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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Rat Room Remodel

The Remodeled Rat Room

My husband, Tom, always takes a nice two weeks off over the holidays. This year, he decided to devote a huge chunk of that time to remodeling Ratropolis (our Rat Room). Our Rat Room is in the basement and has always been a nice place for rat free range, but the room as a whole had a little bit of an unpolished basement atmosphere. For reference, below is a shot of the former Rat Room, featuring the same back wall as shown above:

The old Rat Room
The pale green walls left the room feeling rather cold, and the sump pump in the corner was loud, an eye sore, and a potential hazard. There was also a mess of cabling in the same corner that had to be kept out of the rats' reach. The floor was cold, hard, dark green concrete.

We decided it would be best to completely wall off the sump pump area of the room to create a large closet storage area and protect the rats from the hazards of the sump pump. My husband redid all the wiring and cabling back there so that everything is clean and orderly. Shown below is the new wall in the old rat room.

Wall enclosing sump pump and creating storage closet.
The rats in the old setup were limited in space by an aviary housing my remaining finches. We decided to move the last of the birds (just four left) into a flight cage (actually, a Critter Nation turned on its side) so that we could tear down the aviary and expand the rat room into the bird room territory. That effectively doubled the rat room in size.

We then decided to remove the ceiling mounted 4' shop light fixture and replace it with two LED fixtures with a dimmer switch, to give the room a classier look and to allow control over the amount of light in the room.

From there, we painted everything a nice warm happy yellow, with fresh white trim and baseboards. The yellow ended up being a little darker/brighter than I intended, but I like the way it turned out. I read once, a long time ago, about a study that showed that rats were happier and more social in a yellow environment when compared with a blue environment. I can no longer find any trace of that article, but that always stuck with me, and so when we wanted to warm the room up a bit, yellow seemed like the perfect choice.

We installed shelving for storage on the new back wall. We covered the floor with Allure Ultra waterproof laminate flooring (like Pergo, but made of vinyl so that it is waterproof). The final result is shown below.

The new wall with storage shelves and door to the closet/sump pump area.
A fan in the far left corner keeps the air circulating. 
Looking slightly to the left is the love seat for TV viewing.
The left wall with love seat and flight cage (modified DCN on its side).
The entry into the room with flight cage on one side of the door and
rat cages on the other side.
Different angle of the entry to the room.
The rat cages on the right wall.
The TV mounted to the wall.
View from the love seat.
The entire room is rat safe for supervised free range and now feels much more like a living space rather than a basement pet room.

DISCLAIMER: When I say "we" did something, I primarily mean "Tom" did it, with me sometimes being able to help as the gopher, hold this, find this tool, hand me the screws person. Tom is amazingly talented and hard working and truly amazing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rats in the News: Children with Rats as Pets Do Better in School

Article: Kids with Pets Do Better At School, Especially Rat Owners, Study Says

A study commissioned by Pets At Home which surveyed 1000 pet-owning children between the ages of  5 and 16 years found that children who have pets do better in school, with rat-owning children performing the best.

So the next time our rats run off with my boys' homework, I will have to remember that they are not, in fact, stashing it in their cage to shred for bedding, but rather, they are helping to tutor them. It appears to be working. My oldest graduated Junior High with a silver Presidential Award for academic excellence and my youngest finished his last year at grade school with straight A's and made it into accelerated math. Many thanks are owed to our many rattie friends for helping them to achieve such accomplishments!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rest in Peace, Burt

It is always difficult for me to write these posts. Memorials always come up short of describing the rat we lost.

Burt was a very special boy. He was a great people rat and he really enjoyed life. He was a fighter, not letting his cancer get the better of him for most of the time he was ill. Even when he injured a leg and it became infected because of the steroid, he still sought to make the most of every day, despite his impaired mobility.

Burt's love of popcorn made these Christmas pictures possible.

He took beautiful pictures - you could always see the smile in his face. He was happy to be here and happy to have rattie and people friends around him. He loved food and was a master hoarder. I always knew that when he refused his favorite foods, it would be time to let him go.

