I am writing this as I am heading the 3 hours back to Woodland, WA from Everett, WA. This is a day I NEVER want to repeat.
Last night I tucked everyone in the mischief to bed before checking on the ratties in quarantine. I had let both Mamas of our current litters (Timeless Litter and Painted Desert Litter) visit the Girls Sorority so I could do a belly check on the babies to make sure everyone had good milk bands. Everyone was doing great!
This morning, I was woken up by the air compressor (we are remodeling the guest bathroom and only have 1.5 days a week to work on it so this project has been going on for several months) at first I didn't think anything about it but then jumped out of bed and rushed to the rat cages. The poor mamas were a frazzled mess. CRUS Princess Willow was running all over her cage trying to break out with a baby in her mouth. OCRA River Song was climbing the bars and running back and forth walking all over her babies as well. I immediately rushed to take the cages to our bedroom where it was quiet. I put blankets over them and checked to make sure they settled down when I gave them food. Both mamas were on their nests nursing so I figured everything was okay. I proceeded to do our morning routine of checking on everyone else.
I came back a couple hours later to check on them and CRUS Princess Willow was laying on her stomach off to the side of the cage away from her nest. I normally would think she was just taking a break but when I opened her cage, to take out the normally empty bowl, she had not touched her food ( yummy egg and other goodies). I called her name, Her ear twitched but nothing else. I then begin to slightly panic. I reached in to pet her, nothing. She was breathing but unresponsive. When I picked her up she was limp. She was breathing slower then normal and was not putting up any fight as I poked and prodded her abdomen. My first thought was she had a seizure or stroke. I then worried she was septic from a baby she should have delivered. Hence the prodding her belly. There was no smell coming from her opening and her babies were thriving so that was really not the issue. As I considered what could be wrong, I put all but 4 of her babies, and their nest box in with River. Hoping those four would at least keep her from developing mastitis along with making her feel a bit better with the release of oxytocin that occurs from nursing. If a rodent has a scare sometimes they take a little while to perk up after the adrenaline wears off. I was hoping this was the case.
After about another hour, I took the 4 babies out and cleaned their bums with a q-tip dipped in warm water ( neonates cannot eliminate on their own.) I began calling a few of our different vets to see if anyone was available for rats on a Sunday afternoon. There is a 24 hour clinic about an hour away and one of their two doctors that specialize in pocket pets and other exotics would be in that evening. Her tail and limbs felt cool to me so I decided it was prudent to check her temp before I put her on a heat pad. It was 93* (rats usually run 95.5-99.5) I held her on the warming pad and she would turn her head slightly to look at me but the rest of her body was completely flaccid. It seemed that she was beginning to improve just a bit from her shock because she actually moved her tail for the first time in hours. My hopes were up that we were turning a corner. Unfortunately, after about 10 minutes of slowly getting warm, Willow passed away in my arms. To say I cried is an understatement.
Fast forward to tonight along I-5 somewhere near Seattle, I don't expect anyone to understand why I needed to deliver 5 of the babies from the litters up north to Panzy's Place Rattery for their wonderful Roan mama, ROUS Danger Baby to help nurse. Hindsight I may have found a mama closer but knowing it was such a long drive, I believe the main purpose for this mama so far away to be available, was to keep me from hovering all evening with Mama OCRA River Song and her now 20 little babies. (Thank you my friend, Erin AKA my night time driving chauffeur, for helping spare my sanity just a bit)
It pains me more than I can even begin to explain, knowing there is the possibility she could have literally been scared to death. I am writing this all down as usual because I believe in being completely transparent and want others to know that breeding is not for the 'faint of heart'. We all take such a huge responsibility and I feel that I failed Princess Willow. I have never lost a mama before. I have had emergencies that required vet trips to save their life but their was nothing that could have been done for her in the short time. Of course, it is heartbreaking to know this may have been prevented. We do not know for sure what caused her stroke or heart attack. She was in obvious shock prior to passing away. (If she had a seizure she would have been warmer not colder) One great thing, is a majority of the rat breeding community can be supportive and helpful. Knowing another breeder was able to offer her mama, with even BFFR offering to take them, helped me not feel so lost in those first hours. Unfortunately the community can also be very harsh and opinionated. Posting this, I take the risk of some being upset that I did not take more babies away. As many of you know I am OCD with weight checks so I do feel confident that I will be able to track the weights of the babies and mom to make sure all stay healthy and receive anything they may need to help them flourish.
Monday 10:30 am 10/22/18
The current report is the 5 babies up north all had great milk bands last night and Danger Baby is nursing them along with litter of 12 ten day olds. GO DANGER BABY!!
As for River's brood, the babies here have been shuffled to one HUGE nest. At one point she had 3 different ones. Yes 20 is A LOT of babies. I was shocked knowing she had given birth to 17! The largest litter we have successfully raised was 18. We most likely will need to supplement a few. I am still tired and really, I mean really wanted to count babies last night to make sure all made it but I knew that River Song was doing a great job (the best she could) I have the supplemental formula, bottled water, paint brushes and the tiniest peripheral venous catheter and syringe all ready for any babies that might need it. I had weighed ALL the babies hours prior to the tragedy and they are all 11-14 as of yesterday. I am hoping they at least held their weight as Mama OCRA River Song starts to produce more milk.
Monday 1:30 pm 10/22/18
I was not planning on taking any babies out to check on them until tonight or tomorrow because I felt River Song needed to be able to settle down and get a groove. Today when I was placing food in her cage she hopped out so I took the chance to double check they are were okay. Happy to report, all 20 look great and have gained weight. They are 12-16 grams! (Just 4 of them being 12 g.) They will be a week old tomorrow afternoon and on average my one week old babies are 19 g with the range of 14-24 g for all size litters and different lines. She has elongated her nest and has carefully filled the mounds around the nest with food so she doesn't have to leave to eat. It looks like a little bunker. At this point we are going to make sure that 'bunker' stays stocked!
UPDATE DECEMBER 1ST, 2018
WOW, What a whirlwind the last month has been. I am so pleased that ALL 25 babies from both litters survived and were all adopted some by new rat owners, a few previous adopters. wonderful experienced families and a few breeders (well except 4 that I kept for future lines.) OCRA Prickly Pear and OCRA Haboob - CRUS Princess Willow's babies & OCRA Kiera and OCRA Wyatt- OCRA River Songs babies.
I will be taking a little break from breeding until spring, enjoying the ratties, teaching them a few tricks (for spring time at school presentations) and possibly getting ready for the show in the spring. Hope to get the website a bit more updated as well. I miss Princess Willow and her quiet stares demanding attention, in the past few weeks I have begun to believe her little girl Prickly Pear is up for the task of stare downs to make me open the cage for demanded snuggles.