This article is from the Nov./Dec. 1995 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Our Pets & Friends
By Pamela Sorrentino, Scituate, MA
The Friday before the trip I was able to bring her home. I desperately wanted to spend some time with her, and Dr. Hess thought that as long as I wasn’t going to work then it would be okay if I brought her home. We were very nervous about her being alone at all until we knew what was happening. Porky was very happy to be home, and it was such a joy to see her!! I ended up having to drop her off several hours before planned as she was having more preseizure attacks. They don’t last long, and afterwards Porky was always very quiet and wide-eyed. That wide-eyed look was what she got when she had a preseizure so I think she was having them and Dr. Hess just never happened to see her do it—yet. So I dropped her off early as my heart broke. Dr. Hess gave me the “what if” speech—i.e. what if she gets really bad—and then told me it wouldn’t come to that now that she had brought it up. But we went and kept in touch with Dr. Hess the week we were away.
She had also mentioned possibly dosing her with phenobarbital for epilepsy, which she would have to be present for as the dosage is tricky enough for an animal, never mind one so small as a rat.
I was worried sick the week we were away, but Dr. Hess assured me she was doing fine. And she was. I guess. Until the day before we were to return. Then while cleaning out Porky’s house, Dr. Hess rattled a plastic bag and just happened to be watching her as she did so. She said she saw Porky’s entire facial expression change as she went into the second grand mal seizure of her too short life. It was so bad that Porky lay there on the ground on her side and Dr. Hess started to get oxygen ready. She came out of it but Dr. Hess was supposed to go away that night down to her parents as the next day was Mother’s Day. She was going to leave Porky at her house with another babysitter who was going to watch her animals for her. However, she no longer felt comfortable leaving her, and so the next day when I got back I found out that Porky had a bad seizure and had spent the day traveling on the road with Dr. Hess. She had canceled her train trip and drove down instead with Porky and some other wildlife critters that she was taking care of. She held Porkchop up as she crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge so that she could say she was a world traveler.
Dr. Hess came back on Tuesday and I took the day off from work to spend some time with my baby. Dr. Hess didn’t feel Porky was doing too well. I guess she spent a lot of time that Tuesday not moving very much. However, she had been away from me for about two weeks all told by now, except for that one Friday/Saturday, and I think she was depressed because when Dr. Hess brought her in to the animal shelter where I was working, she suddenly jumped up and down and began chewing at her house top trying to get out. We were both so happy!! She spent the next 5 hours continuously cleaning, grooming, and licking me, and we had a wonderful night together. She did have a preseizure attack that night but it was relatively short. We blocked an area of the loft off with big sheets of cardboard so that she could be upstairs with no danger of her falling off in the event of a seizure. The next day she had no zipping seizure activity but she did have two sets of short convulsions.
The preseizures would occur every couple of days, with usually no more that one per day when they happened. Any amount of excitement usually seemed to set her off. This went on until June 17, with her being medicated. The vet did not want to try phenobarbital unless the seizures were happening much more frequently than they were.
We contacted a specialist at Tuft’s (a large vet hospital/University) as I wanted to have an MRI done (magnetic resonance imaging, or CAT scan). We found a place who would do it, but with this procedure it is necessary to have the animal injected with anesthesia as no instrumentation may be in the room. Any animal with respiratory problems should never be put under with an injection—only gas, as the subsequent depression on the respiratory system as well as the inability to bring the animal out of it quickly if necessary, can be fatal. So, it was too dangerous. The specialist felt that the infection had gone up into cerebral tissues, and the amount of information that we might be able to get was outweighed by the risks. She suggested going back to one of the first antibiotics which we did.
I had gotten a request for a drawing from Paul and Christi out in California who commented that they nebulized their rats with gentocin (besides being a clinical biochemist, I am also a free-lance artist, plus am going to vet tech school to be more of help to both my own animals and at the animal shelter where I volunteer; I am also going for a wildlife science). So I got a nebulizer and brought Porky up to the vet hospital on Wednesday, June 7. As I said before, a lot of times too much sensory stimulation would bring on a seizure, so I wanted to make sure that if anything happened, we had any and all facilities that we would need. Dr. Hess had taught me how to do intramuscular injections in case she went into a seizure and didn’t come out of it, as there wouldn’t be time for me to get to a hospital if this happened. However, this was in case of an emergency and I wanted there to be anything that we may need on hand.
