When I was on holiday, I received a message from the pet care facility where I’d boarded my rats. Clio, my black berkshire rat with the sweet personality, was losing condition and wasn’t responding to antibiotics. The owner of the facility was very apologetic and warned me that Clio did not look anything like she did when she first went to boarding.
Clio greeted me happily upon my return, but she was a lot worse for wear. The facility owner and I discussed her symptoms and agreed that it was highly likely that she didn’t have a viral condition, but a neurological one – possibly a stroke. She’d developed a head tilt and could no longer walk straight. Still, as Clio nuzzled my fingers, I thought that since she was still eating and making happy rat sounds (bruxing), that perhaps we could get her back to her old condition through good feeding and careful care.
Over the next few days, Clio would greet me happily whenever I went to the cage. She still ate and drank, though her fur remained raggedy and her eyes were often crusted with porphyrin. Every morning, I would clean her eyes and feed her by hand. When I did so, she always rewarded me by bruxing and nuzzling my fingers.
…But her condition didn’t change. In fact, she worsened. She spent more and more time asleep. When she was awake, she would toddle in circles and fall over. Sometimes, she would attempt to climb the cage walls to greet me, but would always fall over after the third or fourth rung. After a while, she would stretch out her legs involuntarily whenever she was picked up because of her balance issues and possibly because she was having difficulty breathing. But… she always nuzzled my fingers and bruxed, as if to show willing.
On Thursday, two weeks after I took her home, I realised that Clio wasn’t going to improve. She was getting worse every day, slowing down and sleeping more. Some mornings, the porphyrin crusting was so bad that she couldn’t open her eyes. It was clear that she was dying… and that she was in a lot of pain.
So, we decided to have her put down. We took her to the vet who told us that yes, Clio wasn’t going to improve, but that putting her to sleep was a difficult decision. She gave us two options:
- Bring Clio home and manage her pain until she died naturally.
- Have her put down immediately.
Making the decision to put an animal to sleep is very difficult. Generally, there’s a gut feeling when it’s time to say goodbye to an animal. Most of the time, your pet’s behaviour will clue you into how they’re feeling, especially if you’re close to them. Clio stopped playing with her cagemate and spent most of her days asleep. Towards the end, she was really slowing down and though she would rouse herself and eat, it took her a long time to wake up. Though Clio never lost interest in her food or water (something I always take as a sign that an animal is dying, as once they stop eating, the end is almost certainly near), it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to get the food she wanted.
If you’re already asking yourself whether or not you should be putting your pet to sleep, in a way, you sort of know if you should.
However, you should always speak to your vet about your pet’s condition before making any serious decisions. Sometimes, a pet in a great deal of pain can be treated with hard work. If your vet is only offering pain management options and has let you know that the disease is terminal, then it’s up to you. Euthanasia isn’t for everyone, which is why our vet gave us the option of managing her pain until she died naturally.
Either way, losing a pet is hard, so always give it lots of thought before you decide for or against putting your pet to sleep.
Since I couldn’t bear to see Clio suffer anymore, I made the decision to have her put to sleep. The vet took her away, then brought her back in a little box.
I cried a little.
We buried the box in our backyard and planted a blueberry bush over it as a memorial. Clio had expensive taste and she always loved blueberries.
 A reddish oil produced by rats naturally to soften their fur. A sick rat often overproduces this oil and can’t groom it through the fur properly, leading to it crusting around the eyes and nose.