The Pox Virus

The Pox Virus is a very rare and nasty viral disease. Here ratty lover Kaz shares her amazing story of living with her pet rats who have the virus.

I brought Ebony and Savannah home from a pet shop on the 4th September 2004. No more than 2 weeks later I noticed a small wart type lump on Savannah’s back foot, on one of her toes. The next day, there was one on Ebony too, this time on her front foot, on one of her toes.

I thought it could have been some sort of hereditary trait because none of my other six girls had it and they had been successfully introduced so were all living as a group of eight so I took them to the vets. They thought it may be a nail bed infection or similar so Ebony and Savannah were prescribed antibiotics.

The antibiotics we tried were septrin peadiactirc, baytril for infections that got in the lumps, and purple spray because it is used for bumble foot and, clutching at straws, we would try anything.

The girls’ had the toes removed aged 10 weeks after failed attempts with antibiotics and these were sent off to the labs. Two weeks later they were diagnosed as having the pox virus. The original lab even got a second opinion and sent the lesions off, off their own back. But they agreed with what he had been diagnosed.

Some people have suggested that the lumps/sores looks like bumble foot, but after lengthy discussions with my vet, he has seen these lumps in real life and he says yes it takes a similar form to bumble foot because the lumps are constantly being walked on and having pressure on them.

But he has seen them when they start to appear, and the only way to find out 100% that it is the pox virus is to amputate limbs. When we basically already know what we are facing, why take such a big step to get the same answers we already know. Plus the fact all my rats had these lumps appear, and Orchid’s appeared on her tail (see further down the article to read about Orchid).

I don’t know how the girls got the virus – all I can hazard a guess at is wild rats, and this is only simply because the pathology report stated it’s from wild rats and cattle. But no more is known.

I notified the pet shop about the virus and they notified the breeder they got there rats from. I am not sure if it’s related but soon after they stopped getting there rats from her.

There are three types of the virus that affect rats. It is thought my girls have the dermal form of the virus:

  1. Pulmonary form. Rats became anorexic, extremely dyspneic, and moribund, with death occurring uniformly by the third or fourth day of clinical signs.
  2. Dermal form. Relatively mild. Partial anorexia; papular rash on tail, paws, and muzzle, with transition to dry crusts in 1-2 days; sometimes partial amputation of the tail and possibly also the paws; and deaths occurring rarely
  3. Mixed form. Symptoms are transient, lasting only two to three days. Suckling rats are most susceptible. Adults most often had the dermal form of the disease and survived.

The girls lead a normal life. We didn’t know how long they would live because this virus can be fatal but Ebony and Savannah are still here at 20 months old.

Savannah has massive pox lumps on both back feet, up the sides of her foot and underneath. Ebony surprisingly hasn’t shown any more signs of this virus, although it will still be laying dormant in her system. They can still run, jump and climb etc!

However, I think it has shortened the lives of my other girls who caught it.

After Eb and Sav were diagnosed with having the pox virus I was told to separate them from my other girls, which I did. But they had already caught it and it was lying dormant in there systems, because weeks later, I saw similar lumps on them all, one by one.

Rico was about 2 when I noticed her lump, on her back foot, this grew at an alarming rate, and being old, her immune system couldn’t even begin to fight it, she had lymph node tumours come up, 3/4 in one area, then she had a stroke.

My vets said because of the virus, the lymph nodes came up because of infections, then because the tumours caused her blood pressure to fluctuate this caused a stroke.

She was put to sleep two weeks before her 3rd birthday. I have no doubt in my mind if it wasn’t for the virus she might still be here now aged 3 years and 3 months.

Orchid was about a year old when I noticed her lump, this time it was on the middle of her tail. I took her to the vets along with Rico, because I spotted Orchid’s literally days after Rico’s lump came up, and my vets said the pox was back. The lumps were identical to Eb’s and Sav’s.

We could amputate feet and tails to find out for sure but if you are 99% sure why bother with all the stress? Not even a month later and Orchid’s lump had split open presumably from having caught it on something, it was bleeding profusely, not just drips but gushing out.

I phoned the emergency vets and apart from give me tips on how to stop the bleeding they couldn’t do a lot more than I was already doing. Thankfully 3 hours after it started bleeding, it stopped.

But then she started producing thick red blobs from her vagina, losing weight fast, grunting and not eating. I was thinking of spaying because the antibiotics for the bleeding didn’t help but she was a very poorly girl, one night she sat there gasping for breath.

That’s when I knew I had to let her go. The pox virus can cause pneumonia and weight loss (the site called it anorexia). Again, I believe the virus weakened her immune system and she couldn’t fight off everything that was happening.

My other girls all had lumps on their feet, we don’t know if the virus contributed to there nasty deaths (especially Domino) but I will explain what happened.

Domino. One Thursday night she was fine, Friday I woke up and she wasn’t. I rushed her to the vets that afternoon, he gave her an anti-inflammatory and baytril injection. Over the weekend I had to dose her on baytril.

Her symptoms were, retching, gasping, grunting, and weight loss. Over the weekend her breathing improved but every time she tried to take 1 drop of water she would choke, she couldn’t even swallow. She would take it go to swallow but choke and it would all come out her mouth again. I had her put to sleep Monday afternoon.

Lily had a suspected pituitary tumour, which was treated with steroids but she stopped eating after being on them 6 weeks and I let her go.

Fern had a swollen face, x-rays showed a bone tumour in her cheek. She was never woken up from the anaesthetic.

