Courtesy of Kaytee Ferret Diets
Like any animal, ferrets can become sick or suffer from poor health. While your veterinarian is the most qualified to help diagnose disease or illness, below are some things to look for in a healthy ferret. As always, it is a good idea to have a ferret first aid kit handy for emergencies.
Qualities of a Healthy Ferret
- Bright eyes, alert appearance, and responsive to its surroundings.
- Absence of discharge from the eyes and nose. No excess salivation.
- A soft, full hair coat with ample whiskers. No fleas, ticks or debris in the coat. To check for fleas, use a flea comb, or place your ferret on a white sheet and comb thoroughly. Small black specks usually indicate dried blood from fleabites.
- Lack of waxy build-up in the ears (blackish wax may indicate ear mites)
- Smooth body with no lumps, bumps or painful areas which could indicate cancer, cysts, or abscess. Body condition should be not too fat and not too thin.
- Clean, sharp teeth with no yellow and brown crusting or bleeding gums.
- Clean anus, with no staining, matting, or wet area. No evidence of blood.
- Stool should be fairly firm and brownish in coloration. Very wet, watery, or black stool may indicate internal disease.
Diseases and Disorders of Ferrets
Ferrets are susceptible to canine distemper, a viral disease that usually causes anorexia, snotty nose, rashes, and footpad swelling followed by death. Vaccinate kits 3 times and follow-up with annual boosters to prevent.
Ferrets are susceptible to rabies if they are around other infected animals. Rabies is a very serious infection that can cause death in man and animal. Yearly vaccination with a ferret-approved vaccine is recommended.
Ferrets are not as likely to get internal parasites as dogs and cats, but have their stool checked by your veterinarian yearly. External parasites (fleas, ticks, ear mites) are more common if your ferret is around dogs and cats or spends time outdoors.
Bone Marrow Suppression
Intact (not neutered or spayed) female ferrets can enter into a prolonged heat, which causes death in over 75% of females not bred. The easiest way to prevent this is to spay females not intended for breeding.
Insulinomas are the most common tumors of middle to old aged ferrets (4-5 years). These tumors result in low blood sugar, and ferrets with this type of tumor may faint or collapse, may appear drugged with glassy eyes, or just appear very weak over time. Your veterinarian can diagnose this disease with blood tests. It is treatable with medicine or surgery.
Adrenal Gland Disease
Adrenal gland disease is another common disease of older ferrets and is characterized by progressive hair loss. Sometimes the ferret will go almost bald, then grow hair back and lose it again. The ferret may also appear itchy. It is not easily diagnosed in the ferret as it is in dogs and cats. Surgery is the preferred treatment method, but medical management is available.
Ferrets can have diarrhea from a variety of sources, including bacteria, viruses, and improper foods. Never give your ferret raw meats or eggs. Avoid milk and milk products, as well as foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. Ferretone should be limited.
Colds and Flu
Ferrets can actually catch a cold or flu from their owners! The symptoms are similar to people with sneezing and upper respiratory sings. Although these usually resolve without medical treatment in several days, infections in ferrets can become serious fairly quickly--especially if they become dehydrated. Ferrets are small, and diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration before you know it.
Tender loving care, rest, warmth, and plenty of fluids are essential during this time (you can even try chicken and duck soup!) But, if your ferret is not consuming a lot of liquid, or you have any questions about home remedies, it might be best to consult a ferret veterinarian within the first couple of days.
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