Pet Rats/Rat Behavior
QUESTION: Hello, Natasha. My name is Torey. I have two pet rats named Hiccup and Luxo. I did have three, but a couple days ago my third one, Freckle, passed away. I was hoping that you could help me to perhaps find out why Freckle died, as well as help me find out whether or not Hiccup (who grew up with Freckle- I had only gotten Luxo a month or two before this happened, so they weren't quite as close) is depressed.
I feel bad about Freckle dying because I did not get him to the vet on time. About a week before he died, he started getting a lot of that red stuff around his nose. I know that the red stuff (google says its called Porphyrin)is perfectly normal, but he was having far more than usual, to the point that the things around him and the inside of his front paws were covered in it and gross and I had to clean him up about once a day. I started noticing this to be a significant problem on a Saturday and, due to my work/school schedule and the fact that the only decent vet I can find for rats is about an hour away, I could not make it to the vet until Thursday. His breathing was fairly labored, and because I couldn't tell whether or not he was eating and drinking (he had lost a bit of weight, I thought at first it was just because he was getting a bit old., so I put him in a seperate cage to watch him. He was not eating. He would take the treats I gave him, but he would just put them down and not eat them. He was doing pretty badly on Monday night, so I got a little cup and held it up to him, and he drank out of that. I thought that the biggest problem was he was for some reason not able to drink out of the water bottles (I get pretty basic water bottles for rodents), so I put a small bowl of water in his cage and tried to get him to drink some water out of a cup whenever I had a spare chance. He seemed to be doing better after that. I was getting him to eat as long as I was holding the food up to his face. He ate a cucumber piece, some bread with honey/yogurt, whatever I could get him to eat I encouraged it. Since he was doing better, he decided it was likely he just had a respitory infection that was particularly bad and, since I'm tight on money, decided that instead of bringing him to the vet I would just go and get the medicine that he needs and give it to him. On Thursday morning, shortly before I left, he wasn't doing well, and when I got back with the medicine he was dead. :( He was about 2 and a half years old and albino. He was pretty calm and lazy by nature, although he had been acting more lethargic lately (again, I thought that was him just getting old, so I don't know when exactly he started getting sick.) He wasn't moving his back legs as well when he walked, I noticed that a while back. Recently he had a lump on his side that I had checked out- the vet said it was not cancerous and it didn't seem to be hurting him so I let it be. It popped shortly before he got sick, leaked puss for a couple days (I cleaned it regularly) and was nothing but a small bald spot when he got sick. I don't know if that's related, but it corresponded to his illness so I don't know if it has to do with anything.
Do you have any idea why he died? My boys have had respitory infections before, but never that bad. Neither of my other two have shown any signs of the same thing, though I'm keeping a very close eye on them and making sure they eat.
My other question involves Hiccup, his brother. I don't know if his death is affecting him much, but he has been acting slightly odd lately. He has pretty severe arthritis in one of his hind legs and is adjusting to the fact that the young-blood that I introduced a while ago- Luxo- is replacing him as the dominant one. About two weeks ago there was an incident where I found him covered with blood, a bunch of scratches all over his stomach, which I thought to be Luxo, but I have not seem any behavior from Luxo before or sense that has been particularly agressive, so I have no idea how that happened. He still has some scabs, but it's healing up pretty well. Lately he's been pretty much staying in one spot of their rat cage. It's right next to the food and water, he does eat and drink, but he doesn't move around much. He's certainly alert, whenever I go in to say hi his entire upper body is moving around. He's been constantly wanting to be with me. Right now, as I type, he's snuggled in my shirt on my chest. Every time I open the cage to say hi, he starts grabbing at my hands, trying to climb at my arms. Sometimes he and Luxo get into tiffs in the middle of the night, and I get up to break it up, and he just starts clawing at me, trying to get me to pick him up and snuggle him for a while. This is sweet and makes me feel loved, but it's not anything he's every done before. Do you have any idea why he would do that? Is it because he is sad that his brother died? Is it because his legs might hurt more than normal (due to the changing weather)? Is it because he feels insecure in the cage with Luxo? Is there anything I should do, or should I just snuggle with him when I can?
Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it, and I hope to hear back from you son. :)
ANSWER: Dear Torey,
I am very sorry for your loss of little Freckle.
