As A New Rat Mom, This News Report About A Boy Dying From ‘Rat Bite Fever’ Is So Upsetting

shutterstock_118785409All animals can carry diseases. Dogs, cats, those totally disposable and creepy little hermit crabs parents buy for their kids when they don’t want to get them a real pet, but this report about this poor little boy dying after his parents got him a new rat is totally freaking me out, because you may remember, I also have a new rat. I feel so sad for the family of Aidan Pankey, and the news report from The Denver Channel says that Aidan loved his pet rat Oreo and would take it for rides on his shoulder just like my own kids do. The little boy purchased a new rat at Petco because he wanted Oreo to have babies and it was the new rat that had the rare but infectious disease. Aidan was just ten-years-old, and:

Aidan became sick on a Monday, two weeks after the family bought Alex, and died the next day.

“We didn’t know why for a couple of months,” Sharon said.

She said the medical examiner sent the male rat to the CDC and it came back positive for Rat-bite fever.


According to the news report, a vet can test a rat for the disease (which I will totally be doing with our rat) but to be totally honest I never even considered getting our rat tested for something like this because I think I sort of blindly assumed all rats raised for domestic pets would be disease free. Heartbreaking.

The Pankey family is filing a lawsuit again Petco claiming various causes of action for strict liability and negligence.

“Clearly there were not sufficient safety procedures in place at Petco when they sold this rat,” the family’s attorney, Hamilton Arendsen of Gomez Trial Attorneys, said.

Researchers from one of the largest labs in the country said a breeder would have to test eight rats to be 95 percent certain a colony of 100 rats or more did not have the disease.

They said it would cost around $40 per rat to run a test just for Rat-bite fever, though other tests could be performed at the same time for an additional cost. A rat costs between $6 and $11 at Petco.

I’m feeling like such a bad mom because I didn’t even consider this, truly. I’m not sure if all of you who have rats or who previously owned rats as pets had them tested for this disease, or if you were like me and just assumed that your seemingly healthy rat was disease free. I know the disease is rare and I can’t even recall ever reading about a child dying from a rat bite or scratch before, but it still makes me worry. For me I just sort of assumed I would wait a few months until mine was older until we brought him in for a checkup.

This is one of those circumstances where reading things on the Internet or looking up facts about the disease won’t help me at all, because I won’t sleep well until our little guy has been cleared by the vet. I take lots of precautions with my own family handling him and I always make sure people wash their hands before and after, but considering our own rat is very fond of licking everyone, I’m sure if he has any diseases they can be transferred from saliva. This poor family:

Aidan’s death has destroyed the family. The boy’s father, Andrew Pankey, said he can’t eat, sleep and was forced to take a leave of absence from work.

“He was my family,” he said. “I’m probably down 30 to 35 pounds since then. I don’t even get hungry. I just go until I pass out.”

The family wants Petco to make sure no rats with Rat-bite fever end up in their stores and ultimately in family’s homes.

“It sounds bad but I just want him back,” Andrew said.


Now I get to spend the next few days until I can get our baby in being all worried, and there is never not a time when someone in my house isn’t holding the little rat. I really should have had him checked out by a vet before bringing him home.

(Image:Roman Prokhorov/shutterstock)

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  • Crusty Socks

    Rats are gross!

    I’m gonna stick with my pet cockroach!

    • Paul White

      ……I have pet hissing cockroaches. They’re pretty cool.

    • Crusty Socks

      OK, I did not think pet cockroaches was a thing when I made that comment.

    • pixie

      My parents always joked about getting me a pet hissing cockroach when I was a kid. They never did… :(

    • Shea

      One of my cousins had pet hissing cockroaches when we were kids. I have a bit of a phobia about roaches so I wasn’t a fan, but I thought her pet tarantula was super cool ;-).

    • Tea

      Hissers are awesome pets, way more entertaining than my tarantulas. Those things are like raising carnivorous houseplants.

