Vanya was an agouti hoody dumbo.
Vanya and his friend, Mr. Flibble, came from the Pets At Home adoption centre. My husband Jon alerted me to them while I was at work one day and sent me a photo asking if I wanted to take them on, and of course I couldn't say no!
However, Vanya turned out to be a rat that would cause a lot of trouble for me, and everyone around him.
At a young age, he was pushy and would instigate a lot of fights. Thinking it was nothing but a young rat posturing and finding his feet, I chose to monitor his behaviour with an aim to possible castration if he did not settle down. Thankfully, he did calm down somewhat, but this proved to be a short lived improvement. Soon, he was turning on his own cage mates that he'd lived with for most of his life.
When Pierre died, I was surprised, as he was a young, and seemingly robust rat. But sometimes young, fot rats do die for no obvious reason, so I put it down to bad luck, 'just one of those things', and carried on.
Then a few days later, I found SwatCar dead, too. Again, though, I didn't consider anything to be amiss; he was an elderly rat, and had begun to lose some condition so I put it down to being natural causes, just his time to go.
But then one day, I found two of Vanya's other cage mates, Dakota and George badly beaten up. I removed them both from the group instantly to recover. While neither one looked to have serious injuries, they were both covered in bite marks and blood. I cleaned them both up, gave pain medications, and kept them warm and hydrated, and both seemed happy to eat and drink, so I was fairly confident they would make good recoveries in time.
Unfortunately, less than 48 hours later, George passed away.
At this point, I was still baffled, because while he had suffered lots of small nips and injuries, there was nothing that should have been life threatening. George was also getting on by this time, so again, I put his death down to his age, with the idea that perhaps the stress of it all had taken a toll.
Then less than a day after George died, Dakota followed.
While George and SwatCar had been elderly rats, Pierre and Dakota were not, and I suddenly began to suspect Vanya of being in some way responsible for their deaths. While the injuries he'd inflicted were not injuries you would expect a rat to lose their life over, there was no denying it than when you put it all together, a picture was emerging. SwatCar, Dakota, and George, all passing away close to one another, all housed with Vanya.
In fact, by this point, the only rat remaining in Vanya's group was his brother, Mr. Flibble. For whatever reason, Vanya seemed to leave him alone and not bother him.
By this stage, I had to do some thinking.
I did not trust Vanya any more. While he seemed to be fine with his brother, every other rat he'd lived with had met an unfortunate end. This meant that my only real options for Vanya were to either castrate him and see if he could eventually mix peacefully with a group, or leave him living with just his brother for the rest of his life.
I opted for the second option. I wish I hadn't.
While it didn't happen instantly, Vanya did eventually turn on his brother too, and they had a short, quick, nasty scuffle which resulted in me pulling Mr. Flibble out of the cage. I thought I'd been quick enough to avoid any real damage, but when I examined Flibble, he had a swelling on his lower abdomen. Very little blood, just a large, soft mass that had seemed to spring up.
After talks with a number of people, it was suggested this was most likely soft tissue swelling as a result of being nipped there, and it would go down on its own. It did not seem to, and the next day it was still there.
At this stage, an abscess was suspected also, and it certainly looked and felt much like one, but I was never entirely convinced. It soon became apparent it was not an abscess, or swelling, but most likely a hernia. Mr. Flibble, thank goodness, seemed unaffected by whatever it was, and was eating and drinking normally, and seemed his usual happy self.
I decided to have Mr. Flibble operated on to try and repair the hernia, as he was otherwise so bright.
However, when the vets got inside him, they had to ring me to say there was nothing they could do. The mass was a small hernia, but it had become grossly infected and a large portion of his bowel had gone necrotic. There was nothing they could do, and I opted to have him put to sleep on the table.
So now I was left with Vanya, a rat who was alone because all his cage mates had died. And he was the prime suspect.
