Life with Milo my diabetic rat by Nina Jensen

Milo came to me with his brother as a rescue at only 4 weeks old. They were big boys for their age and I would have guessed at them being 6 weeks not 4. They were lovely friendly boys who would snuggle up in my dressing gown and brux and boggle happily. They were very healthy boys who quickly grew into big cuddly lads.

The first sign that there was a problem was the water bottles going down very quickly and the cage being wetter than normal. I tested a urine sample from a puddle on the shelf and it was very high in glucose and I quickly saw that Milo was at the water bottle a lot. He lived with his friends in a Savic Royal Suite which is a very large cage and I was finding I had to do almost a full cage clean out every day including hammocks. We went to our vets and she did a blood test to see if it was a problem with his kidneys or diabetes and the diabetes was confirmed.

At first we tried to control it by changing his diet following a diabetic diet from the Scuttling Gourmet and the Fancy Rat forum but this was unsuccessful. He was losing weight rapidly despite eating loads, becoming more lethargic and generally looking unwell. He also had a couple of infections with one making us very worried about him as he looked so poorly.

As the diet alone didn’t work we started him on insulin, gradually increasing it each week and doing weekly blood tests at the vets to monitor his progress. At first I was terrified of hurting him but he was so good and after every injection he snuggled up for a cuddle and bruxed away until he went back to rejoin his friends. To inject I just had to pinch the skin up around the back of his neck, push the needle in, pull the plunger back to check there was no blood in the syringe and push the insulin in. Once I got used to it this was very easy to do. He had a bit of baby food after his injection as a reward and if he was on meds at the time they would be hidden in that too. We decided to do the injections in the morning as my vet wanted his blood tested 4 – 6 hours after the injection (so they were open for the blood test) and they all got their dried mix for breakfast. He was so good and always raced to the door in the morning for his insulin, cuddle and I guess for him more importantly his tasty baby food.

A few weeks later I noticed his eyes seemed paler and the vet confirmed the diabetes had caused glaucoma in both of his eyes and he was going blind. Being a pew his eyesight had never been good so apart from not making too many changes that would confuse him it didn’t really seem to affect him at all.

We were going to the vets every week to have his blood tested so I bought a human blood glucose monitor and after testing it against my vets for a couple of weeks I started doing them at home as it was less stressful for him and I could be more accurate with the timing. There was a bit of a difference in the readings so we adjusted the results I got from my monitor so it would correspond with the vets. Eventually we had our first normal blood and we were over the moon. He still drank a lot and I had to do a lot of cage cleaning but he was much more active and looked healthier.

After failing to get a blood reading for him I decided to take him to the vets to do it rather than stress him out by continuing to try at home. I’m glad I did as his result had shot right up again. Of course this was a lot later than the test would have been but it showed that we needed to increase his insulin injections to twice a day.

After that we finally got his diabetes under control and he only had issues when he got a infection as the diabetes made him susceptible. I just had to keep a eye out for any sign of illness and I tried to always change the water bottles at the same time each day so I could keep a eye on the amount of water that had been drunk. Changing the water at the same time each day is useful for all animals and has alerted me when other rats have developed kidney issues so they could get prompt treatment. I had stopped the blood tests by this point as he was stable and any sign of illness I would do a urine test. Later his drinking peaked again and after a test and conferring with my vet we agreed Milos kidneys had started to struggle a bit so we added ipakitine to his baby food and all was fine again. He had a few uti’s, an abscess and a few eye infections but all responded quickly to treatment.

As he got older he slowed down a bit but still seemed well and happy. In September this year he seemed fine in the morning but very ill in the evening. I did a blood test which showed his glucose was very high and raced to the vet. She did an ultrasound which showed a large internal mass and the decision was made that it was kinder to let him go. He went to sleep in one of his cubes and then passed away in my arms.

Milo was amazingly good natured and I am so proud of him. We don’t know why he became diabetic and his brother never developed it. It was hard work to start with but he was one of the most amazing rats who has ever owned me.
RIP Milo, you will always be missed.

Anyone who is facing this at the moment, try not to panic. I found the thought of having to inject him terrifying but once you get into a routine it’s not that bad. My life did revolve a bit around his meds time and there were a lot of vets visits initially but that all settled down. I also became extremely protective much to horror of a cover vet who thankfully forgave my snappiness when I apologised with a tasty box of choccies. Treats for his cage were mainly weetabix and some dog biscuits (packaging checked for no added sugar) and we stayed on the diabetic diet from the Fancy Rats forum. To save some money I bought his needles and later the ipakitine online from reputable stores but the insulin always came from the vets as it doesn’t travel well. I am not a vet so cannot tell you what is for the best but am just sharing my experience of a very special boy.