This page would be more accurately titled
INfrequently asked questions and miscellaneous topics.
These are topics which only occasionally come up, and there's
not enough information, or a need, for an entire page devoted
to the topic.
Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation
Hair Loss on Tail
Hypothermia During Surgery
Post Op Care
An extremely serious condition in
ferrets. Gums should be pink and not pale. Ferrets
normally have a high PCV (Packed Cell Volume) of 45-60%.
When it falls to 15% or less, the ferret is in need of a
transfusion to save its life. Ferrets have no detectable
blood group so any healthy ferret may be a donor.
Oxyglobin, a synthetic blood, is another option if your
vet has this available. If neither Oxyglobin or a donor
ferret is available, I have been told that a cat can be
a donor if no other option exists and the ferret is in
danger of dying. This would be as a last resort.
Many things can cause anemia, including
something as seemingly minor as a flea infestation. Ferrets
have died from flea bite induced anemia.
Additional information on anemia in
ferrets can be found
According to Dr. Tom Kawasaki,
retinal atrophy is the #1 eye disease in ferrets that
results in blindness. Cataracts, while not that
uncommon, come in second to retinal atrophy.
Most ferrets do quite well even with
the loss of their sight. Vision is not their strongest
sense and some ferret owners may not even realize their
ferret is losing its sight until they notice the ferret
bumping into things. You may notice the ferret
hugging the wall as it goes down a hallway. If the
home isn't rearranged, the ferret will get around quite
well. Some owners place various scents
(vanilla, etc.) in areas they want the ferret to be able
to find, but their sense of smell is quite good and they
will find their way around without any added scents.
"What's that ball at the end of my
ferret's tail?" This is something I have been
asked more than a few times. Chordomas are the
most common neoplasm of the musculoskeletal system of
These can occur anywhere along the
spine, but in ferrets, they most commonly occur at the
tip of the tail. Chordomas are considered potentially
malignant, however, metastasis has not been seen in
these neoplasms arising in the tail.
These should be removed for a number
of reasons. Tumors of the bone can be painful,
there's increased risk of injury to the tail simply
because of the large knot on the end and it would be
terrible if your ferret was the one case where it was
malignant and metastasis occurred. Amputation of
the necessary segments of the tail is curative and the
ferret will be happier with a tail that is a bit shorter
but without the tumor.
Contrary to popular opinion, ferrets
cannot get the common cold. The ailment humans get
that we call a "cold" is caused by rhinoviruses which are
species specific viruses. Ferrets simply cannot catch
colds. On the other hand, ferrets are susceptible to
influenza and are used in research of the flu because Influenza
infections in ferrets closely resembles infection in humans.
Ferrets are also susceptible to upper respiratory infections
and these can also be confused with a common cold.
Absolutely do not give any over the counter
cold medications to your ferret regardless of what anyone
may tell you. As long as your ferret continues to
eat and drink normally, medication is generally not needed.
In some cases, a vaporizer to help a stuffy nose may
help since a ferret that can't smell sometimes will
not eat (since it can't smell the food).
In cases of influenza, your ferret should
see a veterinarian. In most cases, ferrets are not as
severely affected by the flu as a person might be.
Diabetes mellitus is not a common
condition in ferrets but it does occur. High blood
glucose levels can occur for a short period of time
after pancreatic surgery to correct insulinoma.
Insulinomas generate excessive amounts of insulin,
causing normal insulin producing cells to atrophy.
After surgery to remove the insulinomas, the atrophied
cells do not immediately begin producing insulin again,
resulting in diabetes. This usually corrects
itself in a few weeks.
Dr. Jerry Murray says PZI VET insulin
from IDEXX is the best insulin to use in ferrets.
Ultralente insulin is a second choice. Typical starting
dosage is 1 Unit, 2 times a day of the PZI VET insulin.
PZI is a 40 unit per ml (U-40) product, so U-40 syringes
There are many causes of diarrhea in
ferrets and I'm regularly asked by someone why their ferret
has diarrhea. Listed below are several links to various
articles about conditions that may result in occasional
or chronic diarrhea.
Coagulation. Dr. Bruce Williams explains:
"a syndrome in which, contrary to the name, the primary
sign is unrelieved hemorrhage throughout the body.
Initially, there is disseminated activation of the
clotting cascade, but eventually, clotting factors are
exhausted, and there is bleeding all over the body. The
vast majority of DIC cases arise from overwhelming
This can be a very serious condition.
Dehydration will kill your ferret much quicker than a lack
of food. Many things can cause dehydration, and itís important
to be able to recognize it. To see if your ferret is dehydrated,
run your finger along his gums. They should be moist and
slippery (like your own) and not dry and sticky. Pinching
up the skin on the back of the neck and seeing how fast
it snaps back is another test, but itís often difficult
to determine whether it snapped backed too slow (indicating
dehydration) or fast enough.
