Always have an initial physical exam performed by your vet on any newly acquired ferret. During the exam, the veterinarian will check the teeth, eyes, ears, heart, lungs and will palpate the abdomen. Your ferret will also need appropriate vaccinations. It is also recommended to have your ferret checked for internal parasites (a fecal exam) and ear mites (an ear smear). Your ferret will need to return to the vet once a year for a physical exam and for vaccine booster shots. Additionally, if you are adding a new ferret to an established ferret household, a quarantine (separate cages) period of at least 2 weeks is a good idea. This will lessen the stress of the introduction and reduce the chances that the new ferret will give your existing ferret a parasite or disease.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS:
Foreign Body: Young ferrets tend to eat things that they shouldn’t – especially when they are not being supervised. The intestinal tract may become fully or partially blocked by the consumed item and cause a serious medical emergency that will require surgery. Favorite edibles are items like: remote control buttons, felt or rubber padding, rubber soled shoes and shoe linings, small plastic toys and their parts, foam or stuffing from stuffed animals or pillows, cherry pits and any other small item made out of these materials. We also see hairballs in older ferrets that will cause a blockage and can require surgery to remove them.
Influenza: Ferrets can contract the human influenza virus. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, fever and lethargy. There is no treatment for the virus, but sometimes very young or very old ferrets will benefit from supportive care while the virus “runs its course”. Treatment may include antibiotics and fluid therapy if the ferret has stopped eating.
ECE or “Green Slime Disease”: ECE is a virus that ferrets pass to one another via any contact. It is extremely contagious. Symptoms include explosive diarrhea (possibly green), lethargy and the ferret will have a history of contact with a new ferret. Again, because ECE is a virus there is no real treatment for it, but most ferrets benefit from supportive care with fluids, anti-diarrheals and antibiotics. This virus can be extremely dangerous in young and older ferrets and can even cause liver disease or death. If you suspect that your ferret may have ECE call your veterinarian for advice immediately.
A ferret is considered geriatric around 4 years of age. It is recommended that at this age, in addition to yearly vaccinations, you have yearly blood work run on your ferret to better evaluate its health. Your veterinarian may also recommend increasing the frequency of visits to a 6-month basis for exams because we see a lot more health problems in ferrets after the age of 4.
Adrenal Disease: Adrenal disease is another common ailment of American ferrets. The most common sign/symptom is hair loss. The adrenal glands produce hormones that help the ferret in many areas including glucose control, muscle development and sex hormone regulation. Tumors of glands can occur at any age but most commonly in the older ferret. The exact cause of the disease is unkown but many speculate it may be due to diet, early neuter, and /or un-natural light cycles. Additionally, adrenal disease is less commonly seen in ferrets bred outside the US. In our breeding program we attempt to address many of these issues by feeding raw/whole prey, late neuter, and have imported some of our stock to introduce lines that have not shown evidence of the disease.
Insulinoma: Insulinomas are the most common neoplasm in the ferret. These tumors that occur in the pancreas secrete insulin which is a hormone that causes glucose (blood sugar) to be forced into the cells of the body thereby causing the blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels(hypoglycemia). Often occuring after the age of 3, signs/symptoms include weakness, seizures, excess salivation, and even coma. Normal blood sugar levels are between 90-120 and a glucose less than 70 is generally considered diagnostic for insulinoma.