Monday, December 23, 2013

suffer the little gerbil

Lucy the gerbil in her nest/cage

Lucy is the second gerbil we've cared for. Our first was Oreo, a boy gerbil who loved shelling sunflower seeds and biting our fingers every chance he got. Lucy is much gentler. She had never bitten me before a few days ago, and that's only because she's recently had an ordeal.

Lucy's nest (I prefer to call it a nest rather than a cage) is in our son Patrick's room. I was in there Saturday before last hand feeding her some seeds when I noticed she was moving funny. I immediately thought the worst, as Oreo had a cancerous tumor in his abdomen. I inspected Lucy the best I could, and though I didn't see a tumor, there was clearly something wrong with her back left leg.

Our kittehs, Bear and Yoda, love each other in between fights
I took her to Long's Peak Animal Hospital where we take our cats, where I met Dr. Andrew Boal for the first time. He palpated her leg, and she didn't as much as squeak, leading him to believe she was experiencing little to no pain. He X-rayed her leg--don't ask me how you get a gerbil to sit still long enough for that--and returned with the image on his laptop. A clean break of her leg. He offered me several options, one of which involved taking her to the Colorado State University Veterinary School for possible orthopedic intervention. That's too rich, even for my blood. We love the little rodent and all, but really?

"To be honest," Dr. Boal told me, "I'm going to have to do some reading on this." He'd never seen a gerbil with an injury like this. After doing some reading and consulting with CSU he decided to try to splint the leg. I immediately imagined Stuart Little wearing a cast. Unfortunately, it didn't work. Like all rodents, she's got Houdini-like powers. She simply slipped out of her tiny cast.

E.B. White is still one of my favorite authors.
Since there was no way to stabilize the joints above and below the break, Dr. Boal offered the best case scenario--amputation. Otherwise the limb would become gangrenous. Though we didn't discuss it, euthanasia was an option.

Meanwhile, I did some reading on my own. It turns out that her nest/cage, with its narrow wire mesh floors and running wheel, were probably the cause of her injury. She probably caught her foot, and when she couldn't free it, she yanked it and it broke her leg. We removed her wheel and the multi-level flooring as she recuperates and will replace it.

The morning of her surgery, Dr. Boal reiterated what a learning experience this had been for him. "It's really great that you're doing this," he told me. "It gives her a chance at a couple more years." The fee wasn't as much as I was expecting. Well, OK, it was about $285 for everything. When I volunteered at Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, I had especially enjoyed caring for the squirrels there, who really aren't so very different from Lucy.

Mother squirrel with a newborn, affectionately known as "pinkies." I fed many a pinkie squirrel with the smallest gauge syringes, very much like the ones we're using to administer pain reliever and antibiotics to Lucy.

Dr. Boal removed the leg and simply stitched the site. Any bandage would meet the same fate as the splint. Originally the vet tech had fashioned a miniature cone of shame so that she couldn't play around with the stitches, but she immediately wriggled out of that. Next they stitched it to her neck, and she got out of it, too. I regret not having a photo of her in her tiny cone of shame.

Four days after the surgery she seems to be doing well. She's not thrilled about me washing her amputation site with the pink baby washcloths I bought just for this, nor does she care for the tiny drop of pink antibiotic I give her once a day. She does like the pain reliever--maybe it's like Vicodin for gerbils--and she enjoys chewing on the tip of the syringes afterward. I see no signs that she's chewing on the amputation site, and it appears to be healing well. She's two and a half, middle-aged for a gerbil, so I'm hoping she has a couple of more good years, eating sunflower seeds from my hand and running on her new, safe wheel.

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