What you need to know about Ferret health
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What you need to know about Ferret health

Ferrets make great pets; they are cheeky, intrepid and utterly lovable... they are though prone to certain health issues and in order to keep your ferret in tip top condition you need to understand what exactly these are. Some health problems need to be guarded against as they are particular weaknesses. This article sets out to alert you to what these are and what you may do about them.

Canine Distemper

Whilst ferrets do not have a problem with dogs on a social level, they are however highly susceptible to canine distemper. This disease falls into the ‘guard against’ category as it is fatal. So what are the symptoms?

  • Canine distemper will begin to present in the ferret 7 to 10 days after exposure to the virus. At this point the ferret will have a distinct loss of appetite and an infected discharge from both their eyes and nostrils.
  • Within 10 to 12 days a rash will appear around the chin and in the groin area. The footpads will also become thickened.
  • If your ferret does contract this disease then you will need to have them euthanized to prevent unnecessary suffering and to limit the spread – ideally they should not be allowed to reach stage two.

There is no treatment for this disease and the ferret will die within 3 to 3 ½ weeks if there is no intervention. So you need to vaccinate to gain immunity when the ferret is young. It is recommended that this happens at about the age of 6 to 8 weeks - you should speak to your veterinary about this for further clarification.

Heat Periods

Female ferrets, unless intended for breeding, should be spayed at around 6 to 8 months. The reason for this is because when a ferret comes into heat they can remain in that state for as long as 160 days approx. Sustained sexual heat is dangerous to the female ferret and can bring about bone marrow suppression. In turn this can induce severe anaemia.

Action required

Take your female ferret to the veterinary – they can be taken out of heat by the use of an injected hormone. After this you need to wait for signs of genitalia regressing before you can have the female safely spayed.

Influenza

Ferrets are susceptible to several strains of human influenza. For this reason it is best, if you can, to keep away from your ferret if you are ill. Always arrange for someone else to feed them and take care of other needs until you are better. Alternatively you can wear a mask whilst handling them.

  • Provide a quiet environment where they can rest. Keep them warm and away from drafts – but not over warm. Plenty of fluid should be encouraged.
  • Please note: Influenza can appear to be very similar to canine distemper, however in the prior case, symptoms will recede within 4 -5 days and a complete recovery should be effected

Parasites

Ferrets can be affected by almost all of the usual external parasites that affect dogs and cats. Fleas, mange and ear mites can cause disease in ferrets. If you keep ferrets alongside cats and dogs then you need to be extra careful.

  • Have your veterinary check out faecal examinations on a regular basis.
  • Appropriate treatment will be given at this point if required. It is not a good idea to use cat or dog flea collars on your ferret.

Ring worm

Most commonly passed on by infected cats. Look out for dry scaly patches on the skin. You can use cat treatments for this excluding cat collars.

Bacterial Infections

Commonly enter the blood stream through bites and other injuries where the skin is broken. Check your ferret regularly for signs of wounds and clean the area thoroughly. You may need to speak to a veterinary if the site looks inflamed or your ferret appears unwell.

Urinary Stones

Both male and female ferrets are prone to urinary stones. They can form within the kidneys and the bladder. This is potentially fatal and is always very painful so treatment is an absolute must. Look out for:

  • Signs of blood in the urine.
  • Vomiting.
  • Listlessness.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • A swollen and painful abdomen.

Heat Stroke

Whilst this is mainly a summer problem it can also happen in the winter – the better insulated your home is the more likely you will be to come across a prostrate ferret... The problem arises because ferrets do not have sweat glands. This compromises their ability to maintain a ‘safe’ body temperature.

  • Keep ferrets in temperatures below 80% Fahrenheit.
  • If the temperature does rise and your ferret collapses then remove them to a cool – but not cold – place and mist them very lightly with cool water.
  • Stay with them until they show signs of recovery.
  • Try to prevent heat stroke rather than treat it – a ferret can occasionally die from shock even after it shows signs of having recovered. Never let your ferret go without water in any weather conditions but beware that in the summer they may well drink a lot more. Keep them out of direct sunlight and make sure that at least part of their housing is in cool shade.

Cataracts

Cataracts are a particular weakness in ferrets. They make no distinction between male or female ferrets. Neither do they affect the old more than the young. Behaviour may change as eyesight begins to fail. The ferret may display a lack of confidence or become more nervous than normal, speak to your veterinary about this. try to maintain things in an order that the ferret can become used to as often they adjust very well to being non-sighted.

Finally you should treat your ferret to a regular manicure. Their claws grow long and sharp. Apart from anything else they can become painful for the ferret and occasionally they can catch in furniture and tear. It is possible to learn how to do this yourself but always in the first instance visit your veterinary for help and advice on how best to carry out the procedure.

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