Doodlebug was a roan dumbo.
I'd recieved a run of the mill call from a lady who could no longer keep her rat. I was told he was in pretty good health, apart from sometimes being a bit snuffly.
When I arrived to pick him up, his owner said 'he is odd looking, the vet said he had down's syndrome'. After some chasing about, she managed to get a hold of him in a towel, and what greeted me was the strangest looking rat I've seen to date.
There was obviously something not right about him, but I had no idea what it was. His face was extremely short, like that of a hamster. He also had buggy eyes, which were noticably wonky on his face, and his body and tail were stumpy and shortened. If you can imagine a pug dog in rat form, that was pretty much it.
As well as this, he appeared to have a smaller lower jaw, even for a rat, and a larger tongue.
He was very nervous and wouldn't even allow his owner to pick him up. She was obviously wary of him, and though she clearly cared about him, she'd not handled him much.
Doodlebug was taken to the vet soon after he arrived here as he was suffering from a weepy eye. The vet was also surprised by his appearance and said there was definitely something unusual about him, but it would be difficult to really know what.
Apparently, his previous owner had taken him to her vet, and he had said the rat had Down's syndrome!
Now....rats dont get down's syndrome, as such. Though it is entirely possible there is a similar condition in rats, caused by the same kind of chromosomal disorder. The condition has been identified in some other animal species already.
Though Im not saying I necessarily believe that is what is wrong with Doodlebug, he did match a lot of the symptoms of this condition in humans.
We also considered hydrocephalus, as his face shape was not dissimilar to other rats with this problem, however, hydrocephalus would normally cause some degree of neurological impairment, and could not account for the shortened tail and body.
Another theory was that Doodlebug suffered from a form of dwarfism. The only rats I have seen that come close to looking like Doodlebug were a couple of dwarf rats owned by a breeder I know, who sent me pictures of them after seeing Doodlebug.
My vet and I agreed that his weepy eyes were simply the result of his deformed face, as was his snuffling, and it wasn't something that could be fixed. His issues were much the same as those seen in flat faced dog breeds.
I sought to get Doodlebug in with other rats as soon as I could. He was allowed to run with Mark as they both happened to come in on the same day as seperate rescues and both needed to learn what another rat looked like.
Doodlebug demonstrated very placid, submissive, accepting behaviour toward Mark, so I had no fears he would settle in with others.
He then lived in with Tommy and his group. Doodlebug used to live in a group I termed my 'special needs' group, which contained rats that didn't cope well in the larger group for either medical or behavioural reasons. But when we got an Explorer cage, we merged the special needs group with other rats of around the same ages, who had demonstrated gentle behaviour in the past.
While others from the special needs group seemed to get along fine, Doodlebug did not.
Forwhatever reason, he lost condition, and became lethargic and depressed. On one occasion, I found him very dehydrated, as if he hadn't had a drink all day. When I held him up to his bottle, he drank for 2 minutes solid.
I still don't understand what caused him to 'shut down' like this, to the point where he didn't even drink. He was not being 'bullied' into remaining in one area, he knew where his water was, and once I held him up to it, he was very clearly keen to drink. It was almost like he forgot how to get to his water, or even that he needed to drink. Sounds crazy, but there is no other reason I can think of why a rat would sit less than 12 inches from water that he knows is there, and let himself dehydrate. No others in the cage showed this behaviour.
But due to the fact that he was also dropping a bit of weight, I brought him inside for a while in a smaller cage, to allow him to build himself up a bit and get his condition back. We tried him with Tommy and Rorschach's group, and he slotted right in. No-one paid him any attention, and he seemed happy. He began to eat and drink as normal.
Doodebug was a quiet, stoic little rat who definitely prefered the company of his own kind to that of people. He would accept a brief cuddle, but he didn't relish it. He was far happier and calmer cuddled up with his ratty friends. He also had a tendency to nip. It did not break the skin, nor was it painful, but he tested everything with his teeth, which made us wonder if he might have had trouble seeing.
It is difficult to say whether Doodlebug had any behavioural issues as a result of his condition; he definitely was not typical in his behaviour, but it is hard to say whether this was as a result of his condition, or whether it was caused by having lived a solitary life with little human contact. It could have been both. But he was not a 'normal' rat. Like a special needs child, he did require that bit more supervision and care.
Doodlebug was, quite understandably, one of my more coveted rats! People often told me they would like to steal him! I adored Doodlebug. He may not have been the cuddliest rat, but he was a very gentle, sweet little boy without a mean bone in his body.
Doodlebug developed a few health issues in later life. He began having more respiratory and eye problems, and his eyes were always weeping, and he also developed an abscess on his cheek which would not go. He became run down, and I evetually chose to have him put to sleep. I did postmortem Doodlebug, as the vet suspected his teeth were bad, but his teeth actually appeared to be normal. However, his skull was obviously extremely shortened, and his eye sockets were abnormally shallow.
Hard as it may be to believe, someone did propose to me that I breed from Doodlebug, as his could be a new mutation and potentially create 'flat faced' rats. I cannot think of anything worse.
Not only was Doodlebug a rescue of unknown background, his 'deformity' was not harmless: it caused him a lifetime of eye and breathing problems. Perhaps not severe or life threatening ones, but certainly ones that affected him. The rat world does not need to go the way of the dog world where we breed rats to look a certain way, at the detriment of their welfare. I have always been proud that the rat fancy, particularly in the UK, puts its foot down about harmful mutations. Just because something is unusual and hasn't been seen much, it does not mean it should bred from.
Why Doodlebug? This name came to me in a dream some weeks before Doodlebug came along. I'd had rats in since that dream, but the name didn't seem to suit any of those. But when this little boy appeared, it fit him perfectly.