Burt's last photo shoot on the 4th of July

Last Friday was that time. He wasn't eating and he was having difficulty just existing. His head bobbed up and down with every breath. I could tell he was miserable. He had experienced a bad spell earlier in the week, but he bounced back somewhat for a few days. When I saw him on Friday morning, I knew it was time to let him go peacefully. We had him put to sleep at our vets office at 11am on Saturday, July 17th.

Rest in Peace, Sweet Boy Burt. Play hard at the bridge. Your girls Bela, Ruby, and Jo are all waiting for you to join them, along with your first buddy from your original home, Ernie. You are truly missed.

Jeremy cuddling up with Burt on his last day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Turkey Tail Mushroom

By nature, I am skeptical of supplements. There is not enough regulation and a whole lot of unsubstantiated claims. Those supplements that claim to cure everything seem to be the most likely to do nothing. However, in cases where I have experienced problems, when there is a supplement that has been shown to provide some benefit, I have not been adverse to giving it a try.

The biggest problems I see in my rats are cancers/tumors. I have had many rats die from such problems (pituitary tumors, lung tumors, internal abdominal tumors, and now Burt's lymphoma). Even when respiratory infections have been bad, there has often been an underlying lung tumor contributing to the problem. If there is anything I can do to prevent that, or at least to extend the lives of these rats, it is worth researching.

The supplement that keeps coming up regarding cancer in rats is Turkey Tail Mushroom. I did a little research into it and decided it was worth trying. What convinced me is the fact that the NIH actually funded a study that evaluated the effectiveness of Turkey Tail Mushroom. That study concluded that Turkey Tail Mushroom does indeed help the immune system to fight cancer. You can read more about that study and its findings in this article: Turkey Tail Mushrooms Help Immune System Fight Cancer.

That study and anecdotal evidence from rat owners who have used Turkey Tail Mushroom with positive results have led me to conclude that it is worth giving it a try. For now, I am using it with Burt. Burt's lymphoma is pretty well established, so I don't expect it to cure him, but it is my hope it may extend his life. From what I have read, you cannot overdose on this supplement and there are no known adverse effects, so it won't likely hurt.

You can see the large lump on Burt's thigh.
The product I chose to use is the one used in the study: Host Defense Turkey Tail. There are cheaper products out there, but when I choose this product, I know I am using the same product that was studied. The article I linked to mentioned that you want to make sure to use mushrooms that are US grown and US-certified organic, which this product is. Mushrooms are greatly affected by metals and organisms in the environment, so using foreign grown mushrooms or mushrooms not grown organically can carry risks. (I have no affiliation with this company and again chose it because it was the product studied by the NIH and because it meets the above criteria).

I have been using it with Burt since he was diagnosed in April. I have also been given him steroids, so there is no way to determine if any benefit I see is from the steroid or the Turkey Tail Mushroom. I started out by giving him half a capsule a day (I open the capsule and mix the powder inside with baby food (turkey and sweet potato) or other foods that I think might blend well with mushroom (eg, spaghetti). I increased that amount to one capsule a day when I saw that he liked the taste of the supplement and that it did him no harm (although some days I mix it in food that he shares with his two cagemates, so he only gets 1/3 the capsule on those days).

I would like to say that Burt's tumor is shrinking and that he is getting better on the supplement, but that is just not true and would be too much to hope for. His tumor has grown slowly to the point where it is quite large and I am starting to see his body undulate with his breathing - a common sign of cancer in my previous rats. So the cancer is clearly progressing. However, in the three months since his diagnosis, the lymphoma has not visibly spread to any other area of the body (he has no new lumps - although it may be spreading to internal organs - but the vet says his lungs are still clear and sound good). He is also eating well and has a positive uplifting attitude (ie, he is not acting like a sick rat). His eyes are bright and he interacts with us as normal.

