Thursday, November 26, 2009

Trouble in Rat Paradise

We have four pet rats, which seems to be our magic number. They live in a big cage in the hallway right outside of the room where I spend all of my time (they're not in the room because my light annoys them) where they get company from people walking past and talking to them and where they can easily be taken out to play. Unfortunately they're all in ill health right now. Rats are very susceptible to cancer since they're descended from lab rats and one has mammary cancer. Her name is Master Chef, she is our oldest rat at about two and a half (I think) and she is the last remaining of the three sisters we had. Her other two sisters passed away about a year ago, both from cancer.

We have a little brown hooded rat called Calliope, who will be two in April I think, has been sick from pneumonia and is just getting better after a course of Baytril. Her cage mate Strawberry had the same sickness and is also just getting better. She is maybe about a year old. Her buddy, who we got at the same time, is called Raspberry and is extremely ill with lung cancer. So ill that we almost put her down last week as she was gasping for breath. But then she recovered and seems to be stable. It's very difficult deciding when it's time to put them to sleep. We don't want to do it while they're still happy and interested in things going on around them but since they mask illness (to keep predators from grabbing them) they can go from appearing to be okay to being in severe distress in a matter of hours. When Mass Hysteria died from lung cancer we had waited maybe a day too long and she was panicking because she couldn't catch her breath. It was awful and we don't want to put anyone else through that. So we watch and we wait and we hope we're making the right decisions.

Today everyone seems good. They've all been happy and very interested in the smells wafting upstairs. When we had dinner we gave them a huge chunk of turkey which they went nuts for and dragged into their purple house. They've been snacking on it ever since.

Enter George, our ginger cat, who has been a bit weird and spooky since Titan, our senior citizen cat, passed away from diabetes earlier this year. George has mostly grown up with the rats and doesn't hassle them. He's hell on insects and saved me from a yellowjacket once (I'm allergic and was home alone - he caught it, killed it and ate it, shaking his head at the flavor) but he's good about leaving the rats alone. The first set we had with him the house, Paws and Karma, were champion boxers and boxed him in the nose, teaching him to watch but not touch.

We offered George some turkey but it's smoked and he didn't seem to care for it. In fact he took it out of his bowl in order to eat his dinner. But he must have decided the rats had a different flavor turkey because I heard a tremendous clang and he came flying in here with his tail and back fur puffed out, all wild eyes and guilty expression.

We really don't want him to get the idea that it's acceptable to fix things out of the rat cage and eat them. Who knows where that might end. Hopefully the big noise will help reinforce the look but don't touch policy but just to be safe we took the turkey away from the rats, who were all extremely disappointed. In fact if looks could kill Strawberry would have decimated the household. A biscuit substituted but not very well.

Happy Thanksgiving to all from all of us.

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