A California family whose 10-year-old son died of rat-bite fever just two weeks after he brought home a male companion for his female pet rat is taking Petco to court for alleged negligence. Aidan Pankey died hours after being rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains last summer, but the family waited for lab results to confirm that the rat was infected before filing the lawsuit, their lawyer tells the AP. The lawsuit accuses the national pet store chain of failing to have adequate procedures in place to prevent this kind of tragedy. Petco says it is "in the process of investigating these claims and will respond appropriately when we have more information."
"I put him to bed after a day at the doctor’s office and the next thing I knew it just was too late," Aidan's grandmother, who describes the death as "soul-biting," tells ABC. "I went into his room and he couldn’t speak. He was unstable on his feet. I got him down to my room and he collapsed on the floor. I called 911 because it was scaring me that his breathing was shallow and he seemed to be losing his ability to function." The family's lawyer says Aidan's parents are devastated by the death of their only son and want to raise awareness of the disease. Experts say there have only been a few hundred documented cases of rat-bite fever in the US, though it may be underdiagnosed and cases appear to be on the increase with the growing popularity of pet rats. Per the CDC, people can contract rat-bite fever from bites or scratches from infected rodents, or even just by handling an animal with the disease without a bite or scratch. (Read more rats stories.)