Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, nor do I
claim to be an authority on ferrets. The information provided here is intended
to be used as a guide only. I don't accept any responsibility or the use,
or lack thereof, of this information. I have however done my best to be
sure that all of the information is as accurate as possible.
Table Of Contents
[The Home Health Check] [Common
Ferret Diseases And Disorders]
[Common Ferret Injuries]
The Home Health Check
If you are in doubt about your ferrets well being, here are a few things
to check for to determine what the problem may be. If you notice any changes
in your ferrets apperance or behaviour, you must act quickly to correct
Are my ferrets whiskers broken and brittle?
Do they look too short?
Short, broken whiskers usually indicate a poor diet. Hair is
almost pure protein and it's appearance is a good indicator of protein
intake. Switch your ferrets diet to a brand of cat or ferret food with
at least 30% protein.
Are my ferrets stools discolored?
A healthy ferrets stools should appear fairly soft, but not
too hard, and should be light to dark brown in color. Diarrhea is soft,
and has a greenish color. Treats should be cut out of the diet in this
case. If the ferrets stools appear blackish and tarry, this could indicate
intestinal bleeding, which requires attention.
Is my ferret too fat, or too skinny?
A healthy ferret should be slender and sleek, and be proportional
to it's overall size. The ideal ferret is a slender, athletic looking animal.
A ferret which is fat or skinny may require special food. Consult a veterinarian.
Are my ferrets genitals discolored? Is there
Discoloration and discharge from the genital area is usually
a sign of infection. Check for any signs of discharge from the vulva in
females, and from the penal sheath in males.If there is any discharge,
a visit to the vet is usually called for.
Is there any unusual lumps on my ferret?
Check your ferret for tumors and growths by gently rubbing
it's body. The most common spots for these growths are the neck, under
the legs, and the back. Lumps should always be checked by a veterinarian.
Is my ferret alert?
If your ferret is acting excessivly sluggish or tired, there
may be a problem. A healthy ferret should be active and alert.
Is my ferret eating less than usual?
A good sign of sickness is a decrease of food intake. Note
any unusual eating habits. A ferret who has a cold or flu will often
eat less than usual.If normal eating habits don't return in a few days,
attention may be required.
Is there any change in my ferrets behavior?
If you notice unusual behaviour in your ferret, try to determine
why. Excessive scratching, wheezing, coughing, etc. are good indicators
of discomfort and or illness.
[Table Of Contents]
Common Ferret Diseases And Disorders
Ferrets are susceptible to many infectious diseases, chief amoung them
are human transmited colds and flu, pneumonia, and canine distemper. Quick
action is always called for if your ferret is ill.
This disease is most common in older ferrets (3-4 years of
age). The adrenal glands, located near the kidneys, will grow tumors which
causes an increase in hormone production. Often, the first obvious symptom
is hair loss on the body. Facial and leg hair is not often affected. Other
symptoms may include weight loss and a decrease in muscle mass. Treatment
is usually surgical removal of the tumors, or lysodren by injection. Recovery
can take 2-8 weeks, and there is a small chance of reoccurance.
Aplastic Anemia and Septicemia in Females
For more information on Adrenal Disease, check
Aplastic anemia and septicemia are the leading causes of death
in female ferrets. If a female is not spayed or repeatedly bred there is
about a 90 percent change that she will die in the first heat season. It
is best to purchase a pet that is already spayed and de-scented to avoid
this risk. If your ferret is not already altered, contact your veterinarian
Black Tarry Stools
Black tarry stools indicate gastrointestinal bleeding
and are frequently associated with entertis, and inflammation of the intestinal
tract, and with times of stress, such as coat changes and heat. A "wait
and see how it is tommorow" attitude can easily cost your pet it's life.
The symptoms cannot be ignored. Consult your veterinarian. Be sure to follow
the adivce on what dosage and how many days to administer any medication.
Be sure that your ferret drinks plenty of water while being treated. Some
drugs can be hard on the kidneys and ferrets are somewhat susceptible to
kidney problems. Drinking water seems to reduce the risk of developing
kidney complications during treatments.
There is no confusion concerning cainine distemper in ferrets.
