My boyfriend and I had never owned rats before, so we didn't realize the sniffles could mean life-threatening health issues.
We went to our local pet shop one weekend and spared no expense buying the best rat supplies. Then, we picked out our rats. We picked two baby females: one black and white, the other beige and white. They were extremely young, about 3 or 4 weeks. We named one Rosa and the other Minerva.
We brought them home and set up the cage, and it seemed like they loved it. Both rats explored the cage fully, and were bouncing and running around. Minerva would gently lick our fingers, and delicately lick her water bottle nozzle, as opposed to Rosa, who would bite and lick it so hard it rattled (which we found funny).
A couple days later, we noticed Minerva (the beige and white one) wasn't exploring as much and was hiding in her house and sneezing a bit. We didn't think much of it, we just wondered if something traumatic had happened and left her alone for a couple days (except for food and a little socializing with Rosa). After two days or so, she started coming out again. She'd generally just find food and run back into her hut, though. We didn't mind much, we figured it was just her personality, and we were okay with having a super sweet introverted rat. We had the outgoing Rosa to play with anyway.
By the third week we'd had our new friends (making them approximately 6 or 7 weeks old), I started realizing something was wrong with Minerva. While she had barely drunk water before, now I never saw her drink. I wasn't sure if she was eating. While Rosa got a lot bigger and longer, it seemed Minerva was staying about the same size, and I noticed she was extremely skinny, and her sneezing had turned into "hiccups" and a reddish nose. I started trying to give her Gatorade with a dropper to try and replenish her hydration. She was still occasionally walking around, though, so I didn't think as much of it.
A few days later, my boyfriend and I realized something was seriously wrong. We hadn't seen her drink or eat in days, and she was refusing any food or Gatorade we tried to give her. We moved the rats to their playpen while we cleaned the cage, wondering if maybe it was just too dirty and making her uncomfortable. For the first time ever, Minerva started aggressively climbing the bars of the playpen and hopping to the top. Then, I'd hold out my hand, and again, for the first time ever, she'd climb up my arm, dig through my hair a little, then settle near my chest. I thought it was adorable and was overjoyed she was finding her exploratory and cuddling side.
We put them back in the cage, but Minerva kept chewing the bars on the door until I'd open it and let her climb up my arm again. At that point, we had read about Mycoplasma and had made plans to pick up some amoxycillin, and we both realized she needed help desperately. Her eyes were half closed, she was stumbling around, and breathing hard. When we found her lying on her side in the cage, a few minutes before my boyfriend was going to leave to get the amoxycillin, we decided to wrap her in a dish towel and try to feed her pulverized strawberries in water with a dropper, just to try and get something into her. She mostly refused it, but barely moved the whole time. It was obvious at that point she didn't have much energy left. My boyfriend left, and I sat on our couch, holding Minerva on the towel and gently petting her with my finger. A couple times, she tried to drag herself along the towel towards me, and I realized she wanted to be near my chest and hair, so I held her close and put my hair near her.
Within just a few minutes, she began gasping for breath and I could hear her chest rattle. She no longer moved at all except to breath. Then, I felt her trembling, and then she launched herself out of my hands onto the couch. When I alarmedly picked her back up, I realized it had been a last spasm, and she had passed away. When my boyfriend got back, we buried her in a secluded grassy patch.
This only happened yesterday, and I'm still in shock it all happened so fast. I'm extremely heartbroken. It means a lot that she wanted to be cuddled up to me when she died, but I wonder now if I could have prevented it had I caught it earlier. She was sickly from the start, but the sweetest and gentlest little rat I'll probably ever have.
RIP, beautiful little girl.