Will my rat regain her equilibrium?
February 10, 2010 2:37 PM   Subscribe

My rat got a balance disorder from a cat attack. Is there a chance she will recover?

A few weeks ago, one of my pet rats got attacked by my cat. I rescued the poor thing just in time and although she (the rat) had lost a fair amount of blood, I was able to stop the bleeding and patch her up without issues. I understood that a vet visit was important, but couldn't afford it and so my hope was that I could nurse her back to health myself.

I was initially very worried because when first rescued, she was bleeding from one ear and was quite limp, but when the bleeding stopped and she perked up a bit, I began to relax. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I kept the site of the wound as clean as possible and even used a very tiny amount of neosporin during the first couple of days.

She seemed to recover fully, except that she tilted her head very, very slightly to her right which was the same side as the injury. It was so subtle I judged it to be strictly behavioral.

Now, a couple of weeks later the rat has begun tilting her head 70-90° to her right, and sometimes when I set her back in her cage after handling, she rolls over onto her back a little when first set down. Watching her move around on her own, I can tell she constantly wants to turn to that side but she seems to resist it. I assume these are symptoms of disequilibrium but my knowledge of such things are limited. I'm happy she's able to work around the problem and can get around the cage fine. She even runs in the wheel (although not as quickly or, I think, as often).

Eating and elimination are both fine, all her limbs function fine and all other behavior seems to be about the same. The site of the injury also looks fine - no swelling or discoloration, and she doesn't favor or defend it.

Is her balance permanently impaired, or will she get it back? Is it possible her condition will worsen?
posted by christopherious to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is her breathing ok?
posted by mecran01 at 2:44 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: Head tilt is called torticollis. This page suggested that infections are the usual cause, although I guess any inflammation in that part of the brain could be a problem. You might want to try for a vet visit, they might prescribe something that might help.
posted by cabingirl at 2:49 PM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry, yes, breathing is fine. No other changes that I've noticed other than the turning to one side. Even with this issue, she's still the more active of the two (lives with her more introverted sister).
posted by christopherious at 2:50 PM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: Well, it sounds like a vet visit is the prudent thing to do. Not sure if I can afford it, but if by this time tomorrow she's the same or worse I'll take her in. Thanks for the replies so far.
posted by christopherious at 3:04 PM on February 10, 2010

Ask your vet about a payment plan. You never know, they may work with you, especially if you're a regular client. Good luck.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:08 PM on February 10, 2010

If your vet doesn't offer payment plans him- or herself, see if they accept CareCredit. Some of their plans are interest-free as long as you pay the minimum payment each month.

Hope she gets well soon!
posted by amarynth at 4:27 PM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again.

Called the vet, no payment plans or openings before Friday. A "tech" told me, via the nice lady who deals with the phone, that it sounds like neurological damage but that, of course, a visit would be necessary to verify this. I asked whether or not the lack of visible swelling or discoloration on the outside might suggest no infection, and was told that a visit would still be necessary to answer that. Obviously, I am trying to get out of spending $50 just to bump a 80-90% certainty up to 95-99% certainty, since brain surgery is out of the question, but was unable to inspire further speculation.

So my next question is, is the probability of there being an internal infection at this stage actually low, high, or somewhere in the middle? My gut is telling me it's impossible to know without a scan of some kind, or extended observation, and that either way I face a strong chance of being recommended meds as a precaution, which I assume would double the vet bill.
posted by christopherious at 5:21 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: My bunny has head tilt (due to an infection) - it's possible that when your rat was injured an infection crept in while it was healing up. My bunny is healthy now and hops around, but his head is still tilted a year later. He eats, hops and cuddles like he used to - just in a smaller geographic space in the house where he feels more comfortable.

I ended up giving him lots of medications to get him through dealing with the infection that caused the head tilt (he was quite sick). The vet at the time told me that with bunnies it can take months and sometimes the tilt is permanent. Dunno if rats heal faster. Is there an equivalent to Critter Care that can be used for rats? I used it to get my bun through and it seemed to help quite a bit.

