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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rat Surgery (Part two)

The second night after surgery, I felt Sugar might do okay without the collar because she had it off for a couple of hours and cleaned her incision area nicely without chewing. We kept her in the pet carrier again, but not nearby because I was so tired from spending much of the previous night up with her. I considered setting the alarm to get up and check, but didn’t. Of course, in hindsight, I should have.
When I got up at 6 a.m. and first looked in, I was happy she was alert and her incision looked good, but as soon as I lifted her high enough I saw that the lower third of the incision was open and the muscles inside her body were exposed. I started to freak and woke my daughter right away, telling her to hurry and get up. Thankfully, the doctor had given me some surgical glue in case of such an occurrence so I knew what had to be done. I needed my daughter to assist as she’s usually the one most interested in helping with the animals.

While she held Sugar and I tried to quickly glue the skin seam back together, she said she didn’t feel good and went to the bathroom. As I tried to hold Sugar and finish gluing her at the same time, I heard a thud-thud in the bathroom. This was enough to tell me that the child had passed out. My next move was to wake up my 17 year-old son. “A.J., I need you to get up and hold Sugar. Your sister is passed out in the bathroom.” She was actually out for just a few seconds, but on her way down she hit her chin on something and it was bleeding just a bit. My first thought was to use the same surgical glue on the girl, but I thought better of it. Instead, I gave her some ice and let her know there’d be no school for her today. A.J. held Sugar while I double checked my glue job and put her collar back on.
Of course, I felt terrible about the whole thing. My daughter had never had a fainting incident before. This was a vasovagal response to seeing the rat opened up. There wasn’t any blood and guts or anything because it was just the skin that was open, but it was enough to cause a reaction. Also, waking her so suddenly probably didn’t help either. I called the pediatrician and you can imagine me trying to explain what happened. I used the word “pet” instead of rat. Later, when we were actually face to face with the doctor, she asked if our cat was okay and I came out with the true identity of the pet. Surprisingly, she didn’t seem all that fazed.

When I talked to the vet later, she recommended trying some type of bandage material on the incision or taking a baby sock and making it into a body tube that would cover the whole mid section. I considered going a local vet for some Vet Wrap, but decided to try a similar product that I had at home. It’s called Kinesio Tape and it’s used on weak muscles. It’s lightly sticky and stretchy at the same time. We wrapped Sugar up with this and I immediately wished I’d put some gauze or something over the incision first to protect it from the sticky part of the tape. Since it looked like the answer to our problem, I decided to just leave it on and we’d improve it in a day or two.

With the tape on, we were able to take the collar off more and more. Sugar was eventually able to sleep without the collar and she became more active and mobile. To give the incision some exposure to the air, we put the collar on and kept her occupied by letting her walk around under supervision for a while. We did this each day for a little longer and re-covered the incision with some bandaging material and Kinesio Tape. For some reason, she respected the tape and didn’t try to chew it off. We eventually got comfortable with keeping the collar off for good.
After the incision started to look goopy in one place, the vet suggested a Band-Aid brand (Activ-Flex) that has healing gel. It worked like a miracle to help the incision heal fast. I saw improvement within 24 hours.

I realize this was a long post, but I wanted to include details in case somebody else has to go through this with their small pet. A pet is a pet no matter how small, right Horton? We ought to give them the best care we’re able to give. Now that Sugar is all healed and super active, I have no regrets about the time and money I put in. Still, I’m glad it’s behind us and I might think twice before considering surgery again. At least next time I’ll be more prepared.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rat Surgery (Part 1)

Our pet rat, Sugar, started developing a mammary tumor on her right side, under her arm, shortly after turning two years. She was otherwise healthy and active. The tumor was just pebble size when I noticed it in early October, or less than a centimeter in diameter, but by the end of December it was nearing two inches. The tumor was growing and Sugar was getting thinner, but she was still trying so hard to be active. She couldn’t fit into some of the spaces of her cages because the tumor would hold her up.

I chose to have the tumor surgically removed. I wouldn’t normally do this because of the expense, but I happened to run into my former employer who’s also a veterinarian and she offered to do it at a discounted rate. What I would typically do is wait for a time when the rat stops eating or gets weaker and then take it in to be euthanized. Sugar didn’t seem to be doing either.

Surgery went well. A small, hard mass on the left shoulder was removed as well as the large mass under the right arm. The total of these weighed 57 grams which was about on sixth of Sugar’s entire body weight at the time. The most difficult part of having a small animal have surgery is the recovery that follows. I learned this years ago when I had a male rat neutered. At that time, I fashioned an Elizabethan collar out of cereal box cardboard. I don’t even remember how I got it to stay on his neck. Now, there are similar “E-collars,” as they’re called, designed for small animals.

For the first night, I kept Sugar in a small carrying cage so I could keep her nearby and keep watch. She didn’t like wearing the collar and freaked out at first, trying to paw at it and get it off and sometimes even flipping herself around. When she wasn’t doing that, she just sat and looked depressed. At one point, early the next morning, I thought she was dying because her breathing was squeaky and even when I took the collar off and held her, she lay limp and sad looking. I saw that she was not turning blue or anything, but I was still nervous and worried.

I kept telling myself things would be better in a few days and we just had to be patient. The lethargy could have been a result of the pain drugs she was given combined with just being exhausted. We let her have some times with the collar off, but she would try to get at her incision so we had to put the collar back on. When we heard the squeaky breathing, we took the collar off, but she had to be watched constantly or held or kept occupied with food. Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better.