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Friday, January 30, 2015

Lilly May Have Gone Into Heat


As you may recall, we adopted Lilly (and her three boys) almost a week ago. When a volunteer went to pull her from the shelter, she discovered that the shelter staff had put Lilly back in the cage with her sons - a situation that was likely going to lead to pregnancy. We chose to adopt her anyway and put her on pregnancy watch.

I have been checking Lilly every evening for signs of going into heat - as an indication that she may not be pregnant. Good news! Yesterday, I believe I witnessed signs of Lilly being in heat. I was massaging her hips and every time I did that, she would friskily hop away. I even think I saw her ears vibrate at least once. When I looked at her lady parts, her vaginal opening appeared very "open."

I am no expert (never having had an intact female before), but I believe these are all signs of heat. And the signs were quite obvious to me, so I am fairly certain Lilly is not pregnant.

That is a huge relief. As interesting as raising a litter may be and as cute as the babies may be, it would have been quite a challenge to raise all of those rats (we already doubled the number of rats in our house when we took Lilly and her boys) and to find them all good homes. I would always worry about the rats that found new homes: Were they taken care of? Were they getting necessary vet care? Did they get attention? Did they have rattie friends throughout their life and a good cage and diet? Add to that the potential megacolon risks from high white markings, and it is a welcome relief to be reasonably certain there will be no more babies in Lilly's future.

So now I plan to move her to another cage - one with more space and fun things to do. I will check again in 4 to 5 days to see if the signs of heat recur, just to make sure I have this right. I can't wait to get her spayed and put her back with her boys.

I am thinking about ordering another Dual Critter Nation for Lilly and her boys. If they can be successfully introduced to the other rats, we could make it a Quad. If not, they can live separately in their own DCNs.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Boys Have Names

My sons have once again named our new rats:

And here is one of Lilly (we didn't have enough blocks with the letter "L" to spell her name):

Monday, January 26, 2015

Nesting or Redecorating?

Lilly is in a travel cage right now. I was generously given a tank with a lid in case she gives birth, but I couldn't set her up in that right away as I needed to patch a hole and get a water bottle hanger that will attach to a tank. I have all that now and can get her moved, but because of the poor ventilation in the tank, I want to wait as long as possible before moving her. The travel cage has a deep pan, so if she does give birth unexpectedly, it will be safe for the babies for the moment.

This morning, I awoke to find all of the scrap pieces of paper towel had been stuffed into the igloo and the sheets lining the bottom of the cage were torn from the opposite end of the cage and stuffed inside as well.

Lilly still doesn't look like she has a pregnant shape to me. Is she just bored in the travel cage or is she nesting? Is there any way to tell? I don't know. I am debating moving her to the tank just in case.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The New Rats

Yesterday, I picked up the new rats. This is momma Lilly (agouti hooded):
Lilly says "Hi"
And these are her three boys, as yet unnamed:
When you have a nice cage with lots of hammocks, huts, baskets, and a space pod,
the best place to sleep is always the litter box.

The boy on the far right facing away from the camera is a silver fawn hooded. The other two boys facing the camera are a lighter color that was described to me as a "soft oatmeal wheaten color." Their markings, I have been told, are capped stripe. They are likely high whites and thus carry a megacolon risk. I took this picture without flash to try to bring out the color a little bit.

The person who pulled them for me was kind enough to give me a tank with a screen lid to be used as a maternity cage if necessary. There was a small hole drilled into the bottom that I have to patch up before I can move her in. Lilly is very tiny. It is hard to believe she might be pregnant. But I did steal a quick look at her tummy and I can see some tiny nipples (something I have never seen on our past girls). This morning, when I fed breakfast to the rats (mixed veggies and banana today), I noticed that Lilly had pulled as much paper towel as she could from the cage bottom and stuffed it into her igloo. Could be nesting behavior. Could be typical rat rearranging the furniture. I am going to weigh her every day to see if she puts on any weight. Last night she was a mere 242 grams.

They are all very timid, but I think they will warm up to us quickly. All are sweet, none are nippy, but Lilly will gently grab a finger stuck between the cage bars (not a bite and doesn't break skin), so she may have been fed treats through the bars in the past. I can tell they are interested in us. Lilly will come out when she hears my voice, but sometimes, if I get too close, she runs back into her igloo. I can tell she wants some attention and loving, though. The boys spent a lot of time sleeping in a rattie pile in the litter box, but toward the end of the evening, they had ventured out of that litter box and down to the lower level, where two took up residence in the wooden hut, and the third moved from hut to litter box to tube. None have climbed into a hammock yet so they are probably not used to them.

