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Ferret FAQ [4/5] - Health Care

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Archive-name: pets/ferret-faq/part4
Last-modified: 19 Jan 1998
Posting-Frequency: monthly (around the 20th)
Version: 4.0
URL: http://www.ferretcentral.org/faq/

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
FERRET FAQ (part 4 of 5) -- HEALTH CARE
Compiled and edited by Pamela Greene <pamg@alumni.rice.edu>
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed!

This document is copyright 1994-1998 by Pamela L. Greene.  See section
0.5 (in Part 1, About Ferrets and This FAQ) for authorship information
and redistribution rights.  In short, you can give it away, but you
can't charge for it or include it in any for-profit work without
permission.

The basic Ferret FAQ has five parts, all of which should be available
wherever you obtained this one.  Most people will want to look at
parts 1 through 4, and perhaps skim part 5.  A complete table of
contents for all five files is given in Part 1.  Please at least read
section 0 in Part 1, About this FAQ.  In addition, there are separate
FAQ's for several common ferret diseases.  Information about those is
given in section [1.1].

Please note: I am not a ferret expert, and I did not write, nor did I
independently verify, all the information in this file.  I have done
my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot
guarantee that what is contained in this file, whether written by me
or by one of the contributors, is correct, or even that following the
advice herein won't be harmful to you or your ferret in some way.  For
advice from an expert, you may wish to consult one of several books
available, or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem,
a veterinarian who is familiar with the treatment of ferrets.


Subject: CONTENTS OF THIS FILE Part 4: HEALTH CARE 9. *** Basic health care *** (9.1) Do I need to spay/neuter my pet? How about descenting? Declawing? (9.2) What vaccinations will my ferret need, and when? (9.3) Can I vaccinate my own ferrets? (9.4) What kind of checkups should my ferret be having? (9.5) What should I look for when I check over my ferret myself? (9.6) Do I need to brush my ferret's teeth? (9.7) Is my ferret overweight (or underweight)? What can I do? (9.8) Are ferrets really as prone to disease as it seems? (9.9) How do I contact Dr. Williams? I hear he'll help with diagnoses. (9.10) What special needs do older ferrets have? 10. *** Problems to watch for and related information *** (10.1) What warning signs of disease should I look for? (10.2) Why does my ferret scratch so much? (10.3) What do I do for my ferret's prolapsed rectum? (10.4) My ferret's had funny-looking stools for a few days. What's wrong? (10.5) What is that huge bruised-looking or orangish patch? (10.6) My ferret is going bald (tail only or all over). (10.7) What are these little (black oily)/(red waxy)/(orange crusty) spots on my ferret's tail/skin? (10.8) How well do ferrets handle heat? What about cold? (10.9) How can I get rid of these fleas? (10.10) How do I tell if my ferret has ear mites? What do I do about them? (10.11) Do I need to worry about heartworms? (10.12) Is there an animal poison control hotline? - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 9. *** Basic health care ***
Subject: (9.1) Do I need to spay/neuter my pet? How about descenting? Declawing? Ferrets intended as pets must be neutered or spayed. Neutering drastically reduces the odor of a male, prevents him from marking his territory with smelly slime, and makes him less aggressive (males in season may kill other ferrets, even females). Spaying saves a female's life, since once she goes into heat she will need to be bred or she will almost certainly die of anemia. However, many people disagree with the common practice of performing the surgery at a very early age, and prefer to wait until the ferret is at least six months old and has reached nearly full size. It should be done before the first time the ferret would go into heat, but apart from that there's no rush. A female can be spayed even after she goes into heat, but if she's been in heat for a month or more, your vet should do a blood test before the surgery. Females can be brought out of heat without becoming pregnant with a hormone injection or by breeding with a vasectomized male, either of which will lead to a false pregnancy which will last long enough to let her be spayed. Neither one is a good long-term solution, though. Breeding ferrets is difficult and time-consuming. Before even thinking about breeding, you should have owned ferrets for some years, be a member of a ferret organization, and find out as much about it as you can. The actual mating is rather violent, and jills tend to have problems giving birth, producing milk, and so forth. If you're serious about breeding, talk to someone who has first. You'll need to have more than one whole male available (in case your female goes into heat when your male isn't) and more than one breeding female available (in case you need a foster mom because your jill has milk problems) -- and be prepared to lose some or all of the kits and perhaps the mom too. Grim, but true. To learn more about breeding or where to find a good breeder, get a sample copy of the Breeder's Digest by sending $2.75 to P.O. Box 2371, Leesburg, VA 22075. There's debate about whether descenting ferrets is necessary or useful, and some belief that it's harmful. It's bad for a ferret's health to descent it before 6 or 7 weeks of age, and it may be somewhat harmful when done at any age. Many people feel that the procedure accomplishes no purpose; that is, that neutered ferrets who aren't spraying smell the same whether or not they've been descented. Note that, like a skunk, a ferret will use its scent if it's greatly distressed or feeling amorous, but ferrets can't spray their scent as effectively as a skunk, it doesn't smell as bad, and it dissipates in just a few seconds. How often a ferret sprays and how bad it smells depend on the individual ferret, and different people have different tolerances for the scent, so if given the option you may want to wait and see if you think descenting is necessary in your particular case. Most pet stores sell neutered and descented kits. Many breeders sell kits which have been neutered but not descented. Ferrets have nails like dogs, not retractable claws like cats, and declawing them is more difficult that it is for a cat. I have only ever heard of a handful of declawed ferrets; most of them are doing well, but a few had long-term problems from the surgery. Many people feel very strongly that ferrets should never be declawed, and nearly everyone agrees that declawing should be done only as a last resort, when non-surgical solutions to the problems [5.2] have failed. Still, a few people support declawing, and in the end, it's a decision you and your vet will have to make for yourselves.