A couple of weeks ago, Burt injured his right rear leg (the leg opposite the thigh with the lymphoma). Because of the steroid, his immune system is weak and the injury became infected. An abscess developed and the leg swelled up and was not useable. The vet drained the abscess and we gave his foot Epsom salt soaks while putting him on an antibiotic. His spirits diminished for a while, as he could barely move with one leg limited in mobility from the tumor and the other limited because of injury. I thought for sure that this setback would extinguish the fight in him and he would kind of give up, stop eating, and let the cancer take over.

That did not happen. His leg did not heal perfectly and mobility is still limited, but the infection was treated, and as he regained some of his mobility, his spirits returned to normal. You can see from his 4th of July pictures that even though he does have cancer, he does not acknowledge it. He continues to live his life as much like a healthy rat as possible.

Despite his lymphoma, you can see Burt is a happy rat
with good quality of life still.

I have no illusions, though. While his tumor continues to grow, his spine is getting sharper (I can feel it through his skin) and his overall weight is gradually diminishing as the tumor steals his nutrients. The writing is on the wall and Turkey Tail Mushroom is not going to cure him. But I do believe the possibility is there that the supplement is helping his immune system to fight and give him quality of life in these last days/weeks/months.

I don't see Turkey Tail Mushroom as being the cure to cancer. But I do have hope that it may help prevent or delay these problems in healthy rats. I intend to start adding it to the food (in smaller dosages - perhaps one capsule shared among all the rats each day) on a regular basis to the diets of the healthy rats. If it really does help the immune system fight cancer, it may help prevent the cancer from developing - or if it develops, postpone the start of that development so that they live longer. I don't have any personal evidence to say that it will do this, but given the number of rats who have died too young (two years seems to be a common age to start seeing these problems - 1 and 1/2 years for PT), it certainly wouldn't hurt to try it and see if my rats start living longer or if the rate at which I see cancer/tumors develop goes down any.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy July 4th!

Burt was our model for the 4th of July photo shoot this year. He is doing really well despite his lymphoma (and also an injury he sustained to his right rear leg opposite the tumor). His breathing is visible, a sign that the cancer is progressing, but his appetite is good and his spirits are bright and he just can't resist hamming it up for the camera. I love to photograph Burt - he always seems to have a smile on his face. Some of the other shots:

You can really see the tumor on his thigh in this pic.

Lilly was also up for some 4th of July pictures. She did marvelously well - a lot more outgoing than our first photo shoot attempt at Valentine's Day.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Efficient Layout for Cutting CN Liners out of U-Haul Furniture Pad

I have been making cage liners for the Critter Nation from U-Haul furniture pads for a while now. I know that one furniture pad is enough to make all the liners for two dual Critter Nation cages, minus one shelf, but only if the pieces are laid out efficiently. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting how they need to be laid out.

So today, I decided to take a picture of the proper layout so that I can remember how it goes in the future. Note that the bottom and top levels are the same dimensions (except for the cutout), so they are completely interchangeable. Also note that you can replace any of the top level/bottom level pieces with two shelf pieces, with the longer edge laid out adjacent to each other (this produces slightly more waste, but is still very efficient).

If you always remember to layout your pieces in this fashion, interchanging them as described above when needed, you will be sure to maximize the number of liners you can cut from one furniture pad.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What to Do for a Degloved Tail

Lilly with her degloved tail

(Warning: Graphic Image at Bottom of Post)

Monday night, when we took Lilly and her boys out to play, we noticed that Lilly had degloved the last 1 1/2" of her tail. Degloving occurs when the skin of the tail separates from the body, exposing the bone and tissue underneath. She may have gotten it caught somehow, or she may have injured it during a scuffle with her boys, or her tail may have gotten bit by one of the rats in the adjacent cage, despite the cages being 5" apart. The latter is the most likely, as our Hammie loves to nip at tails that find their way through bars (tails on rats he lives with are fine, though). I have moved the cages a little further apart, so hopefully all tails will be safe in the future.

