Just like a good marriage, please understand that if you get a ferret — or ferrets — they are with you for better and for worse!
They will shower you with love and affection but you, in return, must promise to look after them in the good times, and in the bad … which means your wallet might look pretty anorexic after a bout of “bad times”.
One thing you’ll discover if you have ferrets – when they get sick, it happens very quickly, and you have to be prepared to rush them to the vet immediately.
And it is VITAL that the vet is ferret knowledgeable, so please make sure you find one in your area whom you’re happy with. I’ve prepared a list of ferret savvy vets from around the world so if you need to find one, check them out HERE.
However, if you take the time to really get to know your ferret/s well, then you’ll be instantly aware of any change in their behavior or if they suddenly appear off-color, and be able to whisk them down to the vet for prompt treatment.
There are a lot of diseases which ferrets can suffer from, including a number of cancers and they have been listed in the Medical Information page. I’ve also linked the headings below which have more information in the Medical Information page for easy reference.
Things you don’t have to worry about ferrets doing are….
Shivering or trembling when waking up … that’s something they all do as they adjust their metabolic rate. Of course if you find your ferret shivering in other situations, it’s “hi ho, hi ho, off to the vet we go“!
Stretch, yawn ‘n’ slide … this is so cute. A ferret might decide it’s time for a stretch, so it’ll reach up to its full length, say, against your bed, yawn, then slide down, ending up flopped on the floor. Don’t worry – it didn’t suddenly collapse or faint – it’s just something ferrets do!
Sleeping like the dead … you can even hang some ferrets upside down when they’re asleep and they won’t wake up. Not every ferret has the dead sleep habit – some are fairly light sleepers and probably wouldn’t appreciate finding themselves hanging head down!
Having said that, I must put a caveat on that statement. Sleeping like the dead is fine if you know your ferret is healthy.
HOWEVER … if you suspect your ferret has insulinoma and you find your ferret sleeping like the dead, then that is not good.
If that happens, get some karo syrup or honey and rub it on your ferret’s gums because if you don’t, your ferret could just slip away in its sleep.
Click here if you need to find out more about Insulinoma.
Scratching … some ferrets tend to scratch themselves quite often and it doesn’t mean they have a dreaded disease. Muis comes crashing out of the chest of drawers a couple of times a night and has a good old scratch, bell tinkling, then she gets back in. No disruption except to our sleep.
For those who live in countries where rabies is an issue, make sure your ferret has the vaccination at the necessary time. The first one should be given at 3 months and then your ferret needs a yearly booster.
In certain states in America, if a ferret just scratches someone with their tooth accidentally and the authorities confiscate the pet, they will euthanize it – regardless of the fact that the ferret has had all its rabies shots. Remember Kodo?
It’s important for all owners worldwide to make sure that their ferrets get their yearly canine distemper shots as this is a very unpleasant disease and is fatal.
In the US, they give kits shots at 6-8, 10-12 & 14-16 weeks and then at a year old. After that, they should have a booster annually.
Here in Perth (and I don’t speak for the rest of Australia), kits get 2 inoculations, a month apart, and then they must have their booster shots annually.
Check out the page on Canine Distemper for more information.
Some ferrets can get an allergic reaction so it might be wise not to rush away from the vet once your ferret has had an inoculation, just in case.
One thing I will mention was how Mash reacted with her first canine distemper shot. We took her to our vet and when he injected her, she gave the most angry, loud, penetrating scream I have ever heard in my life! It was so bad it hurt our ears.
No other ferret I’ve had ever made such a scream and after that one time, Mash didn’t do it again.
Quite extraordinary! I don’t know if the vet hurt her accidentially or she was so indignant about having a needle shoved into her. Poor little baby.
Spay / Neuter
Boys get really smelly when they’re about 6 months (sometimes even as young as 4 months) and start acting like absolute yobbos (Aussiespeak for unsociable hooligans), as described in the Breeding section..
Unless you want a stud for breeding purposes, you should get your boy sterilized once the smell starts getting pretty pungent and after about a week, once all the hormones have settled down, he will go from a brute with attitude to a sweet and gentle metrosexual fellah ?
The girls also smell slightly stronger if they’re not spayed but they certainly don’t have the disgusting habits that unsterilized boys do. However they do have the threat of aplastic anemia hanging over their heads in that state, so why risk anything?!
Of course some people like to take their jills to vasectomized hobs to bring them out of season but since the girls get dragged around the arena and come back smelling really bad after being with the boy, which in turn causes the girl to get beaten up by the other ferrets in your house, it hardly seems fair.
A quick visit to the vet and hallelujah, everyone is happy!
Check your ferret’s ears if you see it scratching them excessively as it could mean ear mites.