Rats, mice, and other little prey animals don't show sickness or pain like the rest of us do. If a rat showed it was sick it would get eaten by the first hawk that came along. So a rat doesn't show sickness until it is so sick that it is going to die anyway. A rat never has just a cold, or just a respiratory infection. The first, mild symptoms already mean the rat is sicker than you would be if you had to stay in bed with a flu. Once the illness is visible, it is not going to be cured without antibiotics. As soon as there is any tiredness or lethargy, difficulty eating, difficulty cleaning-- messy fur, the rat is in immediate danger of its life and needs to get to the vet immediately. The abscess had nothing to do with it; poor Freckle should have been on strong doses of Doxycycline and Amoxicillin.
As for little Hiccup, he is teaching you that rats don't show pain. When they cling like that they are basically begging for you to fix it. If he has arthritis- has it been diagnosed by Xray?- he may be in severe pain. I have a little dwarf with terrible rheumatoid arthritis and he is on metacam and tramadol (painkillers) for the rest of his life. Once a day metacam; on bad days up to four times tramadol, if your vet is interested.
The signs of pain are hard to recognize, but clinginess is one. Other rats do the opposite and bite. They may slit their eyes a little. They may sleep in different parts of the cage. And they may, like my boy, have such severe pain that they panic and hop.
Your boy is not happy. And now his brother is gone, and this other rat is there who is stronger than him, with him having such trouble moving around. I think you need to get another rat. Another young one that Luxo can tussle with. If Hiccup is getting less mobile, he may even need his own, single level cage. But while he is with Luxo, Luxo needs a distraction.
What you might want to do is this. Get Luxo a buddy or two to wrestle and play with. And call your local rescues and shelters to find an elderly rat who needs a forever home. When they can no longer move their hind ends it is called hind end paralysis, or hind end degeneration. Two guys with HED can't really fight. They can keep each other company. And giving a rat a home who otherwise has very little chance of love again, is a very special thing.
What you hope not to do is ever have a rat alone. Actually my little arthritic boy lives alone, and it has been 9 months since his brother died and he still just hates going back in his cage. He needs love. A rat alone in a cage is in solitary confinement--- though it is a lot better when there is at least another cage of rats around (my guy is a dwarf and my breeder's dwarfs are not breeding, so i have no way to get him a friend; at least there is a cage of standards nearby).
I can help you to find a shelter. I can also hook you up with people with a lot more experience than I have. If you are on Facebook, join the group I run, called Rats are Awesome. We have a ton of resources including rescue lists (once you get there, click 'files' below the banner) and tons of very experienced people, including lots of rescuers, who can help.
I hope you can make your Hiccup happy. Tell the vet about how I am maintaining my arthritic boy on painkillers. Maybe that is what Hiccup needs.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you very much for your quick response. I am very sad that my poor Hiccup is in so much pain. :( He has been diagonised via x-ray a while ago, and he does have metacam, which I give him once a day (like the vet told me to.) He won't take it by itself, so I need to put it in a piece of bread or mix it in yogurt or something. I will definitely consider getting another young rat for Luxo, since Luxo is so energetic anyway. I don't think I can get an old one and a young one, since living where I am I am only aloud to have two rats technically, and already stretched the rules by getting Luxo (saved him from an almost certain fate of being snake food- he was all alone at the pet store, and I couldn't leave him there.) But I likely would be able to get a second young one without there being too much issue- however I don't think I'd be able to get two more. I do have all the food and water on one level, as well as a warm place to sleep, for Hiccup and I've been holding him a lot.
I'm wondering- I read once that the amount of medicam usually prescribed by vets to rats is not enough. Right now, my vet has prescribed 0.1 mL every 24 hours. Is that enough? I also know that too much painkiller can cause internal bleeding, so I don't want to give him more until I'm absolutely sure.
I will like that facebook page, it sounds like it could be very helpful. Thank you very much!
Even my vet, who is world famous, prescribes too little metacam. It isn't like you can do it by trial and error and the rat will ask for more. I just don't get it.
Luckily, I got my dosing info from somewhere else and he has respected it. I give the same amount you give your big guy, to my little half pounder Sasha. That makes 0.2 ml per pound. I recommend you do at least 0.2. I am assuming your guy is over a pound.
Metacam is hard on the kidneys, but that is a lot more important earlier in life. End of life care is different. It is far better to have a shorter, pain free life than a longer, agonized one. Rats don't care if their lives are short. They care if it hurts.
If you don't think your vet will immediately be open to a higher dose, try it before you talk to them. See if the behavior changes. See if he is less clingy. With Sasha it was such a huge difference. He finally relaxed and lay flat and fell asleep for the first time in the day and a half since he began panic hopping. And I know the dose is not too high because he still panic hops (and his back arches) when it is rainy and dark :(. That is why he also takes the Tramadol 1-4x per day.
cuddles to little Hiccup. And best wishes from Sasha.