Good news, everybody! The broken rat isn't nearly so broken anymore. I have no idea why he was acting sick in the first place -- he may have fallen off of something unexpectedly and banged himself up, or he may just have been freaked out that his feet weren't working right -- but the main problem appears to actually be that his back half is not taking orders as well as he'd like. (It would not surprise me if he were just flipping out over it. Rats are complicated enough to be pointlessly neurotic. The problem is the same as for many people I think; they're clever enough to manipulate a lot of things in their little rat lives, so when they find something they can't do anything to fix, they pop a sprocket.) The rest of the rat is working fine now.

He lost a lot of weight from refusing to move for a few weeks, but I'm doing drive-by feedings whenever it occurs to me to try. I feel like a Jewish grandmother. "How are you? You look cold, you should eat something. Oh, you've got some schmutz on your face." I had him on my lap and was trying to give him some puréed veggies earlier and he was like OMG FOOD ILU NEVER LEAVE ME and I was like LET ME GET IT OPEN FIRST YOU LITTLE PLONKER, which I assure you is 100% normal factory-installed rat behavior.

Since he can still get around pretty much fine -- I caught him on top of the cage last night, and down in their nest this morning, which means he can get up and down the vertical wall without dying -- and he's putting weight back on rapidly, the remaining issue is that he can't clean himself terribly well. Rats, like cats, contort into some interestingly painful-looking positions to lick things, and since he hasn't got much leverage with his back feet, he really can't. They also tend to pee all over themselves (and each other, and random objects, and me), which means I cannot let him get all scruffy, because then he'd just wallow. They groom each other, but his brothers can only take care of so much. He was vehemently opposed to letting me scrub at him with a washcloth, because it involved turning him over on his back and for a rat that's either a challenge to his manhood or a sign that you're about to eat him, but he abruptly did a one-eighty a few days ago and decided that this was totally cool. So now I have to prop up the rat with one hand and dab at him with the other, because he's tumbled onto the idea that not only is someone else supporting his full body weight, he's also getting groomed at the same time. When the chittering stops, I know it's because he's fallen dead asleep.

(I also have to make sure he can grab at one of the fingers on the hand that's holding him up if he wakes up and notices that I'm cleaning him. He has a burning need to lick me back. These guys interpret scritches and washing as grooming and are determined to reciprocate, even if it means sitting on my arm in an effort to pin me down for it. One of the other ones is so adamant about it that whenever I pet him, I have to let him have my other hand, so he can slobber all over it like a tiny dog.)

So basically, I have to sit down and burnish my rat at least once a day. They get pet far more than that on a regular basis, but I have to remember to pull this one all the way out of his house and attack him with a face flannel at some point. I may also have to work out how to file his teeth down for him if he keeps avoiding crunchy things (I think he can't hold them and nom at the same time, without really being able to sit back), but hopefully he'll decide that's fun, too.

Rats don't abandon their sick, by the way. They're social little critters, and are often rather overbearing nurses. Ages ago, one of our first rats lost use of just one of his back feet a few months before the end of his life. He had no idea what everyone was so fussed about, or why we kept poking at the foot that didn't move; he just ignored it and scuttled around as an uneven tripod. We, the humans, just covered all of the slatted things in their cage with cloth or cardboard so his loose foot didn't fall through, and didn't worry too much about it. The other rat we had kept trying to lick it better, with such a single-minded determination that the tripod rat often had to thwack the good foot into his face to make him stop.

Comments

  1. Awww, I am so glad he's doing ok! And I'm learning lots of interesting things about rats at the same time.

    Also, for some reason, I've been having a load of problems posting comments so am now on a limited Blogger profile. Hope it works...

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