A Special Boy: Horus's Story
In mid 2007, my friend Michelle, of socRATties, contacted me to tell me about a pair of rats she had rescued. She had been contacted by a lady who's son and girlfriend had broken up and neither wanted their pair of rats, so had asked if Michelle could take them and rehome them.
Michelle went to fetch the rats and upon collection, found them living in a bird cage and eating a diet of sunflower seeds. The lady had been told by her local petshop, where the rats were purchased, that the diet and cage were suitable, and so knew none the better. Furthermore, the rats were male and female, though, oddly enough, never bred despite living together.
Michelle took the rats to Runebound Rattery, where they spent a night, but as neither Michelle nor Runebound had extra space at the time, I volunteered to take on the pair. Michelle warned me that the male didn't seem quite right, but she couldn't put her finger what the problem may be.
The pair of rats came to me and while the female was normal, albeit a tad thin, she joined a colony of female rats without any problems. The male, however, was small for his age (6 months), had super soft fur, had a strange dazed look in his eyes, had an unusually small and squishy scrotum and didn't sit up properly when he ate. He was also extremely defensive when other rats approached him. Instead of trying to put him in a group where he was clearly unhappy and stressed, I put him in a cage alone, where he could see the other rats, but not reach them. It was then that he was christened Horus, after the egyptian god.
Over the next few days, he settled into a routine of sleeping alot, waking up, walking around, eating, then going back to sleep. He never wanted to climb the cage like the other rats did and his balance seemed off. He would walk, but his hind-quarters would wobble. Also, when he ate, I noticed that he couldn't bend his forearms to get the food to his mouth, so instead, would lean on the edge of the food dish, stick his nose in the food and pick up small bits in is mouth to eat. I fed him a diet of muesli with a few seeds and noodles added. He thrived on the small bits of muesli and seemed content with that.
Then, about two weeks after he arrived, I noticed he was barbering himself. He would lick his wrists till they went raw and he pulled out chunks of hair from his back. He also started trying to attack the bars of the cage if he saw other rats on the other side. I moved his cage to the top of the cage tower where he didn't have to look at the other rats, but could see them out the sides if he looked down to the cage below him. He was happy with this arrangement.
In the meantime, I was trying to work out why this litle guy was so odd. Initially, I thought it may be Degenerative Joint Disease, but then Rebecca from Runebound suggested it may be a pituatary tumour.
I researched the tumour and found that it was very rare in male rats, but not unheard of. The tumour is situated on the pituatary gland, which is attatched to the bottom of the brain and regulates hormone output. The symptoms were
- Gradual weakness and lack of coordination (often more noticeable in the forelimbs).
- Stiffness or inability to flex forelimbs, that gradually progresses to the hind limbs as the tumor continues to grow.
- One eye protruding more than the other does. This can be due to asymmetrical growth of the tumor pressing on structures behind the eye, and is referred to as exophthalmia.
- Unequal pupil size in one eye compared to the other (may appear as blown/dilated pupil due to pressure or bleeding behind the eye).
- Difficulty holding food when eating.
- Circling, head tilt, seizures, hydrocephalus and sudden death.
- Head pressing/Head bumping. This sign may be present when there is increased intracranial pressure (rat may bump head up when petted, or extend head pressing against a fixed surface).
- Decreased fertility
- Thinning skin
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst (need to refill water bottles more than usual)
- Excessive excretion of very dilute urine
Horus showed a number of these symptoms, so I took him to my vet who confirmed that he had something wrong with his brain.
However, because Horus had had his tumour for most of his life, he was able to manage without too many problems. If the tumour had occured later on, like it does in older rats, he would have needed to be euthanaised because the stress of not being able to do all his regular activities and decreased mobility would have been too stressful.
Horus is still with me, merrily pressing on. He has a few bad days here and there, where he attacked his cage or barbers himself, but for most part, he's a happy boy. He will be euthanaised if and when he get worse, but for now, he manages. He's a very special little boy, having the spirit to not give in, despite being a bit 'slow' and I love him dearly.
Horus passed away peacefully in his sleep on 29 May 2008, at the age of two years.