A story of how the best plans can go heartbreakingly wrong...I'll share my story of BVR Tabit and BVR Adam Young.
After years of research, decades of owning rats, and a long time of being involved in the rat community and getting to know some excellent breeders, I got started with my breeding program. My first litter however has been an ongoing heartbreak.
Both parents are from a very well regarded, responsible, ethical, and respected breeder. Both have pedigrees that go back for MANY generations (checking NARR right now I can trace pedigrees for both back to 1996, and this litter was born in February of 2012, so some 16 years worth of pedigree, and there are notes on health, etc for at least the past 10 of those for many of the ancestors). Both parents came from lines with good health, no significant problems, etc. Very sweet rats, who had shown good health through their lives when they were paired, were both well built with good conformation, etc etc. Everything seemed set for things to go well.
Breeding proceeded in a very normal fashion - I hand bred them, meaning I monitored Tabit for a heat, when I found her to be in heat I paired her and Adam in a temporary caging where I could monitor and record pairings, and they were left together about 12 hours or so overnight, then separated. She was weighed daily at the same time to monitor her weight gain, and gained on a relatively steady and normal scale when compared to pregnancies tracked by others.
Then her due date came. And passed. And another day. And another, she looked like a balloon about to burst, I had felt movement, but no signs that she was planning to go into labor anytime soon. We were preparing to take her in the next day for an emergency c-section, as a failure to deliver could put her at serious risk, and could even kill her if she had some problem preventing delivery, when finally, between 24 and 25 days after pairing (2-3 days overdue, especially for her first - and only - litter), she gave birth overnight to 12 squeaking, squirming babies. She was a wonderful and attentive mother to them, grooming them, sitting over them to keep them warm, retrieving babies who squirmed out of the nest, all the while being very sweet and happy to interact and take extra treats and bedding from me, offered to help boost her strength.
But I noticed throughout the day that when I'd peek in and get a look, I saw no milk bands on the babies. I checked her a couple times but felt no swelling to indicate she was producing milk, and no real signs of any suckling or grooming around her nipples. The line has no history of lactation problems, and nothing to indicate it should be a concern, and after talking to my mentor and others it was the general consensus that sometimes it takes them a few hours to start nursing, and that there shouldn't really be any problem.
However, clearly there WAS something wrong. Tabit, who had been so gentle and loving and careful with her babies during that first day, clearly knew there was a problem. Overnight she quietly removed all traces of her litter having ever existed, and I woke in the morning to a mama rat who seemed a little stressed out, and no babies at all in the bin. On exam it was clear she still was not lactating, and had no mammary development whatsoever. My first litter was completely lost.
Tabit's maternal instincts were still present, and when her buddy had a litter a few days later she desperately wanted to go help with the babies any time she heard them squeak. It was heartbreaking to see how much she wanted to take care of them, but with such an unexpected disaster, we decided it was best not to risk breeding her again and losing another litter. There was no real reason that we could find as to why she didn't lactate, and what other problems may have occurred, and it was definitely not something we wanted to pass down to more rats.
But the tragedy doesn't end there. Tabit, who as a baby survived an attack by an older, unrelated female when she first came here (during intros), who lost the ability to open one of her front feet as a result of that attack (though she adapted and still ran in her wheel, climbed, held food, interacted, etc like any other rat), and who had to undergo surgery to remove an abscess and repair some damage from it, with repeated exams, intensive at home care, etc, the poor girl never got a break from bad luck. She developed a tumor a few months later at just 9 months of age. Early for tumors, which are also uncommon in her line (and certainly not seen in a rat so young!), but assumed to be a basic benign mammary tumor, it was removed before she was 10 months old. A spay was considered, but the $600 price tag was prohibitively expensive, especially with more than that amount having already been spent on previous vet bills for the poor girl.
Within 2 months, the tumor was back, in the same location - which indicated that either it had not all been removed (and therefore was likely NOT all removable, as it was in her inguinal area near several vital structures such as her urethra, major blood vessels, etc), or that it was malignant. After consulting with several vets, we decided to keep her as comfortable as possible while we could. The tumor kept growing, and a disturbingly fast, and increasingly fast rate.
In the meantime, we lost Adam's brother (and tragically the father of our 2nd litter - bringing to us concerns about their longterm health) to an extremely aggressive and fast progressing respiratory problem. And another brother of his was lost just a couple weeks later, and several states away (having not been together since they were much younger) from nearly identical problems. Both around 14 months of age. Adam started showing signs of respiratory problems as well. Though there were some respiratory issues in older rats in the line (not uncommon for rats), issues at this age was unprecedented. Though we pursued aggressive treatment with both Adam's brother (who spent time in an oxygen cage at a vet, visited an emergency clinic in the middle of the night, etc), and followed through with very aggressive treatment with Adam (nebulizing, anti-inflammatories, theophylline, antibiotics, etc), Adam ended up dying at home when he was around 15.5 months of age - with his necropsy showing much the same issues as had been seen in both of his brother's necropsies.
A day later, we ended up having Tabit euthanized as her tumor had grown to such a size that she was having extreme difficulty in moving (though she still tried), was showing discomfort in urinating and defecating, and was getting sores and showing early signs of some of the tumor tissue starting to have necrosis due to size. She was only 14 months old. It has been less than a week since we lost them both, and is still very painful to walk in the room and not see her eagerly climbing the door for attention, or him leaning out of the hammock to get scritches. We are still waiting on histopathology results to let us know if her tumor was a benign mammary tumor, or something worse.
We still face an uncertain future with our second litter given the health of their dad and uncle - though they and their mother seem to be doing well at this point, only time will tell if they too will add to the heartbreak we have already experienced with our first litter.
We lost our entire first litter. We lost both parents to unexpected causes at a very young age. The breeding was done with tons of research, pedigrees, information, data, support, mentoring, and more behind it. The circumstances under which it was lost were bizarre and not previously recorded in that line with many years of documentation. The health issues experienced by both parents were similarly unexpected and unusual, especially given their young ages. And perhaps the silver lining of losing the first is that they aren't alive and at risk of developing the same health problems experienced by their parents. Our second litter may be in jeopardy from similar issues - we can only hope that their father did not pass down his respiratory issues to his offspring. Only time will tell.
So yeah, hopefully this story helps people realize that even many years of preparation, even more years of experience in ownership, many years of research, building connections, etc, having rats from some of the best lines, with extensive documentation, having a support network of several experienced breeders, etc, will not exempt someone from having serious problems, and having to potentially face heartbreak, tragedy, losses, and concern for any that survive that they may be in danger as well. Not saying that someone who has done their research, taken their time to learn, to prepare, to gain as much experience as possible, to find good lines and good people for support, etc shouldn't breed. I certainly still plan to try to move forward and work to try to improve the species by trying to breed healthier, friendlier rats. But it is very important that anyone considering breeding be prepared that things do not always go as planned, and instead of cute, fuzzy, happy babies they could find themselves faced with heartbreak upon heartbreak upon heartbreak. If thats not something someone wants to deal with, its probably best if they don't get involved with breeding. You need to be prepared for the bad as well as the good.
My poor first parents, BVR Adam Young and BVR Tabit.