Fleas are a significant problem in
ferrets. Fleas are not only irritating, they can
carry various parasites and long term infestations can
result in life-threatening anemia.
Never use flea collars or flea dips
with ferrets. You may use a flea shampoo that is
either specifically for ferrets or listed as safe for
kittens. The best flea control can be obtained
with Advantage or Frontline. While neither of
these products are labeled for use in ferrets, many
ferret owners and vets use them and they have proven
safe and very effective. Advantage will only
control fleas, while Frontline will control fleas and
ticks. DO NOT use the look alike products that are
sold in supermarkets. They are not safe to use
with ferrets, and probably shouldn't even be used with
cats or dogs.
HAIR LOSS ON THE TAIL
Also called rat tail, this not an uncommon
condition in ferrets. While this condition may be
a precursor to adrenal disease, it may also occur for reasons
that are not quite clear. It is often seasonal and
clears up on its own in a few months. Many ferret
lovers have found that washing the ferret's tail (and ONLY
the tail!) regularly with an antibacterial soap such as
that used for acne often helps. Some have claimed
that treating the ferret for skin mites also helps.
Each case is different of course. Note that if the
hair loss appears anywhere else on the ferret's body, including
the base of the tail, adrenal disease is a real possibility.
Ferrets cannot handle high
temperatures well at all and are extremely susceptible to
heatstroke. One cannot give a specific temperature at
which a ferret will begin to suffer the effects of
overheating. Ferrets that have become acclimated
to gradually increasing temperatures over time will do
better than a ferret that has lived its life in an air
conditioned home and then is suddenly exposed to 80˚+
temperatures. Generally, when temperatures exceed
80˚f (26˚c), one should be aware of possible
should always be in a temperature controlled
environment, unless you live in an area where it NEVER
gets above 80˚f / 26˚c, and then only if they are able
to remain out of direct sunlight.
lack well-developed sweat glands and fans do little
to alleviate overheating. The cooling effect
humans feel from a fan is due to evaporation of sweat; ferrets do
not sweat and without sweat there is no cooling
by a fan. Ferrets may pant if overheated, but
cannot transfer large amounts of heat like a dog.
begins with the animal becoming disoriented and
agitated, along with salivating, heavy panting and
bright red gums. As it progresses, the animal may
experience bloody diarrhea or vomit, depression, stupor,
collapse and finally, go into a coma. Immediate
treatment is necessary for all stages of heat stroke.
cool drinking water to help reduce the likelihood of
heatstroke and in cases where heat cannot be avoided,
freeze bottles of water and place the bottle in a sock
or wrap in a thin cloth. Your ferret will be able
to lay next to this to remain cool.
suspect your ferret has heatstroke, remove from the
source of heat immediately. DO NOT dunk the ferret
into cold water. The rapid change in
temperature will most likely send your ferret into shock.
Apply cool water to the extremities, dampen the ferret's skin
slightly with cool (not cold!) water and use a fan to
help with evaporative cooling.
YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY.
"In ferrets, it [hiccups] is
relatively common, especially in younger animals. It is
frequently associated with excitement, but may occur
spontaneously also. It is really nothing to worry about
and will go away on its own with no help at all."
- Susan A. Brown, DVM
HYPOTHERMIA DURING SURGERY
Hypothermia is an often overlooked concern
during ferret surgery. Even surgery that is thought to be
a quick "in and out" procedure can be a problem. Ferrets
have been lost to hypothermia because of the lack of proper
temperature support during these procedures (via a conversation
with Dr. Bruce Williams). The following should be performed
with each and every ferret surgery:
- IV fluids should be warmed into the 90+ degree range
- The ferret's temperature monitored and maintained
on a heating pad during surgery.
- Maintained on a heating pad after surgery until the
ferret's temperature has reached 100į
Monitoring is extremely important as
one does not want to overheat the ferret with high temperatures.
Dr. Bruce Williams says, "Pemphigus
is a disease in which the body's own immune system
attacks substances in the epidermis. Auto-antibodies are
produced against components of the cells of the
epidermis, literally digesting the structures that holds
the epidermis to the underlying dermis, resulting in the
formation of blisters. If the intact blister is
biopsied, the diagnosis is very clear."
Treatment usually consists of
steroids (prednisone) which can control the disease,
however, there is no cure. Each case is different, so no
set dose can be described here.
post op care
I feel it is important to limit any animal's behavior after a major surgery
for many reasons (this is particularly important for ferrets because they
are so stoic and do not always know when to limit themselves).
After any major surgery bleeding is a threat. An animal that is
very active is at a greater risk for bleeding internally, which could be
life threatening. Just because a ferret feels good enough to romp or
run up and down ramps post op, it does not mean their body can tolerate it.
Ferrets don't always know best--that is what their owner is for.