It’s not just poor rodents that can suffer from this rare virus – humans can also catch the virus. I don’t think that I have had any effects from it, although just under 12 months ago, I had a strange rash. I went to the out of hours doctors at the hospital and she said it was shingles (a form of the pox virus-chicken pox etc) but when I asked my mum after I had been to the doctors she said I haven’t had chicken pox (which lays dormant in the system and leads to shingles).

Also a month or so ago, I had the same sort of rash appear and again I went to the doctors, told him I have had it before but I haven’t had chicken pox and he couldn’t really tell me what it was! He prescribed cream which cleared it up. So whether it is all related I don’t know.

Recently we have tried using fuciderm gel. Sav was put on this not that long ago to see if we could shrink the lumps so that we could freeze them off – which would be better than amputation – but it didn’t help anyway.

We cannot freeze them now as the lumps are so big and the foot so small, we are in danger of freezing the nerves in the foot..

So all I can do is leave it – I’ve been there for her when they split open and bleed, and given her antibiotics when it looks like infections may get in.

The only thing I can be thankful for is that my girls who have already left me and one girl who I have here now, 2 year old Dotty, their lumps never got to the size that Sav’s have before they died. I can’t see inside them, to see what damage has been done, but they don’t have any sores on their feet that constantly split open.

When the girls were first diagnosed, at first it did change quite a few things when it came to cleaning them out. I had to clean out more often, use vet bed on all the shelves, and clean that weekly. However, through all of this, the lumps continued to get worse, none of it helping at all.

So now I do the usual routine which I would do with any rats, spot clean the shelves daily (I took off the vet bed), and give it a thorough clean out once a week.

Whether any of the other rats were affected at the pet shop where I got Eb and Sav, I don’t know but I haven’t spread it around myself. My girls don’t go to shows and since I found out about the virus, I haven’t got any more rats. So I hope after this, this is the last I see and hear of the virus. Of course I don’t want to lose my girls but I do want them to be free of it.

I love my girls and pox virus or no pox virus, I wouldn’t change them for the World.

By Kaz Smith

Pictures

Domino. When she was poorly that weekend.

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/dotty%20and%20domino/?action=view¤t=poorlydom003.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/dotty%20and%20domino/?action=view¤t=poorlydom001.jpg

Savannahs amputated toe.

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=savtoe.jpg

Savs lumps don’t have time to scab over and form a warty type cover because they are constantly having pressure on them.

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=poxlumps013.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=feetpox009.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=feetpox010.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=51205022.jpg

Ricos lymph node tumours

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=rico301105003.jpg

You can see her foot in this one

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=rico301105001.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=141105005.jpg

This is what the lumps look like when they are just forming

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=rats031.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=feetpox002.jpg

Both feet affected

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=51205020.jpg

Orchids lump

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=100_2616.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=100_2715.jpg

This is the site that tells you a bit about the virus,

http://fermat.nap.edu/books/0309063329/html/171.html#pagetop

The Story of Smartie the Rat

This is the story of Smartie – a black and white hooded female who I was so lucky to rescue.

A friend of a friend was sharing a house with a girl that had a rat.

I heard that the girl had moved out of the house and had left the rat behind to be looked after by another tenant. I was worried that she wouldn’t be looked after her properly so when I received a phone call asking me if I wanted her, I went straight round to the house to pick her up. It was 16 October 2001.

I suppose she was about 6-8 months old. She had a nice clean glass tank and although she was quite skinny I realised that she had been well looked after.

I was told that she wasn’t very friendly, which was hardly surprising when I discovered that I was to be her 4th owner. I decided to call her Smartie.

Smartie had respiratory problems, her previous owner had lived in one room and was a heavy smoker so I don’t suppose that helped her at all. Also the glass tank must have restricted any fresh air circulating.

When I let her out in the hall she was quite nippy and tore around. She was quite happy to climb over me as an object but if I put my hand out to her she would try to go around it. Eventually she realised that she could use my hand as a stepping stone and began to wait for me to put my hand up to her so she could climb on.

I eventually started letting her play on the bed, as I also had 3 male rats who also played in the hall and the girly smell was becoming too much for them!

Smartie soon became a lovely little pet. She really loved a cuddle and having her head scratched. She would lie in my arms for ages while I stroked her. I noticed also that although she still breathed really fast, she didn’t wheeze quite as much. I supposed that the smoky atmosphere must have really affected her.

Smartie had been with me for around 5 months when I realised that she had stopped tearing around. She would just come out for a cuddle for maybe an hour then she would run across the living room floor and climb on the bookcase and stay perched on a book until I put her away.

Her eating was always quite erratic and she seemed to go for days without eating or even drinking. I tried her with everything I could think of but eventually discovered that she liked Farley’s rusks. She had about 1/4 of a rusk every morning and night with milk and that was all she ever ate apart from the occasional yoghurt. It certainly wasn’t a healthy diet and not one I’d recommend for rats, but she did start to put on some weight.

She was a lovely clean girl and never weed in her bed, but she was quite happy to wee on me though. So when I called her to let her out in the evening, I would say ‘have a wee first’ and she would squat then climb up to come out! She smelt lovely too. I’ve never had a rat since that smelled as delicious as Smartie.

She had been with me almost a year when one Sunday I was feeling particularly lazy so I spent the day lazing on the settee watching TV. Smartie lay in the crook of my arm with me and had stretched herself out making contented little noises all day. As I say she would have no problem having a nice big piddle on my lap. So every couple of hours I put her back in her house and told her to have a wee, which she did, then I got her out again.

