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Skin Glue, My Hero!

Our very wonderful vet, Dr. Bob, has taught us so much about caring for our rats, that if I were to try to list everything, I wouldn't even know where to begin. But if you were to ask what the most useful tool he taught us to use was, I'd not hesitate to say "Skin Glue." The second most useful tool would be "teaching us to give injections" but it's second because knowing to give injections is a convenience, not a necessity. Skin glue is a necessity.

But it's just glue!

Yes, it is just glue but when you have rats, glue is a very handy thing:

You guess wrong:

    You've introduced a little baby rat into an established colony. Everything seemed to be going OK but out of the blue you hear "the scream of death," REEEEEE-reeeeeee-REEEEEEE-reeeeee-REEEEEKKKKK, and you run like you've never run before, and you see that the little trouble-maker apparently took off while a good portion of his neck or leg or whatever was trapped by some other lady or gentleman in the cage, and where there was once fur, there's a big red hole.

Apparently there was a full moon or something:

    An existing, and always peaceful, colony of rats apparently got in a squabble. You hear a little screech but you don't think much of it because, after all, it wasn't "the scream of death." It was pretty loud, though, so you meander into the rat room to see who's causing the commotion and, predictably, commotion is being caused because that one screech was enough to make everyrat tense. And yet you don't really see any signs of an apparent instigator and you don't see any wounds either. But you know better so one by one you start looking at rats to make sure all limbs and hides are OK. And that's how you discover the gash: The rat who was wounded is now lying on his hammock like nothing ever happened, but you know, looking at this 1 or 2 inch cut, that he was the one that yelped.

Something got stuck:

    You hear "the scream of death," REEEEEE-reeeeeee-REEEEEEE-reeeeee-REEEEEKKKKK, and you run like you've never run before, and your eyes are immediately drawn to the commotion as one rat is quite apparently stuck and you don't know how she's stuck, but as rats do, the entire group is circling her trying to figure out what the fuss is about and she's screaming louder because they're closing in on her. You start taking the curious rats out of the cage in an attempt to calm her but you're not fast enough and she dislodges that caught toe before you get a chance to take it out without injury. The toenail is dangling, blood is rushing out, and you know from past experience that walking will bump any clot formed and she'll be trailing blood for an eternity (or at least until she gets around to chewing off the dangling toenail).

Someone was fighting unfairly:

    You heard absolutely nothing but you walk in the rat room and there is blood everywhere and you know you didn't give anyone strawberries earlier in the day. You panic and start following the trails of blood to figure out who or what died and sitting in a corner grooming himself is a guy who, at first glance, doesn't seem to have any problems but he does look a little sleepy and when you take him out, you start to blend with the territory as you're now bloody too. You pinch down on the bloody shoulder in hopes of stopping the blood flow. You seem to have figured out exactly what's bleeding even though you can't tell through all the red. You hold onto it for 20 minutes despite the rat's struggling. And in 20 minutes you think a clot surely formed and you let go only to discover that it was just awaiting the opportunity to be freed again. You, are, of course tired and he's losing more blood than he can spare.

What to do? What to do? The answer, my rodent-loving friends, is skin glue!

Someone was fighting unfairly:

    Take out your glue, attach the narrow tip to the bottle, soak a cotton ball in peroxide and wash off the bloody mess so you can see where all the blood is coming from. Stick the tip of the glue bottle into the hole and squirt. The glue will bind with the blood and form a plug in the hole or the nipped vein or artery that will, once and for all, stop the bleeding. Of course your rat will be weak as a result of the blood loss and if he's very limp or tired, you'll want to take him to the vet immediately for fluids and oxygen as needed.

Someone got something stuck:

    Those toenail pulls are terrible. Every time they bump the toe, the toenail wiggles and it starts bleeding all over again. They don't really lose enough blood via their toe to be problematic but it does hurt.

    Option 1 is to leave it be: eventually the rat will chew it off.

    Option 2 is to drop a little glue on it to stop the bleeding and (hopefully) set the dangling nail in place (this rarely works but is worth a try).

    Option 3 is to sterilize some scissors to the very best of your ability (heat them over a burner until they are red and hot then allow them to cool), clean off the toe to the best of your ability (iodine, peroxide, or rubbing alcohol in order of preference) and snip off that dangling piece, pull the skin back over the toe, and glue it shut.

    Option 3 sounds awful, but Option 1 and 2 really aren't any nicer: Every time they bump that toe they yelp or hop around like it really hurts (probably because it really hurts).

