Monday, January 16, 2006

A Rat's Tale, with a little bit of a preachy ending


My friend Enricka loves rodents, especially rats. I know what most of you are thinking: vile pestilent creatures with disgusting long naked tails. But, rats are actually quite intelligent and very social, forming groups with each other and with humans. (Enricka tried to convince Anna to get a rat, but she had her heart set on a hamster.)

Enricka loves her rats and gives them excellent lives for the short time they are with her. That's the problem with rodents: they only live about 2.5-3 years before breaking your heart (dying, usually from cancer).

Lucretius (center rat in above picture, white) has acutely developed diabetes. Enricka had noticed that he'd been losing weight and drinking a lot -classic symtoms- when she found glucose and ketones in his urine. Glucose is there because there are such high amounts in the blood it spills over in the kidneys into the urine. The ketones were a more ominous sign. Without insulin to get glucose into the cells to power them, the body starts to catabolize proteins. The byproduct of this is ketones, which also means the patient is also likely getting acidotic (very sick).

Enricka was ready to give her rat insulin, but how much do you give a 50 gram rat? She found a published dose of 1 unit, but that sounded like a lot to me, since we routinely give 10 lb/5kg cats 2 units. "Give him 1/4 unit," I told her, "Hypoglycemia would kill him a lot faster than hyperglycemia." If blood sugar gets too low (hypoglycemia) you get seizures, organ failure, death. She gave the little dose, but he was still listless.

Later that night, Lucretius was worse, so she started researching the web. Enricka is a real scientist, so she was researching scientific journals, not just anecdotal websites. She found out there was a paper about diabetes in rats at the library at UT, so she had her boyfriend drop her off and circle around to wait for her (no parking). But the library was closed, so she went home and paid $50 with a credit card for the article.

The article said to give 7 units of insulin to rats. SEVEN UNITS! This is a ton! I'd never start off a dog or cat on SEVEN units. Enricka said as she gave the injection her hands were shaking.

The next day, Lucretius started improving, eating again, and as you can see from the photo, playing with his brothers. Apparently because of the rats' body weight to surface area ratio, they need a much higher dose of insulin.

I know many people would not pay $50 to save a rat that could be replaced at the pet store for less than $10. But I've seen people pay thousands to save dogs and cats that they got for "free." Witness our dog Terlingua. The thing is, it doesn't matter what the species is, if you have a bond with an animal, that is real. It never ceases to amaze me how people will sit in judgement of someone spending big bucks on veterinary care, but no one judges someone who spends their disposable income on new golf gear, or at the Harley-Davidson store, or on a luxurious weekend getaway.

If you have a relationship with a domesticated animal, and that animal is dependent upon you for everything, and in return they provide companionship, affection, devotion, etc, you have a responsibility to provide good care for that creature. We should all be so lucky as to be looked after by a person as caring as Enricka. LONG LIVE LUCRETIUS!

11 comments:

EdamameMommy said...

Wow. Go Enricka and your scientific researching self! As for me, I learned my moto from my mother...

"There will be no rodents in this house. There will be no rodents in this house" I'm pretty sure that is how it went. Well, that is how I feel about them, too. I have too many memories of my formaldehyde-y yellowed white rat in Midland GEM program that I dutifully from its soggy plastic bag...yeah, not gonna have one of those for a pet now.

EdamameMommy said...

sorry there's a word missing in my reply. I "pulled" it out of that plastic bag every Wednesday. Oh man, I can still smell it...

Now watch, Paige will pine for a chinchilla, or Graham will want a mouse for Christmas...

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, that is a fantastic piece!

And I am sorry I had that mantra when you three were little - but I just don't like rodents. Glad my phobia didn't rub off on you, the wonder-Vet!

As for Enricka, I can understand her devotion and (in my old age) appreciate her dedication. Hey, I never thought I would love a little Chihuahua but now I do. Thanks for explaining the attachment we mere humans have for other species.

Love you, M

Leigh-Ann said...

I've always shied away from owning rodents because of the short lifespan issue... I don't feel emotionally strong enough to cope with loss so frequently. They seem pretty amazing, though, and perhaps one day a rescue will find its way to our place to live out its days. We often see guinea pigs and rabbits on the local shelter's website and there's definitely some temptation.

As for dosing issues, I remember when our vet wrote us a prescription for Xanax for our thunderstorm-phobic dog. "Take 4 pills every 8 hours as needed". My jaw dropped when I read that... FOUR pills? Four 2mg Xanax at once? I was sure there was a mistake, but the vet rechecked it, and I looked it up as well, and yep, a 100 lb. dog gets 8mg of Xanax. I thought for sure the dog would be comatose but no, she can still walk around in a daze. She's so doped up we can't let her near stairs, but she's still conscious. Amazing. Just 1mg of Xanax has me dozing off after a few minutes, and I definitely weigh more than the dog.

In any case... fine work, Enricka!

paula said...

Oh Steph, you just brought back memories that had, I hoped been buried forever. We had to work on the same yellowed rats at school here as well, it makes me heave just thinking about it - yuck yuck. Great post though Jenn.

angie said...

I had a pet rat--he was my research subject for a lab psychology class back in nineteen mumble mumble. His name was BF Skinny and he was a great pet!

But what I really want to know is, how do you get a urine sample from a rat?

Leah said...

Enricka is great. She really gives it all to these little guys when most would not. Your last two paragraphs said everything I wanted to say but just didn't know how to put it THANKS!!! Who are people to judge others any? At least her $50 was spent unselfishly. Thanks to all who are truely devoted to their let creatures.

Leah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jess said...

What a great post! Enricka sounds like a really great pet owner and a really good friend to her rat! I am so happy that her rat has a loving home!

P.S. Can't wait to see the little ones this weekend!

messymama said...

This story brought tears to my eyes.Yea Enricka!

Jen said...

I know this is an old post, but I just came back from the vet after a 3rd check up for my rat Gaius. He was found to be diabetic a couple months ago and has been on pills and doing ok, but today's visit showed ketones in his urine.
The vet suggested i let him stay their for 48 hrs but I took him home this time and will see how things go in the next week.
Anyway, good to know an article exists!