They are highly susceptible to it, and it is fatal. If you wait until the
animal already has the disease, it will most likely die. Vaccination is
imperative. Vaccinating your ferret yearly is the only way you can
Cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of heart failure in
ferrets. This disease causes the heart to weaken to the point where it
can no longer function properly. Symptoms include sluggishness, breathing
difficulty, coughing, and wheezing during activity. To diagnose cardiomyopathy,
ultrasound and x-ray examinations are used. There is no cure for this disease,
but treatments can improve your ferrets life in duration, and quality.
Colds and Flu
For more information of Cardiomyopathy, check
Ferrets cath the same type of colds and flu that people catch.
Like any family member, a ferret can catch a cold from you, and give it
back. The ferret usually has the good sense to drink plenty of water and
get plenty of rest until it has recovered which is usually in three to
If your ferret has a very soft stool or diarrhea, first eliminate
all treats. The usual cause of diarrhea is food that contains a high percentage
of milk (ie; ice cream, cheese). A sudden change in feed, or an intestinal
flu can also cause diarrhea. In both cases, the ferret should be back to
normal in a few days.
ECE (Green Death)
Continued diarrhea can cause dehydration,
with the ferret not taking in as much liquid as it's losing. This can be
life threatening. You should then take your ferret to the veterinarian,
who can inject fluid under the skin. The ferret absorbs this fluid gradually
and this greatly reduces the risk of dehydration while the cause of the
diarrhea is being corrected.
The cause of the Epizootic Catarrhal Entertis virus is
unkown, although fecal-oral contact is suspected. ECE apparently destroys
the cells of the intestinal lining, imparing the ferrets ability to absorb
water and nutrients. Symptoms include watery, green diarrhea, and in some
cases, coma and death within 48 hours.
Upon diagnoses of ECE, treatment is imparitive
as there is next to a 100% death rate in untreated ferrets. Treatment includes
fluid by intervenous or injection to reduce dehydration, supplemented nutrients,
antibiotics, and antispasmodics. Treated ferrets carry and transmit this
disease for up to 6 months after recovery. Be sure to minimize the chance
of the infected ferret coming into contact with other ferrets. Shower and
change clothes after handling the recovering ferret.
For more information on ECE, check out the
Ferrets sometimes become blind in or have cataracts on one
or both eyes. If you suspect that your ferret is having vision problems,
take it to the vet to determine if anything can be done. Blind ferrets
do not seem to have difficulty in getting around or playing. They use their
other senses and appear to lead a normal life in both quality and duration.
This is because ferrets have poor vision, so their other senses are naturally
more tuned in. Ferrets may also develop eye infections, usually manifested
by watery eyes. A veterinarian can usually provide medication to treat
There is conflicting information about feline distemper. Many
experts claim that ferrets are not susceptible to it. Nevertheless, there
have been cases of feline distemper in ferrets. None of these cases have
been confirmed with diagnostic testing. It is, however, safe to assume
that it is not a common occurence. An inexpensive feline distemper vaccination
could prove to be worthwhile insurance for your ferret.
Fleas, Mites, and Ticks
Fleas, ticks, and mites can all take up residence in your pet.
The easiest solution for all three is to buy cat or kitten deinfestation
products (NOT dog products, they are far too strong!), and use them as
directed. Also be sure to disinfect all sleeping and playing areas, because
the eggs the pests have laid can start the infestation all over again.
Excessive scratching can be a sign of fleas or ticks.
Fleas and ticks can be found by carefully checking the ferret for small
black specks on the skin, which is the dirt of the pest. The hot spots
for the pests themselves seem to be around the neck and hindquarter area.
Brushing a ferret over a white peice of paper will also tell you if is
infested. If after brushing, you notice small black specks on the paper,
chances are that there is fleas or ticks residing.
Mites sometimes take up residence in the ears
of ferrets. They will cause the ears to itch and the ferret will become
uncomfortable. The easiest way to check for mites is to clean your pets
ears carefully with a Q-Tip. An accumulation of a black waxy substance
in the ferret's ears can indicate ear mites. If the ferrets ears continue
to generate black debris, you should ask your veterinarian to check the
black substance under a microscope. It is not possible to accurately diagnose
ear mites without magnification.
Lack Of Stool
The absence of any stool for a 24-hour period should
not be taken lightly. The most frequent cause of this is an internal blockage.
