Total rat envy. It’s an ugly thing, rat envy.
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!”
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!
It’ll be here before you know it. April 4th is World Rat Day, a day for celebrating the rat for the marvelous animal that it is and whipping up some PR around how many people actually keep and adore pet rats.
Throw a rat themed cocktail party with a “B.Y.O. Rat” on the invitation. Give a specified donation to the Humane Society for the upkeep of homeless rats that have fallen on hard times. At the very least, make it a goal to bring the fact of your rat fandom out from the shadows for all the world, or at least a few select friends and colleagues, to know.
Think of it as International Rat Lovers Coming Out Day.
Or better yet, TAKE YOUR RAT TO WORK DAY!
Oh man, I am so totally doing that….
As the old song goes, “Oh dear, what can the matter be?”
Poor Henslowe isn’t doing well. The old ploppy-saurus has wet, soggy, rattling lungs and a pale white nose, and a batril/doxycicline combo doesn’t seem to even be touching it. He’s been worse since the hot, wet weather broke a week ago in favor of cool and very dry, even worse than that this week as it became very hot again, and he’s truly awful today, after yet another shift into cool and wet. He’s looking really bad, and I’m getting desperate.
Time for a shift in strategy. Time to bring out the big guns.
What a difference a day makes. Henslowe is entirely back to normal, which for him is audible breathing only when stressed or inquisitive. In the “rest” position, his breathing is clear as a bell, which is about all one can shoot for with his old, scarred lungs.
His recovery could be due to the decision to blast the room with a heavy hitting humidifier AND my Vicks vaporizer, but I bet is has more to do with shifting to a combination of Aminophylline to open up his airways and Chloramphenicol to hit the mycoplasma from a different direction.
There is nothing scarier for the pet rat fancier than doxycycline/batril non-responsive myco. Nothing. You’re doing everything you know to do, and they just keep getting worse.
I’m determined that if I hadn’t had that chloramphenicol sitting around from a “failed” attempt when Will and Henslowe were sick last fall, the dear old Ploppy would be an ex-rat by this morning. He had that look about him like he was warming up to join the choir angelic, and believe me, I know. This morning I didn’t dare hope his lungs were as clear as they seemed to be, so I turned off the humidifiers and held him right to my ear to listen to his breathing and feel for a rattle under his ribs. Nothing. Breath in and breath out, quiet as you please. I was just blown away with relief.
Chloramphenicol is the first drug I’ve used that came with stern warnings from my vet, quoted right off of a legal disclaimer card. I know, because one of the things she said to me was “this drug cannot be prescribed to animals destined for human consumption.” Right. Note to self: no Henslowe McNuggets after all. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear it.
We laughed, but she also said–and this was no laughing matter–that this drug can knock out your bone marrow for good and kill you in a rare (but not rare enough) side effect among a list of additional grave unintended outcomes for the dosser, and that hand washing after dosing your pet was essential, as was avoiding pets or kisses to the face after dosing. Dr. C is not a worrier by nature, but I could tell she’d just as soon I used latex gloves during dosing. Wow. For more info on chlorampenicol and toxicity in humans, see http://medicineoutofthebox.com/2010/09/09/reconciling-antimicrobial-choices-with-patient-safety-concerns/.
So right, old fatty beat the odds again. Amazing. Myco has had his number since he was a wee thing, yet at 2 1/2 he’s still hogging the hammock. Maybe it was the moist air, maybe the illness had run its course and he was due to feel better anyway (I don’t believe that for a second), or maybe the chloramphenicol nailed the sorry, doxy-impervious asses of the bugs in Henslowe’s lungs, shot them where they stood, right through a sea of choking mucus. I like to think of it that way.
However, remembering just WHY the last attempt with this drug was such a housekeeping catastrophe, I am following up every dose 20 minutes later with a heapin’ spoonful of super-yogurt. A rat with mucho yucky diarrhea is not a fun rat or a happy rat. No kidding, this stuff kills EVERYTHING. Wash your hands and spring for the super-duper Greek yogurt with 5 kinds of bacteria in it.
And if the diarrhea shows up after a day or two, just remind yourself how lucky you are to have this problem, move your poor, mortified rattie into a hospital cage, and change the bedding A LOT. Rats are fastidious creatures, and a rat with diarrhea to track through is going to lose the will to live. A clean rat is a happy, healthy rat. I highly recommend augmenting your rat’s normal cleaning regimen with baby wipes at such times, paying special attention to the areas around and under its tail. A babywipe bath after dosing will also take care of any spilled or spat out medicine, keeping you all the safer from any unwanted side effects from handling the meds.