I am giving them all a little time to get used to their new environment.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Things May Be about to Change

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been following the fates of 4 rats surrendered to a Chicago-area shelter: one mother rat and 3 male offspring. The rescue that sometimes pulls rats from the shelter did not have any space for them, so they were stuck there with a time limit over their heads.

I thought for sure the 3 boys would find homes - especially since Petfinder doesn't often list much availability in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, with the closest available rats to me usually being in either Wisconsin or Indiana. I was afraid that if the boys were adopted, mom would be left behind, and if that happened, I was going to take her.

However, the shelter did not list them on Petfinder and these rats continued to go unclaimed at the shelter. So eventually, my husband and I decided we would take all four and spay momma so she could live with her boys afterward. When I took Jeremy in to the vet for his post-neuter appointment (everything went great with his neuter!), I also made an appointment for momma rat's spay, even though I did not yet have her.

Unfortunately, when my online contact went to pull the rats from the shelter, she found that the shelter had put momma back with her boys, even though she had told them to keep them separated. I am guessing that cage space was at a premium, but unfortunately, the solution to that problem doesn't include putting intact males and females together. That only creates a greater demand for cage space.

I was told she was very likely pregnant and is showing signs, so she may be due soon. I was given the opportunity to return her to the shelter, but no good could come of that.

Needless to say, I have adopted 3 new boy rats and one most likely pregnant momma. The momma's name is Lilly and I am told she is an agouti hooded around 6 months old. Two of her boys show high white markings, so if she gives birth, we have to be aware of megacolon as a possibility. I will be picking all four rats up later today.

If we do get babies, this will be my first (and hopefully only) litter. I admit, I am inexperienced and don't know what I am doing in this arena. However, I am far from the first person to take in a rat only to find out she may be pregnant and others have survived this ordeal and done just fine with the rats, so hopefully, we will too.

Since I likely will never do this again (unless I become more involved with rescue), be sure to expect lots of pictures. And be sure to tell me when I am doing something wrong. I am still holding out hope that maybe she is not pregnant - and if that turns out to be true, I will be thrilled. But if she is, I am hoping for an uneventful and extremely small litter.

Monday, January 19, 2015

APOPO Seeking Community Outreach Volunteers in the US

APOPO, the organization that trains Gambian pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis in order to make our world a healthier and safer place, is looking for community outreach volunteers in the US. If you are a good public speaker and would like you use your talents to assist this organization in the US, please consider applying.

More information about this volunteer position can be found here:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Jeremy Is Recovering Post Neuter

Jeremy Chillin' in his Igloo the Day after his Neuter

Jeremy's neuter went off yesterday without a hitch. He is safe and comfy at home, with the top half of the Critter Nation all to himself as his hospital cage. He has one low-hanging hammock, an igloo stuffed with fleece, a litter box, and a food dish. His liner/fleece/hammock gets changed daily, as does the litter box.

He is eating fine and having normal bowel movements, and while he seems to want to hide in the igloo for a while, he was pretty spry and active when he came out for his breakfast. His neuter incision looks good.

In the mean time, Burt, Hammie, and Ruby have been confined to the lower level, where they are enjoying a little peace and quiet.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An Insulated Carrier Cover: For When You Have to Go out with Your Rat in Freezing Temps

Insulated Cover for Those Extremely Cold Days

Yesterday was Jeremy's pre-neuter appointment. Unfortunately, it was also 1 degree outside with wind chills below zero. I made sure to warm up the car, but he would still need to make it from the car to the vet's office and back in these dangerous temperatures.

I have used fleece, blankets, and towels in the past to cover the carrier when it was cold, but it always seems the cage can be too exposed that way. Either the entire carrier isn't covered or the cover blows up or the cover is uneven. If the cover is too large, it gets in the way. If it is too small, something isn't covered. And it is more difficult to grab the handle through the cover. If it is windy, it seems sometimes the wind goes right through the cover anyway.

Cover Next to the Carrier
To solve these problems on this extremely cold day, I decided to create a carrier cover designed to fit his carrier, allow me to hold the handle directly, and protect him from the wind. I wanted something a little more insulated than just fleece or fleece and flannel/cotton, so I decided to use the same materials I use for the cage liners: One layer of fleece for the outside, and one warm insulated layer of U-Haul furniture pad for the underside to protect him from the chill of the wind.

I made my cover in a hurry in the hour before I had to leave for the appointment, so I did not have time to photograph the process. If you are interested in making one yourself to fit your own carrier, I have included a brief description of the process below. It is very similar to making a cube/rectangular prism, except there is no bottom, so you need to clean finish the bottom edges of the side pieces together first if you want a finished edge along the bottom. You will need a sewing machine capable of sewing through many layers and a needle for heavy fabrics (sewing the top to the connected sides is the hardest part - particularly the corners where you need to sew over the side seams).

