One of the worst parts of keeping rats as pets is their short lifespan. Although I’ve been breeding for over six years with the aim of extending their lives, I’ve only managed to add about one month to their average age.

I’ve lost three rats this week.

On Monday sisters Ruby Slippers and River Mist left me at the age of 31 months. They had been in a group of sisters who always seemed to have one member too ill to be introduced to another cage group, so they remained separate and I let the group slowly leave, one by one, until just the two girls remained. Misty had a very large mammary lump, but was frail even when it began to grow six months ago, so I left it with the thought that I would have her put to sleep when it grew too large for her to manage. Ruby had been slowly losing weight over recent months, and had stopped eating altogether over the weekend. I knew it was time to let them both go, so I walked up to the vets with them in their carry pouch, peeping out and watching me snuggled side by side inside my coat. It’s so hard to see such trust in their eyes when I know they won’t be coming home, but I have no doubt that it was the right time. I walked on to work in the rain afterwards, knowing that I had done the right thing but hating myself nonetheless.

Last night I went to let a cage group out to play and noticed that one of the 22 month old girls, Upsadaisy, was still in the hammock. It wasn’t until I went to wake her that I realised she was having great problems breathing. She had been acting completely normal and healthy just a day beforehand. I’ve seen the same symptoms before, a great effort to draw in each breath, with very little air being taken in and a clicking sound from the lungs. When we’ve had post mortems done we have found incredibly abscessed lungs with hardly any space left for the air. The suspect is Corynebacterium Kutscheri, a horrible infection that tends to become active when they are stressed, so it was possibly down to me trying unsuccessfully to merge their group with another group a couple of months ago. After discussing it with the vet this morning we concluded that it was better for Daisy to let her go. It was such a wrench, so unexpected, and as I walked home to get ready for work the weather didn’t match my mood this time, being a bright and sunny Winter’s day.

The walk to work is so good for me. It helps me sort my head out, smoothing out the wrinkles in my soul and making me ready to go on. I am so very lucky to work close enough to walk in in the mornings.