This is one of the reasons human physicians limit patients to bed rest post
op--even though humans are not anywhere close to as stoic as a ferret (i.e.
some ferrets after adrenal surgery are ready to run the same night, but
dogs after adrenal surgery are usually on IV fluids for days, and I've
talked to 2 people post adrenal surgery, one was in the hospital for 3 wks
the other in the hosp for 3 months). So the moral is that the ferret
does not know what is best post op and even though they are tough they could
develop a life threatening crisis if too active.
In general the few ferrets that develop bruising post op are the ones
that are up and around very fast post op. If too active there is also
greater risk of opening up the suture line causing a possibly life
- Dr. Charles Weiss
Often seen in very young ferrets that
are on a hard kibble diet too soon. Usually caused by diarrhea. When there
is nothing firm for the colon to push against (such as firm
stool), the rectum may be pushed out. If the ferret
checks out medically, then treat symptomatically by applying
a cream of Preparation H and 0.5% cortisone three times
daily and after every bowel movement. One vet recommends
Anusol HC-1. It combines the cortisone into the meds.
In severe, recurring cases, a purse string suture may be
Spleen enlargement, or Splenomegaly,
is commonly seen in older ferrets and is often the result
of chronic, smoldering infection. Usually, this is
the result of gastric infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter
mustelae which is present in almost every ferret.
Correct the infection and the spleen will most likely reduce
in size. According to Dr. Bruce Williams,
approximately 5% of enlarged spleens can be due to tumors,
the most common being Lymphosarcoma/lymphoma. Hypersplenism
is a different condition and has not been seen in ferrets.
Spleens with neoplasms should come out
immediately. Spleens that are simply enlarged may
need to be removed if there is danger of rupture due to
size or the spleen has simply become so large that it is
compressing other organs. Ferrets do quite well without
Ticks can infest ferrets.
Frontline© is an excellent product that controls both
fleas and ticks. Advantage©, a similar product
that controls fleas well,
does not control ticks.
Tick removal instructions from the
Acarology (study of ticks/mites) Laboratory at
The Ohio State University:
Avoid handling ticks with uncovered
fingers; use tweezers or commercial tools designed for
removal. If index finger and thumb must be used,
protect them with rubber gloves, plastic or even a
Place the tips of tweezers or edges
of other removal devices around the area where the
mouthparts enter the skin.
With steady slow motion, pull the
tick away from the skin or slide the removal device
along the skin (read the directions for each
commercial tool). Do not jerk, crush, squeeze or
puncture the tick.
After removal, place the tick
directly into a sealable container. Disinfect the area
around the bite site using standard procedures.
Keep the tick alive for a month in
case symptoms of a tick-borne disease develop. Place
it in a labeled (date, patient), sealed bag or vial
with a lightly moistened paper towel then store at
Ferrets cannot pass infective toxoplasmosis
oocytes in their feces (Dr. Bruce Williams). To contract
Toxoplasmosis from a ferret, one would have to eat poorly
cooked ferret meat. If you are pregnant and concerned about
this disease, have your husband or SO clean the litter boxes.
Ferrets require two vaccinations: Rabies
and Canine Distemper. Only three vaccines are recognized
by the USDA as effective in ferrets. IMRAB-3 for
rabies and FERVAC-D or Merial's PureVax
(Note: PureVax is a new distemper
vaccine for ferrets that may result in fewer allergic reactions.)
The following vaccination protocol should
- Canine Distemper - Given at 8, 11 and 14 weeks, then
annually thereafter. For older ferrets with unknown vaccination
history, vaccinate twice over a two week period, then
- Rabies - Given at 3 months, then annually thereafter
Heartworms won't be discussed here.
Extensive detail on heartworms in ferrets can be found
Generally, worms are not a problem in
ferrets but there are exceptions.
Tapeworms are occasionally seen in ferrets. These
are carried by fleas, though they are not acquired by
the flea's bite. The flea has to be swallowed by
the ferret, such as when they chew at the itch the flea
bite causes. Tapeworm segments in the ferret's stool
will look like white grains of rice and one can often see them
wiggling around. Tapeworms are not particularly harmful, but should be
treated by your vet.
Ringworm is another problem seen in ferrets and this can actually be transferred to
the ferret's human caretaker. Ringworm is not a
worm at all, but a fungus. Ringworm can cause patches of
hair loss and red or flaky patches of skin. Sometimes
the red area will be in the shape of a ring, which is
where this condition gets its name. Definitive diagnosis is by a
skin scraping and culturing, which takes 7-10 days for
Treatment can be topical or via oral medication.
Litter boxes that are not kept clean
can result in worms being laid in the ferret's stool by
flies or other insects. One may then find these worms and think
they came out of the ferret when they actually appeared
after the fact. The cure for this is to
clean the litter box more frequently.
Other worms may present in ferrets,
but they are very uncommon. See your vet if you
feel your ferret may have worms.