Friday, November 13, 2009

Death of a Pet Rat

This morning one of my friends told me the story of how his daughter found her beloved pet rat dead and how they had held a simple backyard funeral service for it, complete with a star-shaped, gift-box coffin.

I thought it was sweet, but I didn’t really relate.

We had recently lost a pet rat too. But it was the mean one, the one that the kids quickly shut into the cage and hoped it would not try to get out and bite them. When he died in the middle of the night, Kip double bagged him and slipped him into the dumpster. We told the kids in the morning, and they seemed relieved. Now they could play with the nice rat without fear of his vicious roommate.

But this afternoon, when we came home, I noticed our precious little furry friend looked strange. His body seemed contorted and he looked emaciated. I tried to break the news gently.

Sweetheart, I don’t think George is doing too well.

We brought him his favorite foods and tried to coax him into drinking from his water bottle. He let us pet him, and I told the kids I thought he might be dying.


Can we take him the emergency room? Can we call 911? Can we get a pet doctor to come here?

I called Kip for the ok on the vet. He had grown to love George as much as the kids and he okayed a potential vet visit for our $5 pet store rat.

I started calling around to find a rat doctor, and even made an appointment. But when I went to check on George, I realized he was not going to make it to the vet. His breathing had slowed and while my daughter was petting him, he died.

She wouldn’t believe he was dead. His eyes were still open. He was supposed to live for five years.

He didn’t even have a birthday! January 7th is his birthday! We never finish anything we start!

In a torrent of emotion she began to list disappointments and heartaches I had not realized held a claim on her soul.

He knew his name. He stood on his hind legs when he wanted us to pick him up and pet him.

She was crying. I was crying. The little brother was wailing, wrapping himself in his baby blanket.

My son said, “I loved him, but I don’t want to look at him anymore.” So I covered George with a piece of newspaper. He was quickly becoming much more dead looking.

I felt like I should say something parental, something spiritual, something meaningful.

I didn’t have anything. I was sad too.

He was a rat with a creepy long tail and beady red eyes, and I really liked him.

The only thing that came to mind was a Bible verse about giving thanks in everything. So we made a little mommy-and-kids huddle and thanked God for letting us have such a nice pet rat.

My son asked if George was in Heaven. My daughter looked at me with big soulful eyes and answered him, “No, I don’t think so.” She later explained that it wouldn’t make sense for rats to be in Heaven because some people might not like rats and it would not make sense for them to be there if other people didn’t like them.

What if a boy had a pet spider that died? Would God let spiders in Heaven?

It made sense to me. The brother, however, continued to talk about George being in Heaven. (FYI -- He is double-bagged in the dumpster.)

I decided it would probably be kinder for me to clean out the rat cage myself, so I downloaded some episodes of a Disney comedy sitcom that the kids really like and I let them watch that while I took on the worst part of pet ownership.

Even with yellow rubber gloves, I could hardly bare to pick up the now cold, stiff body of the rat that no longer resembled our furry, fat friend. I don’t deal with dead things much. But I could hear the children laughing in the living room and I powered through it. Sometimes I don’t like being the adult.

As I finished rinsing the cage in bleach, I heard my son yell.

“I’m over him now. Can we get a new one?”


  1. I just lost my pet rat to Myco last night. He died in my hands. Rats are amazing pets and will give you endless amounts of love if they are treated right. My other little boy, Chip (his cagemate was Dale), seems a bit lonely, but im trying to help him. Thats what mommies do.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. That last awful day in a life is part and parcel with all the good ones that come before, but that isn't easy for kids to deal with. They're so used to happy endings because of all the "feel good" children's programming they're crammed full of. I recently lost a beloved, sweet rat and will have to put down a neurotic little finger biter (whom I also love, blast it!) soon, as she has entered the final phases of lymphoma. It's so hard to lose such intelligent, singular and loving creatures. I just wish they lived longer!

  3. My pet rat is dying also. He has pnemonia and we've done everything we can for him but it hasnt worked. I actually have to decide whether to put him to sleep or not, and its one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make.

    About rats going to heaven- i think they do. I've read that everything you love, REALLY love, will be with you there. How can you love a living thing, and then God doesnt put it in heaven? That makes no sense. Also, people dont fear things in heaven anymore. It doesnt make sense that someone would start screaming and running away in heaven if they did see a spider, because in heaven, there's no fear. So rats do go to heaven if you love them, Im sure of that. :)

  4. please can someone help me i need to know what a rat look's like when they about to die i think my one is and i'm only 13 years of age and it really really hard for me at the moment

  5. I was looking at this just now when she died. My rat of two years. She died in her favorite spot, on my shoulder nestling my hair. That's all they want. No matter what's going on in your life right now, school, work, whatever, it will still be there when you get back. They might not. Give them your time in your arms, it is their final wish.

  6. Mine just died... His eyes slightly open, his brother sitting by him, seemed as he was grieving... <3 I hope Java is very safe in God's arms now. <3

  7. Mine just died an hour ago, my wife and i noticed that he was lying on his side, not cuddled with our other rats. He was hardly responsive, couldnt stand, and wouldnt eat his favorite treat. After a moment of panic we took him to the local petsmart, who has suprisingly well informed individuals working there and we are on a first name basis with many of them. The lady told us he had a stroke and probably wouldnt last the night. After i had gone to work, not even an hour later my wife called ecstatic that our rat managed to get up snd crawl inside her shirt,a sigh of relief, assuming it was okay. Not even 20 minutes later she called me and told me he had died. It seems he spent the last bit of energy he had trying to be as close to his human friend as possible.

  8. I recently lost my pet rat the day before Thanksgiving. She hadn't made it through the night. So when I woke up my daughter was crying next to my bed saying that the rat was dead. I opened my eyes and I saw her holding Brutus dead in her hands. She said she woke up and she was dead. Think of the good things that happened besides the fact that she is dead.

  9. Thank you, Holly, for this article. It's been most helpful in my condition as I'm dealing right now wiyh the death of my beloved pet anxiety who was so unique to me in many many different ways...

  10. My pet rat just died yesterday ,her name was Chloe and she wasn't even 1year old.I also think that every animal goes to heaven even if some people don't like them.because God loves and made every animal and person.Olivia 9years old.

  11. We just found Our pet Rat Dead. She was fine yesterday collecting food to place in the corner of her cage running around. Now shes gone, She wasnt even in her house she was outside lying on the bedding alone. Ker name is Lucy and her companion is Ethel. I am just beside myself because I dont know what happened.

  12. My little girl died last night. It is horrible.I found her on her side in her cage. She couldnt stand, wouldnt eat, she could barely breath. I thought we had the URI under control, and she no loner had pneumpnoa. Nebulizing did not help. I held her close and told her how much she means to me. She died and went limp within 30 seconds. Stiff and oh so cold. Her eyes were open . she had no heart beat. her little ears and feet turned purple within minutes. Few hours later her eyes seemed to close. I'm literally broken right now.

  13. Honestly, this reads like it was written by a sociopath. These were your pets, you were there family, and you threw the in the dumpster? That's beyond disturbing, and please no one with the "people grieve in different ways" crap. I absolutely realize that, but grief isn't throwing your babies in a dumpster.