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My first and best-loved rat is getting up there, age-wise. Eris is three years and eight months old this week. I would like advice from anyone who has an older rat. She sleeps almost all day, should I be worried? She jumps like she has hiccups most the time when she is awake, any ideas? Should I separate her from her (much) younger cagemates? One of them has been biting her and they all seem to push her around. Her eyes are clouded over, and her back legs are significantly weakened and she can't use her hind paws. Despite all that, she doesn't seem to be in any pain, she recognizes me and responds when her name is called. She's trying to help me type right now, actually, so I haven't considered euthanasia yet. What can I do to take the best possible care of her? She's really sweet, and deserves the best.

Thanks!
 

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When my last rat pack got up in ages this was the most comprehensive resource I could find. It's pretty natural for an elderly rat to sleep most of the day and hind leg paralysis is very common as well, though more so in male rats than females. When your rat gets older it may lose easy movement and even the ability to chew, so you might consider outfitting your cage to make it easier to navigate and live in - such as lining levels with fleece to prevent chafing, outfitting your cage with many hammocks as a safety net in case your rat falls, making access to your litter pan and food bowl easier for rats with restricted mobility, feeding your rat nutritional supplements or soft food (such as baby food or lab blocks soaked in liquid), and possibly even restricting your rat to the bottom level once climbing becomes impossible. You'll be the best judge in whether or not your rats need to be separated, but I wouldn't do it unless you find it absolutely necessary, since that could have a very negative impact on your rat's morale and will to live. You'll also be the best judge about when to consider euthanasia, as you'll be able to tell when/if your rat is failing to enjoy their life.

Caring for an elderly rat can be a bit of extra work and watching your rat deteriorate can definitely cause a lot of mental strain, but it's a very rewarding experience to make your rat's last days the best they can be.

Best of luck!
 

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I agree with keeping her engaged... towards the end of her life Fuzzy Rat had large tumors and got a bit senile at times, but activity and engagement would snap her back. We would take her out to meet people when she seemed confused and lost and her eyes would brighten and she would start performing and making friends again... she loved meeting new people and crowds mobbing her. And no matter how out of it she got a meet and greet session would wake her up for several days afterwards. In winter when the temps were very low it was hard to find places to take her, but we knew if we didn't keep her engaged she would just slip away...

As to the hiccups, they were always normal for her when she woke up, some rats do this more than others, but when she got up to operating temperature they stopped. Some rats never seem to hiccup. Our rat Cloud is now getting a bit on the older side and she started hiccuping yesterday for the first time when she woke up, but within a minute it was over. So hiccups when a rat wakes up are normal, I tend to think it's a way they reach operating temperature from resting temperature, but if they persist more than a few minutes, I'd see a vet as what you call hiccups might be something else.

In my experience rats go downhill fast... I mean within a matter of hours or days... They just shut down. I know humans and larger animals can linger on for years, but this isn't true of rats. For the most part you can comfort them as they slip away or if you can't handle the experience, you can euthanize them, in either case it's usually a matter of hours either way. I've heard several cases where rats actually passed away in the vet's waiting room waiting to be put to sleep. The longest we've ever had a rat take to die after going into congestive heart failure was a week... it was a very hard week for us, but we stayed with her and kept her comfy as best we could, keeping her hydrated and feeding her jello and pudding, but when her time came she just slipped away on my shoulder as I held her. Fuzzy Rat actually asked to go back to her cage, waited for my daughter to say good night to her and then fell asleep for the last time. Her last day was spent cutting my phone wire preening my lips eating tasty treats looking out the window and hanging out in my lap. It was a very sweet and lovely last day together... yes it was terribly sad, but I'll never forget the great dignity, affection and poise she showed in her last hours with us. She was 6 oz of rat and 20 oz of tumors by that point, but she still had important things to do and she did them and when it was time she just let go and drifted off...

So, it's your call to make when the time comes but either way time-wise, it's only going to matter by a few days at best... I suppose it depends on how much your rat is suffering and if you can handle the experience. There's something to be said about sharing the last moments of your rats life together even though it's incredibly sad and there's something to be said about a clinical solution that makes it quick and less painful.

Keeping Fuzzy Rat engaged and involved in our day to day activities kept her alive for a few months after she started to go downhill. Max was a very reclusive rat, one day she staggered out of her cabinet when we called her and three days later she was gone... she liked to keep to herself and she wasn't very engaged with our activities and she went fast when she could no longer live independently. So if Eris is a heart rat that loves to be with you try and keep her engaged as much as possible, try and keep her active with her friends as long as she can do it and make her senior time as rewarding as possible for the both of you... Rats' lives are short and every day matters...

Best luck.
 
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