Subject: (9.2) What vaccinations will my ferret need, and when? Fervac-D or Fromm-D canine distemper vaccine The manufacturer recommends shots (1 ml subcutaneously) at 8, 11, and 14 weeks. (Some vets recommend four shots, three weeks apart, instead. Two is not enough.) Then a yearly booster shot. Although rabies gets more press, the canine distemper vaccine is much more important for your ferret's health. Adults who have never been vaccinated, or whose vaccination status is unknown, should get two canine distemper shots, three weeks apart, then yearly boosters. If you know they've been vaccinated within the last year, then one shot is enough. If you can't get Fervac-D or Fromm-D, or if your ferret has reacted to them in the past, Galaxy-D is an acceptable third choice. If you can't get either of these, you're taking the risk that your ferret won't be protected, or worse, that he'll become sick from the vaccine. At least be sure that it's a vaccine for canine distemper which is a MODIFIED LIVE virus and was NOT cultured in ferret tissue. Chick embryo culture is best. Imrab-3 rabies vaccine One subcutaneous vaccination at 14-16 weeks, separated from the distemper vaccines by 2-3 weeks, then boosters yearly. This is the same rabies vaccine that's used for dogs and cats, so your vet should have it around. It's good for three years in cats, but only one year in ferrets, mainly because the company hasn't done tests to see how long it lasts in ferrets. This is the only rabies vaccine approved for ferrets. Comments Ferrets do not need to be vaccinated for feline distemper or parvo. They don't need a 5-way dog vaccine. They can contract Bordatella (a common cause of kennel cough in dogs), but it's very rare, and the effectiveness of the vaccine is unknown in ferrets. Don't vaccinate for it unless you'll be boarding your ferrets at a kennel, and possibly not even then. The intranasal Bordatella vaccine has been known to give ferrets the disease. It's best to give the distemper and rabies vaccines be spaced a couple of weeks apart, since giving them at the same time seems to increase the chances of an adverse reaction (see below). If you want to change a ferret's vaccination schedule, for instance to move all your pets to the same schedule, you can safely give another vaccination as long as it's been at least a month since the last one. Most states don't recognize the rabies vaccine for ferrets, because official studies of virus shedding time in ferrets are yet to be done. This means that even if your ferret is vaccinated, it may be destroyed if someone reports to the authorities that they were bitten. However, having the vaccination may keep the person from reporting a bite in the first place, and of course it will protect your ferrets from getting rabies. (Even closely watched ferrets do occasionally escape [8.9].) Vaccine reactions Like any other animals, ferrets occasionally have adverse reactions to vaccinations, typically on the second or third exposure to a particular vaccine. Reactions are rare, and giving the rabies and distemper vaccinations two weeks apart is thought to reduce the chance, but they can be life-threatening. There are several kinds of vaccine reactions. The most dangerous, anaphylactic reactions, usually occur within an hour after the vaccination. You may want to stay at your vet's for 30-60 minutes after a vaccination, just in case. Watch for vomiting, diarrhea or loss of bladder/bowel control; signs of nausea or dizziness; dark bluish-purple blotches spreading under the skin; difficulty breathing; pale or bright pink gums, ears, feet or nose; seizures, convulsions, or passing out; or anything else that's alarming -- bad reactions are hard to miss. Get the ferret back to the vet right away, probably for a shot of antihistamine (Benadryl) and perhaps a corticosteroid or epinephrine. Ferrets who have had mild to moderate anaphylactic reactions to a particular vaccine can be pre-treated with an antihistamine the next time, or you might consider switching to a different vaccine (from Fervac to Galaxy or the other way, for instance). If your ferret had a severe reaction, you and your vet can discuss the relative dangers of leaving that ferret unvaccinated. Most delayed reactions aren't dangerous. You might notice the ferret acting tired, showing flu-like symptoms, or possibly even vomiting a little within a day or two after the vaccination. As long as the symptoms don't last longer than a day and don't seem too extreme, there's no need to worry. If the ferret has trouble breathing, is more than a little lethargic, or shows other worrisome symptoms, call or visit your vet. Antihistamines don't help much with delayed reactions, but your vet might suggest pre-treating the ferret next time anyway, in case it helps. Jeff Johnston, an epidemiologist (though not specifically for ferrets), comments: One thing that isn't proven but is worth a try is to give your ferret the contents of a small-dose vitamin E capsule (say, 100 IU) a few days before the injection. Vitamin E in large doses suppresses inflammatory responses (also suppresses vitamin K and clotting, so, warn your vet if blood is taken for any reason). It may help blunt any reaction. Vitamin E is also fairly non-toxic, too, so 100 IU once every few months shouldn't hurt. [Don't use more than that, though; anything can be toxic in large enough doses.]
Subject: (9.3) Can I vaccinate my own ferrets? It's not recommended. Giving an injection to a squirming or nippy animal is not easy. Even experienced veterinarians with good technicians sometimes get bitten. Also, an injection in the wrong place can injure the sciatic nerve and permanently paralyze the ferret's leg; and in case of a bad reaction to the vaccine, a vet has the experience and equipment on hand which may be needed to save the ferret's life. In addition, a licensed veterinarian's signature is required for a rabies certificate to be legal. The annual trip to the vet (or semi- annual, for older ferrets) [9.4] is also the best time to have your ferrets checked for other health problems. Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds: Unfortunately, vaccination are what supports the vets - sick animals don't. The extra few dollars is what pays the help, and the electricity, what feeds the strays that are dropped off weekly to your vets, or the dogs that nobody bothers to pick up. Or the ones that are hit by cars and dropped off by Good Samaritans. However, if you have a lot of ferrets to be vaccinated, you may be able to save yourself some money by purchasing the vaccines themselves directly from the manufacturer and taking them to your vet to be used. You save on the materials, but you still get your vet's expertise. Check with your vet to see if he or she will work with you like this.