Get a cotton bud (Q-tip) and gently clean inside the ear cavity. If the tip is covered with a black or orange goop and smelly, then treat the ferret with a suitable product recommended by your vet.
If you use Revolution regularly on your ferrets, it’d prevent ear mites from happening.
Fleas / Ticks
If you see movement on your ferret’s coat, or find little black flecks in the fur, then you can bet you have a flea problem. Don’t leave it as it will only get worse and could cause your ferret to develop anemia, in the worse case scenario.
Fleas will also happily take over your house, which really isn’t much fun!
When Revolution first came out, our vet recommended that we treated all our animals with it and told us it was safe to use 10 drops of the large dog solution for each of our ferrets.
WAFFS now have specially prepared tubes of a single dose of Revolution to use on each ferret. The dosage for girls is 0.2 ml, while the boys get 0.25 ml.
I have since heard other vets recommend using a tube of the 5-15lb cat dose of Revolution per ferret per month. Apparently Pfizer did a small trial with the 0-5lb kitten size tube and found it was not 100% effective in preventing heartworm in ferrets, whereas the 5-15lb cat size tube was.
Check with your vet to find out the best product to use to use on your ferret.
Flea collars are NOT to be used on ferrets. They (or their mates) could easily lick the substance off and poison themselves
If you find the fleas have infested your house, buy the necessary amount of flea bombs, get your pets out, follow the instructions on the can and make sure you kill the problem. Make sure you vacuum the floor/carpets extremely well afterwards so that no residue is left which could harm your pets.
There is a homeopathic recipe for the treatment of fleas which you can make yourself by mixing 1 oz of lavender oil diluted into 4 oz of water. Put it into a spray bottle for easy use.
Another recipe is mixing one bottle of Halo’s Cloud Nine herbal dip with 1 gallon of water. The dip contains many natural oils which repel and kill fleas.
I confess that haven’t tried either of those out myself.
Ticks, which look like black moles on the skin, have to be removed carefully so that you don’t leave any part of the tick still attached to your ferret. Frontline’s Top Spot is good for getting rid of fleas and ticks.
Remember that ticks can cause Lyme disease, so make sure you check your ferret carefully if you live anywhere where ticks could be a problem.
There’s a detailed article about flea control for ferrets written by Dr Susan Brown on the VIN website.
I also saw this post on a forum which might be of interest to some of you 🙂
Because fleas can cause serious health problems, every effort should be made to eliminate them. If you have cats or dogs that habitually go outside, they will continually carry fleas back into the house in temperate seasons. If the ferret is allowed to play in the same areas as the cat or dog, it will quickly be infested. .
Flea control chemicals
Pyrethrins, which are relatively safe even on baby kits, act as flea repellents and kill adult fleas. Products containing pyrethrins and similar ingredients, such as resmethrin are available in many forms including powders and sprays. Use a product that is labeled for use in ferrets, unless your veteriarian directs you to use a product ‘off-label’ An off-label product is one that is not licensed for use in a certain species or for a certain condition, but may be prescribed for such use by a veterinarian, such as Advantage.
Imidacloprid, the ingredient in Advantage blocks nerve transmission in adult fleas, immediately killing them. Advantage is available as a topical liquid that can be applied to the skin once a month. It then spreads to the rest of the animal’s skin, and is resistant to the effects of water in the form of rain, swimming, or baths. It kills larvae as well as adults, so is able to bring a heavy infestation of fleas under control fairly quickly. It has no effect on the eggs in the environment, of course, and they will continue to hatch, so the flea problem is not solved until all eggs have hatched and the adults contact the pet and the Advantage. If used monthly, this treatment will probably also control ear mites. It is not labelled for use in ferrets, but to my knowledge, no adverse effects have been reported.
The disadvantage to using these chemicals alone is that they do not affect the flea eggs. Eliminating all the intermediate stages in the life cycle (eggs, larvae, and pupae) required several weeks of intense effort, and preventing re-infestation of the house meant constant vigilance. In the last few years, flea control has become much easier because of new types of chemicals on the market that interrupt the life cycle of the flea. The new chemicals are safe for humans and even very young animals because they mimic hormones or enzymes that are present only in insects. They include lufenuron, Precor, and Nylar.
Lufenuron (pronounce loo-fen-your-on) is an insect developmental inhibitor. Its familiar trade name is Program® (Novartis). Program is available in an oral suspension for cats that may be used off-label, under direction by a veterinarian, to treat ferrets. Be aware that this product, like all other flea control products, is not labelled for ferrets. The manufacturer has no responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from treating animals other than those named on the label. To my knowledge, no reactions have been reported in treated ferrets.
