Monday, December 05, 2005

The DIY veternarian

Since I'm on the subject of rodents....

One of the problems of owning exotic animals is that its hard to find a good veternarian. One of the problems of owning pet rats is that they are considered exotic animals. Don't ask me why... you would think an animal as well studied and used in so many research applications as the Norway rat would be a veternarians dream. Unfortunately, its more likely to become a pet owners nightmare.

The problem is that vet schools cover exotic animals as a specialization, and most vets that are going to specialize on exotic animals are going to be focusing on reptiles or birds, not rodents. Couple that with the general idea that 'small' animals are somewhat disposable and the unwillingness of many people to pay a vet bill that may be ten to twenty times what the rat cost in the first place and its not that surprising that most vets have very little experience with rats, whether at vet school or in general practice. As a result, most serious rat owners come to know more about rat medicine than their vets, to the point that some (including myself) have come into the vets office knowing exactly the problem and what treatment to take... the vet is just there to sign the prescription form.

When I first started keeping rats ten years ago, a sick rat meant having to phone several vets to find one willing to treat them, and having to take our chances on the vets experience and competance. Thanks to a proliferation of websites devoted to rat health, contact with serious rat owners (usually breeders), and my own research into the subject I usually have a good idea what is wrong with my pets, and can find recommendations for good rodent veternarians.

Probably the best vet I've dealt with is the teaching hospital at Kansas State University. The staff there have been able to save rats I was sure were past saving, and have always taken their responsibility seriously. Unfortunately the local vet clinic in Bergen hasn't been as impressive... I've had to deal with everything from surgery stitches being chewed out (good rat vets put the stitches internally or use metal stitches that can't be chewed) to being told that my rats distress wasn't sufficiently important to be dealt with (this on a weekend emergency call, with a rat that was had swallowed pen ink and was choking) to having a rat overdosed on anaesthetic. Fortunately the rats in each case have survived (although the last case was pretty touch-and-go), but the effect is to make me feel that if my rat is sick, I'm on my own.


The 'inspiration' for this post was my weekend ordeal with one of my rats... she fell sick on Saturday, and with no possibility of taking her to a vet on the weekend all I could do was wait and hope. This morning when I started this post she looked like she might be recovering, and I was just going to discuss some of the health problems rats face.

She died around lunchtime today, before I could get her to the vet.