    • SmrtGrl86

      We grow enormous barn spiders in our barn, I wish I could just see them as fly eating house plants. Bugs over the size of a dime scare the shit outta me. You are bad ass.

    • Fondue

      Yes, because there’s nothing gross about a cockroach. At least my pet rats are cuddly and have personalities.

    • Crusty Socks

      One day, people on M’ish won’t take everything I say seriously… then I’ll become bored and move on to another website :(

    • Elisa Probert

      Awww, Crusty! I swear I’ll always pretend to take you seriously. Does that help?

      Now, back to knitting my (non-crusty) socks. They’re red with cables and are gonna be the socky shiznit when they’re done.

    • Fondue

      Sorry. I’ve become kinda rabid the past couple days defending rats as pets. My humor gland should resume functioning to its full capacity soon.

  • Bethany Ramos

    All I hear is “cat scratch fever,” and I can’t focus on the story.

    • Alexandra

      me tooooo! but it is tragic, I’m sure your rat is fine Eve :)

    • Crusty Socks

      What a mice thing to say. :)

    • Elisa Probert

      And now you’ve gotten that stuck in my head…

  • Larkin

    I had pet rats when I was a kid, and I don’t recall ever taking them to the vet. How scary to think that this is even possible! Fortunately, it sounds like it’s super rare. I’ve never heard of this happening before; I didn’t even know it was a thing. How terrible for that poor family. :-(

  • SA

    I saw where the family is suing PetCo, but didn’t see why. I wonder if pet stores have a responsibility to test? I can’t imagine how horrible this was.

    On another note: Parents, don’t let your rats have babies. My hamster had babies when I was a kid and there were a lot of them. Cute and all, but A LOT harder to get rid of than kittens!

    • Tea

      Some pet stores sell their animals as supposedly “vet checked” and garunteed to be healthy.

      And seconding, do not breed your pets, unless you really know what you’re doing and have good lines going.

    • Paul White

      I bred rats, briefly, for snake food. Such a PITA that I went back to buying feeders.

    • Tea

      Feeders are a different story, I did roaches when I had a big collection of inverts after losing one of my best education spiders to a bad batch of crickets.

    • Paul White

      what roaches worked well for you for invert food? Dubai and hissers haven’t worked well for me for smaller inverts…I’m looking for other ones

    • Tea

      I bred dubia and didn’t have any issues. These days, I buy crickets and roaches weekly from a local guy, I don’t have enough room or enough bugs to justify keeping a colony anymore.

    • SmrtGrl86

      No offense, to each their own when in comes to pets, but this discussion of colonies of bugs will haunt my dreams tonight.

    • Alex Lee

      From Petco’s own webpage:

      “immediately separate any animal with any illness from other animals for
      treatment by the store’s veterinarian as soon as possible.”

      That’s a pretty broad statement, and, I assume, it is phrased exactly that way to gain the public’s trust in their merchandise. And its now something they will have to answer for.

    • Elisa Probert

      Yeah…you could go from two to twenty…my sister bred her rats, once, and wound up with 12 babies. Gorgeous, incredibly tame, and we ended up donating 4 of them to a local pet store. My two sisters each kept two, I kept two, and found a home for two with a friend, whose 5 year old turned out to be a great rat-mom. Those last four, though, we couldn’t find homes for them at all.

    • Crusty Socks

      It’s kinda like when you buy a car, you don’t expect it to explode.

    • Lola Guin

      You’re never supposed to put a male and a female together unless 1) they’re spayed/neutered or 2) you’re a breeder. I feel terrible for these parents, but they were ignorant on how to handle rats (not that that had anything to do with their child’s death, it didn’t). Anyone interested in getting pet rats should know that they should never mix males and females unless they’re spayed/neutered. You could end up with a litter a week, which is a LOT of rats. It’s unfair to you and it’s very unfair to the baby rats.

  • allisonjayne

    That is terrifying. Those poor parents.
    When does the fear that your kid is going to die before you go away? Never? Cool.