Lufenuron is absorbed by the treated dog, cat, or ferret, and biting fleas get a dose of it with their blood meals. The eggs of treated fleas are damaged so that they do not hatch. This prevents the ordinarily rapid increase in numbers of young fleas in your house, but has no effect on the adults that are already there. The life span of an adult flea is at least a few months. If Program alone is used as flea control for animals that are already infested, it will take several months to eliminate all fleas from the house, because adult fleas are not affected. Program works best as a preventive, or in combination with other products that kill adult fleas on the animal and in the environment. Remember that all pets must be treated or there will be a constant source of fertile eggs hatching.
Precor and Nylar are insect growth inhibitors which can be found in products formulated for use on carpets and animal bedding. Some products are available which can be used directly on the animal and contain both a growth inhibitor and an insecticide. Growth inhibitors have no effect on people or pets, and they do not kill adult fleas, but they prevent the flea eggs from hatching and the larvae from pupating and turning into adults. Using the combination of a separate growth inhibitor with an insecticide that kills adults brings a flea problem under control very quickly compared to the old methods of bathing, dipping or spraying the pet, and using sprays, bombs, or powders in the house for several months. Best of all, the new chemicals are much safer for animals and people.
It is possible to use traditional flea products to control fleas on ferrets, but they do not like to be sprayed and must be held firmly or scruffed to get a thorough treatment. Most are not fond of baths either, and the once-a-month treatment is very much simpler and safer than any of the traditional methods. Although ferrets are very resistant to the toxic effects of insecticides, many people and cats are not.
Organic products that are relatively, but not absolutely, non-toxic are available to kill fleas. The most popular and probably most effective is D-limonene, a citrus product that both repels and kills adult fleas. It is applied in the form of shampoos that have a pleasant citrus odor. However, D-limonene is not nearly as effective as Advantage or pyrethrins at killing adult fleas, and will not bring a heavy infestation under control without using some other form of treatment, such as growth inhibitors.
If you have any pets that go outside, all animals in the house will need to be treated during the warm months to prevent fleas infestation.
To speed up the elimination process, remove all fabric bedding from the ferret’s cage or nest and wash it. The litter box in the cage should be emptied and cleaned as usual. Cage cleaning and then treating with Precor or Nylar makes a huge difference in the number of eggs and larvae that will develop into adults.
It is very difficult to treat every part of the house that a ferret can access, so it is still important to vacuum thoroughly to pick up eggs, pupae, and larvae from ferret trails. The vacuum cleaner bag should be changed frequently, and sealed in a plastic bag before disposal in case it contains live and fertile fleas.
Various ‘Worms’ to Worry About
You would probably notice if your ferret had worms when checking through the litter tray. If you have your ferret dosed with Revolution regularly, you shouldn’t have any problems with worms.
Check the Internal Parasites page for detailed information on what kind of worms ferrets can get.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus and can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected animal or contact with a brush, bedding, etc. Humans can also get ringworm from an infected animal so it’s not a parasite you’d want to ignore!
If you find your ferret has a bald, round lesion which is scaly in the center and the skin appears thick, red and crusty, you had better take your ferret to the vet to have it treated.
Unfortunately ferrets can get heartworm and it’d only take one wretched worm in their hearts to kill them.
If you are already using a monthly dose of Revolution, then that should take care of any heartworm worries. If not and you live in an area with a lot of mosquitoes, then check with your vet for a suitable heartworm product.
There’s more information about heartworm here.
Ferrets DO NOT have sweat glands and really suffer in high temperatures.
If you have your ferret housed outside in a cage, please make sure there’s enough ventilation and shade to protect the ferret.
During the hottest days, make sure you spray your ferret and also leave a wrapped up bottle of water which has been frozen to help cool the cage down.
Also never leave a ferret, or any other animal for that matter, in a locked car with the windows up during hot days.
You can read more about heatstroke in ferrets here.
Declawing / Defanging
My personal opinion is that both are barbaric practices and should not be contemplated by a ferret owner unless a veterinarian declares it necessary, although why a vet would I don’t know.
Declawing involves the surgical removal of the claw and the bone it is attached to. Amongst other things, the procedure would mean that your ferret couldn’t grasp anything and certainly couldn’t climb up anywhere.
Defanging is just plain awful. I saw a defanged ferret once – some drongo (Aussiespeak for an absolute dimwit) had broken its canines with pliers because it had bitten him!
When a ferret gets scared or angry, it lets off what I term a “stink bomb” or “poof” like most members of the mustelid family do.
Unlike a skunk, the smell doesn’t take long to dissipate but like with all things, different people have different smell thresholds.
Descenting is the removal of the anal sacs and therefore eliminates the “stink bomb” from going off.
The vets I have dealt with in Western Australia think descenting is unnecessary and wouldn’t do it unless it was necessary for health reasons.
