Ferret Diseases - It's good to know about them!

Sick ferret

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Knowledge on certain diseases and conditions can help you recognise if there is something wrong with your fuzzy.

There are quite a few ferret diseases and conditions that fuzzbutts are susceptible to, this does not necessarily mean that your ferret will get any of them. It is just good ferret owner practice to be familiar with them…just in case.

Like always, familiarize yourself with your ferret so that if something is not right you can recognize it straight away and do something about it. The more you know your ferret the quicker you will react to something being out of whack.

Here are some ferret diseases and conditions:

  • Canine Distemper

    • This disease is fatal. It can be brought to your ferret on your shoes, hands and clothes and is extremely contagious. A ferret might experience either a sudden death or in most cases it progresses over 2 weeks.

      The symptoms include:

    • Loss of appetite 6-8 days after exposure to the virus
    • Crustiness/ discharge around the eyes
    • Rash around the chin and around belly
    • Soles/pads on feet might thicken
    • vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and severe lethargy
    • In the end the ferret might enter a coma

    • This disease can be prevented!

      As a kit your ferret should receive its first vaccine at 6-8 weeks of age and then a follow up shot at three months. After that, shots should be administered every year (at their annual check-up).

      There has been some controversy surrounding this vaccine. There have been cases (in the U.S) of ferrets going into anaphylactic shock after the vaccine was administered. This could be due to the fact that there are two types of canine distemper vaccine, one is appropriate for ferrets, the other is not. Always double check with your vet to make sure they have the right one.

      All our ferrets have had their shots when required and they are fine. I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      If you are purchasing a new ferret be sure to ask if it has had any of the shots before you get it. Sometimes pet shops will only give the first shot.

  • Rabies

    • Rabies does not currently occur in Australia (but a similar form of it called bat lyssavirus occurs in some Australian bats). In other countries around the world where Rabies is present there are vaccinations available. These are subcutaneous vaccinations that should be administered every year from 3 months of age.

  • Colds and Flu

    • These are common ferret diseases. Ferrets are susceptible to colds and flu's and can catch them off humans. If your ferret has one of these then it is best to separate it from any other ferrets as it can infect them, then the other ferrets can pass it back again to the original carrier (creating a vicious cycle).

      The symptoms of these ferret diseases include:

    • watery eyes
    • runny nose
    • coughing
    • sneezing
    • tiredness/lethargy
    • raised body temperature
    • loss of appetite

    • Treatment includes a lot of rest, sleep, and loving attention. Check on your ferret to make sure that it is drinking plenty of water ( dehydration is not good for a ferret). If the symptoms last for more than 3 days (without improvement), get worse, or the sneezing and runny nose (especially if discharge is not clear) is too excessive then see your vet .

      In order to prevent these ferret diseases make sure you keep your ferret away from infected people (or wear a face mask) and make sure you wash your hands before handling your fuzzy.

  • Cancer

    • Unfortunately, Cancer is one of the most common causes of illness and death in ferrets. Statistics suggest that approximately 70%-90% of all ferrets will develop some form of cancer in their lifetimes. Obviously the older the ferret, the more chances it has of getting cancer but it is also advisable to keep a watch out for younger ferrets.

      Make sure your ferret undergoes regular:

    • Vet check ups (annually)
    • X-rays
    • Blood tests

    • This will allow for early detection and possibly the chance of curing the disease.
      If the particular cancer discovered is not curable then there still are ways of controlling it...if it’s detected early.

  • Aplastic Anaemia

    • This is one of the ferret diseases which is common in female ferrets that are not de-sexed (jills) and non-breeding. If a female is not spayed or repeatedly bred (every time she comes into heat), then she has about 90% chance of dying from this condition.

      Unlike humans, when a female enters her cycle she does not come out of it on her own. This leads to high levels of oestrogen in the ferret’s body which after a prolonged time suppresses the production of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow. This is what leads to anaemia. Advanced cases might result in many other secondary bacterial infections. Symptoms will normally occur when the female has been in heat for 1 month or longer.

      Symptoms of this disease can include:

    • Tiredness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Swollen vulva
    • Weakness in the hind limbs
    • Hair loss
    • In some cases there may be a horrible smell and discharge out of the vulva.

    • If you think your ferret might be suffering from this disease then take it straight to the vet. If this disease is caught early then your ferret may be saved. If you leave it too late the chances of your ferret recovering are very, very, very slim.
      If you are not planning to breed your female ferret make sure you have her de-sexed! This will most probably save her life. Spay your ferret at 6-7 months of age before she even has the chance to go into heat.

  • Intestinal blockage

    • This is one of the most common causes of death in ferrets.
      Ferrets have tiny intestines; therefore if a foreign object is swallowed it is most likely going to get stuck.

      Skittles (one of our previous baby’s) had swallowed bits of a sponge and it got stuck in her intestines. She stopped eating, pooing and would vomit after drinking water. In general she looked really sick and lethargic. We took her to the vet and they put her on a drip and took x-rays. In the end she ended up passing the sponge through, but she nearly died of dehydration in the meantime.

      If you think your ferret has swallowed something that it should not have, take him/her to the vet.

      Symptoms of this condition include:

    • Lethargy
    • Loss of appetite
    • Vomiting
    • Poo might be non- existent, small in amount or black and sticky.
    • Dehydration
    • Tenderness of the abdominal area
    • Squinting eyes (lifeless looking)

    • Treatment includes x-rays (to find out where and what it is) and exploratory surgery may be necessary.

      The best preventative measure is to ferret proof your home and always keep an eye out for any dangers that may be lying around.The more you know about ferret diseases and conditions the better... you never know, you just might save your baby's life.

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