Degloved tails are probably one of the most common injuries in rats. This is because the degloving mechanism is a part of a rat's natural defense against predators. Should a predator catch the rat by the tail, the skin can easily detach and separate from the tail, allowing the rat to escape and leaving the predator with a section of tail skin. However, this mechanism can also kick in when an accident occurs - another rat accidentally (or on purpose) nips a tail, the tail gets caught on something, a door pinches a tail as it closes, a tail gets stepped on, or someone ignorantly picks the rat up by a tail (yet another reason you should never pick up a rat by the tail).
This was not our first degloving. Weasel degloved the tip of his tail (about 1/2") several years ago on New Years Eve just before midnight while free ranging during a late night play session. Because it had happened before, we knew what to do.

If there is extensive skin loss, you should wrap the exposed area in a clean cloth to control bleeding and seek veterinary assistance immediately, as the rat could go into shock.

In most cases, the amount of skin loss will be minor. If it is just the tip of the tail that is affected, you can usually begin treatment at home and see your regular veterinarian at the next available appointment. Degloving is rarely a life threatening condition, since it evolved as a way to save a life, not take it. So if there is minimal skin loss, there is no need to panic. That doesn't mean it isn't extremely painful or that you don't need to treat it properly, but with proper care, your rattie will likely recover just fine.

The tail should be cleaned and antibiotic ointment can be used to try to prevent infection. Pain medication is helpful. For Weasel, we gave him some Children's ibuprofen. For Lilly, we had metacam on hand from her spay, so we used that instead (we used the higher 1 mg/kg dose because I had seen that dosage used in a case study in the Rat Guide). After the wound is cleaned, antibiotic ointment applied, and pain meds administered, the cage liners and litter should be changed, and the rat can be returned to the clean cage. It is usually safest to keep the injured rat in a hospital cage, separate from the other rats, so that the other rats don't accidentally hurt him/her, until you have the okay from the vet. For Lilly, we closed the ramp between the top and bottom levels so that Lilly could recover peacefully on the bottom while the boys wrestled on top.

An appointment with the vet should be made as soon as available (but an emergency visit isn't necessary unless extensive skin loss has occurred or the rat is not behaving in a healthy way). The vet will examine the wound and may prescribe antibiotics and/or pain medication as deemed necessary. The exposed bone will need to come off. Sometimes, it will fall off naturally and the vet will tell you to wait a week to see if that happens. If it does not fall off on its own accord or if the degloving is more extensive, a surgical amputation of the exposed bone may be required.

Lilly has seen the vet and has had the bone amputated and she is recovering fine. She is back with her boys and does not seem to be in further pain. Likewise, Weasel recovered easily from his degloving incident.

For more information about degloving, see the Degloving Injury article of the Rat Guide.
Degloved Tail

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rats in the News: Even More Evidence that Rats Experience Empathy

Article: Rats Forsake Chocolate to Save a Drowning Companion

Not that the rat community really needs convincing, but more evidence has surfaced that rats experience empathy. In this study, rats chose to save a "drowning" rat over receiving chocolate 50% to 80% of the time. I wonder if a delicious yogie treat would skewer those results (just kidding).

Friday, May 8, 2015

What Every Rat Owner Should Know About High White and Megacolon

The wedge blaze on Mystery is a clue that he was likely high white.
His brother, Weasel (photo below), had even more signs of high white.

I normally don't care much about superficial rat traits like color, markings, ear type, and fur type. I admit that I do like to have variety, as it makes it a lot easier to tell the rats apart from a distance, but aside from that convenience, the physical characteristics of a rat are not that important to me. I have taken a passing interest in what the different marking mutations are, the different colors, the different fur types, etc, and some of the genetics behind them. But it is just an academic interest. I am never looking for a specific color, marking, or trait when I take in new rats. I take in the rats that need homes when I have a home to offer.

I have researched one specific trait, however, much more than the others. Despite all that research, my understanding of it remains incomplete and flawed. That trait is high white.

