At River’s Edge Veterinary Hospital, we consider ourselves to be a progressive companion animal hospital and overwhelmingly the companion animals we care for are dogs and cats. But that changed about a month ago when one of my assistants, Mary Jane Neblett, brought her granddaughter’s rat, Nibbles, to me. Now, before any of you squeamish folks just stop reading and click on something else, let me tell you a little about rats as pets, especially for young children. I first learned about the wonderful qualities of rats when I was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine. One of my students was very involved with Animal Shelter Medicine and was singing the praises of rats. They are gentle and affectionate. Domesticated rats and mice have been selectively bred in captivity for hundreds of generations and are as different from wild rats as dogs are from wolves. The are very social, bond strongly with their owners and can be quickly taught clever tricks, just like dogs. They rarely bite and and are very clean, grooming themselves several times a day, just like a cat! The one big difference between a cat and dog and a rat is life expectancy. Dogs and cats, depending on breed, can easily live well into their teens. A rat will likely only live 2-3 years (the oldest known rat was named Rodney and lived to 7 yrs, 4 months in Tulsa OK). And this quality, along with being gentle, social and affectionate, is very important to what makes them a great starter pet for children like Mary’s 4 year old granddaughter.
Oftentimes kids beg Mom and Dad for a pet, promising to walk the dog, brush the cat and feed them always. Mom and Dad, not wanting to deprive their children the companionship and the responsibility that comes with owning a pet, buy an adorable puppy or kitten. Then what really happens is the child grows up a little more and soccer or scouts or band become more important and Mom and Dad end up taking care of the pet that they may not have really wanted in the first place. Unfortunately, sometimes these unwanted dogs and cats find themselves being abandoned at an already over-burdened animal shelter, needing to find a new home. But if Mom and Dad think outside the box a little and instead get the kids a rat or two, in a couple of years, the rat will go to to the big fruit basket (rats love fruit) in the sky. While the death will make everyone sad, it will teach kids a valuable lesson about the circle of life, and it will also allow everyone to move on to another rat, a different pet, or perhaps choosing to remain pet-free for a time.
Anyway, back to Nibbles, she accidentally was caught in a door and about a third of her tail was cut off exposing bone. She needed surgery to repair her tail so that no bone would be sticking out and it would no longer be painful. I am no expert when it comes to rat surgery but one of my classmates, Dr. Craig Stahle is. I called Dr. Stahle, who practices over by St. Louis, and he told me what to do and how to do it. I am very happy to report that Nibbles had a full recovery and is back enjoying life in Metropolis, IL with her other rat friend Bites and their best buddy Eden.