all of us. Sometimes, you wish, you could do more to help. But love and caring isn’t enough, if even medication can not help.