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Do not spray a hungry flea-ridden rat with flea-killing spray.

Before I learned that I needed to stay far away from pet stores (a concept I still haven't learned really) we would venture into a pet store when one was nearby. On one such trip, we ventured into a Jack's Aquarium and Pets. We went through the usual schpiel, namely, humans walk into pet store, humans track down pet store employee, humans ask to see the rats, employee asks how big the snake is, humans explain that there is no snake, etc. etc.

The humans Andy and Nat are now in that super-secret glass-enclosed area where birds bicker and rodents sleep. We awake one overcrowded tub o' rats to see who's inside. Lots of adorable babies look up at us, suck themselves in (when applicable) and cower in the corner opposite the humans. There is one, however, that looks like she has seen better days. She looked both angry and tired and we weren't really thinking much of her until the pet store employee blurted out something about a breeder rat (that was just dropped off) who just wasn't holding her own anymore. This was a potentially wasted $3 but we decided that it would be nice to let her die naturally, in peace. We named this sack of bones Valentine as it was Valentine's day.

They stuck her in the usual super-small toter box and once in the car we took her out of the super-small toter box and she immediately clambered onto Nat-human's shoulders. Her balance was lacking but what do you expect! After a few bumps, she was snuggling up in Nat-human's lap and Nat human just pet her and scratched her. She seemed very comfortable and happy, as did Nat-human until Nat-human noticed that Valentine's skin was literally crawling. Yick!

This was our first bug encounter. Her back was like a constantly moving wave of red lice. It was truly creepy. We, however, were prepared. After all we spent many hours sorting through posts delivered by the rat mailing list we were subscribed to and we knew that these bugs weren't really interested in us and that these bugs could be as easily delivered in the rat bedding as they could be delivered via rat. We were prepared; we had purchased flea spray for small animals a while back and we were ready to show Valentine's family who was boss.

Now, we knew she wasn't well, but it dawned on us that maybe she appeared so emaciated not only because she was an over-used, way-too-abused, breeder-rat but because she was being eaten alive for God only knows how long. Furthermore, we rationalized, there was food and water at the pet store and if she was hungry, and she looked hungry, but if she was still hungry, she would have indulged herself there. And there were the other rats to consider. How far can these red lice travel? We didn't know, and honestly didn't want to take the chance.

Valentine seemed pretty comfortable with human Nat. She was so comfortable in fact that despite the fact that it was raining, she preferred to stay on Nat's shoulders rather than tuck herself in the toter box for a few seconds as we ventured toward the door. Actually, it wasn't a preference, she was downright adamant about it. After falling off of human-Nat's shoulders a couple of times on the way to the door, Valentine was safely inside and Nat-human and Valentine-rat ventured into the bathtub together with the flea spray. Meanwhile human-Andy prepared her new home with lovely fresh bedding, a fresh supply of water, an ample supply of food chunks and some yummy appetite-stimulating leftovers.

Nat and Valentine sat in the bathtub awhile, getting to know each other. She was already pretty calm, but after going through a teeth sharpening bit and a small cleaning ritual, human-Nat decided it was time to start getting rid of those bugs. Spritz spritz did the Nat. Flinch budge did the rat. Spritz spritz spritz did the Nat. Budge, hiss scurry did the rat. Nat tried to explain to Valentine that she was very sorry that the spray was so cold and so wet but that it was necessary for Valentine's health. Nat added in some rubs and scratches and after Valentine calmed down a bit, Nat continued with the spritzing. Valentine, having forgotten the necessity of the matter, whipped around and gave Nat a chomp chomp. Nat screamed. Nat tried to lift herself up out of the bathtub. Valentine gave Nat's supporting thumb a loud popping snap. Nat proceeds to get herself out of the tub, Valentine still dangling from her thumb. Nat (shamefully but instinctively) flings Valentine back in the tub, off of her thumb. It took us over an hour to trick her into her cage and out of the tub. Once in her cage, however, she drank and drank and drank and ate and ate and ate all night long.

Now, we learned a few things from this part of the lesson:

    1) Rats, when they are defending themselves, separate their lower teeth before they clamp down in order to get a better hold, and in order to cause more damage. This is very effective and it hurts much worse than the accidental "Whoops, I thought you were food" bite.

    2) Rats don't like wet and rats don't like cold, and rats definitely don't like wet and cold combined.

    3) Feed first, treat later.

The next day, Andy and Nat (the humans) decided to double-check that rat mailing list for other tips and suggestions. Nat and Andy learned about Ivermectin and the possibility of brain damage if too much is ingested, and also learned how very effective it had been for everyone that had used it. It took us a while, but we finally tracked down an equestrian shop and headed immediately over there. We purchased our very first tube of this horse de-wormer and impressed our 35th person with the whole rats-as-pets thing. We returned home.

Valentine was still pretty pissed off. Apparently she remembered quite clearly the events from the night before and she remembered even more clearly who caused them. She hissed and continued to try to leap out and kill human-Nat. Fortunately the lid was on. Human Nat left the room. Human Andy then opened the lid and attempted to get her to eat the grain-of-rice dosage of Ivermectin paste. She ignored him. He tried and tried and tried. Finally Nat returned to the room, Valentine whipped around and hissed, and as she hissed, she got a toothpick with icky pasty stuff shoved in her mouth. The next day, the bugs were gone.

This taught us a couple more things:

    1) Some rats never forget.

    2) Ivermectin is the miracle bug-killer.

By the way, Violentine (renamed) made it past the week we expected her to live, and she made it past the month we expected her to live. As a matter of fact, she made it a good two years before she finally passed away.

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Disclaimer: There are many non-sarcastic accounts and tips on the web regarding rat care. This is not one of them. These are merely accounts of our experiences with rats, our perceptions of these experiences, where we've failed and where we've succeeded. These accounts are here for two purposes:

    1) To entertain.
    2) To help avoid repetition of mistakes

  Remember! Your rat is not a science project, he is your friend!

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