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Ferret Care

By: Dr. Lani Steinohrt

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Female ferrets that are not actively breeding must be spayed. If they go into "heat," they won't go out of heat until they are bred. During this period of heat, the influence of the female hormones on the marrow of their bones will cause a very serious and often fatal disease (Pancytopenia). With the implementation of early spays before being sold to pet stores; this problem is not as frequently seen. Be sure to have your ferrets' spay status checked by a ferret veterinarian. Ferrets should receive a health examination on an annual basis until they are 3 or 4 years of age. Twice yearly examinations are recommended thereafter due to the high incidence of metabolic disease, cardiac disease and cancer.

Ferrets are prone to the deadly canine distemper virus. Nearly 100 percent of all ferrets that contract this virus will die. Kits should receive a series of vaccines 3 to 4 weeks apart beginning at 6 weeks of age and ending after they are 14 weeks old. They should be vaccinated annually after their "kit" vaccine series. A rabies vaccine should also be administered on an annual basis. Only certain vaccines are safe and approved for use in ferrets. Be sure your veterinarian is familiar with the unique needs of your pet. An anaphylactic-like reaction (vomiting, diarrhea and occasionally difficulty breathing) may occur with the repeated (booster) distemper vaccination. As a precaution, your veterinarian may request that your ferret remain at the clinic for a period of time after the vaccine has been given. This way, appropriate treatment may be instituted if your pet has an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Ferrets are susceptible to heartworm disease and should be put on prevention. Your veterinarian may make a liquid suspension of the heartworm prevention, or use the cat approved heartworm prevention. These products should be given orally every 30 days. Also, ferrets do get fleas, and your veterinarian can suggest a safe flea product to use on your ferret.

In comparison to dogs and cats, gastrointestinal parasites are uncommon in ferrets. Nonetheless routine fecal examinations should be performed. Be sure to provide a fresh sample of your pets' feces for your veterinarian to test.

Frequent brushing of your ferrets' teeth is recommended. Do not use human toothpaste products; these will make your ferret sick. Use products formulated for cats. Most ferrets don't like fish products, so avoid the tuna flavor.

Your ferret can catch the human common cold. During the flu season, use common sense in avoiding the spread of the common cold.

Common Diseases and Disorders

  • Adrenal gland disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • ECE ("green slime disease")
  • Gastrointestinal foreign bodies
  • Helicobacter mustelae gastritis
  • Insulinoma
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Lymphoma
  • Hyperestrogenism
  • Ectoparasites

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