I eventually put her away about 10pm and began to get ready for bed. But about 15 minutes later my boyfriend Phil shouted that she had collapsed in her cage, I picked her up but she was dead! I breathed into her nose and massaged her chest hoping she’d come back but no such luck. What a shock!

Obviously I was sad, but what a lovely day we’d had, just cuddling. I was just grateful that I had been given the chance to know such a precious thing.

By Kerry May

Introducing rats to one another

As rats are sociable animals, no matter how much attention you give them, they will be happier if they have a (same sex) friend or two living with them.

Obviously, the best way to do this is to get your rats from the same place at the same time. However, where this is not possible, you certainly can introduce a ratty friend at a later date.

Females are generally easier to introduce than males and the younger the better. While young males up to about 10 weeks age can be introduced easily, older males can be more difficult as it is in built to defend their territory. However, that does not mean it cannot be done – you just need to be extra vigilant when making introductions.

Where you have a young, lone female you should have no problems introducing a friend at all. However, you should always have a spare cage ready in case the pair don’t hit it off immediately. Also, when introducing older rats, it could take up to a couple of weeks so it is a good idea to have a spare cage.

When introducing rats you need to set aside a good chunk of time so that you can supervise the introduction and then see how they get along.

First of all, the introduction will be made easier by reducing or masking the rats’ natural smell. A dab of vanilla essence (the type you use when baking a cake), on both the rats backs will help neutralise and dominant odours.

You then need to introduce them on neutral territory – this should not be somewhere where the resident rat plays. (You can try the bath, or your bed for example). In cases where you are introducing youngsters (ie up to about 10 weeks of age), this may need only one introduction. In the case of older rats – either where you are introducing one to another older rat or an older rat to a youngster or where you are introducing an individual to a group, or where you – this will normally need several introductions before they can live together happily.

If you have two youngsters, you could also try using your lap (seated on the floor) as the neutral ground. This will show the resident rat that you have already accepted the newcomer as well as make both of them feel safe.

The introduction process may be several short ones or one long one – it really depends on the rats and their personalities etc. It may take an hour, or three intros over the course of a day or even an hour playing together every night before they are ready to share a home.

If at any time the rats fight and blood is drawn or fur is pulled out, separate them immediately. Leaving them together could cause serious injury, or even death. And never introduce a youngster under 6 weeks old to an adult as there is a risk that they could be killed.

You can expect a small amount of squabbling as they decide who is ‘the boss’ and also excessive grooming, but this is natural, as well as a few squeaks. If things start to turn serious, spray them with water from a plant mister to break up the fight.

These sort of squabbles tend to resolve themselves over time. However, if there is real aggression, you must split them up (make sure you wear thick gloves). Sometimes the ‘new’ rat will be scared and so strike out at the resident rat without even thinking.

If they get on well straight away (which often happens with youngsters under 10 weeks old), leave them to play for a while. Let them share the same food bowl, ensure that they have plenty of water and also make sure they have somewhere that they can each retreat to (such as an empty wine box) in case they get scared.

Some rat owners make intros easier by putting something like a blob of baby food on to each rat so that they have to get to know each other quickly by grooming and cleaning each other!

If the intro carries on going well (which will involve a lot of sniffing bottoms and play fighting as opposed to ‘real’ fighting and then both of them sitting happily together) then you can move on to the next stage and let them move in together.

Make sure that the cage has been thoroughly cleaned as well as the food bowls, toys etc so that the cage still smells ‘neutral’. Use new bedding and hammocks. Watch how they react to each other and certainly keep checking on them to make sure that they have not started fighting (that is why it is good to do introductions when you are not working so that you can keep a close eye on them).

If they don’t hit it off immediately, then put both the cages next to each other so that they can familiarise themselves with each others smells etc. Then try again the next day. Swap toys, too, to mingle their natural odours which will make them more accepting.

By being patient with the introductions, unless there is real aggression, your rats will soon be happily living together.

Useful links

http://www.ratfanclub.org/newrat.html

http://ratguide.com/care/behavior/introducing_rats.php

http://www.rmca.org/Resources/aintro.txt

http://www.ratz.co.uk/ratintro.html

Fatal food allergies in rats

Running a rat rescue we come across many different illnesses – however, Rosie was a first. When Rosie’s owner telephoned us to say that Rosie (a 15 month old female rescue who we had rehomed had a swollen face, our first thought was that it could be an abscess or even liver problems.

A trip to the vet found nothing wrong and the swelling went down.

Two weeks later Rosie and her two cage mates came to stay with us for a few weeks while their owners went on holiday. We were especially pleased to see Rosie as she was of the few surviving rats from what had turned out to be a sickly bunch of rat kittens that we had taken in when they were just a few days old.

Rosie’s mum, aunt and five sisters had all died prematurely from a whole hot potch of horrible illnesses – respiratory disease, internal tumours, mammary tumours, degenerative disease and two who had died suddenly – foaming from the mouth, swollen tongues – cause unknown.

On the third morning of her stay, Rosie’s face was swollen up really badly – she had huge cheeks that looked like hamster pouches, though seemed fine in her self. The swelling was equal on both sides, so we knew that it was not an abscess. We rushed her to the vets and she was given an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic drug and we racked our brains as to what had caused such a reaction.

