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I’ll say this for Bluebell: she’s absolutely irrepressible. When it comes to getting a job done that she thinks needs doing, Bluebell’s motto is “never say die!”

An unhappy but fashionable post-surgical Bluebell

As luck would have it, Bluebell the Poubelle (French for trash can) managed to require a rattie boob job on our trip out West! I feared tumors, but in fact, three of her mammary glands were responding to a nearby nursing mother rat’s hormones and developing milk without Bluebell actually having a littler of her own. This is a real problem, as it can lead to mastitis, nasty milk infections you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. So out those glands had to come. In future, I’ll keep nursing mothers well away from non-lactating females in order to keep the latter firmly in that category!

Happily, we were able to locate a nearby vet who treats rats and knows what he’s doing. This is never an easy task (see blog post “Paging Dr. Doolittle”), and we were lucky to find Dr. Cohen – AND to find that he isn’t half way to Tucson, but only a few miles hense. Huzzah!

The surgery was a snap. The recovery process was hell. Bluebell is not a fan of surgical glue, it seems, and had managed to trim all of hers off of two separate incisions within hours of coming out of surgery, thus completely opening up her wounds. Gross.

After this has happened, you can kiss all hope of a sterile incision goodbye, so it’s a bit iffy to close that wound back up, assuming that you can keep it that way when the patient is hell-bent on removing all glue or stitching and has razor-sharp surgical tools for teeth and bodily flexibility a cat would envy. Plan B was to just leave her alone and hope the wounds would close on their own in short order, an event that often happens due to rats’ high metabolic rate. They really do heal from most injuries amazingly fast.

Not this time, though. Two days later, Bluebell’s surgical sites still looked ragged and gaping, and it was time for plan C. The good doc stitched her up internally this time, and his brilliantly clever vet tech rigged up the above pictured Elizabethan collar to keep the Poubelle on the straight an narrow…or at least give her something more worrying to keep her occupied while her stitches set and healed.

Apparently, the device was  fashioned from the narrowing end of a large syringe cover, with the point of contact covered with cloth medical tape to prevent chaffing and discourage her from being able to get her claws under it. The brilliance of the thing lies in the rat’s tendency to PUSH against the cage bars in an attempt to slide the collar over her body and off the back, rather than primarily to PULL at it to get it off. Which, of course, pushes the collar back into place against her shoulders and undoes any progress she may have made in getting it over her ears and head. The tough plastic stood up to a week’s worth of scratching and was simply perfect in keeping her away from her stitches!

She did, of course, develop a full compliment of the expected complications as a result of the lost sterility, hefty seromas (buildup of fluid under the surgical site) that required draining and a small area of abscess. When the abscess opened a section of the stitches again, I just rinsed out the cavity with sterile saline, packed it full of granulated sugar, and hit Bluebell with a round of Batril to prevent systemic infection.

Belly-rat didn’t like the collar one bit, and she never gave up trying to rid herself of it. But she did simmer down after a few days into what was probably as close to resignation as Bluebell will ever come. I spent as much time as I could comforting and petting and making much of her and did quite a bit of hand-feeding since the collar limited her range of movement for eating.  She lost some weight, but could more than afford to, having gotten a bit chunky of late. After a week, we gently removed the collar and allowed such licking as she elected to do in response to what remained of the abscess. It’s been a slow recovery, as her wounds were truly raw and gaping, but she’ll only have a small scar under one arm and none at all under the other.

I highly recommend the Elizabethan for particularly tenacious post-surgical rats. Why doesn’t someone manufacture these things? Huzzah for the excellent vet techs out there who, like Miss Poubelle, never say die!

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