When I came home this Spring Break, I found that Ana, my pet rat, wasn't doing so well. My parents had been taking great care of her, but recently she had been showing signs of stress and deterioration. In the week I've been home, she's perked up and stopped her decline. I'm taking her back to school with me so that she can get the attention she needs.
For those unfamiliar with my rats, Ana and Urtha are half-twins that I raised from pinklings. They were born on June 26, 2003, so it was not a great surprise when Urtha finally died this fall. She'd been through several cancer surgeries and a severe reaction to Ivermectin, and was starting to lose coordination. A friend of the family said Urtha was also having seizures. I gave my parents permission to have her put down without asking me first, should it be necessary to prevent suffering. That time came, and afterwards they put her in the freezer so I could bury her over Winter Break.
Ana became the sole occupant of the cage, and we could see she just wasn't as lively without her sister. That break, she also had her first cancer removed, a more involved surgery than either of Urtha's. (By the way, I recommend Forest Lakes Veterinary Clinic for rats or any other pet. They took excellent care of both rats, and they show true caring for all pets.) Rats recover well from surgery and pretty much whatever else life throws at them, but she was getting old.
In the 8 or so weeks between breaks, especially in the last few weeks, Ana began to lose coordination. (Of course she didn't lose interest in food -- with rats, that only happens after death.) By the time I got home, she had porphyrin (a red exudate that indicates stress in rats) crusted around her eyes and nose, her fur was sparser and looser, her spine, ribs, and hips protruded visibly, she couldn't walk without falling over, and she no longer held food in her paws. And she slept all day instead of rearranging the contents of her cage at odd hours. She still recognized my smell, though, even though her eyesight was failing.
I set to work adding interest to her life. Rats can be fed solely on a diet of human food, unlike dogs, as long as the nastier bits (like cheetos) are removed first. It can be healthier for them than a steady diet of lab block, both physically and mentally. Into the cage went fresh collard greens from the garden, little crumbs of chocolate from an 88% bar (Endangered Species Chocolate Company's black panther bar), toast, cheese, bison meat, celery, and apple. (Yes, rats can have chocolate. The darker, the better. In fact, if a rat is undergoing an allergic reaction or has asthma-like symptoms, the theobromine in chocolate can open its bronchial tubes sufficiently to save its life.) I added a rough-surfaced cardboard ramp to the top of the box she sleeps in, placing treats at the top at random intervals. She has already begun to perk up, rambling about the cage, scrambling up the ramp to check on the rattie treat situation.
I know that as soon as I left, she would get depressed again and relapse. I don't like the idea of both rats dying while I'm away. My parents simply can't devote the kind of energy and attention that only "daddy" can provide, so I'm taking her back to Wooster with me. This is a clear violation of Housing policy, but I really don't care, and neither does my roommate. Besides, the unwritten rule is that only animals that get out and bother people (like dogs and cats) are paid any attention by Residence Life. I expect that Ana may not live to see her third birthday, and I want to give her the best care possible in her last months.