What You Should Know About Ferret Health
Yearly Veterinary Visit
You will need to take your ferret in to your veterinarian twice a year for a medical checkup and yearly vaccinations. Ferrets require yearly inoculations against canine distemper. They are highly susceptible to canine distemper and it is always fatal. Do not forget to inoculate against this every year! If your ferret is outside for any length of time, a rabies vaccination is also suggested. In some jurisdictions this is mandatory. Be aware that proof of rabies inoculation is required when taking your pet across international borders. Include a dental examination for your pet also. Though ferrets seldom develop cavities, check your ferret’s teeth regularly as many ferrets break their fangs when playing. This can cause excruciating pain and make the animal cranky and bitey.
Spaying & Neutering
All ferrets should be fixed before they reach sexual maturity as this will drastically reduce their odour and it will extend their lives. Female ferrets go into heat in their first spring (generally in February) and they will remain in season until successfully mated. If mating does not occur, the females will succumb to aplastic anemia and die a most painful death. You will greatly increase your female ferret’s life span if you have her fixed before this should happen. As ferrets are a very difficult animal to breed successfully and the risk of losing the jill, her kits, or both is very high, breeding of ferrets should be left to experts with on-site veterinary support. Ferrets attract mates through the use of pheromones which give the unneutered animals a very pungent aroma which most people find unpleasant. Unfixed males have a strong musky odor and mark their territory with urine. When a ferret is fixed (spayed or neutered) its odor will be eliminated almost entirely. Thereafter, bathing on a monthly basis should be all that is required. However, ferrets like all animals will retain a slight odor. Be a responsible pet owner and have your pets neutered or spayed. This increases your pleasure in your pets and makes them more attractive to others.
Odor & De-Scenting
One of the most common statements about ferrets is that they have a bad smell. Most of a ferret’s odor results from the influence of sex hormones on normal skin secretions. These secretions are drastically reduced when the ferret is neutered or spayed (see above). Being polecats and related to skunks, ferrets also have scent glands that they can release at will, though they rarely spray unless they are fighting, mating or very frightened. De-scenting involves the removal of these scent glands which are located at the base of the tail. Ferrets do not need to be de-scented. However, if you wish to eliminate the possibility of an unpleasant experience should your pet be frightened in a public place, consider having him de-scented. This is a minor operation roughly equivalent to a human tonsillectomy in seriousness and discomfort. Your ferret will be back to his active self in two or three days and he will never miss this natural defense. This increases your pleasure in your pet and makes him more attractive to others.
Once your ferret has been fixed and de-scented, a monthly bath is all your ferret will require. Use a good quality ferret, cat, or “no-tears” human shampoo, preferably with a conditioner. Be sure to wash around your ferret’s neck and face as there are additional scent glands located below the eyes.
The number one cause of premature death in ferrets is intestinal obstruction. Many ferrets will chew on soft rubber and other small objects. This is especially dangerous because these objects can become lodged in the ferret’s intestine. This causes an agonizing and slow death unless surgery is performed to remove the obstruction. Many other items can be just as deadly: peanuts and other nuts, doll feet or hands, erasers, ear plugs, kitchen sponges, small rubber items such as bath or sink plugs, coffee beans, small buttons, fabric, Latex rubber toys for cats and dogs, household chemicals, shoe inserts and other foam rubber items, etc. Be careful and use your common sense as you would if you had a toddler at home. Fortunately, most ferrets outgrow this rubber attraction once they have left kithood, but it is best to take no chances. Do not feed your ferret grain-based foods (breads, cakes, cookies, cereals, noodles, etc.), nuts, fibrous fruits and vegetables, or dairy products. These items are indigestible by ferrets and result in various digestive problems, including blockages. Warning signs of a blockage are listlessness, vomiting, problems passing a stool, passing a thin and/or mucousy stool, refusal to eat or drink, vomiting after eating or drinking. If you suspect a blockage, take your pet to your veterinarian immediately!
Ferrets can catch the human influenza and cold viruses and they can pass them back. If you have a cold or the flu, be sure to wash your hands before touching your ferret. Keep the ferret away from your face and do your best not to give your cold to your ferret. Ferrets are also susceptible to canine distemper and rabies (see above). Other common diseases are adrenal and pancreatic tumors, Aleutian disease, bronchial pneumonia and other viral infections. Most can be effectively treated given early diagnosis. As ferrets tend to deteriorate quickly due to their high metabolic rate if they become ill, it is important to provide proper veterinary care immediately.
Ferrets are dry, temperate climate creatures who suffer from warm temperatures and damp. They should be kept indoors rather than outside, and when the temperature exceeds 20 C (72 F) they should be kept in a cool, shaded place with water. Ferrets do have sweat glands, but their thick fur prevents body cooling by evaporation, making them very susceptible to heatstroke and dehydration. Even if temperatures do not reach such an extreme, the ferrets are often left damp from the sweat and susceptible to chills from sudden cooling afterwards. Leave your pets at home with lots of water on hot days.
The red-eyed white breed of ferret, commonly called an “albino,” was bred for the trait of eye colour. Many of these animals suffer from hereditary vision problems due to this breeding and are basically blind, being able to distinguish only vague shapes and shadows. Expect an “albino” to require more care and attention than other ferrets.