Subject: (9.4) What kind of checkups should my ferret be having? Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says: I know that some practicing vets consider a 3-year animal to be "geriatric" and to require a CBC [complete blood cell count] and a fasting blood glucose yearly, but as one who stands to make no money on this deal anyway, I don't recommend it until age 5. Three years is just too young to consider a ferret geriatric. Now, remember, all ferrets are different. If you have one that is sort of "puny", never eats well, sluggish, etc. a yearly CBC and glucose is a good idea every year. But if your three or 4 year olds are healthy, well, then it's just not required. I start mine at 5 years. Considering dental work - have your vet check the teeth and then recommend who needs it. Not every ferret will need to have it done, and if your 4 year olds have been on hard food all of their lives, chances are good that they may not need any work yet. Remember - a healthy 3- or 4-year old doesn't necessarily require any annual bloodwork, but a sickly 2 year old should get it on at least an annual basis.
Subject: (9.5) What should I look for when I check over my ferret myself? It's a good idea to give your ferrets a general check-over from time to time. This should not substitute for the annual vet visit [9.4], but you might notice something before it gets bad. Anytime you notice anything unusual, take the ferret to the vet. Start by checking your ferret's ears, which should look clean and pink. If you see wax, clean them. If the wax is black or has dark flecks, the ferret might have ear mites [10.10]. Check the cartilage for swelling or distortion. Check the ferret's eyes, which should look clear and alert, with no films or discharge. (Ferrets do have a "second eyelid" which might appear as a bluish-white rim around the edge of the eye.) Feel carefully all around the neck, throat and chin area, looking for lumps or swelling. Check the gums, which should be pink and healthy-looking, and the teeth, looking for excessive tartar or discoloration. Whiskers should be long and strong, not brittle or broken. Now hold the ferret under the front legs, with the back legs on your lap or a table. Run your hands lightly along the ferret's body, checking for lumps. You can also check muscle tone and weight this way: you should be able to feel ribs, but not see them, and the ferret should feel firm and supple, not loose, flabby or skinny. Pull gently on the ferret's legs to check for lumps or swelling on the legs, knees, or feet; the ferret should pull the legs back in. The pads should be pink and soft, with maybe a bit of callus, not irritated or cracking. Your ferret's behavior is also a good indicator of its general health. Sleeping a lot is normal, and older ferrets will slow down a bit, but they should always be curious, alert, and playful. Any change in normal habits might be a sign of a problem.
Subject: (9.6) Do I need to brush my ferret's teeth? Ferrets do get plaque and tartar buildup on their teeth. You can see it as dark patches on the cheek teeth if you gently lift the ferret's upper lip. You can help control it by brushing their teeth with a pet enzymatic toothpaste and a small cat toothbrush at least twice weekly, especially after sticky or sugary treats. The dry food most ferrets eat also helps to keep the teeth clean; ferrets eating soft food on a long-term basis will need their teeth cleaned more often. However, most tartar and plaque starts out under the gumline, and it takes a proper cleaning by a vet to get it off. The job will be easiest and most thorough if the ferret is under anesthesia [12.5] during the cleaning; ferrets tolerate isoflurane very well, and the risk from anesthesia is very slight. A professional cleaning should be done every one to three years, depending on how dirty the teeth get.
Subject: (9.7) Is my ferret overweight (or underweight)? What can I do? Ferrets come in all different sizes and body shapes. A healthy adult male is normally anywhere from 2 to more than 5 pounds (900 g to 2.25 kg), and a female from 0.75 to 2.5 lb (340 g to 1.1 kg). Ferrets, especially males, normally gain up to 40% of their weight in the winter and lose it again in the spring. Some ferrets are naturally "chunkier" than others, too. When you run your hand down your ferret's flank, you should feel his muscles ripple a bit and be able to feel the ribs, but they shouldn't stick out or feel too bony. Small "love handles" are common in the winter. If he feels soft and "mushy" or looks pear-shaped, he might be overweight, or just have poor muscle tone from insufficient exercise. If you think your ferret might be overweight, make sure he doesn't have some other health condition that makes him appear overweight. If the weight isn't evenly distributed, especially if you feel a large mass or a number of smaller masses in his abdomen, he may have an enlarged spleen. He might also have heart disease which is causing him to retain fluid in his abdomen [1.1]. Unless you are absolutely certain that he is simply overweight and does not have another condition, please take a trip to the vet just to be sure. If your ferret is indeed overweight, he needs to eat a "leaner" food and get more exercise. To reduce his calorie intake, mix his regular food with a high quality food for cats (as opposed to kittens) or Totally Ferret for Older Ferrets. You still want to keep the protein and fat content relatively high, but not quite at the top of the recommended range [6.1]. Mix the new food in gradually so he accepts it better. Of course, also reduce the number of high-calorie treats, especially sugary ones and those designed for weight gain (NutriCal, FerretVite, etc.). To give him more exercise, make sure he's not spending too much time in his cage, especially since many ferrets will eat when they're bored. Play with him as much as possible, particularly games like chase; if he enjoys going outside, consider taking him on a short walk each day. If your ferret is underweight, there's probably some underlying medical condition. In addition to the obvious diarrhea and vomiting, many diseases can cause loss of muscle mass, especially in the hind end. If your ferret seems to be eating and he's still underweight, take him to a vet to find out what's wrong. On the other hand, perhaps he hasn't been eating because he's been nauseated, congested from a cold or allergies, or stressed from some change in the environment. He might not like a new food, or the bag he's been eating from might have spoiled. If he isn't eating and you've recently changed something, try changing it back; if that doesn't work, get him to a vet right away. "Duck Soup" [12.8] and other things [12.7] have been suggested as good ways to put weight back on a recovering ferret or to help persuade a ferret to eat.