Dr. Hess was convinced that at this point she wasn’t in any pain as she acted normally, although slowed down much of the time. Her appetite stayed normal, and she was still her curious little self. The worst part about the seizures was that the one grand mal that she had (I’m not sure about the one Dr. Hess saw) she vocalized . It distinctly, to me anyway, sounded like a person saying, “Oh God, no.” It was heart wrenching, and at all times the most important thing to me was that Porkchop did not suffer. I loved her way too much for that. [For anyone else out there that is confused about when to put an animal to sleep, don’t be. You will know when it is time. If the animal gives up—doesn’t eat or can’t eat, and looks like they feel so bad, put yourself in their place. Have you ever had the flu really, really bad, and said (and really meant it) that you just wanted to die? This is the hardest decision in the world to make and should be made with the utmost amount of thought and consideration as taking a life is the most serious thing anyone can do. Your vet can help with this decision as sometimes it is hard for someone really close to make the decision alone. However, if the animal is truly suffering then you are keeping it alive for yourself, not for the animal, and this is not an act of love but one of selfishness. I believe this for all animals, including people.] Although a seizure takes a lot out of anyone that has them, anyone that has them will tell you that they are not really aware of what is going on—hence that dazed expression like you are just waking up. The cry that I heard was more an uncontrolled vocalization than a cry of pain I guess, but I can still hear it and it haunts me.
So Porks and I got to the hospital and she had a preseizure in the waiting room—everyone was oohing and ahhing over her and I think all the attention set her off, as well as the typewriter. Probably the typewriter, as the noise bothered me a little too, and it was that type of noise that usually seemed to set her off. Dr. Hess and I went into a room and set up the nebulizer and turned it on without her in it. It made a high pitched noise like a kettle boiling and she had another preseizure. We covered up the nebulizer and Dr. Hess tried it again with her inside of the chamber, and she had a grand mal seizure complete with more vocalization. So I took her home and on the way she had another grand mal, and I pulled over to the side of the highway and was convinced I was going to lose her then. All the excitement was just too much for her, I thought. However, she came out of it and we went home. I debated on whether to take her back to the hospital, but at this point I thought it would be less stressful on her to just go home. Once there she had another preseizure. This was the worst day, obviously, so far and I didn’t know what to do.
The nebulizer had great success with some people, so I got her used to the chamber and connected a long tube of hose from about ten feet away behind a door so that I could nebulize without her hearing anything. By that Sunday I was ready to try again and I did. I put her in for the next week and although sometimes it would set off a preseizure, it seemed to be helping. There was only a limited amountof time I could do this, slowly increasing the time each day, as I had to be very careful. I felt that if I was going to lose her at this point, it would be during a seizure.
Her appetite improved and over the next week she seemed to improve quite a bit. She had one day in particular where not only did she not have any seizures, but she seemed almost her old self. She went around upstairs without any sensory stimulation setting her off and had a great appetite. However, the next morning she wanted me to hold her food for her, and that night she had a preseizure. Saturday morning she seemed slowed down; very tired. I brought her up to the hospital as she just seemed like she didn’t want to move very much, drink, or eat, and I was scared she was getting dehydrated. The vet gave her an injection of saline and taught me how to do the same just in case she did get dehydrated as she (the vet) was going out of town for a couple of days. She said she wasn’t really too dehydrated, but she looked really bad. I stayed up until about 3 A.M. that night giving her chicken broth and all her favorite foods and talked to the vet the next morning before she left. She told me how to get hold of her in case I had to.
Porky seemed better on Sunday, but her gums seemed a little pale so we started her on iron supplements in case of anemia. In case of very pale gums, tongue, feet, and/or genitalia, anemia might be present. If you see bluish hues, then not enough oxygen may be getting to the tissues. Monday her gums looked better, and she had a good appetite although she wasn’t real active.
On Tuesday she started shaking her head, and you could hear squeaky/sighing noise when she breathed. I hadn’t nebulized since Friday because the vet said to avoid any stress as she wasn’t convinced the nebulizer was doing anything. I started again on Tuesday because I thought that at the very least it would make it easier for her to breathe, just like using a vaporizer. However, to avoid any stress I did this with the hose only instead of putting her in the chamber, once again to avoid any stress. On Wednesday she slowed down more, where if you put her on her side she would stay that way for awhile.
The vet came and we started her on steroids, which is used mainly to make an animal more comfortable until the end. Steroids depress the immune system while at the same time decreasing swelling. They will usually increase the appetite and make the animal/ person feel better, but should only be used as a last resort when nothing else will work.