If you’re over a barrel with other treatments and afraid you’re going to lose your beloved sweetie, you might talk to your vet about chloramphenicol. I don’t think they even prescribe it to humans in this country anymore, or not very often. But it’s legal for pets, and the rabbit people have been getting great results from it. Just…yeah, wash your hands really well, and don’t forget the yogurt. You’re probably going to need it.
Cancer, Death of a Pet, doxycycline, electro stimulation therapy, euthanasia, fibrosarcoma, fibrosarcoma in a pet, finding a vet for your rat, Grieving for a Pet, Henslowe, metronomic therapy, mycoplasma, palliative pet care, Pet Rat, pet with cancer, Rat Physiology, Rusted Root, Tumor, Tybalt, veterinary cancer studies, veterinary cancer surgery, Veterinary Research
A Song for Will Shakespeare: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRbB4qt9vJQ&feature=related
The vets always say “you’ll know when it’s time,” and sure enough, I know: it’s time. Will Shakespeare, my dearest sweet Pooh-bear, my very first boy rat, it’s exactly time to send you on your way.
Now that we’re up against it, I’m tallying in my heart the emotional costs of keeping short-lived pets. Two and a half years just isn’t enough time with these smart, loving, awesome little creatures. They nuzzle their way up under your chin and into your heart. I’m not helped by the fact that Will and Henslowe, his litter mate, exhibit the very best temperaments I’ve ever encountered in rats, or any pets. They are just two big old devoted sweeties, no other way to describe them, and utterly irreplaceable.
At present, the aforementioned sweeties are snarfing and snuffing around on the bed as I type, searching out the last wee crumbs from a cinnamon roll mishap earlier in the day. In a bit, they’ll poop out and curl up for a mid-morning nap in the sun, as old gentlemen are want to do. Fat, ploppy old Henslowe, who has more energy than Will does at this point (who would have ever guessed?), will do some licking and grooming on Will as he bruxes off to sleep, and then they’ll both be out for a 20 minute power nap–the only kind rats ever take.
Will developed a lump low on his sternum last November. Thinking it was a rare case of a male mammary tumor, I had it removed–but not biopsied. My cheaper vet charges for that service, and I was flat broke at the time.
Always spring for the biopsy.
Cancer isn’t one disease, but many diseases, each with it’s own growth patterns, trickery for survival, and susceptibilities to attack. Breeders, researchers, and veterinarians need to know what the domesticated rat is up against and plan their breeding protocols, treatments, and preventative measures accordingly. Without hard empirical data, they can’t do this. Entirely too many pet rat deaths are generically and unhelpfully attributed to “tumor” or “respiratory infection” without the vet or owner ever knowing what kind of tumor or what underlying disease may have led to the stress-triggered pneumonia…and thus the body of knowledge about pet rat health develops no further. This is simply unacceptable.
Will’s tumor was back within a month of his surgery and growing fast. So much for the economy vet route. This time, I took him to the excellent Dr. Sczepanski for Cadillac service and Volvo reliability. In keeping with her “big picture” approach to research, treatment, and her own continuing education, Dr. S. fosters an ongoing relationship with RADIL (Researcgh Animal Diagnostic Laboratory) here at the University of Missouri and thus charges her rat clients nothing for necropsies and biopsies, or whatever it is they call the act of yanking out a tumor and poking at it until it squeals its name.
Sczepanski took one look at Will and furrowed her brow. That really never is a good sign in a doctor’s office, is it? She wanted to schedule a second surgery as quickly as possible and virtually insisted that we send the tumor on to RADIL for identification. The results were about as bad as it gets; but as always, every cloud has a silver lining if you look hard enough for it. Will’s tumor was a fibrosarcoma, a cancer that literally roots into healthy tissue like some kind of terribly invasive tree, making clean surgical borders nearly impossible. But it doesn’t hurt. That’s it, that’s the lining.
Want to hear one of the ugliest sentences ever written? Try this on for size: “It is a well differentiated fibrosarcoma characterized by a proliferation of fibroblasts and with mitotic figures, nuclear variability and extensive local invasion into the surrounding muscle; neoplastic fibroblasts extend to the edges of the mass in all directions.”
Which is lab coat geek-speak for “cue the fat lady.”