Subject: (9.8) Are ferrets really as prone to disease as it seems? No, in fact they're pretty hardy animals. It's always worth knowing what signs of disease to look for, and every species has common problems that tend to crop up in elderly individuals, but most ferrets go for years without even catching a cold. A lot of the discussion about ferrets on alt.pets.ferrets, rec.pets and the Ferret Mailing List (FML) [1.3] deals with health problems, and it's easy to get the incorrect impression that ferrets are constantly ill. As Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, puts it: Ferrets are no more prone to disease than other animals. However, they do have a much shorter lifespan, so these problems come up an a more frequent basis. Plus, most of us own anywhere between two and fifteen animals, and many own more than this, or run shelters. When you are dealing with such large numbers of animals, you will have proportionately more health problems. Also, the FML also has several vets that give health advice. We are well known as a place where you can get a prompt response to a question about the health of your animal, and several of us also are involved with the health care of many of the animals which you read about. Another thing to consider is that many of the FMLers live in areas where vets are not very familiar with ferrets and their diseases, so the FML is a good place to get a second opinion or advice for their vets. I field anywhere from 3-8 phone calls daily [9.9] on ferret matters from veterinarians around the country. Any type of animal that you may obtain as a pet will have predisposition to disease. Ferrets should be expected to get diseases of their own, too. But as most people on the FML will tell you, the benefits are far more than the risks.
Subject: (9.9) How do I contact Dr. Williams? I hear he'll help with diagnoses. Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, is a ferret expert who works at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. He also operates a pathology lab, AccuPath, on his own time. He can be contacted at <AccuPath@primenet.com> (new address as of 9 Sept 1997) or <williams@afip.mil>. Please include your phone number in your email, since complex questions are often easier to answer by phone. There is no consultation fee, but he says, "Due to the number of calls that I receive, I must reverse [phone] charges when contacting ferret owners and their veterinarians." Tissues of all kinds can be sent to Dr. Williams at AccuPath for low-cost, expert examination with a short turnaround time. Email <accupath@primenet.com> for more information.
Subject: (9.10) What special needs do older ferrets have? [This information was provided by Sukie Crandall.] The age at which a ferret should be considered "senior" varies from one ferret to the next. Some 5-year-olds are as active as they were at three, while others are settling into ferret retirement. Pretty much every ferret is an oldster by 7, though many do very well for several more years. There are three big things you need to take into consideration for older ferrets: physical health, diet, and mental health. First, get a full medical checkup for your ferret, including full blood work. Depending on the results, you might want to start getting checkups every six months. Although older ferrets sometimes have trouble eating dry food, you might not want to eliminate crunchy food, since that will keep your ferret's gums and teeth healthy. Some people swear by Totally Ferret for Older Ferrets. There's no reason you can't supplement the dry food with something like one of the "Duck Soups" [12.8]. Be sure that your ferret has a lot to do, plenty of of old knotted-up socks to stash (at which point you must, of course, move them to continue the game), tubes and so on. Play with him as much as you can each day, and provide him with things to keep him interested and alert. These can be anything from culinary herbs in a box to dig up and roll in, to tricks, to some easy barriers to defeat. Exercise is good! Mental exercise is, too. Older ferrets often seem to need a bit more direct attention than young ones so try to set aside some time just for your ferret every day. Even if your ferret is ill, give him a bit of self-sovereignty, too. Having someone else control all your choices makes life a drag for anyone. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 10. *** Problems to watch for and related information ***
Subject: (10.1) What warning signs of disease should I look for? An outline of noninfectious, parasitic, infectious, and cancerous health problems in the pet ferret is also available [11.2.4], as are brief explanations of some of the more common ones [11.1]. NOTE: I am not a veterinarian. I haven't even owned ferrets very long. (Dr. Bruce Williams, on the other hand, -is- a vet and ferret expert.) The following is by no means a comprehensive list of symptoms of disease in ferrets. However, some of the more common problems are often accompanied by these symptoms. If you notice one of these, or any other unusual behavior, see your vet. ALSO: Ferrets are small. While they generally enjoy good health, any kind of disease or disorder can be fatal in a surprisingly short time, so if you suspect a problem, see your vet immediately. Lethargy, lack of playfulness, loss of appetite, dull/glassy eyes, etc. Symptomatic of a number of problems. Lack of bowel movement If your ferret has gone longer than usual without using the litter pan (or some other corner) productively, he may have an intestinal blockage. Certainly by the time it's been 24 hours you should go to the vet immediately. Note that a ferret can continue to defecate for as much as a day even with a blockage, since there's still waste in the intestines to be eliminated. Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds: More often than not, [the cause of a lack of bowel movement] is a lack of food intake for some other reason. Ferrets generally go to the litter three or four times a day. Owners should look for adequate stools, although some may be a little loose. Also look for string-like stools. Ferrets with intestinal blockages can continue to pass stool which is very thin- like a pencil lead. But adequate ferret-proofing [5.1] is much more important than stool-watching. Swollen or painful abdomen Bloating may come from many problems such as heart disease, splenic enlargement, or even just fat animals. Pain could be from any of several disorders, but the most common is an intestinal blockage, caused by eating something indigestible such as a sponge or an eraser. Not all blockages cause abdominal pain, though. Change in "bathroom" habits Suddenly refusing to use a litter pan or missing a lot more than usual, signs of discomfort or distress while using a pan, or any funny color or texture in the feces [10.4] or urine could be a sign of any of a number of problems. Stress, perhaps from a change in environment, can also cause this. Lumps on the body or feet These may be cysts or infections, or they might be associated with a tumor, usually benign but sometimes malignant. They can also be a sign of dietary problems or a vaccine reaction. Have any swelling or lump checked out and probably removed by your vet, and have anything that's removed sent to a pathologist. For more information, see the Ferret Medical FAQ on Skin Tumors [1.1]. Difficulty using the hind feet, awkward gait, lack of movement Most often a sign of an adrenal or islet cell tumor (insulinoma), or arthritis, in older ferrets. Could also be an injured back, the result of having been stepped or sat upon, closed in a door, or the like. Ferrets have very flexible spines, but they're easily injured. Says Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, about hind-end awkwardness: This is a common finding in older animals of many species - the most common cause is a mild degeneration of the nerves in the spinal cord or those innervating the legs. In most of these cases, there is nothing to be done, but it also rarely results in paralysis, just variable amounts of weakness. Overheating Ferrets do not tolerate high temperatures well at all. They (like any pet) should NEVER be left in a hot car, and if you're keeping them outdoors be sure to provide some shade and plenty of water in summer. Allowing them to sleep under hot radiators is probably also a bit risky. Temperatures as low as the 80's can be life-threatening to ferrets without shade and cool water [10.8]. Loose skin and dull eyes Generally caused by dehydration, which is quite serious in such a small animal. Get your ferret to drink more, take him to a vet for subcutaneous fluids, and look for the underlying cause. Unexplained hair loss Not the usual seasonal shedding, which should happen twice a year (but the times may vary due to indoor lighting conditions), but a severe loss, especially if more than the tail is affected [10.6]. Seizures It's pretty obvious that these indicate some kind of problem. Most often the result of insulinomas in the pancreas causing extremely low blood sugar, but there are many other causes too. Diarrhea [10.4] This can be serious, since ferrets are easily dehydrated. Diarrhea may be caused by milk products, which contain lactose that ferrets do not tolerate well, or by a number of diseases. A green or orange color or a bit of mucus just means the food didn't spend the usual amount of time in the digestive system, not that it's necessarily ECE (Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis, or the "Green Diarrhea Virus"), but for more information on that, see the Ferret Medical FAQ on ECE [1.1]. One thing you can try for mild cases, especially after consulting your veterinarian, is Pepto Bismol. Most ferrets don't like the taste of the liquid, but you can give them 1/15th of a tablet crushed up in food instead. A compounding pharmacist can also prepare the medication in Pepto Bismol in a different suspension to minimize or mask the taste. Call 1-800-331-2498 to locate the nearest compounding pharmacist. Dr. Mike Dutton suggests the prescription anti-diarrheal medication Amforol for cases that Pepto Bismol doesn't help. Vomiting Ferrets do sometimes vomit from excitement, stress, a change of diet, or overeating, but if it's repetitive or if there are any signs of blood, get to a vet. During shedding season ferrets may "spit up" a bit due to hair in the throat. This can be helped with Petromalt [6.2]. Sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, lethargy Yes, ferrets catch human flu. They'll generally rest and drink a lot. A visit to the vet would probably be a good idea, particularly if the flu looks bad or lasts more than a few days. According to Dr. Susan Brown, "The antihistamine product Chlor-Trimeton may be used at 1/4 tablet 2 times daily for sneezing that may interfere with sleeping or eating." Broken tooth If only the tip is broken, the tooth may discolor slightly, but it's nothing to worry about. A more extensive break will cause pain, a definite unhealthy look to the tooth, and possibly gum problems, and should be treated (probably root canal or removal) by a vet or a veterinary dentist. Persistent hacking or coughing An occasional cough might be caused by dust or swallowed fur, and can be treated with a bit of cat hairball preventative. A cough from a cold can be treated with children's cough medicine; ask your vet for a recommendation and dosage. A persistent cough is most likely a respiratory infection, probably viral. A fever, yellow or green discharge from the eyes or nose, or congestion indicate a bacterial infection. In either case, see a vet. Another possibility is cardiomyopathy. For more information, see the Ferret Medical FAQ on Cardiomyopathy [1.1]. Swollen vulva In an unspayed female, she's probably going into heat, especially if it's springtime. For young spayed ferrets, under 18 months or so, the most common problem is pieces of the ovary that were missed in the spaying and have begun to produce hormones. These pieces might be scattered around the abdomen. For older ferrets, however, by far the most common cause of a swollen vulva is adrenal disease, usually cancer. For more information, see the Ferret Medical FAQ on Adrenal Disease [1.1]. Return to whole male behavior (in a neutered male) The most common reason for a neutered male to try to mate, dribble urine or mark his areas, become aggressive, or have erections is unusual hormone production caused by adrenal disease. For more information, see the Ferret Medical FAQ on Adrenal Disease [1.1]. Other possibilities include cryptorchidism (a testicle which never descended into the scrotum and so wasn't removed) or bladder stones. The treatment for any of these is surgery.
