American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Win-Spr 2018 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.


Broken Hearts

Esther Kinzer, e-mail
We woke up this Saturday (March 9) to find that our beloved Magnus had passed away during the night. He was fine during playtime the previous night and was resting peacefully when we checked on him before going to bed, but when we went in that morning we could tell he’d been gone for a while. His body was stiff and cold. We took him in for a necropsy, and the vet thinks, based on the thickening of the ventricle tissue, that he probably died from cardiac arrest. This would be consistent with his family history, as he had already lost two brothers who suffered from heart problems. Let me tell you about them.

When the boys were about 11 months old (September 2017) we noticed that Bonhomme’s scrotum was purple instead of its usual healthy pink. This is usually an indication of circulatory problems, but since he wasn’t experiencing other symptoms we weren’t sure. The vet gave him oxygen treatment, and the scrotum turned mostly pink again. We thought that perhaps he had suffered some sort of injury—maybe he was rough-housing too much with his brothers or had somehow injured himself running around in the cage. Things continued to improve, and soon he was all pink again.

Two weeks later, however, we noticed, on a Saturday, that his scrotum was again purple, and Sunday night (Oct. 1) he took a significant turn for the worse. At playtime he stumbled out of the cage and collapsed. He was having a really hard time breathing and didn’t have any energy to move. He was rushed to the emergency vet where she x-rayed his lungs and heart. His lungs looked clear, and she couldn’t tell if there was anything wrong with his heart or not. He had erked up considerably during this experience, so she sent him home with us, with copies of the x-rays. By morning, however, he was again exhibiting his swooning behavior, and we were afraid he was dying.

At the vet
At the vet (top to bottom): Bonhomme, Kiki, Magnus. Photo ©2017 Esther Kinzer.

We took him to our regular vet, and the adrenaline from that experience again resulted in his perking up. Her conclusion was that his heart was definitely not pumping enough blood. We had her x-ray Bonhomme’s two brothers, Magnus and Kiki, to see if by looking at their hearts and lungs, she could determine more specifically what might be wrong. She said Bonhomme’s heart was the biggest of the three brothers’, but, even though he had the smallest body of the three, she could not say conclusively that he was suffering from an enlarged heart. She prescribed Pimobendan to see if it would help, and we took him home, dreading that we would lose him at any minute.

We contacted his first human mother, since we knew she’d want to know about his condition. She had been with him since birth because when she adopted Bonhomme’s mother, Splash, she was pregnant (the person she had adopted Splash from hadn’t known it). It was through her that we found out that one of Bonhomme’s other brothers, Sherlock, was also experiencing heart problems. Sherlock and Watson, the other two males from the surprise litter had been adopted by another friend. Sherlock had been experiencing respiratory distress to the point where his tongue had started to turn blue. An echocardiogram had been ordered, and from that it was determined that Sherlock had an enlarged heart and was suffering from congestive heart failure. He had been on Pimobendan and Furosemide for several weeks before Bonhomme had begun exhibiting symptoms.

It was a struggle to get Bonhomme to take his Pimobendan. We have always mixed medication with food when giving it to our rats, but the instructions for the Pimobendan were explicit about not giving it with food. I remember going to work in tears the morning we first tried to give Bonhomme the medication straight from the syringe. We wrapped him in a towel and tried to force feed him the strawberry scented meds. But I’m sure we got more on him than in him, and at the end he had worn himself out with so much fighting that he just collapsed in his cage. I was sure that the exertion had killed him, and that he’d be dead when I got home from work.

Fortunately, he was not dead when I got home, but had recovered somewhat from the struggle in the morning. I called the vet asking her advice. She agreed that perhaps we would have to give the medication with food and told me the highest possible dose I could use for him, hoping that if we gave more of the med it could still have some positive effect even if given with food. After this it became a challenge to figure out what would disguise the flavor sufficiently for him to eat the medication. I finally found that he’d eat it if I mixed it with baby rice cereal, pumpkin pie custard, and enough cinnamon that I could no longer smell the scent of the strawberry-flavored medication.

At some point we added Furosemide to his medications. While his lungs weren’t visibly filling up with fluid, the vet seemed to think, from a subsequent x-ray, that there was a build-up of fluid around the heart, blood vessels, and surrounding tissue. The Furosemide was a formula the clinic had on hand for dogs which was in an alcohol base. We were concerned that Bonhomme might not like it either, but he had no trouble taking it in with some chocolate soy milk.

Bonhomme’s last morning
October 17, 2017, Bonhomme’s last morning. Photo ©2017 Esther Kinzer.

Bonhomme continued to have good days where he’d bounce around like his wild self, and days of low energy and occasional swooning episodes. About two and half weeks into his treatment it started to feel as if his condition was stabilizing. Even though he continued to look pale in his ears and nose, and his scrotum remained a pale purple, he was eating all of his medications consistently and was engaging in all the usual daily activities of eating, grooming, and playing with his brothers.

Then Tuesday (October 17), four days before his 1st birthday, we noticed a hard mass in his abdomen. It hadn’t been there the previous Thursday when he’d been to the vet for a checkup, and had been easy to overlook the day before. We knew that there would be no good outcome from a lump in that area which was growing so quickly. The vet concurred, and so as not to prolong his suffering, we had Bonhomme put to sleep.

The vet performed a necropsy, and had the heart, lungs, and spleen sent out for testing, where it was confirmed that Bonhomme was suffering from degenerative heart disease. The mass in his abdomen was from a growth in his spleen that had gone necrotic. Without it, he might have lived longer.

In fact, his brother Sherlock was kept stable for another three months on his heart medication. There came a day in January, however, when the medication could no longer keep up, and we found out that Sherlock was having such trouble breathing that he quit eating because he couldn’t eat and breathe at the same time. He was being given oxygen treatment, but this did not improve his situation and he was put to sleep. He was around 15 months old.

Magnus & Kiki
March 8, 2018, Magnus & Kiki chilling after playtime. Photo ©2018 Esther Kinzer.
Magnus January 20, 2018. Photo ©2018 Esther Kinzer.

So, losing Magus at just under 17 months is not as surprising as it might otherwise have been had I not been aware of his family history. I am glad he didn’t have a long, drawn-out illness, like Bonhomme had. I just hope that our remaining brother, Kiki, somehow has a healthier heart and that he’ll get to live happily with us to a ripe old age. *

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April 20, 2019