What is high white? High white is a term used to describe the color patterns that result when cell migration is delayed and the pigment cells do not reach their destination, resulting in patterns of white (unpigmented) fur. That sounds great, but what does it really mean? During fetal development, neural cells, including pigment cells, originate along the neural crest (a strip along the spine). From there, they migrate to other parts of the body as the embryo develops. If, for some reason, that migration is delayed, those cells start on their journey but may not reach their destination. In the case of the pigment cells, it means the cells that were designed to add pigment to the fur don't reach their destination and that destination area is left unpigmented, or white. So normally, the pigment cells start at the top of the back and migrate all the way down the sides toward the belly. But if they start a little late, they might make it only partially down the sides. The more the delay, the higher the white areas that will creep up the sides. High white markings can also affect the head, resulting in irregular white spots or blazes. This delayed migration can also affect pigment to the eyes, and sometimes results in the odd-eye phenotype (one eye is a different color than the other).

Weasel was almost certainly a high-white rat. He had odd-eyes (one Ruby, one black)
a lightning blaze, and white patches that crept up the sides farther than normal.

Does this mean that all rats with white on their sides or with blazes or other irregular white spotting are high white? No. There are some genes that cause white markings such as hooded, masked, Berkshire, bareback, dalmation, etc. These traits are usually associated with the hooded locus and are not high white markings. More often than not, blazes in the US are associated with high white markings. But there are other genes that can cause blazes that are not derived genetically from high white. As far as I know, odd eye is always associated with high white - although I could be mistaken. I have never heard of any other causes for odd-eye.

Gandolf and Sam (facing forward) are split-capped, which is a high white marking.
Their brother, Max (facing away) is a hooded like their mother.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to tell if a rat is genetically high white just by looking at it. Things like odd-eye, white running up the sides further than is normal for the standard markings, and blazes are clues that there is a higher likelihood of being high white. However, without a pedigree, it can be hard to know for sure.

So now comes the real question: Why do we care if a rat is high white or not? The answer to that is simple. High white rats come with a much increased risk for megacolon. What is megacolon? Megacolon is a condition where the proper cells that allow an animal to defecate do not reach the colon. Thus, the rat cannot defecate and fecal matter collects in the colon. The condition is always fatal. It is a very painful condition for which euthanasia is usually the only option. Most rats that develop megacolon die shortly after weaning. This is called early-onset megacolon. However, some rats with megacolon have enough functionality to survive normally into early adulthood, but eventually succumb to the megacolon and die at an early age. This is late-onset megacolon. Late onset megacolon is much more rare than early onset.

In many cases, when a physical characteristic like color/markings is associated with a condition, it is because the gene for the marking and the gene for the condition both appear on the same chromosome and thus both tend to get passed on together. The closer together on the chromosome the two genes are, the more likely they will get passed on together. Because of genetic transposition, a portion of one chromosome can sometimes break off and switch places with a portion of another chromosome, allowing traits on the same chromosome to be separated in the right circumstances. The closer two genes are together, the more likely they are to stay together (the break would have to be in just the right spot to separate them). Thus, traits that often show up together are more likely to appear close together on the same chromosome. In selective breeding, much work can be put into trying to separate the two traits (hoping for just the right transposition to occur). It can be difficult, but it is possible.

Unfortunately, it is not possible in the case of megacolon to separate high white from megacolon in this manner. That is because the gene combination that produces high white is also the same combination that can produce megacolon. Basically, the process that delays the pigment cells from reaching their destination, also delays the neural cells that stimulate the colon from reaching their destination. It is in fact the same genes that make high white possible that also make megacolon possible. You cannot selectively separate the two conditions because they are made possible by the same set of genes.

That said, most high white rats do not actually develop megacolon. The delaying of cell migration that causes high white marking patterns also can delay the neural cells from reaching the colon, but it is also possible and even likely that those specific cells will reach the colon just fine. It is very unpredictable. When breeding, you can predict with some accuracy whether the offspring may be high white by knowing the parents pedigrees. However, you cannot predict what the exact pattern of markings will look like in those high white rats. There is a lot of variability in how the high white is expressed and that variability is controlled by many other genetic factors. In the same manner, we cannot predict whether or not the needed neural cells will reach the colon in a high white rat. A greater delay in cell migration may produce more severe high white patterns and also may imply a greater risk for megacolon, and thus there may be high white lines where the risk is extreme and some high white lines where the risk is less, but the ability to predict whether or not megacolon will occur in any given high white is very difficult. The best you can do is look at pedigrees for patterns in the line.

