Two of the numerous animals under my care at work and the sole representatives of the mammal group, are Spike and Diesel, two rats. In this picture, Spike is the one on top. As you can see they are pretty much inseparable but they couldn't be much more different in personalities.
Spike is very nervous, very anxious, very shy and a total home body. He likes to spend the majority of his day tucked up in their cage, occasionally peeping out if a treat is offered. Diesel on the other hand is a total extrovert, he is into everything and demands attention from anyone who happens to be passing. He sulks if he doesn't get to ride around on my shoulder in the morning as I walk around the Museum checking on all the other animals and if he doesn't get his way he squeaks like a spoilt child! They have a very luxurious two storey cage set up, with a ladder between the two levels. During the day we take the top level off the cage and they have a free run, in and out of the cage and around the surrounding counter top where they have various tunnels and boxes and other little hide-outs. Of course if we ever try to work at this particular counter top then Diesel is immediately right in whatever it is we are trying to do, stealing pens, sheets of paper or anything else that takes his fancy!
Four weeks ago, on a day when I wasn't at the Museum, Spike had an accident. Someone startled him when he was sleeping and he panicked, ran blindly into the ladder, got stuck between two of the rungs and snapped his leg, really badly. Of course I took him off to the vet and the x-rays revealed that the tibia was in three pieces and the fibula was, well lets just say, pretty much a lost cause the two ends were so far apart! I was given three options, euthanasia, amputation or attempt to set it and try and let it heal. Rats are not long lived animals and so I did consider the first option but I just couldn't quite reconcile that because he had been injured through mishandling. I couldn't really cope with the thought of amputation either as it was his hind leg so that left me with the final option. But nothing is that simple really is it? What is the one thing that rats are renowned for? Chewing! Of course. The chances of a rat keeping a cast on long enough for a broken limb to heal are slim at best but I felt I owed him the chance to try at least. And so Spike came back to the Museum with his leg in a cast from the hip all the way down over his foot (he had also managed to dislocate his ankle when he broke his leg!)
I had to give him pain-killers and calcium medication twice a day for the first two weeks (remember my post about going to work in the blizzard? He was one of the reasons!) I also had to be meticulous in keeping his cage as clean and dry as possible. For any of you that haven't had a pet rat, trust me when I tell you they are prodigious pee-ers and poopers! And, of course, I had to keep one step ahead of him when he chewed the cast. We did a pretty good job and all the extra handling that he had to endure actually made him a lot more calm as the days went by. We developed a great bond, which is always one of the most rewarding parts of my job. The worst part of the whole thing was that he had to be kept separate from Diesel because Diesel would have chewed the cast off in two minutes flat! It was heart breaking to see Diesel spending hours each day sitting on top of Spikes little 'hospital cage.' I did let him drop in - quite literally - for brief visits from time to time but they had to be closely monitored because it was usually about thirty seconds before he started chewing on Spikes cast!
After two weeks, we went back to the vet to get a progress report, he had another x-ray and we could see that the tibia was starting to heal slowly but surely. It was only on this return visit that I learned that the vet techs had been taking bets on how many days Spike would take to chew his cast off! It gave me great pleasure to be able to prove them all wrong!
Another two weeks past. We stopped the pain killers but continued with the calcium and today, after four weeks, we went back to the vet again. This time Spike was sedated and x-rayed again. I was waiting to hear the outcome when I heard a cheer - Good Job Spike! The vet returned smiling, carrying a rather woozy Spike, just waking up - with his cast removed! His x-ray showed his leg healing well and they had taken his cast off for him. Needless to say I was delighted and couldn't wait to take him back to see his buddy.
First order of business - give the leg he hadn't seen for four weeks a very thorough clean.
Then - luxury of luxuries - he finally got to scratch his own ear (if a little tentatively) I have been doing it for him for the past four weeks and I am sure I didn't do anywhere near as good a job as he would do for himself.
And finally after all the rest of us had made a big fuss over him, he got to snuggle up with his best friend and take a well earned nap.
It will take him a while to strengthen the muscles in his leg again and put his full weight on it but he is certainly heading in the right direction.
And why did I wait until now to do this post? - well I wanted to be reasonably sure that the post would have a happy ending :)
Photo Credits - CJT
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