Subject: (10.2) Why does my ferret scratch so much? Ferrets just seem to be itchy little critters, and a certain amount of scratching is normal. Even waking up from deep sleep for a "scratching emergency" is normal. However, itching can also be a sign of several problems. If it's fleas, you'll probably see fleas or "flea dust" (bits of dried blood) if you look closely [10.9]. Other possibilities include mites, bacterial or fungal infections, dry skin, allergies to food or cleaning supplies, or poor nutrition. Excessive itching can be a sign of serious illness, including adrenal disease [1.1], so see a vet if you're at all concerned. In some cases, an appropriate dose of children's Benadryl can help an itchy ferret, but please use this only under the supervision of a qualified vet.
Subject: (10.3) What do I do for my ferret's prolapsed rectum? Diarrhea, constipation, irritation from surgery (especially descenting), and other things can cause a ferret to strain more when defecating, which in turn can push a portion of the rectum out the ferret's anus. It's similar to hemorrhoids, but the particular tissue that leads to hemorrhoids in humans doesn't exist in ferrets. If only a small portion of tissue (1-3 mm) is protruding, a softened diet and creams such as Preparation H can help. If there are any other symptoms (constipation, pain, diarrhea, redness or swelling), or if more than 3 mm (about 1/8 inch) is showing, have a vet look at it.
Subject: (10.4) My ferret's had funny-looking stools for a few days. What's wrong? Maybe nothing. If there are no stools at all, though, he may have an intestinal blockage. According to Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM: Ferrets occasionally have dietary "indiscretions" and may get hold of something that is not particularly to the GI tract's liking. They may get loose or discolored stools, and if no groceries are going in for a day or so, their stools will lose volume and may become somewhat thin. As long as they are playing and acting okay, they can usually tolerate this for 48-72 hours. If it goes on any longer than this, or their play/sleep cycles become affected, then it's off to the vet for a check. Most problems resolve within 72 hours on their own. If it doesn't, then there may be a problem. (However watch for dark tarry stools - they are more than just discolored and indicate GI bleeding. If you ever see these - go see your vet. Likewise for profuse green diarrhea.) A one- to two-week course of Laxatone is also a good idea following changes in stools. If there is some foreign matter in the intestine, it will help it move along, and, at any rate, it won't hurt. I caution everyone - don't throw out those abnormal stools without going through them (pick them apart in a bowl of water) and seeing if there is any foreign material in them. It may sound "gross", but it can tell you if your ferret is eating something it shouldn't. Dr. Charles Weiss, DVM, adds that GI parasites such as giardia and coccidia can sometimes be the cause, though it's not common; and even lymphosarcoma may cause funny-looking stools. Both of those will generally present other symptoms, too, though.
Subject: (10.5) What is that huge bruised-looking or orangish patch? If your ferret was recently shaved for some reason or just finished shedding [8.4], it's probably the tips of the new fur growing in. Dark-colored ferrets look bluish-black, and albinos and other light-colored ferrets often look orange. Wait a day or two, and you should see the stubble start to poke through the skin.
Subject: (10.6) My ferret is going bald (tail only or all over). Hair loss on just the tail is generally nothing to worry about. It can be caused by stress, such as a change of environment or the arrival of a new animal in the household. Even the normal seasonal coat change [8.4] can be enough stress to make your ferret's tail go completely bald, and sometimes it will take several months for the fur to grow back. Often this seasonal "rat tail" shows up with tiny black spots [10.7]. If your ferret is losing hair other places, there's something wrong. Apart from shedding, by far the most common cause of hair loss in ferrets of any age is adrenal-associated endocrinopathy, a serious, but treatable, disease of the adrenal glands. Even if the hair comes back at the next coat change, it's probably still an adrenal problem. There's a separate Ferret Medical FAQ for adrenal disease, which you should take a look at if you even think your ferret might have this problem [1.1]. Other possibilities include poor nutrition, fleas, a severe mite infestation, a bacterial or fungal infection, dry skin, or allergies to food, detergents, or cleaning products.
Subject: (10.7) What are these little (black oily)/(red waxy)/(orange crusty) spots on my ferret's tail/skin? Reddish-brown wax or black spots on the tail Ferrets sometimes get tiny black spots on their tails, often accompanied by a reddish-brown waxy deposit and hair loss. They look a lot like blackheads, and in fact that's probably pretty much what they are. Gentle cleaning, perhaps with a medicated cleanser (a dilute benzoyl peroxide shampoo or cream will work better than ones with coal tar or sulfur) that your vet can recommend, should help, though it may take many weeks. Often this is a seasonal problem that clears up on its own in a few months. Orange-speckled, crusty patches Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says: An orange, flaky discoloration of the skin is a very non-specific finding in the ferret. The crustiness of the skin means that the skin is not coming off in small microscopic flakes (1 to several cells at a time) like normally happens. When you see a crust - it means that the normal way that a ferret sheds devitalized epidermis [dead skin] has been impaired. As far as the cause - there is not just one cause. Many things can cause this change - skin parasites, fleas, ear mites, bacterial infections of hair follicles, fungus, endocrine disease, even distemper. Minor skin disorders such as these are more common with age. They may be exacerbated by poor husbandry, or excessive bathing (more than once per week to ten days.) Most cases are due to a very superficial bacterial infection which will respond well to a weekly application of a gentle bactericidal shampoo. Other tests that can be done at the time of diagnosis by your vet would include a skin scraping and fungal culture. Should all tests turn up negative, and a four-week course of topical therapy not help, then the next step would be biopsy and submission to a pathology lab for microscopic examination. Allergies are another possibility; and the area around bites, whether caused by fleas or another animal, may take on a pink or orangish color from dried blood.
