Caleb was a black berkshire dumbo.
Caleb came to me with his companion, Humbug when their previous owner no longer had time for them.
When she called me up, she said one of the rats had always had diarrhoea, and despite being checked out by the vet, no cause could be found. She said he seemed a normal rat otherwise, though I did have my concerns at hearing this.
Long term diarrhoea in a rat is usually not a good thing, and I wondered if the rat had an internal mass of some kind. I asked the owner if she could feel anything in his belly, but she said no. So I told myself it might just be diet related.
On picking the boys up (from a rain-lashed McDonald's car park just before christmas!) I instantly noticed there was something not right about Caleb. He was extremely small, compared to his companion. But not small in the way a young rat is small, but small in a weedy, malnourished kind of way. But he did indeed seem to be a happy, active, 'normal' rat.
On the way home in the car, I handled Caleb and right away located a small, firm mass in his abdomen. Having had many rats with these, I knew what to feel for, and I knew then that Caleb's life would most likely only be a few more months.
Internal masses in rats are almost always bad. Surgery on rats has not advanced far enough to be able to do much about them. An internal cancer, for example, is pretty much a death sentence for a rat, whereas a dog or cat might have at least have a chance of surgery.
With rats like this, I simply let them live out their days happy and well fed until the time comes to have them put to sleep.
When I informed the owner of Caleb's problem, she was extremely surprised, as the vet had not mentioned anything. Sadly, a lot of vets just don't know what they're feeling for inside a rat, and the lump was only small at first, so they very likely could have missed it.
Caleb was with us for about 6 weeks, and Im happy to say he had good quality of life the whole while. He was a happy-go-lucky, affectionate little rat who loved everyone. He ate constantly, presumably to either feed the mass that was growing inside him, or because it prevented him absorbing proper nutrients from the things he ate. He was a small, runty looking rat with a tiny, thin match-stick tail, but he had a huge lust for life.
One day, I noticed his tummy looking noticably rounder. I knew it was getting close to the time when whatever was inside him would begin to affect him more seriously. About three or four days after this, he looked like he'd swallowed a tennis ball. Though he was still bright, and pretty active and showed no signs of discomfort despite this. A few days later, I opted to have him put to sleep. Although he was still eating, still active, and relatively happy, I knew it was only a matter of days or even hours before something inside him would 'give' and he'd end up in extreme pain. I didn't want him to ever know pain, so I opted to have him put to sleep before he reached that stage. I've always maintained that I would rather have a rat put to sleep a week too early than a day too late.
After Caleb was put to sleep, I performed a home necropsy on him to see if I could find out exactly what had caused his issue. What I found was that his colon was just full of waste, and he'd obviously been unable to go to the toilet for at least a few days. He did have a large mass, and I was told it may have been a histiocytic sarcoma.
It amazed me that with so much going 'wrong' inside him, he had remained so full of life. A human who had looked like Caleb looked internally would have been laying quietly on their death bed.
But it made me realised I'd made absolutely the right choice to have Caleb put to sleep sooner rather than later, as he would not have been able to survive much longer the way things were inside him.
Caleb was a young rat, probably only about a year of age. Its always sad when rats so young have such serious medical problems that cut their lives short. It was likely he had this problem most or all of his life, so he probably never knew what it was like to feel 'normal'.
I just hope I managed to make his final weeks happy ones.
Why Caleb? It just came to me when I looked at him; he named himself.