Trials of a Rat

One of my rats wasn’t happy with me just now.  She had injured her foot a day or so ago, and I’d noticed it last night when I was doing my daily head count.  Having 7 rats, I constantly need to make sure all are still alive and none have escaped, with so many ratters in the hours (both dogs and cats), for a rat to escape here would mean suicide for the rat).

Surprised to see a rat with a foot and leg triple it’s normal size, the first thing I did was run to the internet to give me some idea of what I was looking at.  Various, very old, discussion boards favoured sprains or infections.  But everyone who complained about their rat said that their rat could put weight on the leg.  Mine couldn’t, she kept her leg tucked up by her belly and refused to put weight on it.

The guilt in me went into overdrive.  Part of me wanted to take her to the vet so badly as I hate to see any of my babies suffer, but I’m a pensioner, and there’s no way I can afford the consultation for most vets.  Adding to this, I don’t even know what vets locally would treat exotic pets (which is what rats are classed under). It killed me to see her in a lot of pain, so many options went through my head.. human painkillers, no, too risky, pet antibiotics, if I had some, I’d give that a try, this was mentioned online.  Putting a pet out of her misery… for a leg?!?  Seriously?!?  I don’t think I’d want to be euthanised if I hurt my leg!!  The option of removing the leg also came to mind… seriously?!?  and how do I do this without hurting her more?!?

So common sense kicked in and my mind went through what I can do with what I have.  For starters, I remembered some years back, I bought some antibiotic cream for a cat  with a hole in his neck, and the cream healed it in no time.  The cream had long since hardened with age, but it was still pliable, so I rubbed it all over her leg (not easy when a rat is fidgety, doubly so when they’re also in pain).  I tried to massage her leg last night, but after me applying the cream, she’d had enough of me touching it.  The internet discussion boards mentioned other home remedies for the rats that other owners asked help for, so I thought I’d try them over time.  The first was a cold pack.. this would be interesting.. how do I apply cold pack to a rat’s leg?!?  The freezer will have to do!

The rat was not amused when I opened the freezer door and held her up to the wall of the freezer where a thick layer of ice was, holding her leg up there for a few seconds, then turning her over and holding up the back of her leg to the ice for a few seconds. I had already decided to remove her from the bird cage and place her in a tiny tank on her own as I had my suspicions as to how she got the injury.  So I placed her back in the little tank much to her delight.  And she went into self pitying mode licking at her sore leg.

I figured, if it wasn’t a sprain or infection as mentioned on the internet, that left 2 other options.  A possible dislocation of the knee or hip or worse still.. if this is even possible in rats, compartment syndrome.  The way the foot was swelling had me think of the latter.  But seeing how the rats have got an annoying habit of dive bombing from the top perch down to the bottom of the cage, a dislocation wouldn’t have surprised me either as these weren’t young rats.

So this morning, she was still favouring the leg, and after I called out to at least one vet that I KNOW does home visits, I learned that he charges $120 for a house call… ok.. forgiveable.. if that means it stops my rat being in pain… but then they say that their vets don’t treat rats… so much for that vet.  I still hadn’t found another vet that does house calls, so dropped that idea, but another idea came to me, and this is what my rat didn’t appreciate, I think I’m off her Christmas list for now.

I took her out of the tank and applied some more of the cream, then with the thought of a possible dislocation in the front of my mind, I gently massaged her foot joint, knee joint and hip joint.  It was somewhere between her knee and hip that, when I applied some pressure, she jumped out of her skin, she didn’t squeal though, her pain tolerance is better than mine!  Clearly I hit a sore spot.  I continued to massage gently, but there were no other pain responses.  So I had filled up one of my cooking bowls with warm water, and placed her gently in that up to her waist.  I wanted her to panic, as that would get her to paddle.  She panicked but only used her head butting powers to get past my hand and refused to paddle.  So I basically harnessed her head and shoulders with my fingers and got her to bounce in the water and gently apply weight to her sore leg.  By this time, she was getting pretty pissed off with me.

After a few minutes, I got her out of the bowl and massaged her leg again.  Surprisingly, her leg was now as flexible as her other leg.  I was able to get her to move it back and forward and it once again had full movement, unlike before when she couldn’t budge it.  My suspicions of a possible dislocation were confirmed.

I applied some more cream to her foot and placed her back in her tank.  Low and behold, she was now bearing weight on that foot!

I’m feeling a lot less guilty now about not taking her to a vet, and I’m hoping and praying that further massages, warm swims, applications of the antibiotic cream and continued rest, with time, will help heal her injury, and hopefully, when she’s fit enough to go back into the bird cage, she will no longer be tempted to dive bomb from the top of the cage to the bottom anymore!

(In the image, the rat with the white strip down her face is the one with the injury, this pic was taken prior to her injury happening).

Update:  a week on, her leg and foot are back down to a normal size again.  I feel like such a good mummy!

….gotta love furkids!

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