At which point, I rallied the troops and put my fabulous friend Jenny, who just happens to be a veterinary oncologist as well as the best pet-sitter in the history of domestication, to the task of researching nonsurgical follow-up protocols. She got back to me with a fistful. It seems fibrosarcomas are hot on the research grant-making circuit just at present.
The coolest study involved a simple metronomic schedule of gentle chemotherapy, but with the fascinating addition of light electro-stim therapy applied once to the site of the tumor. The results were really encouraging. No pain, lots of gain. More than half of the subjects experienced significant shrinkage of the tumor, and all of them had notably slower rates of tumor growth after just one treatment.
Woo-hoo, I thought, every athletic trainer and physiology lab in the country has an electro-stim kit, right? You can’t take two steps on the Mizzou campus without tripping over someone’s electro-stim machine, and there are like four major vet schools within a day’s drive of here. Surely some lab near enough for grace would be repeating this study. Even if Will’s tumor didn’t shrink, he would still gain significant quality time, if we could just slow down the tumor growth. Unfortunately, the study had only been conducted on dogs, and that was clear down at the University of Georgia.
Undaunted, we settled for a metronomic protocol of doxycycline and piroxicam (a non-steroidal anti-inflamitory) administered daily in an attempt to thwart the tumor’s ability to develop the necessary blood vessels to feed itself. This treatment is generally used post-surgically to prevent recurrence or metastasization when only a few cells may be present. Starting treatment so far into a tumor’s growth would probably prove fruitless (and so it did), but the doxy would at the very least prevent a mycoplasma flair-up in his lungs in the meantime, and at any rate, the piroxicam would keep his old bones from aching from the added weight-load of the tumor.
The metronomic therapy did everything it was designed to do, but no more than that. Will’s lungs are as clear as a bell, and there’s no sign of metastasization. But nowadays he looks like a Pooh-bear with a naval orange tucked under his arm. Until just a few days ago, he could get around pretty well, and his spirits have never flagged. But now the bloody thing is just too big for his short forelegs. Also, I’ve had to give him baby-wipe baths the last couple of days, since he can’t reach around that ugly lump to wash himself, and he’s such a fastidious little thing. Dirty and immobile is no way for a rat to live…or anybody else, for that matter.
So it’s certainly time. But it’s hard. The two of them are still toddling around on the bed, and Henslowe looks like he’s going to make a try for the laundry basket by my desk, fully 4 1/2 feet away, which if caught on film might well go viral on Youtube. Imagine a furry black water balloon launching itself across the room. Bansai! Plop.
In a little bit, we’ll have a light lunch of shrimp salad on a bed of greens with honeydew (a house favorite), take a swipe at folding that laundry, and answer some email. Then they’ll take another nap while I dig a hole under the azaleas and choose a vintage hanky big enough to wrap Will Shakespeare in. Then we’ll put on some Rusted Root and sing along to Will’s theme song on the way to the vet, and I’ll suck it up and cope.
Will has had a good life, and he’s brought me great joy all the days of it. He’s done his job, and now it’s time again for me to do mine and send him peacefully on his way. In the immortal words of Julian of Norwich, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. The trick is in keeping your eye on the big picture.
You must listen to Will Shakespeare’s song if you haven’t already. It’ll make you happy. I promise. It’ll change your day for the better, as it has mine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRbB4qt9vJQ&feature=related
Bansai Will Shakespeare, you quintessential big ol’ sweetie. Make the leap. Be on your way, and take my heart with you.
Ooo ooo! You need to know about this: http://vostokzapad.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/banksys-graffiti-1-rats/#comment-45
Great shots of astonishingly cool work by Banksy, an artist you need to know. This superkeen blog entry connects to to the artist’s website, which is also really neat. You’ll really like this sort of thing–if this is the sort of thing you like.
Here at Dovetail, we loves us some Banksy.
Yep, I guess Dovetail has arrived. Someone sent me a link to this little photo composite video on YouTube thinking I might enjoy it and recognize a kindred spirit. What I recognized were two of my own rats. Dang, I’ve been copy/pasted!
A student once told me that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. Yeah, whatever: I gave him a zero. He’s a lawyer in DC now and still holding to that philosophy, by all reports.
Anyway, if you’re a rat person, you’ll enjoy the vid and identify with the song selection. If you aren’t, you’ll still enjoy the vid and think the soundtrack is a funny juxtaposition. And if you’re thinking of becoming a rat person, you’ll absolutely salivate over these splendid photos (if I do say so, myself, having taken two of them).