Caring for the Aging Ferret

If you're like many ferret owners, your slinky companion ranks as your closest friend. But, unfortunately, time and age will eventually catch up to your silly playful companion. But ferrets are like people. Each is unique and not all of them age at the same rate. Your ferret may begin to experience changes in his body and behavior as early as four years of age but as late as seven. Most ferrets age gracefully, and your ferret will depend on you to make his senior years as enjoyable as his youth.

Physical Changes

Your ferret will experience physiological changes as he ages just as you will. The changes in your ferret's internal organs and body systems will occur without you being aware of them.

Aging ferrets may have weakened immune systems and be more susceptible to disease and infection. Regular checkups that involve periodic blood tests become important to detect problems such as pancreatic tumors or kidney failure, so the condition can be treated early. A health problem in an aging ferret does not carry the same grim outlook for his future as it once did. Most problems can be managed, and your ferret will likely have a good prognosis for a long, happy life.

The first visible signs of aging you may notice is that your ferret's skin sags a little as his skin loses elasticity. His muscles will begin to atrophy resulting in weight loss.

Because his sensory perception may decrease, your ferret may be unable to appreciate the same things he did as a youngster. If your ferret cannot smell or taste as well, he may not enjoy his food as much and may appear finicky. It may take more creativity on your part to provide him with food that he finds palatable. Your ferret's visual acuity may decline, or he may experience other vision-related problems. He may lose some or all of his ability to hear resulting in unresponsiveness to your call. Sudden noises or touches may startle your ferret and make him react more strongly if he is disturbed.

If your ferret has lost some of his teeth or experiences other dental problems, he may no longer be able to chew dry ferret chow, so you may have to substitute canned or moist food in his diet.

Behavioral Changes

Changes in your ferret's behavior will naturally occur as he ages. Be aware that changes such as increased thirst or inappropriate urination or defecation may indicate the onset of health problems. Visit the veterinarian to determine if the changes are simply behavioral or the sign of illness.

You may notice your older ferret sleeping more than usual or may appear lethargic. If your ferret is drastically more quiet and calm, a visit to the veterinarian is recommended to make sure low blood sugar is not the cause.

Your older ferret may not enjoy being picked up as often if he is experiencing pain or if his joints or muscles are stiff. As a result, he may seem more aloof. If your ferret suffers from a condition that decreases his ability to move or defend himself, he may react aggressively if confronted by other family pets.

Or, your ferret may become clingier as he ages, wanting to be with you every moment of the day or night. If your ferret has lost some of his sensory perception, being with his human companion may be a stabilizing influence in his daily life.

Your ferret may have more difficulty jumping up to places he likes to go such as a favorite windowsill or his hammock. You may have to provide a ramp or steps so that your ferret can continue to do the things he enjoys as he ages.

In spite of mobility problems, it will be important for your ferret to continue to exercise. Continue interactive play sessions, but increase their frequency and reduce the time length of each one. For example, if you played twice a day for 20 minutes, play four times a day for 5 or 10. If your ferret exhibits panting or labored breathing, stop the play. Have him examined by a veterinarian for a potential heart condition

Problems associated with age may make your ferret avoid the litter box. Mobility problems may prevent him from descending the basement stairs to get to the box or getting into the box, so you may have to place the box in a more accessible location or find one with lower sides. Various illnesses such as kidney problems may cause your ferret to urinate more often, which requires that you clean the box more frequently than before. If your ferret has diarrhea, for example, he may deposit his wastes without covering them.

Signs of illness may show up first in your ferret's litter box, so monitor his use of the box daily to detect problems early.

If your ferret has a condition that requires constant monitoring, keep him separated from other pets and household disturbances. Ferrets as a general rule don't like change, and this will be especially true of an ill or aging ferret. Stress can weaken your ferret's immune system and make him more susceptible to disease, so keep changes to a minimum
Occasionally, the personality of ferrets changes as they age. Although it is uncommon, your ferret may suffer from memory loss or dementia. He may appear forgetful, pace, or wander from room to room as if he is disoriented. If your geriatric ferret appears to want more attention, give it to him. If he wants to spend more time alone, allow him to. Old age is not an illness, but your ferret's old age will require special consideration from you to make it enjoyable.