Time to catch up

The first half of last year was horrible for ratty losses. The overnight decline of Rocket followed by Yori’s sudden and completely unexpected death three months later hit me hard, so when old age caught up with Rommie a month or so later I really couldn’t bring myself to write yet another obituary. And of course, until that was written, I couldn’t put out the happier news of two new arrivals — Molly and Ivy — to keep our lone survivor Quorra company.

But today I have had to make the last visit to the vet with Quorra, so it’s time to spend a few days getting caught up with the overdue posts and updating the ratties page so that all the mischief, past and present, is properly represented here.

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.

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 🙂