Subject: (10.8) How well do ferrets handle heat? What about cold? Ferrets don't tolerate heat well at all. Even temperatures in the 80s (say, above 27 C or so) can cause problems, and older ferrets can be even more sensitive. The first thing to do, of course, is to prevent heat exposure in the first place, by providing shade and plenty of cool water. If you live in a hot climate, you must realize that your ferret will need special care in mid-summer. Never leave a ferret or any pet in a car in hot weather, even with the windows partly open. It just doesn't do enough good. There are a couple of ways to keep your ferrets cooler if you don't have air conditioning. Fans are an obvious idea, but unless you can blow in some cooler air, they don't do very much good for ferrets, who can't sweat. A plastic bottle of ice wrapped in a towel is helpful. Finally, you can drape a damp towel over your ferrets' cage, set a bucket of water on top, and drape another wet rag over the side of the bucket so one end is at the bottom of the bucket and the other is on the cage towel. The rag acts as a wick to keep the towel wet, and the cage stays cooler from evaporation. Ferrets in distress from heat will first pant, then go limp, then lose touch with their surroundings. The first thing to do is to get the ferret out of the hot place and start cooling him down slowly. Cool water is best, but not too cold, since the ferret's body temperature will drop way too far, with him unable to stop it. Anything you can get him to drink is good, but never force liquids into an unconscious animal. After these emergency measures, get your pet to the vet immediately. Even ferrets that seem to have recovered may die within 48 hours due to the massive shock they've undergone. Things to watch for include tarry stools and vomiting. On the other hand, ferrets handle cold pretty well. If they have full winter coats, they'll be perfectly happy living in a chilly room, say 60 F (15 C). They can easily handle going outdoors in cold weather, and many of them love to play in the snow. Use common sense, though. Don't take your ferrets out in really frigid (much below freezing) or wet weather, and bring them inside if they shiver too much, paw at the door, or try to climb up into your coat.
Subject: (10.9) How can I get rid of these fleas? Even if your ferrets are never outdoors, you can bring in fleas or their eggs on your shoes or clothing. There's a whole FAQ dedicated to ridding your pet and your home of fleas and ticks. It's distributed in the usenet newsgroup rec.pets. You can also get it by FTP: <URL:ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.answers/pets/fleas-ticks> (that is, ftp to rtfm.mit.edu and get the indicated file) or by sending email to <mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu> with the line SEND usenet/news.answers/pets/fleas-ticks in the body of the message (with an empty subject line). In general, most products which are safe for use on kittens are safe for ferrets. Products containing pyrethins are okay, but don't use anything containing organophosphates, carbamates, or petroleum distillates. Be especially careful with dips and sprays; shampoos are much safer. Follow the directions on the bottle carefully. Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds: You can use a premise spray around the cage, but often, the house requires bombing, too. Get a bomb from your vet which contains methoprene (a flea growth regulator). This will allow you to complete the job in just two applications - one to kill the adults and larva, the second two weeks later to get the ones that have hatched out since the first spray. (Make sure of course to remove your ferrets from the house at the time of the bombing...) Fleas can be a real nuisance - before you bomb, make sure to wash all of their bedding and vacuum carefully so you only have to do it twice.... Most insect foggers don't have a strong enough residual effect to hurt your ferrets. We routinely bomb our house for fleas and two hours later, the ferrets and dogs are romping through the house. (But I know that Siphotrol has a weak residual.) Signs of trouble - lack of appetitie, rumbling stomachs, diarrhea, vomiting, salivation, dilated pupils, stumbling. You probably won't see them, but it's nice to know what to look for... Long-term flea treatments None of the three common long-term flea treatments -- Program, Advantage, and Frontline -- have been tested on ferrets, so use them at your own risk. However, many people have been using them in ferrets successfully for some time. At least one vet prefers Advantage because it's entirely external and never makes its way into the ferret's bloodstream. Program is used at the cat dosage per pound, administered monthly. The medicine circulates in the blood and prevents fleas which have bitten the ferret from laying viable eggs. Therefore, every pet in the house should be on Program to completely break the cycle; and you may need to use this in combination with another product temporarily, to kill most of the adults. The pills can be crushed and mixed with a treat or food, or the suspension can be put directly on the food. Be sure that the right ferret gets the whole dose. It should be taken with a meal; in fact, the more food it's taken with, the more effective it will be. Have your vet call Ciba-Geigy at 800-637-0281 with questions. Advantage comes in a tube. It's applied once a month to the shoulder blades, where the ferret can't easily lick it off (but other pets could). Ferret owners report that it works very well. It's water soluble, so you shouldn't bathe your pet except right before another application, and the ferret must be completely dry before the next dose. The idea is to kill the fleas before they can lay their eggs, and hopefully before they bite. Frontline is also applied externally, and is also said to work very well. It's alcohol-based and smells a bit until it dries, but it's also water resistant. This means it may last longer than Advantage, but if your ferret should happen to have a reaction to it (which I've never heard of), getting it off could be more difficult.