    • Rachel Sea

      A lot of parents of kids with significant disabilities worry their kid won’t die first.

      It’s better if your fear never goes away.

    • allisonjayne

      Good point.

  • Paul White

    Astronomically small odds; I mean seriously, there are millions of pet rats and feeder rats in this country and this is the only time this has happened I can find info on. I don’t like PetCo much but I can’t really get too angry at them. This is just a crappy situation.

    • Lola Guin

      Well said. People get so hysterical over the rarest things. I’m not trying to be mean, but come on guys, put it in perspective. You’re more likely to die driving in your car than from a rat. You’re probably more likely to win the lottery than you are to die from a rat. Calm down. You’re rats are most likely fine. lol

  • Elisa Probert

    It’s very, very rare. Most vets would never even think to look for it without cause.

    Pet rats are bred from laboratory stock. Many of them end up with cancer since they’ve been bred to be susceptible to it so they can be used in searching for a cure. It’s one of those horrifying aspects of the whole pet industry you never want to know exist. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that ANY pet is 100% disease free. Most of the time the diseases go the other way, they get them from us. It sucks either way. Especially in this case.

    Basic pet hygiene helps. Make sure everyone washes their hands EVERY time they handle the rat, especially the kids. (it’s a very hard habit to get into and an easy one to break) If there is a bite, clean it thoroughly, immediately, and use antibacterial ointment on it.

    And don’t let this scare you into treating your pet differently. He still loves your family and knows nothing about any of this.

    • Shea

      I agree with all of this. It’s better to get your rats from a responsible rat breeder, since they are bred specifically to be pets and a good breeder will pay close attention to bloodlines and the health of their animals, just like a good dog breeder. But I wouldn’t worry about your new rattie, Eve. This sort of situation is extremely, extremely rare.

  • Paul White

    also: ANY living being can carry a variety of diseases. That’s just part of life.

  • Rachel Sea

    Reputable sellers buy or host animals from reputable breeders and rescuers. Reputable breeders test their animals for disease, and keep animals in clean healthful conditions. Clearly someone fucked up enormously.

    You wouldn’t adopt a dog and take him to be tested for rabies, you shouldn’t have to test your rat for disease either. This was a freak occurrence, the only reason you should test your rat is for peace of mind.

    • Paul White

      ? I know very few sellers of anything that regularly test their stock for all possible diseases. It isn’t practical at all.

    • AP

      A lot of legitimate animal shelters don’t test all pets for diseases. I recently read that most facilities even don’t test cats for Feline Leukemia/Feline AIDS or other diseases; that’s up you once you’ve gone through with the adoption. Many do provide free follow up vet care with their clinic, but you’re still bringing home a potentially sick pet until you have your appointment. They’ll do spay/neuter and rabies vaccines, but that’s it.

      You also can’t test an animal for rabies without killing it and dissecting its brain, so universal ravines testing is just impossible.

      Petco should, however, be more mindful of their practices.

    • echo7341

      If you adopt a pet and don’t immediately take them to be vaccinated and examined (assuming they don’t already have vaccines), you are not a responsible pet owner. They would have to test 8 rats at $40 a piece (=$320) when they only sell for at most $80. I don’t blame PetCo at all.

    • Lola Guin

      Lol. Rats aren’t vaccinated. You’re not an irresponsible pet owner for not bringing your rat to get vaccinated. You clearly don’t know anything about owning rats. Rats are very small, sensitive creatures. Even putting a needle in them is tough work and can be dangerous. They can’t even put rats down by injection because it just doesn’t work. If they DO inject them to put them down, they puncture their heart with the needle (after they give them anesthesia, if they’re good vets). They don’t take the time to look for a teensie-tiny vein. You need to do research on rats if you’re going to call people irresponsible for not getting them vaccinated. I’ve owned many rats over the years and yes, I have taken them to veterinarian. Never once have I been offered a vaccine or any other type of injection, unless I was putting them down. Any medication they take is topical or oral. What a silly post.

