American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Sep./Oct. 1995 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Our Pets & Friends

Porkchop: A Rat with Epilepsy, part 1

By Pamela Sorrentino, Scituate, MA

Porkchop was the name of my little girl. She passed away Friday, June 23, 1995, at 10:36 P.M. She was my life, my love, my best friend. I have lost other pets in my life and have always been devastated by their loss, but Porkchop’s death is the most painful ever. It was like she was my own child, and I could not have loved her any more had she been. I would have died for her, and if it had been possible for me to take her pain onto myself, I would have. She meant more to me than I could describe in any amount of words and this is her story. She changed many a person’s mind about rats—everyone that she met and touched.


Porkchop Comes To Live With Us

Two weeks after I got back from my Honeymoon back in October of 1993, I was involved in a car accident that hurt my back so badly I was incapable of walking for quite some time (I am now recovered). I had wanted a rat for a long time and a couple of weeks after the accident my husband brought home Porkchop. It had been determined that she had actually been born on our wedding day and so this was like fate.

She filled my days and nights with such joy and laughter that which I feel I may never know again. I remember things like how, as a baby, she used to love to climb into the bookcase and stick her little nose out over the shelves. How she managed to get into the wall (much to my fear) to go upstairs into the loft where we sleep. She would look up at me with the most devilish look on her little face as she knew she was doing something she shouldn’t.

The loft became her favorite place to be, so my husband rat-proofed the area so that she couldn’t get into the walls, roof, etc., much to her chagrin. I remember her little butt bouncing up and down while she tried to dig up pieces of carpet that she knew to be covering over juicy entrances into the walls. The loft looked out over the living room and all you would have to do is look up to see a little face looking down to say come play with me, or HEY you’re EATING and give me some of that!! The loft just ended at the ladder, but she never tried to get down or jump off—she knew to stay up. If she wanted down, she would ask by standing at the ladder and talking.

She would also stand at the ladder waiting for my husband to come home—for hours if necessary. When he would go away for the weekend, she would stand there into the wee hours of the morning (when he was away I would let her stay in the loft all night and sleep with me). Once when he was away, I had a friend sleep over on the couch downstairs. It bothered her so much that not only was Scott not home, but there was a stranger in her house and she stood on my head all night thumping me with her tail. Boy was she ever aggravated!

I remember how having dinner meant SHARING in a big way. One could never eat anything without letting a certain somebody have their fair share—and more if at all possible.

She had her favorites, one of which was those little boxes of cereal. I would shake them and she’d come a’running, jumping up and down excitedly while she either helped to open the box or waited impatiently. Then, one by one or six by six, the cereal would all go into her favorite hiding places. And God forbid should you go to pick them up while she was present, OOO! The noise she would make if you were taking something which she considered to be hers!

She liked to store other things as well, such as toilet paper, kleenex, popsicle sticks (preferably WITH popsicle still on them), her pieces of sock which she learned to fetch with, her basketball from her basketball set that she dunked, boxes ten times her size, etc. She also loved to watch the Simpsons. When the music started, she would come running at full speed to stare at the old tube with me.

She knew when I was happy, when I was sad, when I was excited, lonely, or depressed, and responded to all with appropriate behavior. She could and would comfort with all her heart. She would kiss, clean me, groom me, or just nestle up against me to provide solace. She was better than any other form of comfort that I ever had. She always knew what to do for me with an insight that is beyond imagination.

Porkchop Becomes Ill

I went back to work in February of 1994, and leaving her alone during the day was very hard for me. I would rush home to be with her; she was and still is such an angel.

About 2 weeks before Easter of that year I lost my rabbit of 10 years. She was my second house rabbit and the former one also lived to be over 10 years old. I brought home another and Porkchop chased her around the house as she had done Parsley, the rabbit which had passed on. This rabbit was from a pet shop and turned out to have pasteurella. When I had first gotten Porkchop, I had named her Sniffles, as that was what she was always doing for the first couple of weeks. However, after about a week, my husband came up with the name Porkchop which suited her to a “T” because of her little Porkchop legs.

A week before Easter, before even the bunny had started exhibiting symptoms, Porky got a head tilt. One day (Sunday) she just looked a little funny to me that night and then the next day boom—it was definite. I rushed her to the nearest vet who prescribed something which didn’t work, to another who prescribed something which also didn’t work, to one which weighed her on a dog scale to determine her weight (I obviously got the wrong dose and figured as much), and so took her to another who I was finally referred to as a small animal specialist.

This vet’s name was Dr. Pat Hess who has turned out to be one of the most special people I have ever known. Her warmth, care, vision and help was invaluable to Porkchop and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for all of her support both during Porky’s illness, during her last month, and even after her death. She is truly a gifted veterinarian with an amazing amount of empathy. With her help Porkchop made it through this first crisis and her head tilt went completely away. She was carrying Mycoplasma but caught the pasteurella from the rabbit.

Then in August of 1994 she started sneezing again. I immediately called Dr. Hess and we started her on another run of antibiotics. Previously she had been on tetracycline, Baytril, and a couple of other medications which did not do any good. From then on we ran the gauntlet of medications—everything you can imagine we have tried. The ones that worked best were amoxicillin and Baytril, but amoxicillin would generally seem to work for the longest amount of time although Baytril was what got rid of the initial head tilt. Bene-bac was used in combination with all the medications to help replace the good bacteria that is usually lost during intensive antibiotic therapy. I would usually mix her medications in baby food to make them more palatable for her. These come in so many flavors that it was hard for her to get bored of them. Plus most baby food has no sugar, salt, or preservatives added. We would try to get her off medicine but after a week she would usually go downhill fast. We even at one time tried a type of nose drops which had devastating consequences. She had an allergic reaction to them and I almost lost her!

