Pet Vet: How to help Eloise, a pet rat with a giant tumor

October 24, 2016

Paula is feeling very neglectful concerning her companion, Eloise. She has been caring for Eloise for about a year and a half, since soon after Eloise was born. About five months ago, Eloise developed a small lump on her right side, starting out about the size of a marble. Paula did what I think a lot of folks do and ignored it, hoping it might magically disappear.

Unfortunately for Paula and, more importantly, Eloise, it did not. Instead, it continued to grow at an alarming rate and is now to the point at which Eloise’s lump is, according to Paula, as big as Eloise. Paula feels bad about her "ostrich approach" to Eloise’s problem and is desperately hoping it is not too late to help her.

Eloise is a rat. Paula is hoping that Eloise might be able to have surgery to remove her now enormous tumor, though she is not very hopeful that it will be successful. She has taken Eloise to her local veterinary hospital and was told that she would not be a candidate for surgery; euthanasia was recommended. Paula’s guilty feelings worsened, though she did not give up. Hence her emailing me with her story.

I have not seen Eloise, so I will need to make an assumption here while addressing Paula’s inquiry. The assumption is that, other than the obvious burden of providing life support for a great big tumor, Eloise is in good health. If this is the case, I would definitely give Paula hope that Eloise’s tumor could be removable. Having worked with rats, I can share that they are excellent surgical patients as long as a few parameters are closely monitored during the surgery. Also, Eloise’s predicament is not unique.

It is necessary to pay close attention to vital signs during anesthesia in rats and it is extremely important to control the pain associated with the surgical procedure. In Eloise’s case, it will probably take a significant amount of time, maybe 40 or 50 minutes, to remove such a large tumor, and this procedure does carry a high pain potential. With proper pain prevention, it can be well-managed, increasing the chances of a successful outcome.

One interesting point about tumors in rats is that, contrary to popular belief, most of their tumors are not cancerous. I would venture that Eloise’s tumor is not cancerous as well. Her tumor is likely a benign tumor of mammary tissue origin. These tumors are fairly common in rats, interestingly in females and males. If the surgeon is successful in removing this tumor and the biopsy confirms I am right about my assumption as to its origin, Eloise could indeed be cured.

Paula needs to find a veterinarian with expertise working with exotic companions such as rats. Hopefully this will be possible for her and Eloise can have a surgery that can cure her enormous tumor burden and restore her quality of life.

One last point is the importance of addressing a "lump" as soon as it is recognized in all our companions. Like virtually every disease process, when caught early, the chances for a good outcome are greatly increased.




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