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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.

Anemia
Blindness
Chordoma
Colds/Flu
Diabetes
Diarrhea
Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)
Dehydration
Fleas
Hair Loss on Tail
Heatstroke
Hiccups
Hypothermia During Surgery
Pemphigus
Post Op Care
Prolapsed Rectum
Spleen Enlargement
Ticks
Toxoplasmosis
Vaccination Protocol
Worms

 

ANEMIA

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 HERE.

Blindness

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.

Chordoma

"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 the ferret. 

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.

Colds/FLU

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

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 are needed.

Diarrhea

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.

DIC

Disseminated Intravascular 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 sepsis."

DEHYDRATION

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

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.

heatstroke

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 heatstroke. 

Ferrets 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.

Ferrets 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.

Heat stroke 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.

Provide 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.

If you 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. 

CONTACT YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY.

Hiccups

"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.

Pemphigus

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 threatening hernia.

- Dr. Charles Weiss

PROLAPSED RECTUM

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 needed.

SPLEEN ENLARGEMENT

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 a spleen.

Ticks

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:

  1. 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 paper towel.

  2. Place the tips of tweezers or edges of other removal devices around the area where the mouthparts enter the skin.

  3. 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.

  4. After removal, place the tick directly into a sealable container. Disinfect the area around the bite site using standard procedures.

  5. 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 refrigerator temperature.

TOXOPLASMOSIS

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.

VACCINATION PROTOCOL

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 for distemper.

(Note: PureVax is a new distemper vaccine for ferrets that may result in fewer allergic reactions.)

The following vaccination protocol should be followed:

  • 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 annually thereafter.
  • Rabies - Given at 3 months, then annually thereafter

Worms

Heartworms won't be discussed here.  Extensive detail on heartworms in ferrets can be found HERE.

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 the results.  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.

hookworm roundworm whipworm

Related Photos

Kit with prolapsed rectum. Kit with prolapse - Click to enlarge

Dr. Cottrell is showing  the length of Hades, the ferret from which this huge spleen was just removed. Enlarged spleen - Click to enlarge