There have been some genes that have been determined to be involved with megacolon. There is the Spotting Lethal gene (dominant is normal, recessive linked to megacolon). There is also the White Spotting gene (dominant linked to megacolon, recessive is normal). More recently, there have also been studies done showing a connection between the SOX10 gene and megacolon. But part of the problem with these genes is that they have incomplete penetrance. This means that while you might need the right genes to be present to actually have megacolon, the mere presence of those genes does not mean megacolon will develop. It just means the potential for megacolon is there. The actual inheritance of megacolon is polygenetic and the right conditions need to be produced for megacolon to develop. At least this is my understanding.

What does this all mean to the average rat owner? Basically, megacolon is a very nasty condition that we want to avoid at all cost. Most (but not all) rats that develop megacolon are high white rats. Does that mean we should never adopt high white rats because they are likely to die of megacolon? Absolutely not. That is a completely false assumption. Most high white rats are perfectly healthy. The ones that develop megacolon usually die in the first weeks after weaning. If they survive past the risky period, they most likely do not have megacolon and they are far more likely to die of other rat health issues like respiratory problems and tumors. There is very little risk adopting a rat with odd eyes or blazes or high white markings once they are past the risky early weeks.

However, there is a much higher risk associated with breeding high white rats. If you are going to purchase rats from a breeder, you should try to acquaint yourself with the signs of high white. Most reputable breeders will not breed high white rats. A breeder who is selling rats with high risk markings is likely not reputable and should be avoided. However, it is possible that similar markings are being bred from safer traits, so ask to see pedigrees to verify where those traits are coming from if you believe the breeder to be reputable. Some breeders have worked with high whites and have pedigrees showing that megacolon has not appeared in their lines. It is possible that they have selected out the most risky gene combinations to produce reliable breeding under their controlled setting. However, there is no guarantee that megacolon will not eventually show up in those lines and there is also high risk breeding those offspring to outside lines - especially with unreliable pedigrees, so casual breeders should never work with high white rats - even when obtaining stock from a more reliable source with pedigreed rats. And if you are a pet owner with rats with high white markings, you should take extra precaution to ensure they are never bred (spay/neuter or don't keep mixed sexes in the same home).

If you are interested in high whites or megacolon, I recommend the following sources, from which I have learned a lot. I don't promise my understanding of the issue is perfect, so if you have concerns or interests, please just use this post as a jumping off point, but refer to the sources below for more reliable information:

For info on the condition of Megacolon:
The Rat Guide's article on Megacolon

For info on identifying High White markings (note that this article is no longer on the web and is only available through the Internet Archives Way Back Machine):
High-White and High-Risk

For info on the connection between high white and megacolon in embryo development:
Why Do Some Rats Have White Blazes and Megacolon

For info on some of the genes that are tied to megacolon:
Mutations in Rat Coat Color
Curiosity Rats: Genetics

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rats Are the Very Definition of Companion Animal

Recently, there has been some buzz about whether or not domesticated rats are considered companion animals. Felony charges in an animal abuse case were declined because the felony charge addresses abuse against companion animals and someone decided that rats are not companion animals. The matter is further complicated because the rats in question were likely largely intended to be fed to a snake.

All of us in the pet rat community know that rats are clearly companion animals and find it astonishing that we should even have to defend this. We also know that there is no difference between the rats that end up fed to snakes and the rats that we love and adore, and both deserve the same protections when it comes to abuse. However, those who have not walked in our shoes can have a hard time seeing through our eyes. Below is my attempt to provide others a glimpse into our world.