We assumed it was nuts as we’d given her a brazil nut the night before (which the owner had left with us a part of the normal ratty treats) and went home and sterilised her cage and food bowls etc. We then gave her fresh food as this seemed the safest option for her with the plan of reintroducing her normal food stuffs – minus any nuts – over the next few days.

That night Rosie looked normal again, all the swelling had gone and she was fine in herself. As she ran around on the settee I saw her clock a rat chocolate treat on the sofa – I tried to grab it but she beat me to I and stuffed her face with it.

The next day her face was swollen again in the morning which made us think that nuts (and by products such as nut oils) and the small animal chocolates were a possible cause of Rosie’s allergy.

Having spoken that night to a friend who’d rehomed two of Rosie’s sisters that had both died ‘mysteriously’, it all fell in to place. Rosie had been lucky – so far. The two sisters (Mia and Spot) had both had on and off bouts of swelling around the face and times where they seemed like they had something ‘stuck’ in their mouth throughout their lives. But they never showed these symptoms at the same time which would have possibly made a connection that it was something they’d eaten.

The vet had found nothing wrong and then one day Mia started foaming at the mouth, her tongue swelled up and she was dead – all the space of two hours and with the vet administering drugs, too.

The same thing happened with Spot around 4 months later, but without the foaming at the mouth – she’s collapsed and started gasping and by the time she got to the vet, her swollen tongue had literally choked her to death. All this without any warning.

Suddenly it all made sense what was wrong with Rosie – and just how serious ‘a little swelling’ as the owner had put it, can be. We have never personally experienced his before, but what happens is that the face swells up (as Rosie’s did) and depending on the severity of the reaction, so can her tongue, airways etc and/or she can foam at the mouth and she can literally choke to death.

So, what can you do if your rat has a serious allergy like Rosie and her sisters?

First of all it is imperative that your rat is put on a strictly monitored diet and doesn’t come into contact with any foods that may cause a problem.

This means that he or she must not under any circumstance have these foods or even foods that have ‘touched’ what you believe triggers an allergy. Even food that has rubbed against nuts for example can be dangerous to a rat with a nut allergy. Similarly, before picking up your rats, you should wash your hands thoroughly in case you have something residual on them.

Also, it means that any cage mates cannot have these treats either as they may store it in their cage or get it stolen by the rat with the allergy. It may seem ‘mean’ but it is better than your rat dying.

Monitor your rat constantly and keep him or her on the same rat food (don’t mix and match brands in case a new one triggers off an allergy) and feed fresh food plentifully. I know it will be tempting to give him or her a treat – a piece of bread for example – but if you are not 100% sure what is causing the problem this could be fatal.

If your rat shows any signs of having an allergy – maybe they are foaming at the mouth or their face swells up or you can see that their tongue is swollen, you must get him or her taken to the vet immediately for an injection – no matter what time day or night. Leaving it could be fatal.

Your vet will need to inject an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic drug such as Dexafort which should hopefully calm down any reaction and save your rat’s life.

Whenever your rat has an allergic reaction, to be on the safe side we’d suggest that you completely clean out the cage, change hammocks etc and empty and sterilise the food bowl, water bottle and any toys in case they have come in contact with the substance that is causing the problem.

Line the cage with old towels/t-shirts in case it is something in the bedding (you really have to be strict here as anything could be triggering it off). Feed your rat fresh food only for a few days and then see how they go e goes and gradually reintroduce bedding etc.

I know this sounds all very sombre, but it is so very serious. Rosie has been lucky in that her reactions she has had so far haven’t been bad – however, the next reaction could be the one that kills her.

Finally, if your rat suddenly gets a swollen face but is still acting normally, don’t assume that they are not at risk. Just like children with allergies to nuts, just one brush with the wrong thing and your rat could be dead.

IMPORTANT

Please note that this article is written from our experience only and should not be taken as a medical diagnosis and treatment. It’s aim is to give information and ideas on what could be wrong with your pet and what your vet can try. Always speak to your vet.

Use this technique and your rat will trust you

Is your rattie an adopted rat? Were they either a mistreated lab rat, or picked up from the Rat Shelter? Is your rat an older rat who have been traumatized and are terrified of people? Is your rat an anti-social rat? Then we’ll apply a little Trust Training. With patience and time – you can teach most any rat to trust you with this training method.

Trust training is essential for many reasons. With time and patience, trust training can turn the most anti-social rat into a loving companion – great news for the rat, because it will live out its years knowing it’s loved – one less animal who has to be put down before its time!

Trust training can also ensure your safety, since an anti-social rat can do considerably more damage to you, or even worse small children. Thankfully, the horror stories are rare – but there is evidence of rat bites that cause considerable bleeding, and even permanent damage to fingers or forearms. Why is that?

Most of the time, the rat is older or has been seriously mistreated. Remember that trust training takes a lot of time – some people who have used this method say it’s taken them upwards of four hours per day over a number of weeks and months, but the rewards can be priceless.

Begin with soft food

Your best assets to begin trust training an anti-social rat are a spoon, and low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or even baby foods (try feeding your rat a few options in their dish first, to figure out which of the soft foods they love the best).

Reward good behavior

Because you can’t yet trust feeding the rat from your fingers, the spoon and soft food comes in handy to draw your rat out of the cage and hopefully onto your hand, arm or lap. This can take days, even weeks, depending on what the rat has gone through (i.e. a lab rat, or even a young rat that’s just scared and shy). Don’t just thrust the spoon at the rat and expect them to come running.

