Owning a ferret is one of the most graceful things you can experience. They are calm, playful, sociable and very healthy too. They rarely get sick but this does not rule out the possibility of illness. In this article, we are going to look at the common ferret health problems in depth.
Your ferret will not spend much of your money on vet visits. However, I suggest you take him to see a vet at least once per year. This way, your vet can do a health check-up to rule out any health problems.
After all, it would be better if your vet catches any illnesses early for treatment. Without further delay, let us discuss the possible health concerns in ferrets.
9 Most Common Ferret Health Problems
1, The human flu (cold)
Ferrets can also catch the flu from us. It is the same way that we spread flu through means such as air or physical contact. This means that when the flu season comes, you must take precautions to prevent the spread of the flu.
If you have already caught the flu, then your ferret is also at the risk of the same. The symptoms of the flu in ferrets may include fever, fatigue, swollen red eyes, lethargy and even loss of appetite.
Did you know that the flu virus can also be transmitted to ferrets through contaminated surfaces? Well, you will need to wash your hands before you touch his feeding bowl during the flu season.
If you have unfortunately caught a cold, I suggest you ask someone to help you take care of your ferret. Well, this is not always an option. So, if you have to take care of him when you have flu, then wash your hands properly every time you touch him or his items.
Unfortunately, there is nothing more you can do for your ferret who is ailing the flu than make him comfortable. Ensure that he is consuming a lot of fluids and rest as much. It is probably time to take a break from the intensive physical exercises you scheduled for him.
Should the symptoms persist for more than a few days, call your vet. Alternatively, you may take him to see the vet for professional consultation.
Common Ferret Health Problems
2. Deadly canine distemper
This is rather a common illness in unvaccinated ferrets. It is why breeders and shelters need to vaccinate young ferrets against this disease. This is done when the ferrets are 3 and 4 months from birth. Canine distemper resembles the measles disease in humans.
In addition to being deadly, canine distemper is very contagious among ferrets and other pets. This means that if you own both a pet ferret and dog, you need them to be vaccinated against this disease.
Unfortunately, it does not always end well as this disease is progressive and fatal. You must, therefore, ask whether your ferret is vaccinated even before you adopt one. The shelter or pet store technician should avail that information to you.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a deadly disease that could affect the central nervous system or gastrointestinal parts of the body. The virus has an incubation period of 7 to 10 days. Some of the symptoms of canine distemper may include sneezing and coughing.
Additionally, your ferret might start vomiting and experience diarrhea. Some ferret owners have also sited loss of appetite, seizures, and swollen nose and footpads. One of the noticeable symptoms of the canine distemper is a brown crust that may form around your ferret’s face and eyes.
When this disease has affected the CNS (central nervous system) he might suffer from seizures. He might also lose body coordination which could be fatal. Unfortunately, most ferret owners will take their pets to the vet when it is too late.
Diagnoses and Treatment of Common Ferret Health Problems
Once you get to your vet’s office, he is going to examine your ferret. In most cases, the vet will conduct a physical exam before running a canine distemper test on him. Unfortunately, most people find out that their pet ferret is suffering from this disease after a post-mortem.
Your vet will put him to sleep to lessen the pain and he might undergo inpatient care for a few days. Once again, this is a highly contagious disease. The vet will have to keep him in isolation until he gets better.
If you take a ferret to the vet showing symptoms of pneumonia, the vet might also run tests to rule out the canine distemper.
I insist on getting a vaccinated ferret to avoid the trouble. This is usually done by breeders at the age of 3-4 months.
Common Ferret Health Problems
3. Intestinal Obstruction
Ferrets are natural chewers. I mean, he will chew anything around him. Furthermore, your ferrets are also thieves. If you have recently misplaced your earplugs, it could be that he already swallowed them, causing an intestinal blockage.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to keep your ferret from chewing and swallowing non-food items. As a result, these items could cause him an intestinal obstruction. It is fatal when left untreated.
So, how can you tell that your pet ferret has swallowed an item? Some of the symptoms of an intestinal blockage include lack of appetite and refusal to eat. A ferret might be unable to pass stool, experience a bloated and painful stomach. Eventually, there will be a drop in his weight.
Treating intestinal blockage is not among the simplest procedures. Your vet will need to perform a complex surgery to remove the items blocking the ferret’s intestinal tract.
Well, before this happens to you, I suggest you put away all the small and chewable items. Ensure that they are out of your pet’s reach especially when you let him out of the cage. These items might include small plastic toys, shoelaces, your kid’s eraser or even earplugs as I suggested above.
It is the only way to prevent intestinal blockage in ferrets. If you do not treat intestinal obstruction, your pet ferret could die. For this reason, you must rush him to the vet if you suspect an intestinal blockage.
4. Cardiomyopathy in ferrets
As with humans, ferrets can also suffer from heart disease. Cardiomyopathy means that your ferret’s lining of the heart is thickening. Before I go on, understand that this is a deadly disease. If ignored, it could lead to death and we do not want that.
The thickening of the heart lining will lead to heart failure. Well, how can you tell that your pet is experiencing abnormalities with the functioning of his heart? The symptoms of heart disease may include a hacking cough that won’t go away, your pet might also lose full-body coordination.
