As I did with his brother, Tavish, I wanted to record the last few weeks of Percy’s life. Hopefully this will help other rat parents who are going through pituitary tumor issues.
Near the end of the second week of August, I noticed that he was having a bit of trouble getting around. His gait was slower and had a somewhat wide stance in his hind legs, he was dragging his tail on the ground, and was having a hard time hopping up the stairs and ramps. He was also having a harder time holding onto food. Appetite, drinking, and defecating/urinating were still normal, and he seemed happy. I rearranged his cage to make things easier to access.
On August 24, I scheduled the wellness check. At the time I scheduled it, I really did plan on it being a wellness check. He was getting older and I wanted a baseline for when he started going downhill, which I assumed would be later in the year. His mobility issues seemed similar to degenerative osteoarthritis, which I had dealt with before in a couple of other male rats, so I knew what to prepare for.
Unfortunately, Percy’s decline sped up. By the fifth week of August he could no longer hold food, and he couldn’t bite into hard food as easily anymore. For example, in late August he could hold and eat a dried banana chip, but by September 1 he couldn’t hold it at all and could barely bite into it. He was normally a frequent bruxer and eye boggler, and he often fluffed up his fur when he was feeling strong emotions (which was often), but the last few days of his life he was doing those things out of discomfort and later pain rather than pleasure. The last few days he lost the ability to lap liquids, and therefore couldn’t drink; I gave him liquids (water, ensure, and apple juice) by syringe, letting him gnaw on the dropper and I squirted it into his mouth. I switched him to soft foods on September 1 (fruits, veg, and baby food with his lab blocks ground into powder and mixed it).
Here is a photo of his kibble when he was losing the ability to eat properly. An early sign of neurological and physical degeneration issues is when you start to see a lot of crumbs and/or pieces of food. Rats usually eat everything in sight, so if there are lots of remains around the food dish, it indicates they are having trouble eating, biting, or holding food. Here is a video of him looking disoriented. And here is a video of him trying to eat a piece of banana.
He also became increasingly confused and disoriented. He would stand and turn his head right and left. Not tilting, but moving his head back and forth and sniffing the air as if he was looking at what was on his right and left sides. The last couple of days he stopped moving almost entirely. He could stand up if prompted, but was in too much pain to walk. He was also very hungry, but couldn’t get his mouth to work well enough to eat enough to sate his hunger. After some research online and a consult with my vet, Dr. Krome at Santa Rose Veterinary Hospital, we determined that it was very likely Percy had a pituitary tumor (or some other fatal neurological disorder). He did not have all of the signs, but had enough to make a pituitary tumor the most likely cause. We considered a course of steroids, but that would’ve given him a couple extra days at most and wouldn’t have made eating or drinking any easier. It was decided to put him down so he would no longer be in pain. Percy took his last breath the morning of Friday, September 3, 2021, cradled in my arms.