Basic information on ferret illnesses. Please consult a ferret-knowledgable reputable vet for any concerns with your ferret.
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Illnesses

Ferrets can catch bacterial infections and the flu from humans. (You donít always know if itís a cold or the flu, so best to stay away with both.) If you or anyone else in the household has cold or flu symptoms, keep the ferret away from the germs. It can be life or death to the ferret. If a person with flu or cold symptoms has to go around the ferrets, hands should be washed well and the ferret kept completely away from the face. Even better is to wear a face mask. Do NOT cough or sneeze around the ferret if you have symptoms.

Adrenal disease Ė 75% of ferrets will get adrenal disease. A tumor grows on the adrenal gland, causing it to release hormones into the body. The first symptom is often thinning fur, especially on the tail or at the shoulders. Other symptoms are enlarged nipples, aggression toward other ferrets, itching more than normal, enlarged vulva, and difficulty urinating for males (prostate-dribbling, straining, pain when urinating). The tumors are usually non-cancerous; but they grow and cause more problems. They also become cancerous if left untreated. If not taken care of, the ferret will eventually die unnecessarily and painfully.

If the ferret is healthy and five years old or younger, adrenal surgery should be done. Surgery removes the adrenal gland, so the problem is taken away. If it's the left adrenal gland, surgery will cost $275 - $700. (There's a vet in Cartersville that does the left side for $275.) If it's the right side, surgery is usually not done. The vena cava artery surrounds the right gland and it's hard to do the surgery. There's a 75% chance the left gland is affected.

Itís preferred to do surgery when they are closer to four years old. Once the left adrenal gland is removed, the right adrenal gland has to work harder. This increases the chance of it getting adrenal disease. So, itís best to treat the symptoms until theyíre closer to four years old, unless the symptoms warrant doing surgery sooner.

A Deselorelin implant can be given. This is a small plastic piece implanted under the skin. It gives off medication daily. The implant lasts 12Ė18 months (average 13). It treats the symptoms. Some people believe it slows the progress of the disease and can prevent adrenal disease if started at a young age. About 65-70% of ferrets respond to the implant. Cost is $200 - $260.

A Melatonin implant, similar to the Deselorelin implant, can be given. It lasts three to four months. It treats the symptoms. Some people believe it slows the progress of the disease. Most ferrets respond to this implant. Melatonin implants are $40-$100. ($40 at the rescue.)

A Lupron injection lasts 1 Ĺ to four months. It works well at stopping symptoms and may slow the progress of the disease. Most people only do injections when surgery canít be done and implants arenít working. ($60 at the rescue.)

One way to help prevent adrenal disease is to feed a high protein / low carbohydrate food. Another way is to be sure the ferret gets 12 hours of light and 12 hours of near darkness per day. The darkness helps the body release the proper amount of melatonin, which the adrenal gland puts out. So, keep artificial light (house lights) to a minimum. You can also give melatonin supplement of .5 ml twice a day to the ferret.

Having a ferret put under anesthesia is always risky and should be done only when really necessary. Adrenal surgery is considered a necessity. Some vets want to put a sick ferret under anesthesia to draw blood. This should not be done! It is too risky for the ferret.

Insulinoma Ė A little over half of ferrets will get insulinoma. This is low blood glucose. A tumor grows on the pancreas and affects the way glucose is used in the body. This tumor is cancerous and should be removed by surgery as soon as possible. Symptoms that first appear: sleeping a lot, head tilted to the side, not eating well, pawing at the mouth when drinking or eating, and stumbling or falling over when walking. A ferret with these symptoms should go to the vet within one or two days. Other symptoms include: glassy look to the eyes, eating a lot but still no energy, being nearly comatose, hind end weakness, can't stand up well, drooling, etc. A ferret with these symptoms should go to the vet as soon as possible. It could die within a matter of hours.

Prednisone, Prednisilone or PediaPred are prescribed to treat insulinoma. It is better to use Prednisilone. It is not as hard on the liver. These medications are hard on the stomach and can result in ulcers and death. They MUST be given with soup to help protect the stomach. This cannot be stressed enough. Just having the food available is not enough. You must be sure the ferret eats a lot of soup when it takes the medicine. Better is to give soup before giving the medication and then with the medication so the stomach is well protected.

Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD) Ė Many ferrets will get this. It is an inflammation of the intestinal lining. It causes frequent diarrhea, weight loss, and discomfort. It is a permanent condition. Treatment is giving probiotics twice a day, feeding a good quality low carbohydrate food, giving Prevacid twice a day as needed, giving an anti-diarrheal like Kaopectate twice a day as needed, giving Slippery Elm supplement twice a day, and treating with antibiotics when the diarrhea gets bad enough to cause a bacterial infection.

Because ferrets eat a very high protein diet, they are more likely to have kidney disease as they get older. Once a ferret is considered a senior (over five years old), feed a lower protein food, but never less than 32% protein. Symptoms of kidney disease include: frequent urination, clear urine sometimes, sleeping a lot, hind end weakness, drinking more water, urinating in unusual places, and much more. It is hard to catch that your ferret has this disease. If you catch it, the ferret can lead a relatively normal life. If you don't catch it, it's just a matter of time before something happens and renal failure occurs.

Ferrets do not throw up, or they shouldn't. The esophagus / throat is different for ferrets than other animals. If a ferret is throwing up or dry heaving, it needs to go to the vet. If the ferret is dry heaving, it is possible it has a hairball. Treat as noted below and/or see a vet. If the ferret is still dry heaving five or six hours after being treated for hairballs, it must be seen by a vet.

Ferrets get hairballs just like cats. However, they cannot throw up the hairballs. They need to be given hairball medication to move hairballs through the system. You can buy hairball products or make your own (petroleum jelly mixed with something they like, like Ferretone). It is also a good idea to mix a small amount of fiber powder or pumpkin into a soup mixture occasionally.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer common in ferrets. To visually tell for some lymphomas, the ferret will have enlarged 'padding' on one or both sides of the neck, behind the front legs or between the back legs and tail. This enlarged padding is actually enlarged lymph nodes from the lymphoma. (Note, enlarged padding can also be from fat. Fat padding is mushy and the ferret will be a little chunky.) Chemotherapy can be used, but itís expensive. Essiac liquid may help slow the progress. Reishi mushroom may help with the inflammation. Otherwise, keeping the ferret as healthy as possible with proper food and play will help it live as long as possible without pain. When the ferret is beginning to be uncomfortable, Prednisilone can offset the pain from it. This is hard on the stomach and can make the ferret swell over time. It must be given with soup to protect the stomach.

Ferrets do not show pain or weakness until they are very sick and it should be taken care of right away. When they are at the point of showing symptoms, it means they have been sick for a while. Symptoms of pain, where they need to be seen by a vet, include: lethargy, gnashing teeth, eyes watering, squinting eyes, limping, not wanting to be touched, moving away from being rubbed or handled, unusual biting, etc.

Ear mites - scratching at the ears is almost a sure sign of ear mites. Other signs are discharge from the ears or dirt you can see in the ears. You should treat for ear mites or an ear infection could set in.

Symptoms of serious problems, where they need to be seen ASAP, include: falling over, unable to walk straight, hind end weakness, diarrhea and no solid stool for more than one day, throwing up, not eating for more than a half day, not drinking for more than a half day, etc.