You guess wrong or apparently there's a full moon or something:

    [Disclaimer #1: If the cut is on the stomach and intestines are "pouring out" take Templeton to the vet. If you want a rat with a stomach gash to survive, they need fluids, they need to be flushed out with sterile saline, they need to be stitched up because, if intestines are "pouring out" that cut is not just skin, it's muscle wall and that's a different picture entirely.]

    [Disclaimer #2: This does not apply to testicle bites. Those usually, if not always, will require antibiotics and depending on the size and location of the cut, it may be better to leave it open. Let the vet decide.]

    [Disclaimer #3: This does not apply to tail bites. Gluing a small hole on the tail will only cause it to fester more. Keep it clean, keep it dry, keep everything the tail will come into contact with immaculate, and if it still decides to become red, hot, or swollen (and thus infected), see a vet.]

    [Disclaimer #4: Do not apply glue to any portion of a rat's face. They wiggle and you'll get it in their eyes. It won't resolve ear cuts. It should not be placed over recently opened abscess wounds. Even if you think you have a clue as to what you're doing, if it's on the rat's face, you probably don't have as much of a clue as you think you do. There is no room for error when you're dealing with a rat's face so see a vet.]

    For everything else, here's what you do:

    1. Take a good look at the bite wound. If it's still raw and bloody looking, it's probably a fresh wound. If you heard it happening, you know it's a fresh wound. If it is a fresh wound, I generally don't risk introducing more bacteria into the area by touching it in any way and just glue it directly. If it's not a fresh wound, take a cotton ball, wet it, put some soap on it (Dial is nice), and scrub it down. You want it to look like this (namely damp, raw, and bloody):

    After it has been scrubbed down, you want to rinse off the soap (a second cotton ball, dampened and a third cotton ball, dampened, if necessary) and then you want to pat it dry (small piece of clean paper towel). Since I was dallying with the camera, I did wash Cedar's cut down which is why his fur is a little wet. The only thing I care about being reasonably dry is the pink fleshy stuff.

    2a. You're ready for the glue. Prep the bottle by placing on the tip that it comes with. I'm lazy and you will see in the pictures that I'm not using the tip. Using the tip does have its benefit as you can draw a thin line of glue but since I wanted you to be able to see what I was doing, I chose to be lazy. Plus, I'm just generally lazy. Lighting won't strike if you don't use the tip. Anyway, you want to draw a line (it doesn't have to be beautiful though a cautious attempt at not drenching it will benefit you as more glue usually sticks less) on the very edge of the inside (red part, outermost edge) of the skin...on just one side, like so:

    2b. And then you want to immediately pinch both edges together and hold it there (count to 10 or something), like so:

    And yes, your fingers may stick to it a little so you'll want to, at the end of the 10 seconds, pry your finger(s) off as gently as possible. You can remove the glue from your fingers with a little baby oil. 3. Confirm that it is sealed. This is what it looked like after I pinched both sides together for 10 seconds:

    It's OK (and often desired) if there's a little opening on one end or another. You know, because it is an open wound, that bacteria has already, just by being exposed to the air alone, come into contact with the skin. A small opening at either end, then, is beneficial because if it does become infected, it can seep out.

    This is what the same cut looked like the day after the injury was incurred. It's clean, not puffy, and you can see that his body has already begun to aid in closing the wound further:

    This is what the same cut looked like on the 4th day after the injury was incurred and you can see that it's still clean and that what appears to be a normal looking scab has formed. What you are in fact seeing is the glue itself sloughing off as the cells beneath the original glue site have formed a wall connecting both sides together:

    This is what the same cut looked like on the 5th day after the injury was incurred. You are looking at mostly natural scab formation though on the right you can still see some of that glue sloughing off:

    This is what the same cut looked like on the 9th day after the injury was incurred. The scab itself has apparently been groomed off (usually they'll stick around a little longer) and you can see that some of the left side and most of the right side have completely healed. In a couple more days he'll look as good as new:

Oh yeah, one more thing: If a rat chews off a stitch or two, and everything looks OK (no slimy beiges or greens), you can drop a little glue on that spot and pinch it closed. If you're not sure, however, it's safer not to do something than to do something. Just make sure he doesn't chew off any more stitches :o)

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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!

All content contained herein © 1996-2007 by Andrew Waltz, Nathalie Baldwin, & the rats of RatRaisins, Inc.  
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