Domesticated rats are companion animals. They love and are loved by their owners in the same way as cats or dogs and deserve the same protections.

My youngest son watching TV with
one of our first rats, Weasel
Rats are one of the most popular pocket pets. Parents magazine describes them as “some of the best pets for small children”  ( They are sold as pets by pet stores and breeders and are adopted out by rescues. Pet supply stores, veterinarians, and online communities all cater to the pet rat. Rats make better pets than most small animals because they bond closely to their people and actively seek out human interaction. Rats are considered the small pet equivalent of a dog. Like dogs, they are loyal, highly intelligent, and can be trained to do tricks ( Rats are often chosen as emotional support animals, and their close bond with people makes them especially suited to this role.

Bela and Ruby were intended to be snake food at a reptile store when
Animal Control closed the store. They were adopted out to us by EARPS.

Domesticated rats are sometimes fed to snakes; however, there are no genetic, biological, or behavioral differences between rats fed to snakes and those kept as pets. In fact, many pet rats start out life destined for a snake. Some snake owners become attached to their rats and opt to keep some as pets alongside their snakes. Any living creature can be food for something else, but that does not define them. Rats are companion animals first and foremost. Just because it is legal for certain types of companion animals to be also used as food for other animals does not make it a lesser crime to abuse those animals. The abuse of any domesticated rat, regardless of what fate has been selected for him, should be prosecuted with the same severity as the abuse of any other companion animal.

My oldest son having some soup with Jo in his collar

Our family shares our home with two dogs and seven pet rats. We pay more in veterinary bills to care for our rats than we do for our dogs, because rats are vulnerable to many health issues that often require medication and/or surgery. We frequent two qualified veterinary practices to seek care for our rats, including treatment for injuries, illness, and tumors and elective procedures such as neuters (all of our girls get spayed and our boys get neutered when needed). This is how health concerns are addressed in companion animals.

Home to our family rats

We have large cages to house our rats, filled with toys, huts, tubes, litter boxes, and home-sewn hammocks. We provide a quality rat diet and cook fresh foods for them. We take them out of their cages for at least an hour every day. They have their own rat-safe room to explore during supervised out time. My children choose to spend quality time with them every day. They help nurse them when they are ill and encourage them to eat when their appetite is poor. When their time comes, we bring them to the vet to let them go peacefully without suffering. When they pass away, we all grieve. It is hard. Our vet sends us sympathy cards because they know every loss is difficult. This is how companion animals are cared for.

Our rats at the cage door ready to greet us,
like a dog at your front door when you
come home from work
When we enter the rat room, our rats run to the cage doors to greet us, eager for pets and for play. They climb up our arms and lick our fingers and nibble on our ears. They tug on our pant legs when they want to be picked up. They snuggle on our lap for a nap. They ride around the house on our shoulders. They share our food. They wrestle with our fingers. Rats rarely bite. Only if they have been neglected or abused will they bite, and even then, most do not. They are friendly, trusting animals that only want companionship, good food, some play, and a comfortable place to live. This is the behavior of a companion animal.

Our family is not unique. We are just one household of many in the pet rat community. But there is nothing ordinary about the rats who have touched our lives. Each has a unique personality and a special soul. Those who have never met a domesticated rat may be prejudiced against them, confusing them with their wild counterparts. They are not vermin, dirty, or disposable. They are clean, gentle, and loving. They have been selectively bred as such for over a hundred years. They are trusting of their people. They would not imagine that their people would ever hurt them, and they go along eagerly wherever their people take them. We need to protect them when their people abuse that trust as we would protect any other companion animal. They are not defined as food. They are defined as companion.

If the description I have provided does not define companion animal, nothing does. 510 ILCS 70/2.01a (Illinois law) defines a companion animal as “an animal that is commonly considered to be, or is considered by the owner to be, a pet." There can be no doubt that domesticated rats own that definition. Countless Facebook groups and rat communities like GooseMoose ( and the Rat Shack ( are a testament to this fact. Domesticated rats are companion animals and deserve the same protections as cats and dogs.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Burt Diagnosed with a Lymphoma

Photo of Burt taken this morning. He is in good spirits.

