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Woman’s Pet Rat Senses Debilitating Spasms

One of Dani Moore's former service rats. (Courtesy of Dani Moore)(HESPERIA, Calif.) -- Dani Moore of Hesperia, Calif., owes much of what she can do in her life to a rat.

The rat, named Hiyo Silver, has the unique ability to feel when the 56-year-old Moore's body is just starting to shake because of muscle spasms. Because she suffered injuries to her spinal nerves, she can't feel those spasms until they become extremely bad. By then, it's sometimes too late to avoid a serious injury.

"Since I have osteporosis, if the spasms get too bad, they can fracture vertebrae, which has happened to me before."

When Hiyo licks her neck or face, Moore knows it's time to take action either by stretching her muscles or taking medication to stop the spasms. She keeps Hiyo on a leash atop her shoulder wherever she goes because she never knows when she'll get spasms.

"Before I got my service rat, I would sometimes spend weeks in bed because the spasms would not let up. I was so much more limited to where I could go or what I could do," Moore said.

Despite the freedom she's able to enjoy now, she wasn't always able to take Hiyo or her other rats with her anywhere. The Americans With Disabilities Act only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals, meaning that businesses are only required to allow these animals onto premises. But back in March, Moore's home city of Hesperia voted to allow all species of service animals into local businesses provided they behave appropriately.

Hiyo isn't the only animal believed to be able to sense a human's physical ailments. Studies have shown that dogs may be able to sense when their diabetic owners are having trouble with their blood sugar. Other research has shown that dogs can sniff out cancer.

Experts say what animals sense is most likely a smell or some type of body language that alerts them that something is amiss.

"It can be as minute as a slight change in respiration, or the person just moves at a different pace, or he has a different look, or a smell -- it can be any of those things," said Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian in Idaho and author of The Healing Power of Pets.

In Hiyo's case, that signal is shaking from the very beginning of a muscle spasm. Moore said she first started using a service rat when her daughter was training them to provide therapy, meaning they're trained to assist with healing and rehabilitation.

"She noticed that one of her therapy rats was extremely sensitive to my spasms, so she trained him to tell me when I was starting to have them," Moore said.

"I never thought a rat would be this helpful," said Moore. "But I certainly can't say I would trade them for anything nowadays."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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