Regular readers of this blog should remember the loss of my daughter's rat, Adara, a few weeks ago. That was a tragic day in the Bern household and my little girl was distraught for several days. We added a new rat, Princess Leia, and my daughter's heart was healed.
Leia always seemed a little odd compared to most rats. A little withdrawn and less active. However, rats have different personalities like any animal, so I chalked it up to that. I hadn't handled her much after the first day or two, relying on my daughter to let me know if there were any issues.
A week ago my wife surprised all of us by actually holding Leia. This was a momentous occasion! She had always been averse to rats and never even wanted to touch one. I made sure to take pictures to celebrate. But when we had Leia out I noticed that she seemed a bit thin. She was being fed and my daughter is a very responsible pet owner, so I knew it wasn't due to a lack of care. I made a mental note to check on her more often.
This evening I went and checked on her. I became worried when she was thinner than the last time I held her. She was also making some snuffling sinus-related sounds. I went into vet mode and started really looking her over. Besides being thin and having upper respiratory sounds she was dehydrated. And though she was active, she didn't seem exactly energetic. Then I looked at her mouth and noticed a problem. Her upper incisors were missing and her lower ones were severely overgrown to the point of pushing into the roof of her mouth.
I couldn't believe that I had missed that. If a sick rodent came to see me in my office I would examine the mouth as part of a routine exam. For whatever reason I hadn't done that on my own daughter's pet and it was almost disastrous. I should have done a quick exam when we first got her at the pet store. The little thing had been gradually suffering for weeks, not being able to eat or drink enough, and I had missed it.
At times like this it's really hard to balance being a vet and being a father. If it was a client-owned pet I would have some degree of objectivity and could have handled it. But this was the pet of my own 10 year-old girl. She had just lost a pet that she really loved and I was worried that the same thing would happen with Leia. Of course my daughter came upstairs while I was trying to handle it and I had to figure out how much to say and what to do.
I think there is more pressure in a situation like this than with a client's pet because it's my own family and my own child that is affected. My wife and kids know that I'm a vet and expect me to be able to take care of our pets. I have to play double duty as doctor and father/husband and if I fail in the first part I worry that I've failed in the second.
I feel lucky that I caught the problem with Leia before it went any further. I trimmed her teeth and when I put her back in her cage she began drinking and drinking. It was encouraging to me because it meant that she was better enough that she could start replacing the lost fluids. If I had a bag of fluids and syringes at home I would have given her some subcutaneously. The hole in the roof of her mouth is pretty deep and likely is at the point of going into the sinuses, so tomorrow when I go in to work I'm going to get antibiotics. I'll also have to keep her teeth trimmed monthly, but I can do that from home with a Dremmel tool.
If she responds well everything will be okay, though she will need more maintenance than an average rat. If she doesn't do well I'll have a heartbroken daughter. I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope that I caught the problem early enough.
Being a dad and a vet at the same time is tough!