Talk softly, move with care and be patient. It’s often best to reward bit by bit, and break the trust training into 20-minute spurts over the day, giving your rat time, space and encouragement between sessions for maximum effect. Given time, they should learn to identify you with all the good stuff – and leave their bad past or poor
behavior behind.

Rats “learn by doing”

Keeping a pair of rats is not only preferred, with trust training it’s practically the only way to go. Like most other smart animals, rats learn by watching each other, and a well-socialized rat will help teach its more skittish cage companion to trust you much more quickly and more easily than you can.

Author : Diana Davidson

Operations & Post Operative Care

Is Surgery Necessary?

If you have a rat that needs an operation, try to discuss the surgery with your vet beforehand. Some vets may not have had much experience with small mammals, and may have only had a few hours of ‘exotics’ training, being only familiar with the more common pets and livestock – so it might be worth asking around for one with rodent experience. Talk to your vet about the possible risks of surgery – if you have an overweight rat, or one with extensive respiratory problems or heart disease – the vet may possibly advise you against surgery, unless it is absolutely necessary to save life.

These days, the anaesthetic risks are much lower than they used to be in the past, and operations such as mammary tumour removal are considered fairly routine, very safe and only take a few minutes. It is preferable to get a tumour removed than it is to have to euthanise the rat just because the tumour has grown too large or has ulcerated.

Neutering (other than for health reasons) is not generally considered to be essential operations, but a castration may be necessary in a hormonally aggressive buck. Perhaps you may just want to keep a mixed-sex cage of rats, that is personal choice but not considered a necessary surgery.

If your buck is having a castration, ask your vet if he has performed this operation on a rodent before – not all vets realise that rats have an open inguinal canal which must be closed off afterwards! Some vets will remove the testicles through the abdominal wall, but this is less common than through the scrotum.

If you have a doe that needs spaying, it is extremely important that you ask about post-operative analgesia before your rat has the op. They are given a pain killer whilst under anaesthetic, but this will have worn off by the following morning, and females can
suffer from painful abdominal cramps (visible as the rats sides sucking in and out) for several days after a spay. I recommend 1 drop of oral Metacam (meloxicam – an NSAID) once a day until the cramps stop, which is usually from 3 to 5 days max. If the cramps are really bad, it is possible to give the Metacam twice on the first day after the op, morning and evening.

Anaesthesia & Analgesia

Rats do not need to ‘fast’ before surgery like other mammals do. A rat cannot vomit, so you can provide food and water right up until they are ready for the surgery. Not all vets and their assistants realise this! Some rats will start to eat right after they come round from the anaesthetic too, this can help them to keep warm, as well as comfort themselves.

It would also be a good idea to discuss the method of anaesthesia, and what type of stitches the vet intends to use beforehand. Injectable anaesthetic is too dangerous for such a small animal, and is not generally used anymore. Anaesthesia used to be considered a major problem when operating on rodents, but now in the 21st century, this is no longer the case. Inhalation anaesthesia is now the accepted method. Gaseous anaesthesia is usually given in the form of Isoflurane, Methoxyflurane or Halothane, and is very safe. For analgesia – the usual pain-killers used are Butorphanol or an opiate such as morphine, which is normally administered with before the rat is revived from the anaesthetic. Metacam or Rimadyl are sometimes prescribed post-operatively. If a rat chews at their stitches after surgery, some vets will give another shot of an opiate based drug, which makes the rat sleepy, and this hopefully gives the op site and muscles enough time to knit back together and the inflammation to subside before the rat is alert again.

Types of Sutures

Ask your vet what type of sutures he intends to use. For small incisions subcuticular dissolvable stitches are best – these are hidden under the skin so more difficult to chew. These sutures are usually dissolved away from a week to 10 days later. For larger incisions staples may be better. Vets will assure you staples are not painful, and one vet even stapled his own finger to prove this! Some rats will not worry their wounds and will heal surprisingly well, but it is worth being prepared for the rat who wants to chew its stitches out and worry the wound if it is reachable. I have known vets to add a small gauze pad to the incision for the rat to ‘worry’, thereby leaving the incision alone to heal.

Collars are notoriously difficult to attach to a rat and very easy for the rat to remove. I do not recommend them because it can cause the rat to become depressed as it is unable to groom or feed normally, but in some cases it might be the only option to allow the rat to heal. A body sock may work well on a rat determined to chew – if you can get it to stay on! If the incision is on the main body – you can wrap gauze around the torso and hold in place with surgical tape.

I have found that rats are more likely to chew at an operation site if it has skin glue. Internal soluble stitches are preferred, with external stitches holding the wound together until everything has knitted back together underneath. Rarely, a rat can have an allergic reaction to internal stitches, so do keep an eye out for sudden swelling or signs of infection.

Post Operative Care

Your vets should monitor your rat for a couple of hours after the surgery before allowing them to go home, and will know how to give fluid replacement for your rat if necessary, as dehydration is common. Glucose/saline solution is usually warmed to body temperature and given by subcutaneous injection. It is standard practice for some vets to prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection after a surgery, but it is not always deemed necessary, for example a mammary tumour removed with aseptic techniques is very unlikely to have the incision become infected.

It is most important to keep the patient warm after surgery, your vet will normally use a heat-mat or an overhead light source to provide warmth after surgery and until they are ready to go home. When you collect your rat you can ask your vet to fill a latex glove with warm water as a makeshift ‘hot water bottle’ to keep it warm if it is cold outside, or you may already own a microwavable heat-pad which can be taken with you.

