Basic information on ferret illnesses. Please consult a ferret-knowledgable reputable vet for any concerns with your ferret.
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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 change how hormones are used or released into the body.

The first symptom is often thinning fur, especially on the tail or at the shoulders. Other symptoms are weight loss, inability to gain weight, pot belly, muscle wasting, enlarged nipples, aggression toward other ferrets, itching more than normal, enlarged vulva, and difficulty urinating for males (swollen prostate-dribbling, straining, pain when urinating). The tumors are usually non-cancerous; but can become cancerous if not treated. If not taken care of, the ferret will get more and more uncomfortable over time and eventually have a painful death.

There are four forms of treatment Ė melatonin, Suprelorin (Des) implants, Lupron, and surgery.

Melatonin can be given as a supplement or an implant. The liquid supplement should be given daily seven to nine hours after sunrise to mimic the body's natural output. The implant is a small plastic piece injected under the skin like a microchip. This gives off medication every day that treats the symptoms. Some people believe it only helps with symptoms and does not slow the progress of the disease. It lasts four to six months. If given regularly at a young age, many people believe it can help prevent adrenal disease. Most ferrets respond to this implant. ($48)

A Suprelorin (Des) implant is hardened medication that is injected under the skin like a microchip. It gives off medication daily. The implant lasts 12-14 months. It slows the progress of the adrenal disease and treats the symptoms. Many people believe it prevents adrenal disease if started at a young age. ($165 + vet visit at most vets)

As the adrenal disease progresses, it's a good idea to get both a Des and melatonin implant. This has been shown to be effective when just one of the implants isn't working by itself.

A Lupron injection or implant lasts three to four months. It starts working faster than the melatonin or Des implants and is good at stopping symptoms and slowing the progress of the disease. It works on most ferrets. It is expensive and can be difficult to find a vet that has it.

If the ferret is otherwise healthy, adrenal surgery can be done. Itís preferred to do surgery after five years old. Surgery removes the left adrenal gland, so the problem is removed until the right adrenal gland becomes affected. It is still recommended to continue treatment for adrenal disease to keep the right adrenal gland from being affected or to slow down the progress of the disease on the right.

If the right adrenal gland is affected, most vets cannot remove it. The vena cava artery surrounds the right gland and it's very complicated and dangerous to do the surgery. There's a 75% chance the left gland is affected.

Once the left adrenal gland is removed, the right adrenal gland has to work harder. This increases the chance of it getting adrenal disease. That's one of the reasons for waiting to do adrenal surgery until they're closer to five years old, unless the symptoms warrant doing surgery sooner.

Ferrets with adrenal disease:

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.