Poorly Derek on the mend
UPDATE – 5 May 2019: I’m pleased to say that Derek seems back to normal now!
On Tuesday, Derek was clearly unwell as he had the usual symptoms of a rat being ill – unkempt fur, hunched back, lethargy and loss of appetite. His scrotum, containing his testicles, had a blue/grey/purple tinge too.
He was taken to an experienced local vet who established that Derek was healthy in other ways, with a normal heart rate (420bpm) and no breathing problems or lumps/growths present. However, his body temperature, taken via his rectum, measured 34.1C. This was two or three degrees lower than normal for a rat, meaning Derek had acute onset hypothermia, despite not being subjected to anything other than normal room temperature. Ronnie remained healthy.
The discolouration of Derek’s testicles was due to cyanosis – the bluish/purplish discolouration of skin due to low oxygen in the blood. This also affected his eyes and ears, which were lacking in colour.
The vet hadn’t seen such a young and otherwise healthy rat presented in this way before. To be safe, Derek had a heart scan to rule out the unlikely chance of cardiac disease. While this type of scan couldn’t be totally conclusive as a rat heart is only 1.5cm long, it confirmed there was no fluid present and the chambers were unlikely to be enlarged, so cardiac disease was very unlikely.
Nothing had changed in Derek’s lifestyle/diet and he’d been fine right up until the night before. Carbon monoxide poisoning was a possibility but was ruled out, as was anything neurological. It was agreed that before any further action, such as a referral to a specialist veterinary college, Derek should be warmed using a heat mat and his progress monitored.
Soon after, his body temperature increased to 35.8C and was then 37.8C – well within the normal range – by the time he came home a few hours later. A hand warmer was placed in their house to help him and he gradually improved after some rest. By Thursday morning, his activity level, appetite, ears and eyes were all back to normal, although his scrotum still remained a slightly blue colour.
The vet contacted me on Thursday and was pleased with Derek’s progress, but was still unable to confirm the diagnosis. He thinks it’s possible that a temporary blocking of Derek’s airway (I imagine a piece of awkwardly-chewed food which got slightly stuck in his throat could have been the culprit?) led to the lack of oxygen in the blood which caused the cyanosis and other symptoms.
Fingers crossed, Derek will remain well and won’t have any relapses. If he does become similarly ill again, providing extra warmth seems to be the key for a cure, although it’s likely he’d need further investigation to establish the diagnosis for certain.
If your rat has similar symptoms, ensure you take him/her to a vet as soon as you can so you can get them checked for any serious conditions.