At home you should have a ‘hospital’ tank set up, where your rat will recover until well enough to be re-united with cage mate. A one level glass or plastic tank is ideal. You can purchase a heat mat used for tropical animals such as reptiles, or a microwavable heat pad for pets. Place it under a small part of the tank, so your rat can choose whether to sit over it or not. Your rat will probably be groggy after the op and want to sleep so put the hospital tank somewhere quiet.

Check on the rat every hour or so to begin with and ensure they drink. You can offer your rat baby food or other soft foods when awake – it should stimulate the appetite and has a high water content, so will help to avoid dehydration. Offer fluids from a dropper or from the tip of your finger. The dropper from a cleaned empty bottle of Echinacea is good for this. Some rats will go off their food, so try to encourage them every couple of hours to start with. It would be a good idea to add a few drops of Bach’s Rescue Remedy to their water. If they still seem reluctant to move to the water bottle, continue to offer water via dropper, finger or syringe.

A vitamin supplement such as Nutrical or Ferretvite can be offered if appetite seems smaller than usual – only give a pea-sized blob once a day to avoid overdose of the fat-soluble vitamins. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as grapes and broccoli, are believed to help the healing process.

Give your rat plenty of love and attention – this too really helps with the healing process, and get them back with their cage-mates as soon as possible. Most rats can go back in with their cagemates the day following the surgery if they have had minor surgery – but it’s always best to clean out the cage first.

Some vets will try to tell you to isolate them for a week or more – this is unnecessary! A young adult is ready to go back to a cleaned out cage with cagemates the next morning after tumour removals, castrations and even some spays, unless they were very sick before the op and need a few days to recover their strength. If the castration was for aggression or to go into a mixed sex cage, you need to wait at least 3 weeks to ensure any residual sperm and hormones have dissipated!

Author : Joolz

Anti Lump Mix for Rats

It is always best to have mammary tumours removed by an experienced veterinary surgeon – but on rare occasion, you may be told by your vet that the tumour is inoperable for one reason or another.

The initial outlay to buy all the ingredients for the following recipe can cost as much, or sometimes more than a tumour removal surgery, so please do not consider it as a cheap alternative to your rat being seen by a vet!

The following mix has been found to help shrink or slow the growth of benign tumours in pet rats. It has been tried by quite a few people in the UK, USA and Australia with favourable reports in the last few years.

Mix together the following ingredients:-

3 capsules of CLA (Tonalin) (1000mg)
3 capsule shark cartilage (650mg)
1 capsule Co-enzyme Q10 (10mg)
10 drops of echinacea/goldenseal liquid herbal extract
1ml of sublingual B vitamin complex liquid
1 capsule Super antioxidant formula (has vit C, E, beta-carotene and selenium – do not give this if Enervite or any other vitamin supplements are being given)
3 capsule Pau d’arco (500mg)
1 capsule Flaxseed oil (1000mg)
1″ square of miso paste (pure organic, not flavoured)

I buy it all from Holland & Barrett (keep an eye out for their 1/2 price sales!) , except the miso paste which can be bought online. I buy mine here:-
http://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/cgi-local/frameset/detail/515173.html

It turns out a bit like mud, so I divide it into 14 bits and store in fridge. This will last for 7 to 14 days, depending on whether you give once or twice a day. Start off with one dose per day for a small doe, and increase to twice if the lump continues to grow or once a day for slow-growing lumps. Twice a day for fast growing lumps (and also for larger does).

Some rats will happily eat it neat, others do not like the taste. Disguise it by mixing it with a blob of Enervite, or try stirring it into babyfood or yoghurt.

Note
If you try this mix after a lump removal to try to prevent further growth of tumours, please omit the shark cartilage for the first week after surgery, as it works by preventing growth of new blood vessels.

Author : Joolz

The Rescue Rat

There are many rat books on the market and most of them very good and informative. I have used at lot of their ideas and benefited from the advice in the health sections over the years, but these books are usually aimed at the person who has had a rat from a baby who is a loved and contented creature. However, as with all animals there are many unwanted, abused, abandoned and neglected rats that end up in rescue centres every year and looking after you of these is a whole different kettle of fish!

So, if you are looking for a rat who needs a loving home, or you already have a rescue rat then maybe the following will help…
Finding a rescue rat

Firstly, how do you go about finding a rescue rat?

The Internet is an excellent place to start. Using various search engines you will find a multitude of people who are committed to looking after and re-homing rats. If you cannot find a Rescue local to you, ask your vets as they may know or look in your local paper. Also, check the various online rat forums.

Once you’ve found a rescue, don’t think that it will be like walking into pet shop, selecting your rat and leaving with him or her or her. Some centres may be happy to ask you a few questions regarding your suitability but others may be more stringent about where these poor creatures are going and will ask many question and even book a home check. Don’t take this personally, it is no reflection of you or your skills as being a rat owner! Don’t forget, if an animal has ended up in a rescue centre it has obviously suffered some trauma in its short life so it is paramount that the right home is found.

All rats are unique and like humans they all have different characters, so if you are looking for a rat that’s going to sit on your shoulder while you watch TV then you are likely to be disappointed.

If you’re are lucky enough to rehome a kitten (that is, a baby rat) then you’re in with a chance that it you can bring him or her home, let him or her settle in for a few days then begin bringing up your new friend to fit in with your lifestyle.

