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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.

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