Ferrets with heart disease will also experience lethargy and weakness in their rear limbs. Other ferrets will have distended bellies as a result of cardiomyopathy. Well, once you observe some or all of these symptoms, it is time to go to the vet.
Upon positive diagnoses, your vet will recommend the best practices to manage the condition. Note that this is more of a condition than it is a disease. You will have to make a few adjustments to your ferret’s lifestyle, to begin with.
Also, your vet will most likely recommend medication to prolong your ferret’s lifespan. Also, you may need to refrain from the intensive physical exercises you are probably used to. With proper management, you will have a few more years with your ferret.
While this does not have to be among the common ferret health problems, these adorable creatures can also suffer from cancer. As with humans, multiple types of cancer could get to your ferrets.
Below, I am going to outline the most common cancerous tumors in ferrets:
Adrenal disease is rather a common occurrence in ferrets. This is usually associated with early neutering or spaying of your ferret. While it is important to have your pet ferret sterilized, doing it too early could cause him to develop tumors in his adrenal glands.
This disease will usually affect ferrets aged 3-7. It happens when your ferret produces more sex hormones that he/she should. As a result, he may develop malignant tumors in the overly productive adrenal glands.
Understand that this is a fatal illness that may cost your ferret his life. However, when caught early, your vet will remove the affected adrenal gland to stop the progression of cancer.
Some of the symptoms to watch out for include unusual hair loss, anemia and sometimes your ferret could have aggressive episodes. As with most illnesses, your ferret will have a decreased appetite and eventually weight loss.
Because of the overproduction of the adrenal hormones, your ferret could also start exhibiting sexual behavior. It could seem as if your ferret is ready to mate even though you spayed or neutered them.
To prevent adrenal disease, I suggest you wait up until your ferret is 6 months before neutering or spaying them.
Insulinoma is a form of pancreatic cancer in ferrets. If your ferret has been diagnosed with insulinoma, it means that his pancreas is producing less blood sugar. This is fatal for the performance of your ferret’s body.
Observe for the symptoms of the insulinoma such as salivation, lethargy and he might put his paws in his mouth. Unfortunately, these are not easy symptoms to detect. Instead, they will show gradually and over some time.
Due to lack of enough blood sugar, your ferret could suffer from brain damage and eventually death. This is one of the reasons I insist on spending a substantial amount of time with your pet ferret. This way, you can always realize when something is wrong.
If you suspect that your ferret is ill, I suggest you make a date with your vet. Diagnoses will involve taking a sample of your ferret’s blood and measuring every few hours. Your vet will recommend the best form of treatment should the outcome be positive.
This refers to the presence of malignant tumors in the lymphocytes. In humans, we call this lymphoma, which is also deadly if left untreated. Lymphosarcoma will affect ferrets from the age of 2-5 years.
Watch out for the symptoms which might include swollen but painless lymph nodes, anorexia and with the time you may notice that your ferret has lost some weight. As the illness progresses, your ferret might fall into depression.
However, the symptoms of lymphosarcoma will vary based on the location of the tumor. You can always do a thorough checkup during bath and grooming. This way, you can always notice if your ferret has any swollen lymph nodes in his body.
Gastric ulcers are rather common in ferrets as they are in humans. They are as a result of a bacterial infection. However, sometimes it could be as a result of stress. Well, yes, ferrets also get stressed especially after moving from one residency to another.
Introducing another ferret in your household could also stress your ferret. If he has developed gastric ulcers, your ferret could suffer abdominal pain. Well, even though gastric ulcers are not as deadly, they could be if left untreated.
Ring your vet if you suspect that your ferret is sick for an examination and treatment.
Conclusion for Common Ferret Health Problems
While ferrets will rarely get sick, it does not mean that they are immune. Your ferret could fall ill at some point and you should be prepared. The above outline highlights the most common ferret health problems.
Should you spot any of the above-discussed symptoms, you need to go to your vet as soon as possible. Your vet should be able to perform an examination and give you a conclusive diagnosis. Upon diagnosis, they should be able to provide the available treatment options.
At the same time, remember that you are the primary caregiver for your ferret. Therefore, you must be on the lookout for any changes in his behavior. Does he appear stressed or sick? Well, monitoring your ferret allows you to catch any illnesses as early as possible.
Luckily for you, you will not have to keep visiting your vet every other month when you take care of your ferret. Keep his living environments clean and ensure that every other pet around your house is healthy. As we have discussed above, some illnesses are transmitted from one pet to another.
I cannot emphasize enough that you need to confirm that your ferret has been vaccinated from various illnesses. Otherwise, you will not have much trouble with your ferret as they are among the healthiest pets you can keep. Do not forget to check him for physical symptoms of any of the above-discussed illnesses. You can do this as your pet, play or groom him.
My Ferret Health and Care Book
As described in the About Us section of this website, my son Bobby and I have kept and bred ferrets for all of our adult lives.
Some time ago we started putting together a book about Ferrets and without a doubt, it is the most concise and in-depth book available anywhere.