While I don't think Vanya intentionally killed all his cage mates (had he wanted to, I would have seen more than bite marks and scratches), I do believe he carried something nasty, possibly in his saliva, that caused rats he bit to develop massive infection and die. The only thing all his dead cage mates had in common was that at some stage, they'd recieved a nip or bite from Vanya. Even Mr. Flibble's hernia was strange, and the vet said he'd never seen anything like it.
So I was left with a rat I had no idea what to do with. While he undoubtedly had an attitude problem, and needed neutering, could I ever really trust him with other rats, even if his attitude did disappear? If I didn't know what he was carrying and potentially able to pass on, I could be lining up more rats to suffer the same fate as SwatCar, Dakota, George, Pierre and Mr. Flibble.
But I equally didn't want a relatively young rat, who should have over a year of life left to live, being made to live in solitary confinement for the rest of that time. I did even wonder, briefly, if it might not be best to have Vanya put to sleep.
But I just couldn't without giving him the best possible chance first. So I booked him in to be castrated. I was hoping this would calm him down enough that he no longer caused fights or injuries, and he could go back to living as he had done when younger (remember, Vanya had lived with other rats from the moment he arrived here without incident, prior to this).
Vanya came through his operation well, and his temperament did indeed begin to improve. He became a much more relaxed, docile boy, and soon I decided to try to introduce him to the girls. It was a risk, but I supervised extremely closely, and at the first sign of any drama I stopped interactions.
Fortunately, Vanya seemed improved enough to accept new cage mates, and he settled in.
There were no more issues with cage mate deaths, or of Vanya instigating any aggression; he was a changed rat.
Some weeks after his castrate, Vanya developed a small, minor infection in the incision site. This was nothing one would normally think anything of, and it would usually heal on its own. But I then noticed his rear leg on the same side he had the infection, was swollen and he was not using it.
On manipulation, he did not appear to have any pain in the limb, nor any redness, heat, swelling or anything that would suggest injury. Thinking he'd sprained or strained it climbing, I gave him pain medication and kept an eye on it. A few days later, the limb seemed to have a small wound around where Vanya's knee was. This turned out to be an abscess or infection of some sort.
I drained it off, cleaned and flushed it all, and gave Vanya antibiotics, hoping that would be the end of it.
However, it was not. The limb continued to swell, and one day it seemed to be oozing pus. I took Vanya for another clean up job, and drained an incredible amount of pus from the limb. In 16 years of dealing with a lot of abscesses and infections, I have never seen anything like the amount that came from Vanya's leg. Even I found it hard to deal with.
But it was eventually all drained out, and he was properly cleaned up and his meds adjusted.
The limb seemed to begin to heal. None of the swelling came back, and while Vanya still wasn't using the leg, it was at least all dry and clean and not full of infection.
Shortly after, I found Vanya dead. He'd died overnight, and I do not know how.
It is clear to me that Vanya had something wrong with him, maybe he carried some kind of very nasty bacteria which caused the rats he bit to die, and eventually caused his own body to fail. There is certainly nothing normal about 5 rats from the same group all dying from nips from one single rat, and there is nothing normal about the problem Vanya had with his leg.
To this day, I often ask rat people what they think about Vanya's story, to see if anyone has ever experienced anything similar. I don't know if I'll ever get an answer, but something abnormal was definitely occuring with Vanya.
When I look back on Vanya's life, I don't get a sense of joy. While his childhood was relatively uneventful, the rest of his life was spent either being aggressive and stressed out, then a period of time living alone, then just as he was neutered and his temperament actually settled down so he could have a normal rat life, his body failed him.
I would like to say, though, that regardless of the issues Vanya caused me, and the lives he took from other rats, I never stopped loving him. He was as worthy of love, and attention, as any other rat. I only hope he did have some joyful times.
Why Vanya? I didn't know what to call this boy for several days, then was watching an episode of Family Guy one night and the 'Uncle Vanya' scene came on, and the name just stood out to me.