But if you are rehoming a frightened individual or one that has had a bad start in life, then be prepared to spend a lot of time – maybe months – getting them to trust you. Also be prepared that he or she never will!

Please don’t be put off at this point, maybe he or her won’t ever sit contentedly on your lap but you will see changes in him or her, as they gradually become more relaxed that will be so rewarding. I found it a good idea to keep a rat diary, where you can put down any significant events, so that when you read back over them you will be reminded how he or she was when he first arrived to how he is say 3 months later. Having said that, a good rescue centre will not send you off with a traumatised rat as your first rescue.
Health

Healthwise, getting a rescue rat is a bit like the lottery – you may or may not come up with a winning ticket – more than likely ‘not’.

Rescue rats may be more susceptible than their pure bred counterparts to health problems such as respiratory disease (either caused by their traumatic past, bad husbandry or genetics), and tumours. Vets bills can be expensive so do bear this in mind when getting a rescue rat. If you are not able to get to a vets easily (due maybe to working long hours) or cannot afford financially frequent visits, then do not get a rescue rat.

Most rescue rats come from poor breeding lines where genetic problems are rife. For example, someone will go to a pet shop and buy two ‘males’ and then find one morning that they have a litter of babies, no doubt fathered by the mum’s brother, making the offspring more susceptible to genetic problems.. Pure bred rats come from breeding lines where, wherever possible, ‘bad’ genetics are bred out. (This does not mean a pure bred rat from a reputable breeder won’t get respiratory disease or tumours , but it is less likely.)

Also, when taking on a rescue rat, do ensure you have a good rat vet lined up just in case (see out Guide to Choosing a Vet).
Building trust

So, you’ve got your rescue rat and got him or her home. Leave them for a few days in their cage to settle in and get to know the noises and smells of their new home. Once they are settled in, then it is time to start handling them! However, when you can’t handle your rat, you need somewhere that you can let them come out of their cage without you worrying where they’re going. My hall is an ideal place with all the doors shut. If it’s practical take the whole cage, it is where they will feel safe and can run to if they get nervous. If not take them in their bed so they have some place they recognise to hide. Open the door of the cage and make sure it is secure then sit down and wait. And wait!

Some respond to gentle calling but if they are still scared of you, just keep quiet. As I say each rat is different so you will have to judge this. With a nervous rat I would not try to interact with them to start with but would manoeuvre myself so that in order for them to get back to their cage or bed they would have to climb over my leg. This gets them used to touching you first.

(I had you rat though, living in 2 storey cage with the door at the front, I had placed my feet either side of the door so she had to climb over me to get back in. It was quite ingenious really, she climbed up the side of the cage, down the front and in the door head first to avoid me).

Gradually as they become more confident I touch them as they walk by. Once I was in the hall with my rescue rat Ruby reading a book (me, not Ruby) when without thinking I put my hand on her as she walked by. Bless her, she must have jumped 2 feet in the air. If everything is done gently eventually they stop trying to avoid you.

It could take weeks or months – or as I said before, never – until your rat trusts you, so do be patient. Treat your rat like they are a small, frightened child, let them make the first move – let them take the lead. Never shout at them – or have lots of noise going on around them such as crying babies, screaming kids or loud music – and don’t try when you are feeling stressed as the rats will pick up on your anxiety and then get even more anxious themselves!

A friend once took in a very aggressive rat (the previous owner had used him as a place to stub out his cigarettes and as something to taunt). She named the rat Brian and was scared witless by him! However, one day she took a large shot of whisky to calm her nerves and bravely let Brian walk out of his cage on to her arm. Normally by now he would have bitten her – because he would pick up on my friend’s fear – but this time he didn’t. After a week of doing this, no drink beforehand was taken and still no biting! A mutual respect and trust had been built up between the two of them and within two months, Brian was handable!
Summary

There are thousands of rescue rats needing homes nationwide. If after reading this and despite all the traumas and worries – as well as the upsides of having a rescue rat – have made you even more determined, then why not contact a rescue local to you? If you can give an abandoned, unwanted or abused rat a second chance at life, then the rewards in having a new furry family member will be relentless.

Author : Kerry May : Additional words by Stella Hulott

RUBY’S STORY – the story of a rescue rat

Many people who offer a home to a rescue rat are experienced rat owners – and for good reason too. Sadly, many of the rats that come into a Rat Rescue will be mentally and emotionally scarred by their past, meaning that some may be exceptionally timid or very aggressive. However, as this story demonstrates – written in her own words by rat lover Kerry May – with lots of love and patience your new rat can learn to trust you and you can have a wonderful friendship.

On the 27th December 2002 a friend phoned to tell me that there was an advert in the paper for a white female rat called Ruby free to a good home. I wasn’t really looking for another rat as I already had 2 but I kept thinking about her so I phoned the number in the advert. A man told me that his daughter bred gerbils and hamsters and thought about giving “rats a go” but she had got bored!

When I got round there a woman told me that she had found a home for the male some time ago and that Ruby had been in the shed for about a year. I was asked to wait while the woman got her for me. Ruby was very clean and obviously well fed but when I got her home she cowered in the carry case and was really scared of me.

I set up a cage with 3 beds and spread loads of bedding about and quickly took her from the carry case and put her in her new home. Once she had settled down a bit she began collecting every strand of bedding and putting it into the bed she had chosen, along with a towel that I had left in the cage.

