Stressed…

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.

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

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

Goodbye Song

On Saturday we said goodbye to Song. The rat that wouldn’t give up — who had lived with an ever-growing lump since January, who trolled around the cage barely acknowledging the lump’s existence and who would have still been climbing the sides of the cage if physics and gravity hadn’t conspired against her — refused to give up even when the lump finally outgrew itself and was on the verge of ulcerating. It was a hard decision to make, but it would have been harder to have waited until there was no choice. This way she was never in any pain.

She had a lump removed last year and, although she recovered well, she went stir-crazy being kept separate while she healed. That, combined with her constant respiratory problems, discouraged us from putting her through surgery again when we discovered a total of three lumps at the start of the year. Two of the lumps were kept under control with Galastop, unfortunately the third didn’t respond.

The remaining Demon Twin made it to the decent age of two and a half years old, outliving her sister River by four months. She never lost her love of food or her desire to crawl inside my t-shirt. She will be missed.

Settling in

So, Rocket and Rommie have been with us for a month now and they are settling in nicely. As expected, they need some extra time and attention to get them fully socialised — after all, when we brought them home they were more than twice the age the other girls were when they arrived.

Rocket

Rocket — aka Rocket McBitey — requires the most patience; she’s easy enough to scoop up and you can even hold her, but she has a bad habit of trying to get her opinion across with her teeth. It’s mostly her being territorial in the cage, though she does occasionally nip when she’s out as well. I suspect that, especially given the speed at which she moved when we went to collect her, she hadn’t been handled much and had learned that the occasional nip would discourage people from even trying. But not me. I don’t back off. She will eventually learn that biting doesn’t work. Thankfully she doesn’t come close to breaking the skin. And she’s so cute and adorable that it’s hard to get annoyed with her.

Rommie

Rommie is altogether more outgoing. The main problem with her is trying to hold her as she is exceptionally wriggly. And hyperactive. And a determined climber. Her latest trick is to try and climb up the anglepoise lamp, which is ridiculously funny to watch because she’s so persistent about it. I had to put a stop to it when she was standing on the back of the sofa, eyeing up the lamp — you could see her little ratty brain trying to work out whether she could jump over to it. She will climb anything she can: furniture, the open cage doors (she is on a mission to see what is higher than the top of the cage), and people (Codepope stood up from his chair the other day only to discover that she was already clinging to his leg). I dread her making a break for it and discovering the curtains!

Rocket & Rommie

They are both settling in nicely and make interesting company for Song, although she does sometimes look at me in a way that makes me feel like I should apologise to her 🙂

Goodbye River

The time came to let River go.

She hadn’t really been herself for a few months; nothing specific and nothing that couldn’t be put down to a combination of being unsettled after losing Nine, being run down from her repeated upper respiratory problems and no longer being the youthful energetic ratty that she once was.

Then, in the middle of February, she started showing more worrying symptoms. She slowed down and wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about food any more and would sometimes miss the food and get the fingers holding it instead. You’d occasionally find her sitting quietly, head-first in a corner. We started her on steroids, which definitely perked her up a bit, but it was obviously a neurological problem of some sort, which would, and did, only get worse. And so it was just a matter of time and judging when it was no longer fair to keep her struggling through her days.

That time came on Wednesday this week. She had started sounding mildly respy a couple of days earlier, but was much worse that day. We could have tried her with antibiotics or a stronger shot of steroids, but it would have only delayed the inevitable and most likely not given her much relief anyway.

Goodbye River. I shall miss having you sitting on the back of the sofa, staring over my shoulder at your domain.

Meet the Rats: Rocket and Rommie

Rocket and RommieThe new girls now have names! After much pondering we’ve decided to abandon the idea of trying to find a female SF name that easily splits into two nice ratty names à la River Song.

The splodgy black hooded is Rommie. We got as far as “female ship’s avatar” as a potential theme and Rommie (from Andromeda) seemed to suit her.

Unfortunately I wasn’t taken by the other options we came up with — Holly (Red Dwarf) or Moya (Farscape) — for the grey roan, so she is Rocket, mainly because of the speed at which she moved when we first tried to get her out of her cage to come home with us.

Rommie ratAt first I assumed that Rommie was the most sociable as she was the easiest to pick up, but I soon realised that that was only because she was freezing in place at the horror of someone having the temerity to try and lift her off the ground. She is a brave and curious creature who will now happily climb onto me, but only on her terms. She is lightning quick and, even if you do managed to pick her up, she can extricate herself at incredible speed and launch herself off in unpredictable directions. Once on you, she will eventually try to get away by digging — between arm and body or through legs — and will squeak her annoyance if she isn’t immediately successful. She is definitely “most likely to escape”, but we are making progress.

Rocket ratRocket is a gorgeous blazed roan with the prettiest face. I do hope she doesn’t lose all of her colouring.

She is much easier to pick up than Rommie and will tolerate being held for a couple of seconds before trying to wriggle free. Her favourite thing is to climb, mainly, it seems, with the aim of finding a way out of wherever she is and go exploring. She has yet to learn that fingers are not food. She has the potential to be an awesome shoulder rat. Or shoulder-mounted Rocket. We haven’t yet tested her suitably as a pocket Rocket.