This may result from the ferret's swallowing of a small piece of foam rubber
or other small object. Lack of stool, especially if accompanied by vomiting,
must be dealt with promptly. Ferrets are simply too small to have enough
body reserves to postpone treatment. Is it frequently necessary to x-ray
the ferret to locate the blockage and then surgically remove it. The survival
chances of the ferret are substantially higher if the operation is preformed
before the animal becomes too weak.
If your ferret is sick and not eating much, it will
have little stool. This does not indicate a blockage. It is better to check
with your veterinarian early on concerning any potential problems.
The symptoms of pneumonia in ferrets are the same as in a person,
namely labored or rattly breathing, a fever, and signs of a cold persisting
beyond the normal few days. The ferret must be taken to a veterinarian
for an antibiotic to help it recover.
According to the United States Center for Disease Control in
Atlanta, Georgia, there have been very few documented cases of rabies in
ferrets. Although ferrets are certinly susceptible to rabies if bitten
by a rabid animal, ferrets are usually kept indoors and simply are not
in circumstances where exposure to rabies is likely. However, there is
always the risk of the ferret escaping and coming in contact with a rabid
Fortunately, there is a rabies vaccine available
for your ferret. These vaccines are approved specifically for use in ferrets.
Your veterinarian will be able to recommend a rabies vaccination schedule
for your pet. One big plus for vaccination is that if your ferret should
scratch or nip a person or another animal, you can advise those involved
that your pet is vaccinated. Otherwise, they may want to destroy your pet
to check it for rabies. This could be a needless tragedy.
Splenomegaly, an enlarged spleen, is often caused by an helicobacter
infection. The symptoms include swelling in the abdomen, a decrease in
activity, and a decrease in eating. The treatment is surgical removal of
the spleen. However, if the animal is not suffering, showing no signs of
discomfort, surgery is not necissary, and not beneficial.
For more information on Splenomegaly, check out
Ferrets seldom vomit. If, however, the ferret has an intestinal
virus, it may sometimes vomit. This is often accompanied by soft, greenish
stool. The symptoms usually disappear in a few days.
Common Ferret Injuries
If the ferret is vomiting and has had no stool for
24 hours, it is very likely that the animal has a blockage and may well
Occasionally ferrets will make a gagging sound as
if to vomit but will only bring up a small amount of liquid. This happens
most frequently at coat change time and is probably caused by hair in the
[Table Of Contents]
Ferrets are small and agile and are quite frequently involved in accidents.
Doors, accidental crushing, and being dropped while carried are the main
sources of injuries.
Many accidental injuries to ferrets occur to the spine. These
injuries are always serious and should be seen by a veterinarian. Most
may involve sprains, strains, or minor dislocations that respond well to
extra warmth and rest. The veterinarian often will prescribe drugs to relax
the muscles and help the pet rest.
Recovery may take from two weeks to two month. More
serious injuries to the back may require surgery and a prolonged recovery
Broken teeth are uncommon in ferrets, but do occur. Healthy
teeth may be broken by an accident or by chewing on hard materials. Decayed
teeth are the ones most often broken. Dry feed helps to keep the teeth
clean and the gums massaged, thereby helping to prevent decay. Decayed
teeth are easy to spot, being black and looking much like tooth decay in
If damage or decay does occur, take your pet to the veterinarian
who will determine if the tooth needs to be removed or not. A tooth check
is part of your ferrets yearly examination, and a recommendation will be
given as to how your ferrets teeth should be cared for.
Ferrets are rough-and-tumble wrestlers for whom mock combat
is a natural game. Sometimes play gets too rough and one animal accidentally
bites and injures another. There is usually no complications from
a bite wound, although you should always be alert for any sign of infection.
If bleeding does not stop after the wound has been cleaned, and preassure
has been applied, or you think that stiches may be required, you
must take your ferret to the veterinarian as there may be a ruptured blood
vessel or artery.
Ferrets, being curious creatures, are often in the position
to be accidently crushed. Ferrets under carpets, under easy chairs, and
in doorways have to be minded. If your ferret does accidently get crushed,
attention is ALWAYS required. Even if the ferret appears to be alright,
there may be internal injuries that are not immediatly apparent.
[Table Of Contents]