Petmate Look 'N See Portable Kennel
The carrier that I use is the Petmate Look 'N See Portable Kennel, discussed in this post. To make the cover, I simply measured the three dimensions of the carrier (length, width, height) and added at least one inch to each dimension for seam allowance (you can add a little extra to ensure a loose fit and protect against shrinkage). I then cut from fleece two long side pieces (21" x 11"), two short front/back pieces (12" x 11") and one top piece (21" x 12"). I then cut another set of pieces using the U-Haul furniture pad.

To prepare the top piece, I put the fleece top piece on top of the furniture pad top piece, right sides out/wrong sides together and pinned them together. I put the top piece on top of the carrier and marked the position of the handle. I then cut a slit in the top piece (through both fleece and furniture pad) and made sure the handle fit through the slit. I made it a little larger than necessary so I would be able to adjust the position of the cover lengthwise slightly if needed.

Slit style handle opening
To finish off the raw edges of the handle opening, I sewed around the opening with a zigzag stitch (kind of like a super large button hole). I then put this piece aside and worked on building the sides of the cover. NOTE: If you want a larger opening, you can make a rectangular opening the same way you would make an opening on a cube. This would leave more open space around the handle, which wouldn't be good for me, since my carrier is all wire on the top. The slit style opening keeps the carrier covered better, so I used that method instead.

For each of the four side pieces, I first created a finished bottom edge on each piece by doing the following: I put the fleece and furniture pad pieces right sides together and sewed them together along the bottom edge. I trimmed the seam allowance and flipped them right side out and top stitched along the sewn side, finishing off the bottom edge. Once that was done for each side piece, I sewed each side piece to the adjacent side, just like making a cube/rectangular prism, with fleece sides together (furniture pad side facing out), making sure the finished bottom edges were aligned. When they were all connected in a straight line, I folded the long strip fleece sides together so that the last piece sewn met the first piece sewn, and sewed the last piece to the first piece, making a closed rectangle. I then trimmed all the seam allowances.

When all four sides were sewn together, I turned them inside out and pinned the carrier top to the top edge of the sides, fleece sides together (furniture pad side out), the same way you would attach the top of a cube. I sewed the top piece to the sides around all four edges, just like attaching the top of a cube. Note that this will be very thick at the corners and you will need a sewing machine and needle capable of sewing through all the layers.

Once the seam allowances were trimmed, the cover could be turned inside out and then placed over the carrier to protect the rat from the weather.

Cover lifted a bit in front to expose door.
Note that this cover will limit ventilation. I do not use the cover inside the car (or if I did, I would life the front portion up to promote airflow), as I prefer to have the ventilation when possible. I am only planning to use this cover when making the trip in and out of the car in extremely cold weather.

A similar cover could be constructed for more regular use out of lighter materials if desired.

On a side note, Jeremy got the thumbs up to go ahead with his neuter. He will be going in a week from Wednesday.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Jeremy Has a Pre-Neuter Appointment Scheduled

The way I have it figured, Jeremy should be turning 6 months right about now. And just like clockwork, those hormones have kicked into high gear. Since Burt and Hammie were neutered, Jeremy has stepped up as alpha rat (despite the fact that he is the smallest rat of the pack and slightly lame in his rear right leg [sometimes, when nobody is listening, I like to refer to him as Kaiser Söze]). However, until now, there has been no blood drawn. Yesterday, that changed.

At the end of out time yesterday, Jeremy and Hammie got into a really bad scuffle that left both rats bleeding, Hammie with two bite marks - one on each shoulder. Jeremy was the clear instigator. After I got the boys separated and cleaned up, I noticed that Burt also had a scab on his thigh. It didn't take too much imagination to figure out what had happened there.

So I have committed to the neuter, and Jeremy has his pre-neuter appointment scheduled for Monday. To be honest, I had been considering it even before now. Jeremy has served as instigator in a few too many scuffles. These scuffles were not introduction scuffles where the rats were establishing a pecking order. These were becoming a pattern of behavior for Jeremy. Even though these scuffles did not result in blood (no blood, no foul), everyone (including Jeremy) would be happier if Jeremy's hormones could be brought under control. I was just hoping to wait until spring, when I didn't have to worry about traveling to the exotics vet that does neuters during bad winter weather. That ship has now sailed.

This will be my second time doing neuters. I was very nervous and apprehensive about doing Burt and Hammie's neuters back in September. But they came through surgery so well and the neuters have made both rats so much happier, that I am actually looking forward to having Jeremy done and am relieved that some of the extra friction in the rat room may soon be a thing of the past. Of course, I will always be nervous the day of the surgery, but I feel much more calm having gone through the process before.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015!

Jeremy is such a good sport about posing for pics.
He has no idea what is going on, but he just goes with it.