I thought I'd let you know that even if the tilt becomes permanent, your pet will adjust. I think it's important to know that as I've heard of vets recommending pets with head tilt be put down.
posted by Salmonberry at 6:03 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: I had a rattie that developed head tilt, with the exact same kinds of "sometimes when I set her back in her cage after handling, she rolls over onto her back a little when first set down. Watching her move around on her own, I can tell she constantly wants to turn to that side but she seems to resist it" that you describe.

In her case, this was cleared up with some antibiotics from the vet - apparently, it had been caused by an ear infection or something similar, though, not a murderous cat attack. Maybe the attack allowed your rat's system to get infected? I don't know. But yeah, maybe antibiotics might help.*

*crunched right up and mixed in with some creamed corn, aka "rattie ambrosia"
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:44 PM on February 10, 2010

My brother's parrot had the same problem. Took about a year of antibiotics and all sorts of other stuff to fix it - a bird without balance is not a pretty sight.
posted by polyglot at 11:33 PM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: Sheesh, this vet us really hard to reach, for what should be such a simple question. I'll probably end up taking her in anyway but it would have been great to know if, for example, five days of 90° head tilt with no other disturbing symptoms means antibiotics are useless.
posted by christopherious at 4:12 PM on February 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again for the support, guys. (Also, I didn't know they liked cream corn! They're going to have a happy surprise this weekend).
posted by christopherious at 4:19 PM on February 11, 2010

Best answer: Vet here, from the history and current signs it sounds like a middle ear infection. These are very painful and antibiotics are not useless at this point, and the vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories as well. The head tilt and circling may never fully resolve, you can at least get the infection and pain under control. I'm just speculating here because without seeing the animal I cannot say for sure.

I know it's annoying when vets can't answer your questions by phone, but it is REALLY difficult for us to diagnose things 100% without seeing the animal. Owners aren't always "attuned" to look for the same things we do. If we tell someone, oh yeah, your dog/cat/rat is fine, we don't need to see it, and then it ISN'T fine - well, we are then at fault, and the animal may suffer. Plus, we can't afford spend all day giving advice by phone to everyone who cannot afford to come in for a visit.

IANYV, etc.

Hope all goes well at the vets today and hope your rattie gets well soon!
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 12:42 AM on February 12, 2010

(and i hope you can post photos of little rattikins munching down on creamed corn - they're so delightful in their "OMG? WTF? NomNomNOMNOM" with that stuff)

i miss my little ratties :(
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:47 AM on February 12, 2010

Response by poster: Yay, just the kind of words I needed to hear, peanut butter milkshake. Totally get your point about the value of phone advice in the absence of direct access to the patient.

These little ratties have had corn on the cob and of course love it, but not creamed yet. Really looking forward to seeing their eyes light up, as it were. So far the most fun I've had in that dept is watching them drag broccoli around and open up unsalted pistachios.
posted by christopherious at 8:57 AM on February 12, 2010

Response by poster: Vet finally called and suggested (without any encouragement on my part) waiting a couple of days to see if anything escalates, since she has been very active and there is no evidence of infection so far. I realize this in no way refutes peanut butter milkshake's input, and that this vet was probably taking a significant risk giving advice like this, but it seems plausible enough to me and I'm willing to take my chances.

Will try to photograph the creamed corn reaction over the weekend but my camera is on the blink.
posted by christopherious at 1:57 PM on February 12, 2010

Response by poster: Just in case anyone is still checking on this thread, all is well now, nearly three weeks after realizing there was head tilt. She's still doing it but there's no evidence of infection, swelling or suffering of any kind so my assumption is that she is not in any immediate danger. And they LOVED the cream corn. Best reaction I've seen so far.
posted by christopherious at 3:28 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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