Well it’s been a stressful week or two here at Ratbag Towers. Not only have I got a bunch of impressively scary stuff to deal with in my personal life, but poor old Salt went whiter than his own belly fur last Wednesday, and on Friday was diagnosed with a lymphatic tumour. I’ve been in a whirlwind of medications and cage rearrangements and supervised free-range and breaking up who’s-the-alpha-now arguments, and it’s only just beginning to settle into a routine.
As things stand, I’ve split the boys two and two for the sake of giving Salt some peace. Salt and Pepper are in the old cage but have been relocated to the floor, and the Zephyrs are having a great time ricocheting around the slightly larger and far stronger new cage I’d been planning to replace it with anyway. (The weight of the hamster cage on top was making their 100cm Mamble buckle, so I’ve retired it as a hospital and holiday cage.)
He’s happy enough, for now. Still pale, and he’s slowed down noticeably; lymphatic tumours affect the immune system and red blood cell production, so he’s short on red cells to transport oxygen around and consequently he’s lost control of the muscles in his hind toes and the end section of his tail. But he’s waddling gamely around, determinedly shredding whatever I give him to sleep in (I swapped the expensive fleecy hanging cube for a nice chewy cardboard box..!), and he even still managed pea fishing during free range time last night. So he’s not done for yet. The spaghetti bolognese flavour baby food I give him his preventive antibiotics in is still his favourite, and he’s learnt to anticipate that me taking Pepper out of the cage in the evenings heralds not just another spoon full of lovely orange goo, but also pudding in the form of honey-flavoured Metacam soaked into a bit of crunchy rice cake. I don’t think he has a clue why I’m spoiling him like this but he’s more pleased to see me now than he’s ever been. I get little happy-rat nose whiffles when he’s finished all his meds, and a tiny face popping out to see me when I walk by. Previously I was “go back to sleep, it’s only him again”. Cupboard love, as my grandma used to say, but I don’t mind a moment of it 🙂
And yes, I know I’ll be upset when he goes. But I also know I’m giving him the best life he could possibly imagine right now, and he’s a rat, not a child – he doesn’t need me to prove that I love him enough to fight to the death for him just to reassure him that I care. He just needs to know that he’s getting treats and attention and spoiling. And I need to know that I’m not dragging him off to the scary antiseptic-smelling place he hates so much to have unpleasant things done to him for reasons he can’t understand, when he’s already feeling ropey to begin with.
My vet’s been utterly lovely. On the phone, after his first weekend of medication just to see if it was something random, she said there are times when she wishes she had a magic wand. I feel flattered to be that deserving a pet owner. (It took me an hour and a half to get to my appointment on Friday due to inexplicable traffic chaos in my town). But then I adopted them to start with because I need something to love, and I’m ever such a teensy bit unreasonable about these two too; largely because I identify with their horrible past more than I should. My rat friends have been great too – posting me care packages of supplements when we still thought it was anaemia, and just getting what it’s like to care about a pet with a short lifespan.
So I’ll miss my Salty, when he toddles off to steal and stash the great big pile of tealights in the sky. And I’ll no doubt be apostrophising his ratty soul when I’m mopping up the fallout from the hierarchy re-establishment fight which will happen between Pepper and Adso when they’re put back together. Astonishingly enough it turns out that Salt was the muscle of the condiment boys, the beta who was ably enforcing Pepper’s rule – without him to keep Adso down, choccie boy is lord and master in his own realm and is getting used to it. Not to mention steadily growing big and muscled enough to win fights. There might be a bit of a shakeup when Pepper goes back in, and I’m not convinced he’ll still end up in charge.