Shedding and Hair Loss
Spring and fall are the seasons when ferrets tend to lose hair, shedding their winter coats for summer ones, and vice versa.
If you have an older ferret, their coats can often look all moth-eaten and thin, and their tails can lose hair from the tip up so that it resembles a rat’s tail.
Hair loss on a ferret can be a worry and if it comes at a different time to the change in seasons, and you have a young ferret, then it would be a good idea to take it to the vet to make sure there’s nothing sinister happening.
If during the molt you notice blackheads on your ferret’s tail, or that it’s looking pretty grotty, just get some gentle ferret shampoo and give your little friend a bath. That should clear up the problem … but don’t wash your ferret often, as that will cause the skin to dry out and go itchy.
General Health Tips
Bumps and Lumps
Scruff your ferret and gently run your hand down the length of its body. If you feel any suspicious lumps or bumps, take it to the vet for a check up.
Yes, ferrets can get warts and they are easily treated by the vet. However if you find a wart-like lump, please take your ferret to the vet to check out as it might be a mast cell tumor. They are usually benign and can be removed easily.
And, never, ever treat the wart with wart ointment for humans. The son of friends of ours did just that and his ferret died a painful death after licking the ointment off.
Coat and Skin
Check the condition of your ferret’s coat and skin. Coats should be glossy and shiny, while skin should be pink and healthy looking.
Teeth and Gums
Check your ferret’s teeth just to see that they’re okay. A yellow tooth could mean it’s broken and that might cause problems. Brown scum at the top of the tooth by the gums is tartar build-up and might warrant a trip to the vet for a scale job.
Make sure the gums are pink and healthy-looking. White gums are a sign of anemia.
If your ferret has bad breath, it might be something more than gum or tooth problems, so it deserves a visit to the vet.
You could give your ferret the tips of fresh chicken wings to munch on as a flossing alternative. However I found that my lot wouldn’t eat them, they just stashed them away in my chest of drawers! As I got pretty sick of finding wings in my underwear, I stopped giving them out.
Check the section on Dental Problems for more information.
Your ferret’s eyes should be bright and clear. Cloudy eyes mean cataracts, which is not a big deal in itself, as ferrets can scoot around the house quite happily if they’re blind.
There’s more about cataracts on the Cataracts & Blindness in Ferrets page.
I wonder if any other pet owners are as anally fixated like us ferret ones! We all seem to get neurotic about the shape and color of poop, seriously!
If your ferret’s poop looks like brown toothpaste which has just been squeezed out, then everything is cool.
If it’s any other color or texture, take your ferret to the vet.
Click here for more information about ferret poop.
Poisons / Toxins
I don’t know why they say curiosity killed the cat because that expression should apply to ferrets first and foremost!
They are incredibly curious and that in itself could cause them harm.
Treat your ferret like you would a wilful toddler and make sure all dangerous things are kept out of their reach.
For instance, there have been cases of ferrets dying after they’d got hold of a blister pack of aspirins, scratched the foil and licked the pills. The owners were unaware of what happened so didn’t rush the ferret to the vet for immediate treatment.
There are also a number of plants and household goods which are dangerous to pets so please make sure your pet can’t get to them.
Having said that, I wonder how many ferret owners still keep house plants in their houses – hmmm!
More information on both subjects here.
Here are some articles about ferret health which are worth reading …
All About Ferret Pain And Distress by Bob Church (Ferret Magazine)
An Owner’s Guide to Ferret Health Care by Mary Van Dahm
Ferret Health (Wikipedia)
The advice below was submitted by a ferret owner, which could be helpful. Unfortunately we cannot get Blue Wilderness chicken for cats in Australia so I must see if I can find another brand as a substitute; however I have found Opti MSM here in Oz so will be getting that to put in my babies’ water bowls!
Mix Gerber’s chicken and gravy baby food with water to make a soup and give to them twice a day, but also leave hard food out for them — preferable Blue Wilderness chicken for cats. This should keep them healthy.
I’ve had 9 ferrets and have only been to the vet twice in the past 6 years! Once to put my oldest 10 to sleep because he had pain when urinating and he was too elderly for an operation; and one younger ferret because she has some calcium stones in her bladder and had to get antibiotics.
Make sure it is Opti MSM as the processing of the MSM makes a major difference in the quality. Also most ferret food and cat food use peas as the binder — this causes calcium stones so Blue Wilderness chicken cat food in the bag is the best bet.
The ferrets must have a wet protein as well — Gerber chicken and gravy with water is the purest protein, with no fruits or veggies added (which ferrets cannot digest).
You have to usually feed them off your fingers to start them on the baby food to get them used to it but after that they go crazy for it 😀