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    I’m sure a lot of rat owners wouldn’t know to have their pet tested. Hopefully, this information would help save a life.

  • Natasha B

    This is so sad :( I’m sure your lil guy is clean, but I can def understand wanting him to get checked out!
    It’s funny, my sister was a Petco associated vet for awhile, it was a full clinic-did surgeries and everything. The majority of their business cam from pet owners, not the actual animals in Petco. She never had to test rats or anything for diseases….
    She did try to bring home a new kitten at least once a week though.

  • ktbay

    Growing up I had three rats. I loved them, and they were seriously the most loving and sweet animals. But they only ever lived 2 years, and then would get tumors and develop respiratory issues. I get way too attached to have them any more. I don’t see them as any more dangerous than a dog or cat. I’ve been bitten by a dog, and attacked many times by cats, but my rats never did anything like that. The worst thing they did was pee on me. :)

  • Mary Georgopoulos

    Thank you for posting! I too am a new rat mom. We have had our girl Penny for about 3 weeks. Although she seems very healthy and active and the whole family has grown very fond of her, Iam glad to know now that she can be tested for this for $40 at the vet. I know I will be calling around to vets tomorrow morning so Ican have peace of mind. I hope your vet visit gives you the same and we still get to enjoy our new family members : )

  • Adi

    I love your post! As somebody who has rats from petco(that are amazing), I wish that there would be more info for owners, like how to tell if your rat has it(other than testing) and what early treatment could be. All that I’ve been reading on RBF is that your shouldn’t be around rats, but there is no way that I’m going to give up my babies “just to be safe”.

  • 3lilindians

    I completely understand how you feel right now 100%. When my husband let my daughter (11) buy a pet rat for her birthday in July, I was livid and appalled. He was hand raised and still a baby but I didn’t trust it, in fact I think my exact words were, “If it gets out,I’m buying a snake, or the cat will get it” After some research and warming up to him I grew to adore him, and got a companion for him cause I saw they did better in pairs. I don’t really remember seeing anything about RBF during my research or dismissed it because I saw it was so very rare.
    I too at this point feel like a terrible mom because I never for once thought we could be exposing her to anything dangerous. I looked at it the same as bringing home a hamster or gerbil, but after hearing this news, she is a little off put by it and was a little reluctant towards them, We’ve had them for 7 months now,while they’ve never bitten (even thought one is more of a “person loving”rat and the other is not) we have gotten little scratches and are ok, however to ease both of our minds I will be making an appt for them to be checked.
    This is our people loving rat, Prince. The one who stole my heart lol

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  • Cyndi

    We bought a rat from Petco 3 weeks ago. On day 14, it bit my grown son when he was attempting to feed the rat. Luckily it didn’t break the skin. Took the rat back and now, four days later, received a letter by UPS that the rat has tested positive for “rat virus”. Nothing else other than symptoms to be aware of. So now were wondering if he should see a doctor as a precaution and if so, is Petco going to pay for this? You go to a reputable company for healthy animals not to run the risk that something like this will happen. Luckily my son didn’t take the rat to school, which was the original intention, he is a science teacher.

  • G

    We just bought two pet rats for our kids when I stumbled onto the story of the boy’s death. I’ve been quietly freaked since, because while I grasp statistic improbability, there’s the nagging sensation that the exception could be me or my husband or our kids. We have an appointment scheduled with a vet to check the rats for the bacteria or give them a preventative round of doxy, whichever is more feasible… I am curious though — how did the vet respond to your request for testing? What were the results?

  • Shannon

    Treat your rats with a round of antibiotic Baytril available from the vet. This will kill the infection if they are carrying it. All 3 of my girls were checked by the vet upon adoption and all put on a dose of baytril for 3 weeks to ensure no infection brought in to my existing rats…not specifically for rat bite fever but it would’ve killed that as well.