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Into the Sticks

One of the rattie girls lives in the top part of the cage, and the other in the bottom. Can you tell which lives where?

The rat cage The answer is pretty obvious - Eek loves sticks.

Mostly Eek likes to use sticks to construct or fortify her food cache and sleeping nest. There are never enough sticks in Eek's world. She always wants more. They are one of the two kinds of things consistently worthy of Eek's immediate and very focused attention - worth leaping from her cage onto my lap to acquire. The other type being, of course, food. If she could get a hold of enough, Eek would pack her entire cage space full of sticks.

In addition to construction, Eek does sometimes enjoy gnawing on sticks too. As a rodent, who has front teeth that constantly grow, she is compelled to gnaw. And now that her wheel has been enhanced to be less gnaw-worthy, her chewing attentions have become more focused on sticks.

Being that she undoubtedly originated from the undeveloped gully next to the house, many many sticks were brought in from the gully for her. But the origin and history of those sticks were mostly unknown. This was possibly the origin of the cause of Eek's near death a couple of months ago. Since then, Eek's cage was cleared of all older sticks - very traumatic for her - and only certain kinds of new sticks have been allowed. She has gradually been able to rebuild her nest fortifications and food cache protection, but only as I have been able to supply suitable sticks.

Because her rabbits are so fond of them, Dr. Stern brought Eek some willow branches. These have been a huge hit with Eek, more so than any other kind of wood. In addition to using them for construction, she very much enjoys just chewing on willow twigs. Limiting Eek to sticks from unsprayed fruit trees and willows has been a challenge. These kinds of sticks have been hard to find - or hard to gather in a sufficient volume to please Eek. Eek's new willow branches were supplemented with some apple branches from Reiko, and some plum branches from our neighborhood. After asking among friends for willow branches, or maybe an unsprayed fruit tree, Kathleen kindly offered unsprayed pear and apricot branches from her yard.

Days after being given a number of pear and apricot branches, Eek became very quiet and almost clingy - very unusual behavior for her. When she was willing to leave her cage, she would quietly climb into my sweatshirt, curl up, and not want to climb back out. And she wasn't eating. The next day, again with her not wanting to leave my sweatshirt, while rubbing her belly, parts of her fur felt crusty. Poor little Eek had diarrhea.

Back to Dr. Stern we went. Eek weighed a horrifying 184 grams, having lost the weight she had started to gain back from the previous issue and then some. Another subcutaneous saline shot, and Eek was started on a new (to Eek) antibiotic.

It appears that the culprit this time was the apricot tree branches, which apparently can be toxic to herbivores.

Eek started to bounce back almost immediately. By the next day she was at 188 grams, and then 194 grams the day after that. Dr. Stern, bless her, brought us still more willow from her own tree. And she also gave a contact for buying apple tree branches from an organic farm. Sadly, the improvement only lasted a day or so, then Eek started to shut down again. She became unwilling to leave her little nest wad, and, in fact, sometimes would not even rouse herself to look up when her cage was approached. She was not particularly interested in eating, though occasionally would somewhat disinterestedly chew on a seed. Fortunately she wasn't loosing more weight, but she wasn't gaining it back either.

Two days of this decline and we contacted Dr. Stern yet again. By then Eek had (somehow) put on a little more weight, all the way to 200 grams, but she was still dehydrated, and to both Dr. Stern and myself, did not look well. Another subcutaneous saline shot, and we decided to discontinue the antibiotics. Because a pet woodrat is very rare - one could make an compelling case for "unheard of" - normal physiology and effective drugs are unknown, making most everything we do to care for her a "best guess".

I am very happy to report that by discontinuing the antibiotics, and with a little bit of focused daily hand feeding of a mini-syringe full of Oxbow Critical Care mixed with extra water, Eek returned to her usual energetic, curious, active self. This got her over the hump and gaining back her weight. Things finally now appear to be back to a steady state in the Eekosphere.

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Blog_post | by Dr. Radut