How do you all go about assessing quality of life in a very old rat, and working out when it would be best to put them to sleep?
One of our old ladies, Estraven (2 years 5 months) is definitely in a bad way. Her back legs are almost completely paralysed. They're very stiff and they've locked in place crossed over, which doesn't look comfortable. Her teeth are out of alignment so we have to take her to get them cut once a fortnight, and her skin is starting to develop patches of very dry skin on her back. She also has at least two small mammary tumours, and a couple of red lumps on her knees that could be tumours or could be swellings from dragging herself along. She's also super-thin, despite our best efforts. She can't really clean herself or hold/eat solid food any more, so we're washing her once or twice a day, taking her out and feeding her high-calorie wet food twice a day, giving her daily painkillers, and I've just started also putting a little olive oil on her sores.
Which all sounds really bad. But actually, in herself, she doesn't seem particularly unhappy. She eats slowly but enthusiastically (she'll sit there eating for 20 minutes), and when we come in at feeding time, she'll sometimes drag herself over to the front of the cage expectantly. She still bruxes when she knows she's about to get fed (though not as much as she used to). She still gets out and about for a wander occasionally, and I often find her sleeping in the pile with her seven cage mates. When I hold her cupped in my hand to support her back legs, she'll use her front paws to give her face a good clean.
With other rats we've had put to sleep, it's always been really clear it was time to go. They went from clearly enjoying life, despite massive tumours, to barely moving and refusing even the most high quality treats. We'd leave it 12 hours to check things weren't going to improve, and then that would be it. With this rat, it feels like more of a grey area. Our guides for assessing quality of life are: interest in food, seeking out comfort, and exploring. Does this seem reasonable, or is it possible she's unhappy and we can't tell?