The string of events which saved her life at this time was in itself amazing. Dr. Hess does house calls, so if schedules conflict when she could come, I would leave my back door open and she would come in while I was at work and either check up on her, administer new medications, etc. I have a very good memory and would never forget to leave the door open. However, on this particular day I did. I had to leave work early so that I could be there when she came. She came and showed me how to administer the dosage, and then left. Not two minutes after Dr. Hess left she had a violent allergic reaction which involved screaming, her stomach twisting up, and her barely being able to walk. This medication has been used on lots of small animals who had difficulty breathing and never shown this reaction. I immediately called the house call number hoping she would be calling in to get her messages and then proceeded to call the animal hospital where she works when she is not doing house calls. It just so happened that she had been calling to give information to the hospital and was on another line. She got back to the house within 2 minutes and administered a shot to Porkchop which produced another horrendous sounding scream of despair. She then took her with her and had her for the night in case of any complications. She told me later that she thought we were going to lose her at one point. Needless to say I would not use this medication again although it was probably an animal specific reaction like how some people are allergic to penicillin. I don’t know who was more relieved—her to be home or me for her to be home!!

She continued to run and play and be happy, with her favorite place being on top of a chest in the loft snuggled up in my grandmother’s blanket.

She developed a mammary tumor which I had removed with no problems, although it was a very stressful time. The biopsy showed it to be benign so we were much relieved. The vet used internal dissolving stitches so Porky trying to remove them would be no problem.

Porky developed a head tilt for the second time in her life which just wouldn’t go away despite medication. Every once in a while around this time she would freak out at certain times—e.g. when a bag was shaken or when water was running. She would just run furiously away from the sound. Because we had two new kittens in the house I kind of thought that she was just a little nervous. She only did this a couple of times so I didn’t think much of it. Then on April 28 I was grinding coffee beans only to turn around and see Porkchop on the floor of the living room!! This was the beginning of her most serious problem. We couldn’t figure out why she would run and jump off the edge of the loft even if she was scared of the coffee grinding noise. Her being scared of the noise was in itself weird, as this was a rat that liked to ride the dust buster when I was cleaning up after all her shenanigans upstairs. However, this is what I determined it to be (fear of the noise) only because she had showed slight panic with other noises lately.

She fared way better than I would have expected—I called the vet as soon as it happened and was in touch with her all weekend (my thanks again to Dr. Hess who didn’t get mad at me for calling her all weekend). I called when it happened where she seemed very tired but unhurt and then later at around 11:00 when she seemed to be limping. She had sprained her left front leg. We (the vet and I) kept in touch over the weekend, and Porky was confined so as to let herself heal. By Sunday night she was much better. However, that Monday it became obvious why she went off the loft. She was having seizures.

The Seizures Begin

I was down stairs on Monday afternoon and she was upstairs. I heard all this banging around like there were a dozen rats up there. I went up and she had this wild dazed look on her face. I held her and asked what was wrong—she just didn’t seem herself. I was still under the impression that it was the new kittens we had rescued from the MSPCA that was bothering her. We had already had a big tomcat whom she had good reason to be scared of (we tried to introduce them once and he swatted—not hard but swatted—at her). With all the play noises that the kittens were making it seemed to make sense that this was what was bothering her. So, after reading the Rat Report’s methods of desensitizing, I brought her downstairs nestled in my shirt and sat on a chest away from the kittens but where she could smell them. When one came close, I let her smell the tail. The kittens weren’t and never have been that interested—they are indoor cats and so I don’t think they have that “hunting” instinct. She still appeared slightly dazed so I kept her in my shirt and very, very slowly ran some water for a cup of coffee—previously she had a panic type of attack when the water was running full blown—any high loud buzzing noise. The water wasn’t trickling out but pretty close—not too loud. I also thought that the mild noise might desensitize her to the water.

Then it happened. She started darting uncontrollably under my shirt, out of my shirt, all over the floor, and proceeded to have her first (that I know of, anyway) grand mal seizure. The darting we have now deemed to be preseizure activity. A grand mal seizure is accompanied by convulsions. My husband and I rushed her to Dr. Hess’ house, where she stayed until the following Friday. We were scared that if she had one while I was at work, then we might lose her if she didn’t come out of the seizure.

Dr. Hess took her with her everywhere—on house calls, to the animal hospital, and home with her, where she could watch her. I don’t think at this point that she was sure whether I saw what I saw as far as her preseizure behavior, as it is rather hard to believe until you see it. Dr. Hess never saw any of the behavior in that first week although she did say that there were times when she appeared “dazed” with a wild-eyed look where it seemed like although she was aware of what was happening around her, it was like she was just waking up from a very strange dream, like waking up and not being sure how you got there. Dr. Hess wanted to keep her with her for a while longer, and we had scheduled a trip to the Caribbean a long time before, which was to start on May 7. Dr. Hess had previously baby-sat Porkchop, as there is no other person who I would trust her with. If Dr. Hess hadn’t thought it wise that Porky should be with her until she could figure out what was wrong, we never would have gone away. I didn’t what to go and leave her as it was. *

Go to Part 2

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Updated February 13, 2015