Subject: (10.10) How do I tell if my ferret has ear mites? What do I do about them? Check when you clean your ferret's ears, perhaps once a month [7.5]. Reddish-brown ear wax is normal, but if you see any thick, black discharge then you probably have mites. It's also a good idea to have your vet check the ears whenever you visit. You can't catch ear mites from your pet, but your cats, dogs, and other ferrets certainly can. Dr. Williams, DVM says: Ferrets very commonly get ear mites, so you don't need to get upset. Check with your vet and get two products: a ceruminolytic (such as "Oti-Clens"), which will dissolve the wax that the mites live in. This is far preferable to trying to dig the wax out with Q-tips. Then get a good ear miticide from your vet (I use Tresaderm). Put a little of the ear cleaner (which dissolves the wax) in the ear and massage. Let it sit for about a minute. Your ferret will probably shakes its head, sending wax all over you and the floor. Use a Q-tip and gently collect the rest of the wax from the ear canal. You won't hit the ear drum, as the ferrets ear canal is roughly L-shaped - you will just be cleaning the vertical part of the canal. After you have cleaned the wax, put the ear drops [miticide] in. Make sure that the fluids that you are using are body temperature - put them in your shirt or pocket for a few minutes before using. No one likes cold water in their ears!!!! Clean every day for a week to 10 days, stop for a week, and go again for another week to take care of mites. If your problem is just dirty ears (some ferrets have a lot of wax) - just use the ear wax remover once a week. Ivermectin can be used in bad cases, either orally, injected, or directly in the ear. Today I ran across an article (Bell, JA. Parasites of Domesticated Pet Ferrets, Comp. Clin. Educ. Pract. Vet. 16(5): 617-620), which gives a dosage for topical administration of ivermectin: Injectable ivermectin is mixed with propylene glycol at a ration of approximately 1:20 - then 0.2 to 0.3 ml (4-6 drops) into each ear canal daily. Ferrets on ivermectin for heartworm prevention should not have problems with ear mites. Dr. Susan Brown, DVM says: Do not depend on the oil [used for cleaning] to completely rid your pet of mites either although it will help to suffocate them. Mites are easily taken care of by using Ivermectin directly in the ears at 0.5mg/kg divided into two doses to be used in each ear and then repeated in two weeks. You need to have a positive diagnosis of mites made by your vet and get the medication from him or her. On at least two occasions, Oterna ear mite drops from Pitman-Moore Ltd England (containing betamethasone BP, neomycin BP and monosulifiram) have caused damage to the (outer) ears of ferrets, necessitating the surgical removal of a portion of the ear. It is recommended to avoid using this medication for ear mites in ferrets, and to check other medications for those ingredients.
Subject: (10.11) Do I need to worry about heartworms? If you live in a heartworm-endemic area, yes. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquito, so generally areas with lots of mosquitos have a lot of heartworm too. Dr. Deborah W. Kemmerer, DVM, writes: My practice has been "ferret-intensive" for about nine years. I've diagnosed and treated about thirty ferrets for heartworms. Many who were not on preventive have been found to be heartworm- positive on necropsy when presented for "sudden death syndrome". In my opinion, any ferret in a heartworm-endemic area should be on preventive even if he never goes outside. The American Heartworm Society recommends Heartgard for use in ferrets. In theory this is great, but sometimes less than practical. Most ferret owners are not comfortable with giving tablets and most ferrets will not consume the entire "brick" of the canine chewable monthly tablet. The new Feline Heartgard is promising, however. In a taste test using ferret patients conducted at this hospital, we observed about 60% acceptance of the small feline chewable tablet. This will be a relief to many owners who do not enjoy administering the liquid mixture described below. If a ferret will not eat the chewable feline tablet, this is what I use as an alternative: Mix 0.3 cc's of Ivermectin 1% Injection in one ounce of propylene glycol (Ivermectin is not water-soluble). this makes a 100 microgram/ml suspension. Administer 0.1 cc per pound of body weight once monthly by mouth. We dispense the mixture in amber bottles with appropriate warnings about sunlight, and we put a two- year expiration date on it. The injection itself has a longer expiration date, so this should be adequate. I have been using this mixture since 1988. Owner compliance is very good, complications and side effects are virtually nil, and no ferret who is taking it has been diagnosed with heartworms. I do see heartworm-positive ferrets who are not taking preventive. I don't worry too much about the lack of USDA approval for ferrets, because there is virtually nothing approved for any use in ferrets with the exception of two vaccines anyway. The CITE Snap test for occult heartworms has proven to be very accurate and dependable for use in ferrets. It has shown positive results even in the face of only one or two very stunted adult worms. I cannot attest to personal experience with accuracy in any other antigen test. Dr. Kemmerer reports that in her experience, all heartworm-positive ferrets die without treatment. If your ferret tests positive for heartworm, contact Dr. Kemmerer at 352-332-4357 for information about the regimen she recommends, which she has found to give about a 75% survival rate. If your pets are on heartworm preventative, consider giving it to them all year. That removes the possibility that a worm might sneak in before you start it up again, so your pet will be safer, and won't have to have another heartworm test every spring. Just so you know, the signs of a heartworm infestation include chronic cough, lethargy, labored breathing, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, fainting, and a bluish color to the tongue, gums and lips.
Subject: (10.12) Is there an animal poison control hotline? The National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) can be reached one of two ways: either call 1-900-680-0000 ($20 for the first 5 minutes, $2.95 for each additional minute) or 1-800-548-2423 ($30 flat fee on your credit card). Give them as much information as you can: what your ferret got into, what the ingredients are, how much he ate or contacted, and how long ago it was. They also have a Web site at <http://www.napcc.aspca.org/> which offers advice on preventing animal poisoning, what to do if your pet is poisoned, and so on. == End of Part 4 == -- - Pamela Greene Ferret Central: http://www.ferretcentral.org/ Clan Lord (online game) FAQ: http://faq.clanlord.net/ This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.

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