Grue is being kind of worrying. He's making more feep feep noises, and now also propping himself up on things and... hyperventilating? It's the kind of gulping air rats do if they've exhausted themselves running or are having a hard time breathing. I checked his lungs (fun fact: stethoscopes are useless on rats, they're too small and make too many other noises. You just pick them up and hold them to your ear, like a really wiggly seashell) and he's not gurgling like he's congested or wheezing like he's asthmatic. He's just sucking in air like a little bellows. At least when he's awake. And not distracted. He's suspiciously fine when sleeping or nomming.

Since he seems physically okay, at least in all the parts I can check without a radiology suite, I sort of wonder if it's anxiety. See, Grue appears to have some sort of panic disorder. I took him specifically because of it. Plugh and Xyzzy are pretty much rats. They ran from me at first, but when I got them and stuffed them in the box I brought to transport them home, they calmed down, because it was a box and boxes are safe. Flathead kind of threw himself bodily into the box as soon as I got him near it, because hey, I brought a box, who else could it possibly be for? He had to get to his magnificent castle in the sky somehow. But Grue tried to hide in the bedding in the bottom of the terrarium. Grue was not good at hiding, mind; there was maybe half an inch of shredded newsprint fluff in the bottom of the tank and nothing else, which doomed his plan to failure. He got his head under some paper shavings and sort of froze there, praying for his mutant invisibility powers to kick in already.

My actual reasoning for scooping up the wanna-be ostrich was -- and I said this aloud at the time -- "Aww, I have experience with rats and pointless panic. I think you need to come home with me." And indeed, that one got named Grue because he spent most of his first couple of weeks hiding in the darkest corner of the nest box he could find. He is still startled by virtually everything. Loud noises, soft noses, sudden noises, gradual noises, continual noises. unfamiliar things, familiar things, me, his brothers, movement, stillness, the odd air molecule, and probably a few things I've forgotten. He's fine half a moment afterwards, when his brain has kicked in and informed him that he's perfectly safe, but he still has to jump and bonk his head on the inside of the box first.

He did not start making feee noises until Flathead started spending a lot of time on my lap (i.e., not in the cage where Grue could check him over), and he didn't start the propping himself up business until the morning after I took Flathead away and didn't bring him back. It could be a coincidence; he's getting his please-don't-die-of-snuffles meds just in case. But given his history, and the fact that he's started doing the exact same thing Flathead was doing -- waddling out and draping himself over one of my forearms, thus holding my hand hostage -- and moreover waited until Flathead was gone to start it rather than competing for the space, makes me wonder if he's just having a tiny little nervous breakdown out of grief. He's certainly after attention, whether or not he's after anything else. Mostly sick rats just want to lie there on you, and petting/not petting is not so important because you are Mommy and Mommy is there and that is the thing they want. Grue will follow my fingers around for headpets, which is more activity than you usually get out of a rat who is already at the stage where they're flopping weakly onto you and refusing to move.

I have to admit, I am at a loss as to how to treat bereavement-induced conversion disorder in a rat. When humans are hyperventilating, standard of care is basically to find them a quiet place and talk them down. Rats are like toddlers who don't speak English. I've picked up a few phrases -- I make a quick tsk-tsk-tsk sound with the tip of my tongue on my teeth that they seem to have figured out is me chittering at them with a terrible lisp -- but there's no way to convince them that they will feel better if they stop that, because there's no way to convey concepts like 'quit huffing air like it's going out of style, you're making yourself worse'. Failing that, human doctors usually apply some diazepines to the situation, which I do have, but which I am as wary of using on rats as I am using it on me. Sharing my anxiety meds is usually a 'rat is currently in the act of dying, we both handle this better if he is less worried about it' step.

I would like to start taking the little widgets to the vet that is practically across the street from here. The MSPCA will sometimes agree to bill over time, particularly if the bill is large, but it's far more expensive (because it's pretty much ER/urgent care only), far away, and rats hate train noises. The veterinarian down the block doesn't appear to be much of an expert in exotics -- the desk lady had to run off and ask the doctor how much euthanasia for a pet rat would be when I called, since normally the rodents she gets are wildlife put down for a nominal fee -- but since rats don't need vaccinations and are rarely spayed or neutered, by the time mine would be going into the vet, it would be a matter of, "I think they have myco/broke something moderately important/have come to the end of their days, unless you vehemently disagree could you please just give me the thing I need?" And I could walk myself over there in ten minutes, with the sick rat jammed in my coat when he inevitably refuses to get into his travel box.

To that end, those of you who have asked if I sell my shiny beaded scarves can start putting your money where your mouth is. I'm going to start taking pictures and putting some of the knitwear up for sale. Clearly I am not going to stop making the damnable things, so I might as well use all the overflow to maintain a Rat Morbidity Fund. Ten percent of the proceeds will go to either Mainely Rat Rescue or the animal rescue in Dedham that handles rats along with everything else. The rest is literally going to go into a jar marked BREAK IN CASE OF VETERINARY EMERGENCY. I'll mainly be selling things I've made on my own initiative, because the design amused me, but you're welcome to contact me for custom commissions if you wish.


  1. I hope Grue calms down soon, grief is hard for everyone. Don't forget to tell us where to go to buy your creations.


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