Yori RIP

With no warning, the mischief is suddenly reduced to two members. I came downstairs the other morning to find that Yori had died unexpectedly overnight; she had been perfectly happy the previous evening and hadn’t even had so much as a sniffle for weeks.

The smallest rat had been a bit of a medical mystery in her short life. Last August we had the unexplainable “bleeding from the eye” incident. And then earlier this year she was bleeding again, different location, which led to her being spayed (although the vet couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with her when she operated). Apart from the random bleeding and the initial respiratory infection when she joined us, she had always seemed to be a remarkably healthy and energetic little ratty, and even when there was something wrong it didn’t slow her down at all (even continuing to run in the wheel while bleeding).

She was always the first to the cage door and was the most active one in the evenings, still running around while the others had found comfy spots to curl up. Any squeaking was usually caused by her deciding to exert her presumed authority by power grooming the others; she was utterly convinced that she was the alpha of the group.

Yori was a real ratty ambassador, cute, licky and loved by all who met her. I will miss having her on my lap at snack time, making sure she eats hers rather than hiding it.

Rocket RIP

We knew that our time with Rocket was going to be limited when we discovered a pea-sized lump in her groin last November.

She had just turned two years old and had a bit of a snuffle, so I decided against getting it removed there and then. I wasn’t keen on putting her through surgery and, more importantly, the recovery time alone in a smaller cage — especially as there was a good chance that (from past experience) another lump would appear within a few weeks…

She got over her snuffles and, while the lump was growing, it was growing very slowly. She was showing signs of ageing: generally slowing down, happy to just find somewhere to curl up when she was out with us in the evening, a little weakness in her back legs, and generally turning into a grumpy old rat. She had always been a “toothy” rat, ready to give a bit of a nip to get your attention or express her irritability, and this behaviour got more pronounced over the last few months.

In the end, a few weeks ago, Rocket left us as quickly as she had arrived. Those signs of ageing were, with hindsight, signs of a pituitary tumour and she went from being a happy sofa companion one evening to being unable to hold her food the next. Her decline was so rapid and so drastic. I spent the evening cuddling her and feeding her, and took her for a last visit to the vet the next morning.

Rocket was a very special grumpy rat who stole my heart and she will be greatly missed.

Films Watched: 2015













Misplaced priorities

If I want to sign up to any given mailing list, the first thing I have to do, after giving them my email address, is click the link in the confirmation email they send so they know that
a. I typed my email address correctly
b. I actually want to be subscribed to that mailing list

On the other hand, if I want to create an account on, ooh, let’s say Amazon for example, apparently all I have to do is fill in the @&!#ing form. No validation whatsoever.

In other words: I am now getting emails from Amazon India to my GMail account.

Would you like to guess how much use the first-level Amazon UK customer service representatives are at helping resolve this?


Ratties can be such a source of stress when they’re not well.

I went to give the ratties a snack this morning and when Yori took hers I saw her right eye was covered in blood – it must have literally just started then, because there was none anywhere else. I called the vet, got her into the carrier and dashed off to Streatham Hill.

She cleaned the eye while she was in the carrier and there was no obvious injury at all, but the blood just kept welling up from around the eyeball. The vet kept her in and examined her under anaesthetic and there is no visible source of the blood. Apparently the bleeding has stopped now and if she’s still okay in a couple of hours she can come home.

I now realise that this has happened before, a couple of months ago. One morning I came down and there was a little more pink around than usual, but they all seemed healthy and there was nothing to concern me. Of course, when I did a cage clean a few days later, that was when I found the minor bloodbath in the hidden places in the cage. But everyone was fine and no signs of any problems since.

Presumably she has a weak blood vessel or something like that behind her eye that gives way every now and again. My vets are pretty good with the rats, but this is beyond their expertise. They’re going to speak to some specialist exotics vets on Monday to get an opinion, but, being realistic, I can’t imagine that much could be done, even if an ultrasound did identify the cause of the problem. Little ratty heads are very little and Yori is the smallest ratty I have.

Temporary residents

Guinea pigs

Just pootling around on Sunday morning when the doorbell rang. It was our neighbour.

“My cat regularly brings me mice, but he’s brought something different this time. Can you help me identify them?”

Somewhat cautious, but a lot curious, I followed her next door and upstairs to the bedroom where her daughter lived until she moved out just a week ago. And there, in an open tank in the wardrobe, were two tiny balls of fluff. Very very tiny. But unmistakably… guinea pigs.