Not even a week after we lost Ruby, Burt has gotten a surprising and upsetting diagnosis. He developed a lump on his left hip area, that grew incredibly quickly in just a few days. My first thought was abscess, because Burt has been prone to abscesses, but this grew way too quickly and seemed to be much more mobile under the skin than an abscess. It also seemed to affect his gait, with him seeming to lean or wobble to one side (I believe the side of the lump).

Burt's lump on his left hip area
We brought him in to the vet and she aspirated the lump and did cytology testing to determine that it was lymphoma. Lymphoma is a malignant neoplasm that affects the lymph nodes. This particular instance is actually a potential candidate for surgery. However, that surgery would be very expensive and the vet warned that the lymphoma has likely already started to spread and if we did do surgery, he very well may develop more lymphomas right after this one was removed.

I consulted with the Rat Guide, which seemed to concur with what the vet has said - usually, once lymphoma has been diagnosed, it has already started to spread and other areas will soon be affected. The Rat Guide also mentioned lymphoma sometimes causes hind leg weakness, which could explain his irregular/wobbly gait. Because of the likely poor prognosis, we leaned toward not doing the surgery. Burt is in relatively good spirits and still active and happy (despite a day when he wouldn't come out of his cage - but this was the day after Ruby's death and he may have been grieving her loss). We didn't want to put him through surgery and the recovery period, only to become sicker right afterwards. We want him to enjoy his remaining time and be happy and well for as long as possible, and when his quality of life decreases, to let him go peacefully.

Still, not having dealt with a lymphoma like this before, I turned to the GooseMoose experts and asked for other's experience/advice regarding lymphomas and surgery. The response I got was unanimous - surgery was unlikely to result in a good outcome and Burt likely will be best served being spoiled and loved until his time comes.

So that is what we have decided to do. I want to emphasize that this is a completely different situation from a mammary tumor, which is a more common cause of lumps in rats. Mammary tumors are usually benign, and while, when a rat develops one mammary tumor, they do have a higher likelihood of developing more later on, mammary tumors do not spread the way lymphomas do. Mammary tumor removals have a much higher likelihood for success. Lymphomas, on the other hand, are malignant and they travel all through the body - anywhere there are lymph nodes. They spread fast and are merciless. They are a true cancer.

So now we are spoiling Burt (well, we always spoiled Burt, but he is being especially spoiled and loved on now). Burt is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 years old, but we don't have an exact age for him. He is on Prednisolone to try to buy him some time and maybe symptom relief, which he hates, but he gets spoiled afterwards with a yogi. Fortunately, I still had an almost full bottle of the steroid from when we were treating Ruby.

Burt is one of those rats that will be especially difficult to lose. Burt is a people rat. He seeks out the attention of his people more so than the others. He loves to be pet and he loves to beg for some of whatever we are eating at the time (and then stash it in his cage). He likes to hang out on the couch with us sometimes, rather than run around on the floor. He is such a sweet boy. I wish we had more time with him.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rest in Peace, Sweet Ruby

Tonight, we had to say goodbye to our sweet pink-eyed white rattie, Ruby.  Ruby would have turned two sometime this month (April), but we are unsure of her exact birthdate. She had been suffering from lung tumors, like her sister Bela. Prednisolone helped for a while, but over the last two days, she had been declining rapidly, and tonight she passed away at home.

Ruby was the shyest of the three sisters (Bela and Jo having passed away at a young age in August of last year, both with internal tumors). She loved to snuggle with her boys in the hammocks (Pirate first, then Burt, Hammie, and Jeremy). She was an Olympic wheel runner and could really get the wheel going in her youth. She never gave it up. Even when she grew to be quite a chunky little thing, she could still be found giving that wheel a spin from time to time.

Ruby was a sweet and gentle soul and she will be missed. Play hard at the Bridge, Miss Ruby - Bela, Jo, and Pirate have been waiting for you.