Rattie Surf's Mammary Tumor and Trip to the Vet
Last week I picked up Rattie Surf, who is the ripe old age of 1 year and 7 months, and noticed she had a tumor on her belly. I cried because (a) it had already been a bad day and (b) I knew that meant I would lose her soon. She and her sister, Skittle, are our oldest rats and this was the first major medical problem they have had.
I was upset at myself because I didn't notice sooner. After two weeks of a heavy work, overtime, and physical therapy schedule, I was exhausted. I made sure they all got out each day for at least an hour, but this last week had been more of just opening the cage for them and then plopping on the couch while they played around me.
I had noticed a behavior change in Surf, but I hadn't attributed it to something more serious. I noticed she was scratching her back and her face until she broke the skin; she was eating more (and, subsequently, pooping a lot more); sleeping a bit more; being more evasive when free ranging, rather than coming to visit me on the couch; and she was a little thinner (She's always been very fond of food, like myself.).
I immediately called for an appointment with her veterinarian and was seen in two days. She was due for an appointment anyway because of her scratched skin. I had taken her to the vet about five months prior for a spot she had scratched on her back which had become infected. On that visit, the vet had prescribed an oral antibiotic and a topical ointment for her skin. It was simply a bacterial infection and mites were not suspected.
Trip to the Vet
Surf traveled very well compared to her last visit to the vet. I carried her in a small hamster cage with lots of fleece at the bottom and my daughter drove. She relaxed on top of the fleece scraps and enjoyed the cool air from the vents. When we arrived at the office, Surf sat on my shoulder and waited patiently for her appointment.
Once in the examination room, the nurse placed her in a small plastic carrier on a scale to weigh her. Rattie Surf managed a huge fear poop in the nurse's carrier, which the nurse quickly cleaned up before we tried again. We all agreed we normally do the same thing before climbing on the scale, so we didn't blame her. Surf weighed in at 323 grams.
I recognized the veterinarian, Doctor Bean, from Surf's last vet trip. He gave her a thorough exam and noted the tumor was round and about two inches in diameter. It was located just in front of her right rear leg on her belly and the skin around the tumor was still pink and healthy looking. He was able to easily manipulate the tumor away from her body. He took Surf from the room momentarily to do a skin scrape to type her skin bacteria, then plucked a few hairs from the site to check for ringworm.
Doctor Bean confirmed what we already knew; it was a mammary tumor. Because of its location, color, and ability to be manipulated away from the body, he said the tumor was most likely benign and would not spread into the surrounding tissue. Doctor Bean explained the tumor could grow larger, stay the same size, or become necrotic.
He said the three most likely illnesses which lead to death in pet rats are respiratory problems, skin disorders, and, in female rats, tumors. Mammary tumors are caused by a hormone created each time the female goes into heat, which occurs every 3-5 days. The build-up of this hormone throughout their lifetime stimulates the tumors to grow.
Although he said surgery was an option, he also expressed removal would not necessarily add a lot life to an "older rat." He said new tumors could develop or she could have trouble with anesthesia. I asked him for an estimate on surgery costs anyway.
(Sadly, in the picture of Surf in this section, you can see the bulge of the tumor on her right side. This was taken nine weeks prior to her diagnosis and she was still quite chubby. I took this picture because I thought she was getting a little fat roll from all her eating. Little did I know this was the first sign of her mammary tumor.)
While we waited for the lab to culture her skin scrape, the nurse came in with the estimates. In addition to the cost of surgery, I was curious about the price to have the younger rats spayed. I wish I had kept the estimate sheet for the surgery, but I wasn't thinking clearly. The estimate to have the mammory tumor removed was between $900 and $1000 dollars. I was shocked at the cost to have surgery on such a small rat!!! It all added up though; anesthesia, medication, surgery, etc. I have some spare money, but as a single parent, I don't have an extra one-thousand dollars and the surgery doesn't guarantee success or a much longer life for Surf. The estimate for one spay was about $300.
My daughter and I further considered surgery while we waited and agreed $1000 for surgery was not within our means. If it meant we could buy her another few years, we'd have gladly worked together to earn the extra money, but the vet couldn't make promises. We decided as long as Surf's quality of life was good, she would be well taken care of, and when she becomes too ill to enjoy her days, we would opt for euthanasia.
When Doctor Bean returned, he explained he was dispensing an oral antibiotic and prednisone for her bacterial skin infection. He included two doses of Revolution, even though he didn't see mites in her fur. I told him she had three uninfected cage mates and he explained other rats could have an asymptomatic infection, and it was important to cure her skin problem on the first visit instead of having to come back again. We told him of our decision not to do surgery and he was very supportive. He said he had no problem with euthanasia once her quality of life has decreased and that he wouldn’t question our judgment on that fact.
Surf was tired when we got home. I gave her a treat and placed her back in the cage. She promptly went into her grass roofed hut, piled fleece over the doorway, and didn't come out until late that evening.
Surf is feeling better today. She's playing with the others. I'm shopping later for some nutritious foods for her, including seeds and vegetables. She deserves nothing but the best food while that damn tumor takes away her nutrients. It's really sad, because we both love Rattie Surf very much.
Thank you for reading,
Hammocks and Animal Accessories