A quick look over revealed that one had a scratch on its head, but they were otherwise — physically at least — unharmed.

My neighbour explained that she had heard squeaking at around five that morning and had gone downstairs to find her evil black cat playing with the first of them; she took it away from him, put it safe, and went back to bed. The cat, obviously annoyed, went out and came back two hours later with the second, which she also rescued. At some point there had been a third, though the cat must have tired of playing as the only evidence of that one was a lone leg.

I don’t, or at least didn’t, know much about guinea pigs — they weren’t one of the creatures I considered when I originally researched what pets would be best for us to keep — but I did have a feeling that the milk and bread she’d given them wasn’t right — so I offered to take them, clean up the scratch and do a bit of research as to what they needed. I also put a lost and found notice up on Streetlife and tweeted about them, just in case someone knew someone who was short some baby guinea pigs.

I had grossly overestimated their age, assuming that they were born pink, hairless and helpless like other rodents. Oh so wrong.

Guinea pigs are born fully-furred, mobile, and able to eat solid food from day one

So, rather than being a couple of weeks old, they were no more than a couple of days old.

My neighbour made noises about taking them back, but knowing that she was about to go out for several hours and that she knew less than I did about their care, I said that I was happy to keep an eye on them.

We got some goats milk and I begged a scoop of guinea pig nuggets from the local pet shop and with hand feeding every hour or two I managed to keep them alive.

And they were still alive the following morning. Even better, the one with the scratch, who was unsurprisingly in shock yesterday, had perked up immensely and was eating well. The other one had decided to be distressed whenever I took the first out for feeding and demonstrated the guinea pig alarm call; it’s surprising how loud a sound can come from a tiny bundle of fur. After keeping rats who only ever squeak when they’re annoying each other, it was weird to have these creatures be so vocal.

Guinea pig noises are utterly adorable

Social media had failed to find their owner so the chance of returning them to their mum was vanishingly small; we’d even tried knocking on a few doors in the area, but no joy. Now the important thing was to find someone who could look after them properly. Time was ticking. While I was prepared to look after them, we were going away for a wedding later that week and that was a deadline that could not be moved.

Someone on Streetlife had suggested talking to a nurse at the local Blue Cross who keeps guinea pigs, but, it being a bank holiday, there was no answer.

I had come across Furry Friends Animal Rescue some time ago, so I dropped them an email to see if they would be able to help. They said yes, but also gave me the name and number of a woman who runs a guinea pig rescue and is closer to me than they are.

One quick phone call later and we had a home for them. We hopped on a train and, within an hour of phoning her, handed over the little fluffballs. It hasn’t been the best start in life for them, but at least they have a chance now with someone who knows what they’re doing.

Spoke too soon

I was a bit premature in announcing how well Midge was settling in.

There had been a few squabbles the first week she was here, though all the ones I’d seen were the result of Quorra being over-enthusiastic with grooming the newcomer. And even then it was no worse than a bit of squeaking, pinning and fluffing up.

Then, when I checked on them on Tuesday morning, I noticed a smear of blood on Midge’s side. A quick check revealed

  • Midge had two deep scratches on either side of her ribs, one of which was full thickness through the skin.
  • Yori had a damaged claw (which she lost that evening, cue more blood).
  • Rocket had a couple of nasty looking puncture wounds around her shoulder.
  • Quorra and Rommie were completely untouched.

I have no idea what went on — the injured ratties hadn’t shown any signs of scrapping with each other in the previous week or so. And everyone was quiet and settled by the time I went to do the breakfast snack run, even though the blood was very fresh so it can’t have been long since whatever happened happened.

I took Midge over to the vets to get checked out and came away with some Baytril for her and Rocket and some hibiscrub to keep everyone’s wounds clean while they healed.

Luckily rats heal remarkably quickly. To the extent that, the following morning, I couldn’t even find the spots where Rocket had been spiked — so I just generally wet her shoulder and surrounding area with the hibiscrub; she was not impressed.

Midge’s wounds scabbed up quickly too, but I kept her separate from the others to avoid both excessive grooming and further scraps.