Ruby spent all of the next day looking at what was going on, so in the evening I decided to let her out for the first time. I took her cage into the hall, closed all the doors and sat on the floor. She came quite gingerly and wouldn’t let me near her, I had to keep absolutely still otherwise she ran back to her house.

The next day when I let her out and she was down the other end of the hall, I sat in front of the cage and put my legs either side of the door so that she would have to climb over a leg to get back in. I do this with all my new rats to get them used to touching me on their own terms, as it puts no pressure on them, but she climbed up the side of the cage and down the front and went headfirst into the cage, all to avoid me!

The day after though she seemed quite happy to climb over my legs to get in and even ignored me when I got up to sort her house out. The day after I was pleased when she climbed up my arm, the pleasure was short-lived though, because as soon as she jumped off me she bit my hand then legged it back to her house.

Each time I put my hand near her she bit me hard enough to draw blood which was becoming very unpleasant to say the least.

It soon became obvious that she loved her food and even though she was wary of me she would come straight out of her bed when she smelt something nice. So to get her used to me I prepared sweetcorn for her dinner then sat in front of the cage with the lid up. I put both hands in and held a piece of sweetcorn with one hand and as she came out of her bed I would attempt to touch her with the other.

If I managed to even brush against her fur slightly without getting bitten, I rewarded her with the sweetcorn, if I didn’t manage to touch her before she ran off or bit me she didn’t get the food. I would do this we 4 or 5 pieces then leave her to eat in peace. I did this for 2 weeks and although she stopped running away she still jumped when I touched her.

When she was outside her cage I would try to touch her at every opportunity, sometimes I got bitten but mostly she just scooted off. One day she was obviously very fed up with me and really lunged for me. I got a print on the back of my hand of top teeth and bottom teeth an inch apart!

Over the next few weeks she became very happy to climb over me while out of the cage, once though without thinking I put my hand on her has she walked past me and she pinged about 2 feet in the air, poor Ruby, but it was hilarious.

One day, 6 weeks after her arrival I touched her and was able to leave my hand on her for several seconds and she wasn’t bothered. I even managed to put both my hands round her body as if to pick her up but I was so worried about scaring her that I let go, but she kept coming back for more Yay! We were getting there.

Some time later I was laying in the hall while she had a run when I put my hand on her, she scooted off but came back again, so I put my hand on her again, this time harder. We spent ages with her running off then coming back for me to touch her. This was the start of her really starting to trust me.

Several times I tried to introduce her to my other rats but she was quite savage and attacked them ripping out fur and drawing blood and I decided quite quickly that it wasn’t worth upsetting everyone and that she would have to live alone.

One year on, Ruby trusted me implicitly and loved a cuddle. She would sit on my lap for ages while I rubbed under her ears. She would still bite me if she felt inclined but it was usually when she was playing rather than with aggression. No less painful though

It was around June 2003 when she started to lose the hair on her legs. The hair gradually disappeared until she was completely bald apart from the odd tuft on her head and bum. The vet treated her for mites but it made no difference the hair was gone for good. (Editors note: If your female rat starts to lose her fur and it is not mites or a food allergy, it could well be a hormonal imbalance).

I then noticed a small lump between her legs, the vet said it was a tumour, which because of its position it could not be operated on. A lump then appeared on her chest. Poor Ruby she was bald and lumpy and not a pretty sight at all.

The lump between her legs grew and grew and I did not imagine that she would still be around at Christmas, but she was. She continued to be a happy person, enjoying her food and attempting to attack the others when she passed their cage.

During March I began to think about what I was going to do. Although she still launched herself at the side of the cage every morning when I went in the living room I knew it couldn’t go on forever. She was such a special little thing that I did not want her to be in pain or for me to find her one morning collapsed and suffering.

I made the decision that I would take her to the vet before it got to that stage. When she began bunny hopping due to the size of the lump between her legs I made the decision to phone the vet the next day. But that morning she launched herself up at the side of the cage as usual that I just couldn’t do it when she seemed so happy.

I eventually made the decision and on 29th March 2004 we had a cuddle, I gave her a chocolate biscuit and took her to the vet.

The vet was lovely. The tank had a nice towel in it and Ruby went in quite happily and wasn’t scared at all and she just went to sleep, bless her precious heart.

Author : Kerry May

The coming of the fancy rat

Have you ever wondered how rat keeping came about? Rat lover Kerry May tells us how these wonderful furries became part of our life…

It seems it all happened in the Victorian times, a time when the human population was growing and so was that of the rats. In the name of so-called ‘entertainment’ publicans would have’ rat pits’ and dogs were encouraged to go into rat pits and kill as many as possible in a set amount of time.

To get their live bait in the first place (ie the poor wild rats) Publicans employed Rat Catchers for this purpose, who would catch wild rats and sell the ones they caught to the publican.

While out catching rats the rat catchers would come across unusual coloured rats, which would be kept as a collection. Jimmy Shaw, who ran one of London’s most famous rat pits, had found a white rat and also black and white rats in various locations.

Jack Black, who was Queen Victoria’s official Rat and Mole catcher, would breed the odd coloured rats he found and would sell them around London. They became popular pets especially among young women who would keep them in squirrel cages.

Beatrix Potter wrote a story in 1908 dedicated to her pet rat Sammy. It was around this time that rats started to be shown and breeders started to develop their colours and patterns. But interest faded and it was not until the 1970s that rat keeping became popular again.

Author : Kerry May