Diabetes can be ones of the scariest diagnosis to get as a human, but what do you do when you find out that your furry friend has diabetes and he just happens to be a rat?
I asked my friend Carole Merando Littlefield if she wouldn't mind answering some questions about her rat Boo, who has diabetes. Here is my interview with her conducted via email.
Mary: What Symptoms did Boo have that made you think something was wrong?
Carole: Well first he started by drinking a lot and being really lazy, at first I thought was due to the heat as we had not turned the AC on at the time. But then I noticed he was peeing excessively and it was leaving a white residue and he was dropping ounces a day. When he lost weight and was sick, if you touched him you could feel his spine and his hips and he peeped because it hurt!
Mary: How was he diagnosed with diabetes?
Carole: I suspected diabetes as I myself have type 2. I consulted 2 rat experts (Amanda Lacy of RAMR Rattery and Debbie Duccomen) and both agreed was probably diabetes also. Of course by this time I already had a vet appointment and was watching what he was eating.
Mary: What have you had to change since getting the diabetes diagnosis?
Carole: Luckily he is very rat aggressive so he's in his own condo, as he has to have a low sugar, lean protein, low carbohydrate diet. Basically similar to my own. He gets a tbsp of Greek yogurt, a meat and veggies or berries 2x a day right before his medicine is given. He also has a mix left out at all times specifically tailored for his diabetic diet so he has stuff to chew on.
Mary: Do you know if diabetes in rats is a growing problem?
Carole: I actually have found 3 other people with diabetic rats, only one has said she's trying to treat hers, not sure on the other 2. My neurologist suggested his bloodline might have originated from lab rats bred for diabetes research and when re-homed it ended up in his pedigree somewhere.
Mary: What causes a rat to get diabetes?
Carole: With pews (pink eyed whites or albinos) more than likely they came from a line that originated with a line of rats bred to study diabetes drugs in the lab. (see above comment) Also some may be due to a diet too high in carbohydrates and sugars, and of course obesity.
Mary: Will a diabetes diagnosis shorten my rats life span?
Carole: It depends on the individual rat, like with anything else diet, weight, and treatment needs to be kept track of religiously to make sure they stay healthy. Also routine vet check ups to make sure he's doing well. My vet is great she said we are breaking new ground with Boo here in her clinic as she's not had one in before. We discussed options of different types of insulins, cat, dog and human. I chose to go with human since in the lab that's what they were bred for.
The dosage was the hard part as it was too small, so I adjusted it a ml at a time until his glucose levels fell to trace to zero. My daily log my vet read cover to cover and suggested if his glucose rose again to just increase by 1ml every couple of days until he was back in the negative-trace zone. This is working wonderfully as you can see by his photos, my big boy is almost back to his original weight. Though I'm trying to keep it down, he's also 12 inches long nose to tail root!
Mary: How do you test a rats blood sugar and what medicines do you give a rat with diabetes?
Carole: Boo is a big help with this one, I put him on the scale to weigh him and give him a sugar free chocolate chip and he eats it then pees on the scale. I then take a ketone test strip and soak it and compare to the chart. So far only 1 time was his sugar off the charts, he had been given a snack by my son a while before test time. But I knew so I wasn't worried too much, he had his shot and it returned to normal.
Also due to having to give him a shot every day in his neck/shoulder area we felt the pee test strips would be kinder. Some days he doesn't even flinch, other days he peeps if you get the wrong spot but he's awesome about it. My 14 yo daughter (who's going to be ahead of everyone when she goes to vet tech school in 5 yrs) gives him his shots when I have to be out of the house and he just sits there. We have it on a 9am and 9pm schedule and he's always at his door waiting for his yogurt! When I have enough research I plan on writing it up for my vet and anyone else that may want the information. (6-12 months)
He's my big love bug and I'm so glad we are able to treat it.
Thank you so much Carole, for agreeing to this interview. I'm sure this valuable information will help many other rat parents who have gotten this diagnosis.