Melissa's Body Wrap
From the RMCA web site, October 2004
(as demonstrated at the 2004 North East Ratfest in Gales Ferry, CT)
What do you do when your post-surgical rat is tearing out her staples or sutures? In my experience, the wonderful idea of the Elizabethan collar that is commonly utilized on dogs and cats post-surgically is too restrictive to use on a rat. Rats need the use of their hands to groom and eat - cats and dogs can do without front paws to groom (other than their faces), and certainly do not hand feed themselves. Sometimes a bathroom Dixie cup, if properly trimmed, can be tolerated, but e-collars cause more restrictions and stress than protection in this species.
Depending on the incision location, a body wrap is often the best choice to restrict rats from undoing incision closure. Female rats are most often in need of wraps due to mammary tumor removal and their higher activity level. Mammary tumors are typically in the armpit area or the groin area - very accessible places IF you can bend! The body wrap will be stiff (keeping them from bending), and they will try to wiggle out of it. The tape (attached to their fur) on each end of the gauze will prevent this in most cases. Some escape experts will need Elastikon (a stronger adhesive), mentioned below (see for MASTER escapees). I have also recommended the use of sedatives for rats that are too active and/or adamantly work to remove the body cast - this would be provided by your vet.
To apply a body wrap , you will need:
Apply Nolvasan (or other brand) ointment to incision area. The first layer is a non-stick pad. Next, wrap once around with a layer of stretchy cotton gauze. Next you will apply the cast padding around the area enough to limit mobility (dependent on WHERE the incision is). It should NOT be tight, but should fit snuggly. ADHESIVE tape the cast padding to the fur at each end (at least half will be on fur). This should be on securely, but again, DO NOT restrict breathing.
Finish it off with 2" vet wrap (wrapped around TWICE). It is IMPERATIVE that this be snug, but not hinder the rat's breathing. You will need to snip a small "v" under each armpit and/or back leg to allow mobility. Set the rat down and check for mobility and general coverage and comfort.
If your rat is adamant at removing the wrap, you may want to tape the vet wrap to the fur also. Be aware that (unless you or your vet have adhesive solvent) you will have to actually CUT the fur to remove the taped area. For MASTER escapees, it may be necessary to replace the vetrap with Elastikon adhesive - 4" or 2", depending on the area to cover. This tape is not as stretchy or giving as vetrap, so you will need to wrap less snugly. You will NEED adhesive remover to get this off. For these type of rats (compulsive pickers), you will want to discuss a sedative with your vet. A low dose of Acepromazine may be necessary for the first few days to keep the rat calm (limit activity and frantic attempts to remove the wrap). If your rat is on acepromazine, you will want to make sure she/he is kept warm, as this drug can cause hypothermia. You or your vet will need to change the bandage after 2-3 days. Try leaving off the body wrap for about 15 minutes with the rat in a quiet area (without OBVIOUSLY observing him/her) to see if the rat immediately goes for the incision area (cleaning is okay). This will allow the suture area to breathe a bit. You may NOT need to re-wrap if the rat is behaving. If you do need to re-wrap, repeat the procedure. The wrap will impede healing only slightly (air exposure is BEST), and the wrap should be discontinued as soon as the incision is healed enough to be safe from chewing.
Thanks go out to Cathy Pinette and her brave rat, OSED Viv, who allowed us to TRULY demonstrate body wrapping a reluctant and squirmy girl! I would also like to thank Kim Somjen (of Kim's Ark Rodent Rescue) for properly restraining Viv and aiding me throughout the demonstration.