Life and death – on losing a pet rat and becoming a vegetarian

Last photo I took of Tokyo

Note: this is not a typical educational post, but a very personal one.

A few days ago, Tokyo, my pet rat, was put to sleep. She was with us for almost two years. She was in general healthy, energetic and inteligent, and I tried to give her a good life. But just before she turned two, I found a small lump under her skin. That turned out to be a mammary gland tumour. I knew that cancer is common in rats and my rats were getting old (they on average live 2-2.5 years), but I was not prepared for what came.

First, I had to make a decision: do nothing and hope the tumour will grow slowly and the cancer won’t spread to other organs or operate and remove the tumour. I decided on the second option. The tumour was still small, the cut could be small and fast action gave a good chance that cancer won’t spread further and Tokyo could live longer.

The operation went well, but the first night after it, Tokyo removed all the stitches and there was a gaping hole in the skin of her groin. She was stitched again and additionally the wound was closed with metal staples. In the couple of days Tokyo managed to remove one of the staples and later moved another one. Luckily the wound seemed to be healing well.

But 10 days after the operation came an infection and pus started collecting under the skin. Antibiotics did their job and even though the new wound opened, the pus was gone and healing started again. But Tokyo was not eating well, not pooping and actually a new, big, hard lump appeared on her other side. Her back was just skin and bones and her belly big. Vet’s diagnosis: new tumours started growing. There was nothing that could be done. The euthanasia was scheduled after the weekend, but Tokyo looked so poorly on Sunday, that I decided it would be better to do it as soon as possible. I tried to give Tokyo as much confort I could, till the last moment.

The whole process (from operation to her death) lasted a bit more than three weeks. Caused me and Tokyo a lot of stress and pain. I could reduce some of her pain with medication, but I had problems dealing with mine. I slept poorly. I would get up in the night to check on her. Every time I took her, I was afraid I would discover something new was wrong.

And I kept thinking: Did I make the wrong decision? Would she suffer less, if I didn’t decide to operate? I wanted to prolong her life, what if I shortened it? Maybe if she hasn’t been weakened by operation and infection the tumours wouldn’t grow so fast? Was there something more I could do for her? And the final decision to end her life was painful, even though I knew that it would be better for her.

These last weeks and especially the last days I cried a lot. I think I was more affected by her disease and dying than any other loss I experienced before. Was it because my own decisions and actions may have caused Tokyo unnecessary pain and premature death? Her life and death were literally in my hands.

And that’s when it hit me. Life of other intelligent, social and empathic animals is also in my hands. My culinary choices lead to the death of cows, pigs, chicken… Even though for a while now, I rarely ate meat (my husband is a vegetarian and a book “Dead zone” by Philip Lymbery made it clearer than ever for me how bad meat production is for the environment and biodiversity), now I decided to stop completely.

I’m a vegetarian now.

Not vegan (yet*) but I’m going to reduce consumption of dairy products and eggs and buy only organic/biological products with a certification of “good life” for animals or from other sources carrying for animal wellbeing (earlier I tried to do that, but was not very strict).

I hope fewer animals will suffer and die. Thanks to Tokyo.

* Edit 30-7-2022: Since a couple of months I’m a vegan.

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  1. Wzruszający post… Trzymaj się Madzia |`|. Pamiętaj, że podejmując decyzję nie wiemy, co przyniesie przyszłość. Na pewno zrobiłaś wszystko, co uważałaś za najlepsze dla Tokjo.

  2. Thank you for sharing the sad story.
    Relating with animals is very special. Even a fly cleaning its wings can stop me wanting to swat it.

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