Attempts at getting them back together, even one-on-one on the sofa, weren’t looking promising. I’m sure we’d have been able to integrate them successfully given enough time, but then I chatted to her owner at the weekend and she decided to take Midge back. I think she’d been missing her a lot and this was a really good excuse to keep her. She also seems to have been able to use it as leverage for getting more rats instead of the sugar gliders that her boyfriend was wanting🙂

Our lot have settled back down into their old ways and seem a lot more relaxed. And I don’t have to worry about trying to figure out ratty psychology.

It’s a shame it didn’t work out, but at least everyone is happy where they are.

Meet the Rats: Midge

The latest addition

And then there were five.

This is Midge. She’s a two-year-old top-eared chocolate-coloured hooded ratty. And we’ve just adopted her from our neighbour — the one who introduced us to rats as pets in the first place. Midge’s last remaining cage mate died recently and our neighbour isn’t planning on getting more rats, so rather than leave her on her own, she is joining our mischief madhouse.

Midge is older than any of the others (Rocket and Rommie are just over eighteen months now), still very perky and friendly, and dashes to the front of the cage any time we go near. She loves to explore and is fearless — the other day she leapt down to the floor, something that no other rat here has done deliberately — so we will definitely have to keep a close eye on her during free range.

I was a bit concerned how introductions would go, especially after the grief we had the last time, but it all went remarkably smoothly, better than I would ever have expected. The only issue we’ve had is, surprisingly, with Quorra, our adorable tilty ratty. And even then, the main problem is that she insistently grooms Midge, who then gets fed up with it and tries to get her to stop. There’s been a fair bit of squeaking and fluffed-up ratties, but only a couple of minor scratches, so I’m calling that a success.

Rocket is not overly impressed and seems to be sulking a bit more than usual, though this may just be a ploy to get more attention (she is a very cunning rat). Rommie doesn’t really care, as long as she still gets her food. And Yori is just Yori.

I think Midge will fit in just nicely.

Meet the Rats: Quorra and Yori

We were going to wait until the end of October last year — when Rocket and Rommie would turn one — before getting more rats, but then some became available at the end of September and little ratties are so cute that, once seen, they just cannot be left behind.

Quorra and Yori: Then
Quorra and Yori shortly after we brought them home

Yori is a tiny grey hooded dumbo. Her fur is very slightly longer than the others, which means that, no matter how much she grooms herself, she always looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards. She came down with a respiratory infection soon after we got her home; luckily it was nothing worse than a lot of sneezing, but it did mean she didn’t put on weight as quickly as her sister. At nearly nine months old, she is still small enough to comfortably sit on the palm of my hand.

Even though she is the smallest ratty, she is convinced she should be the boss of the cage: she always has one or two little scratches where one of the others has got truly fed up with her following them around the cage, indulging in power grooming and inappropriate sniffing.

She is the lickiest rat we have ever had, by far, and will happily sit and lick her way over your hand given the chance. She is also a little horror for hiding food. When I feed them she goes around picking up anything the size of a pea or bigger and systematically carrying it off into the hammock or hut to “hide” it. This doesn’t fool anyone. I wouldn’t mind so much if she was storing it to eat later, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Quorra is a roan dumbo. Roans are the con artists of ratty colouring: when we got her she was a lovely dark grey with an unusual black patch across the back of her neck, now she is mostly white with a few darker bits scattered around.

At the end of January, she developed a bit of a head tilt. A course of steroids and antibiotic injections seemed to sort out the underlying ear infection, though she has been left with a permanently skewed outlook (which is utterly endearing). The twisty head has given her superpowers. She can rotate her way out on to the top of the cage, or down into a t-shirt, with remarkable speed and ease. Although she does sometimes forget to check whether there is actually any ground underneath where she’s heading, the tilt has really not slowed her down at all.

Quorra loves the “disappearing down a t-shirt” trick. I let her get away with it because it is just so adorable when she spins round and pops her tilty little head out the top and stares at you (it helps that she is neither the heaviest nor spikiest rat).

She also loves drinking from people’s cups of tea. And then splashing around in them.

Where Yori is licky, Quorra is kissy. Many times when she pops out of the top of my t-shirt, she follows it up with a face or lip lick as I look down at her. This is cute. Not so cute is when she decides that she must investigate further and tries to pull my lip out of the way with her pointy little ratty claws; this behaviour is not encouraged.

Together they are a wonderfully entertaining addition to the madhouse.

Quorra and Yori: Now
Quorra and Yori earlier this year